Is Lamar Jackson making a case for the MVP award?

Jacob VanZuiden, Courier Staff

There’s a new elite quarterback in town, and his name isn’t Patrick Mahomes.

In just his second season as a pro, 2018 first-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens, signal-caller Lamar Jackson has come into his own. Through eight games, the budding star has led his team to an impressive 6-2 record, good enough for first place in the AFC North.

In his most-recent flash of brilliance, Jackson led the Ravens to a commanding 37-20 win over the previously-unbeaten New England Patriots. Heading into the game, Bill Belichick’s squad boasted the unquestioned top defensive unit in the league, one that had held opposing offenses under 10 points per game with a league-leading 25 takeaways. However, Jackson proved the bright lights of this primetime Sunday night matchup weren’t too big for him, completing 17 of 23 passes for a touchdown to go along with 61 yards on the ground and an additional two scores.

While this victory was utterly impressive, it was just another instance of Jackson silencing his critics whilst bringing his game to an entirely new level in 2019. A player that’s always been commended for his athleticism, the 22-year-old was heavily criticized throughout the draft process for his throwing ability. Many experts were unsure of his future as a quarterback in the NFL, some even suggesting a position switch to wide receiver or running back to better fit his skills.

Maybe the most famous of the bunch was former NFL general manager turned ESPN analyst Bill Polian, who was a major skeptic of Jackson. When describing his abilities throughout the 2018 pre-draft process, Polian stated the following:

“Short and a little bit slight. Clearly, clearly not the thrower that the other guys are. The accuracy isn’t there,” Polian said. He continued by suggesting that Jackson would be better off as a pass-catcher. “I think wide receiver. Exceptional athlete, exceptional ability to make you miss, exceptional acceleration, exceptional instinct with the ball in his hand and that’s rare for wide receivers.”

Did someone forget to mention to Polian that the 6-foot-3 Jackson just so happened to be the Heisman Trophy winner back in 2016, a season in which he compiled nearly 5,000 total yards and an immaculate 51 touchdowns? Accuracy issues? Jackson currently places in the top-12 of the league with a serviceable 64.2 completion percentage. Besides the fact, Jackson has now proved each one of these analysts wrong in his sophomore season with the Ravens.

With superb play throughout the first-half of 2019, Jackson has supplanted himself into the thick of the MVP race. While his stats don’t jump off the page like some of the other quarterbacks, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson or Tom Brady, he’s brought an entirely new aspect to the position as a true dual-threat playmaker. On the season, Jackson’s 637 rushing yards is by far the most at his position (Kyler Murray is second with 313 yards). The Louisville product is currently on pace for over 3,500 passing yards and 1,200 rushing yards, a feat that’s never been accomplished throughout NFL history (not even by Michael Vick).

While he may not be the best passer in the league yet, he doesn’t need to be. After shipping away veteran quarterback (and former Super Bowl champ) Joe Flacco this past winter, Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh tailored his offense to perfectly fit Jackson’s skillset, turning it into a spread, run-first option scheme. After the offseason addition of two-time Pro Bowl ball-carrier Mark Ingram, this has become an offensive two-headed monster that no team wants to face. Through eight games thus far, no opponent has been able to defend it with any sort of success.

Through endless amounts of highlight reel plays, it’s a fair argument that Jackson may be the most electric player in the game today. He’s played absolutely lights-out, showing the poise of a 10-year vet when the stakes rise as he just proved against the defending Super Bowl champs. Following the game, coach Harbaugh had nothing but praise for his blossoming superstar.

“The kid — he’s so tough,” Harbaugh said to reporters. “He’s smart. He’s got a great feel for the game. And he learns fast. One of the things I’ve noticed about him is he never makes the same mistake twice.”

As the Ravens departed the field Sunday night, the “M-V-P” chants echoed throughout M&T Bank Stadium, and for good reason. When it’s all said and done this season, don’t be surprised if it’s Jackson who’s hoisting the prestigious award.