Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has been tearing up defenses this season. His stat line on any given week has been impressive—and the results speak for themselves. The Ravens are now considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender, and Jackson’s a frontrunner for MVP.
He is fun to watch, a human highlight reel; there is no denying that. So, when John Harbaugh sits down next to him during Sunday’s win over the Bengals and starts singing his praises, it is not hard to understand why.
But is he right?
Listening to Harbaugh, it sounds like he believes he has one of the best quarterbacks of all time in Lamar Jackson. He talks about him as if he has already done enough to be in the same conversation as Tom Brady, Joe Montana, and the other all-time greats.
He could not be more wrong – for now.
Jackson is a good football player, maybe even a great one. It looks as if he and the Ravens have decided to embrace who he is—a tremendous athlete and a runner. Because of that, Baltimore is once again a contender. But before crowning Jackson as the next big deal, it is worth breaking down what he has done so far.
This season, he is 7-2 in nine starts and has completed 65.9 percent (13th overall) of his passes for 2,036 yards (ninth) with an average of 8.0 yards per attempt (seventh). He is tied for 10th in touchdowns with 15 (along with Carson Wentz and Daniel Jones) and has only thrown five interceptions.
His QBR is fourth in the league (76.2), and his rating is ninth (101.7).
Of course, when evaluating Jackson, it is only fair to remember his contribution in the running game (106 carries for 702 yards and six touchdowns). Among ballcarriers, he ranks 11th in rushing yards.
So—is he the greatest thing since sliced bread or what?
Those are all good numbers, but they don’t quite make him the transcendent talent that Harbaugh describes in his praise. He is exciting to watch. But the same is true for Christian McCaffrey, DeAndre Hopkins, Michael Thomas, Patrick Mahomes, Kyler Murray, and Deshaun Watson. Do they deserve similar praise? Some would say yes, but overall, the answer would be no.
They are all great at what they do, but they have not been doing it long enough (like Jackson) to be worthy of such high praise.
Besides, Jackson’s numbers are misleading. Yes, he is one of just two players to record a perfect passer rating in multiple games in a single season. He is also only the sixth to do so inside of his first 16 starts. But the terrible teams, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Miami Dolphins, he did so against definitely played a factor.
His relative greatness is reminiscent of the argument often made against guys in the Heisman race. Yes, their stats are incredible, but when compiled against bad teams, who cares?
Against the better defenses that he has played (New England, Seattle, Pittsburgh), he did not do much in the passing game (less than 200 yards). He didn’t do so well against the Bengals, Browns or Chiefs either. Yes, the Ravens won most of those games, anyway. But Jackson the running back had more to do with it than Jackson the quarterback.
But if you have to count on him to throw to win a game against a good team, well—you can’t.
Sometimes being a good quarterback does mean not throwing the ball. In his case, the better decision often is to run. Decision making is a large part of what makes a good quarterback great. Like his stats, his decision making has improved by leaps and bounds over his rookie season. If he can hold onto his athletic advantage and continue to improve, he may become the guy Harbaugh describes. But he isn’t there yet.