Lamar Jackson Is Still Elite Despite Early-Season Woes

Dave Kluge breaks down Lamar Jackson's 'disappointing' 2020 season and makes the case for him as the overall QB1 heading into 2021.

Click here for other Player Spotlights

Most pundits assumed that Lamar Jackson would regress heading into his third season, fresh off an MVP award and a spectacular sophomore campaign. Well, regression came early and hard last season, and it’s causing fans to forget how dominant the fourth-year dual-threat quarterback is. While some people will be happy to fade Lamar Jackson heading into the 2021 season, you should still be targeting the electric play-maker. He finished as the QB7 in per-game numbers, but if you listened to the Twitter buzz, you’d think that he’s not even a QB1 anymore.

After an earth-shattering 2019 campaign, Jackson became the first quarterback off the board in many drafts the following year. By almost all standards, he failed to live up to his lofty expectations. And once you combine Jackson’s shortcomings with the emergence of other young stars like Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, and Justin Herbert, it makes it difficult to gauge precisely where to draft Jackson in 2021. Had he not set the bar as high as he did in 2019, I don’t think any of this disrespect would be deemed appropriate heading into 2021. Let’s compare his record-setting 2019 to his relatively disappointing 2020 campaign.

Lamar Jackson’s 2019 vs. 2020 Per-Game Numbers

Stat Category
2019 Season
2020 Season
Passing Yards
208.5
183.8
Completion Percentage
66.1%
64.3%
Passing Touchdowns
2.4
1.7
Interceptions
0.4
0.6
Rushing Attempts
11.7
10.6
Rushing Yards
80.4
67.0
Rushing Touchdowns
0.47
0.47
Rushing Yards/Attempt
8.9
6.3
Fumbles
0.60
0.67

Sure, he regressed in just about every category. But the whole story shows us that we should expect a bounce-back in 2021 for several reasons. This year’s draft may be the only time you’ll have an opportunity to buy-low on Jackson in his athletic prime. If he showcased his floor with 2,750 yards through the air and another 1,000 on the ground, you should be more than happy to draft him during this value dip.

Heading into Week 6 last year, Jackson was sitting 11th in fantasy points per game; his lowest ranking over two seasons. Fantasy managers were feeling buyer's remorse after spending an early (first or second round) pick on the reigning MVP. Trading him away would be a considerable draft capital hit, and you couldn’t bench him, given his weekly upside. Over those first five weeks, Jackson was averaging just 8.2 carries per game for 47.6 yards. There was some offseason speculation that the Ravens would focus on keeping him in the pocket and minimizing the hits he took, but this was a huge cause for concern. Worst yet, the Ravens were 4-1, with their only loss coming from the Chiefs. There was no reason to change anything up.

Then Weeks 7-11 happened.

The tides changed after Week 6, and the Ravens soon lost four of their next five games, including a Week 12 loss to the Steelers without Jackson. From that point onward, John Harbaugh stopped trying to make Jackson something he’s not and let him run loose. To close out the fantasy season over the last four weeks (Week 13-16), Jackson averaged 11.3 carries per game for 83.3 yards with an average of 1.0 rushing touchdowns per game. That’s almost identical to his season-long averages in 2019. They won all four of those games, and Jackson returned to his MVP form. He averaged 28.3 fantasy points per game during that four-game stretch, less than 0.6 away from being the QB1, behind only Josh Allen.

The best part of this? Focusing on the run game opened up more opportunities for Jackson as a passer. Jackson completed 69.5% of his passes for an average of 2.0 touchdowns and 0.5 interceptions per game. Up until that point, Jackson was completing 63.4% for 1.5 touchdowns and 0.6 interceptions per game.

This run-first recipe has been proven to win games for Baltimore over the last two seasons, so I’m not sure why Harbaugh tried something new early on. Jackson carried the ball 16 times in a Wild Card matchup against the Titans and posted a season-high 136 yards while completing over 70% of his passes. Most importantly, the Ravens secured the win, proving yet again that they’re at the best when Jackson can run.

Another promising split from this year is Jackson’s ability to score when J.K. Dobbins is heavily involved in the game script. Dobbins saw 50% of his team’s snaps in just six games this season. Jackson rushed for four of his seven touchdowns in those six games. With Mark Ingram II gone from Baltimore, Dobbins will get the lead role next year. That’s just more great news for Jackson.

The key to the Ravens’ success is getting Jackson going in the run game. Not only did Lamar Jackson become the first quarterback ever to record two 1,000-yard rushing seasons, but he did it in back-to-back years. Craziest yet; he did it before turning 24 years old!

Ok, but don't quarterbacks need to throw?

Lamar Jackson gets a knock as an inaccurate passer, but it’s an easy myth to dispel when looking at his depth-adjusted accuracy. According to @QBDataMine on Twitter, Lamar Jackson ranked seventh in depth-adjusted accuracy out of 31 qualifying quarterbacks in 2020. That shows an increase over every year since he has been in the league.

The biggest thing holding Jackson back from being a great passer was his pedestrian wide receiver corps. Marquise Brown has failed to live up to his first-round price tag. Mark Andrews was second on the team in targets last year. The Ravens addressed those weaknesses with a vengeance this offseason, spending first- and fourth-round picks on Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace while also signing free agent Sammy Watkins to a one-year/$5M deal. In addition to improving the pass-catching corps, the Ravens also drafted Ben Cleveland, an offensive guard out of Georgia, who is known for his phenomenal run blocking.

I understand the apprehension, and there is undoubtedly a risk that Jackson fails to live up to his 2019 standards. His schedule was easy late in the season, and that could skew his projections. However, I am confident in his ability to improve as a passer. Jackson is our consensus QB4 in rankings, but I have him locked in as my QB1. The likelihood of logging another 1,000 yards as a rusher sets a top-10 floor, and the beefed-up receiver room could help us witness his ceiling as a passer.

Projections

Season
Team
Games
Comps
Atts
PaYds
PaTDs
INTs
Rush
RuYds
RuTDs
FumLost
2018
Baltimore Ravens
16
99
170
1201
6
3
147
697
5
4
2019
Baltimore Ravens
15
265
401
3127
36
6
175
1213
7
2
2020
Baltimore Ravens
15
242
376
2757
26
9
159
1005
7
4
Season
Projector
Games
Comps
Atts
PaYds
PaTDs
INTs
Rush
RuYds
RuTDs
FumLost
2021
16.5
310.4
482.4
3735
28.8
11.1
165.7
984
7.1
3.4
2021
17.0
315.8
489.3
3849
27.7
9.3
184.1
1113
7.3
0.0
2021
17.0
301.0
469.0
3841
29.0
10.0
161.0
965
7.0
4.0
2021
16.0
363.9
560.4
4195
30.3
10.7
153.1
926
7.2
7.1
2021
16.0
293.0
448.0
3400
29.5
10.5
164.0
990
6.3
3.0
2021
16.0
300.0
480.0
3485
23.8
13.7
177.0
999
7.7
2.5
2021
17.0
309.0
475.0
3665
31.0
13.0
160.0
955
7.0
4.0

More articles from Dave Kluge

See all

More articles on: Baltimore Ravens

See all

More articles on: Forecast

See all

More articles on: Players

See all