The NFL Has Never Seen Anyone Like Lamar Jackson—and He's Unstoppable

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystNovember 26, 2019

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 25: Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens sets to pass in the first half of the game against the Los Angeles Rams at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 25, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Lamar Jackson is the quarterback nobody knew the NFL desperately needed. He's the personification of a paradigm shift. 

For so long, the same old adage applied to quarterback play: "You must win from the pocket." 

Why limit a quarterback when he can do it all? Enter Jackson.

On Monday night, the Baltimore Ravens quarterback became the first player in NFL history with at least four touchdown passes and 50-plus rushing yards in consecutive games, according to Elias Sports Bureau (h/t ESPN's Jamison Hensley). He also became the youngest quarterback in NFL history with multiple five-passing-touchdown games in a single season, per ESPN Stats & Info.

The 22-year-old signal-caller completed 15 of 20 passes for 169 and five scores while adding 95 rushing yards during the 45-6 dismantling of the Los Angeles Rams. But this story of dual-threat suppression started long ago.

Crusty coordinators begrudgingly looked at the collegiate ranks as a wide-open, free-for-all game that didn't directly apply to the professional ranks. That approach was for lesser coaches, who had to make up for talent deficiencies with gadget plays and non-traditional play-calls. 

After all, the NFL knew exactly what it took to win. Those same coaches had decades of evidence, and the transition to something different wasn't going to come easily. 

In fact, the transition occurred in stages over an extended period of time. As such, the idea of Jackson being a franchise quarterback proved to be anathema for the old guard. 

"He's a wide receiver or running back," those terribly out-of-touch figureheads cried. 

Lack of vision is exactly what prevented Jackson from being considered an elite prospect when he fell all the way to the final pick of the 2018 draft's first round. 

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 26:  Lamar Jackson of Louisville poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #32 overall by the Baltimore Ravens during the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium on April 26, 2018 in Arlington, Texas.  (P
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Too many fumbled over a familiar comparison instead of seeing Jackson for what he really was: a complete quarterback prospect. A comparison to Michael Vick became standard because he was the last truly dynamic open-field runner from the quarterback position to warrant true franchise status (as great as Russell Wilson is, he's shifty and finds soft spots before sliding).

The Vick comp came up short, though. 

"Evaluating Jackson against the NFL standards for the position will cause him to come up short," NFL.com's Lance Zierlein wrote in Jackson's predraft evaluation. "However, he has rare speed and athleticism and can single-handedly win games." 

Yes, Jackson is a spectacular runner. He often makes NFL defenders look silly trying to tackle him in space. Make no mistake, though: Jackson isn't a run-first quarterback. 

"I hate running," Jackson said in September, per the New York Times' Ben Shpigel. "Only if I have to. But my job is to get the ball to the receivers, tight ends, running backs. If I have to run, I'll do it. But I'd rather just sit back and pass it. I like throwing touchdowns instead of running them."

The comment is rather funny in hindsight since the Ravens quarterback is well on his way to shattering Vick's position record of 1,039 yards. Jackson is on pace for 1,274 rushing yards this season. 

Jackson is a better all-around player than his predecessor ever was. Vick came into the league as a rare physical specimen with elite speed and a flick-of-wrist release that put many other quarterbacks' arms to shame. Even so, he didn't develop into an efficient passer until later into his career when his athleticism started to wane. At least, when he didn't run nearly as much. 

Jackson presents the best of both worlds in just his second season. The Ravens saw the potential. The organization took the novel approach of building around his skill set. It wasn't afraid to start from scratch and implement heavy does of collegiate concepts to maximize his ability while making him comfortable in the passing game. 

This approach is blatantly evident in the quarterback's growth. 

His comfort level navigating the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield is special. All five of Jackson's touchdown tosses Monday were different types of throws showing off his ability to pick apart opposing secondaries. 

First, Jackson climbed the pocket and identified the open crossing pattern for a six-yard touchdown to first-round rookie Marquise Brown: 

Six minutes later, Jackson split a Cover 3 look by driving the ball down the seam for another touchdown connection with Brown: 

Before the first half ended, Jackson saw an oncoming blitz, threw directly behind it and connected with Willie Snead IV on a quick slant: 

Two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald even pressured Jackson directly off the snap. No problem. The MVP candidate found his running back on an angle route for another score: 


The fifth touchdown came on a simple rollout to the quarterback's left when he hit Snead again: 

These particular plays aren't overly impressive unto themselves. But the idea any other NFL quarterback can make them automatically misses the point. 

Jackson's presence sets up the entire offense and stresses the defense to the point of breaking, as the Rams did. For example, six-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle crept into the box during both of the Ravens' first two touchdowns. In those instances, Jackson targeted receivers behind the talented defensive back. 

Whether in the running or passing game, Jackson's skills make the Ravens nearly impossible to defend.

Opposing front sevens must account for his ability to turn the corner. Baltimore counters by punching them in the mouth with Mark Ingram II's aggressive downhill running. Once an emphasis is placed on stopping Ingram, zone reads are sprinkled into the mix so Jackson can exploit defenders crashing off the edges. 

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 25:  Quarterback Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens delivers a pass against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 25, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Imag
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

As safeties sneak into the box, Jackson exploits mismatches through the air behind them. It's a lose-lose proposition for the defense at all times because Baltimore's quarterback creates so much in both phases of the game. 

The league has seen others do similar things, though not to the same degree. And most quarterbacks can't replicate what Jackson brings to the Ravens. Even so, the idea of being more receptive to less-traditional prospects and building around their unique skill set has to be at the forefront of the NFL's next evolution. 

"You changed the game, man," head coach John Harbaugh said two weeks ago in a sideline moment that went viral. "You know how many little kids in this country are going to be wearing No. 8 playing quarterback for the next 20 years because of you?"

Jackson is a game-changer in the truest sense: He'll dominate with his on-field performance while simultaneously causing others to rethink the way the quarterback position should be played. 

      

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @brentsobleski.

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