B/R NFL Staff Roundtable: Who Would You Rather Have, Mahomes or Lamar?
It's already one of the most highly anticipated matchups on the 2020 NFL schedule, mainly because the sports world is rightly under the impression that Mahomes-Jackson is in the process of becoming an individual rivalry on a level with Magic-Bird, Federer-Nadal, Ali-Frazier and Brady-Manning.
Mahomes is coming off a Super Bowl MVP, while Jackson is coming off possibly the best single-season performance in NFL history—one in which he threw 36 touchdown passes and just six interceptions while ranking sixth in football with 1,206 rushing yards.
One has a larger sample (Mahomes threw 50 touchdown passes as the 2018 MVP before again lighting it up in 2019), but the other is 16 months younger (Jackson just turned 23 in January; Mahomes will turn 25 in September).
If we're lucky, the "would you rather" debate involving these two will rage on well into the 2030s, but it's not too early to begin deliberations.
Bleacher Report did just that in an offseason roundtable involving national NFL voices Gary Davenport, Ty Dunne, Mike Freeman, Brad Gagnon, Matt Miller, Brent Sobleski and Mike Tanier. These are the results.
This appears to be a difficult call. And a decision with no wrong answer. After all, when your choices are the last two NFL MVPs, whichever quarterback you select will be pretty danged good.
However, for this writer at least, the choice is an easy one—and it's not especially close.
Put me down for Team Mahomes.
It's no knock on Jackson, who piled up over 1,200 rushing yards and led the NFL in touchdown passes in 2019. But in just two seasons of game action, Mahomes has been a revelation.
After barely playing as a rookie, in 2018 Mahomes became just the second signal-caller in NFL history to pass for over 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in the same season. His numbers dipped last year because of a knee injury, but Mahomes' 2019 campaign ended with a Super Bowl LIV title and the game's MVP honors.
Mahomes is athletic. He's accurate. His vision is excellent. And with equal parts ease and consistency, he's capable of delivering a 40-yard throw right into the sweet spot for a wideout racing downfield.
Jackson was fantastic in 2019. But if Mahomes continues to play at the level he has the past two seasons, he will challenge for the title of greatest quarterback ever.
Man, this is tough. Both are unique and both will rake in MVPs and Super Bowls but, for this, give me Jackson.
His raw speed and jukability as a runner is ridiculous—his physical gifts are unprecedented. There's no sign that anyone can stop Jackson in the open field, and the massive jump he made as a passer from year one to year two suggests he'll only get better through the air.
Just as LeBron James developed a jump shot and blossomed into the NBA's best player of this era (and No. 1 or No. 2 in history), if Jackson keeps improving as a passer, look out. He can have the same impact.
Here's thinking, given his work ethic, he does.
This is like picking between a giant piece of birthday cake—the kind with the thick icing that tastes like heaven—and a dozen donuts packed with jelly. You cannot lose.
But this is why I'm picking Jackson. Mahomes is an excellent athlete, but Jackson is something unique. He may be the best pure athlete in the sport, and when things break down, or receivers are covered, that athleticism can change the game in an instant.
Combine Jackson's ability to throw well with his stratospheric running skills and we see why he's almost unstoppable, and why I'm picking him.
It was critical that Mahomes proved his unreal 2018 season wasn't an aberration.
Sure, his numbers weren't quite as impressive, but that's only compared to an MVP campaign that caused the sports world to collectively drop its jaw in cartoonish fashion. Some regression was expected, and it was less surprising considering that he was limited by ankle and knee injuries for the majority of the campaign. And yet he still made the Pro Bowl with a triple-digit passer rating and an improved touchdown-to-interception ratio.
He then threw 10 touchdown passes and two picks en route to earning Super Bowl MVP honors, while Jackson struggled in a playoff loss for the second consecutive year.
Mahomes' edge in the postseason and his larger sample of success give him a clear advantage over Jackson. The 23-year-old needs to prove he can sustain what he did in 2019 and become a bigger difference-maker in crucial January spots.
Give me Mahomes.
Too often in today's society, preferring one player (or thing) is taken to mean the other isn't good or that we hate that person. That's not the case. Jackson is very good, but he's not on Mahomes' level.
If starting a team, you have to factor in many things like age, injury, salary and style of play. Those matter, but even as Mahomes eyes a record-setting contract, he's still the greatest football player on the planet, and until that changes or he hits his late 30s, he's the guy.
Mahomes' strength, vision, poise, experience and upside put him in rare company. The fact that at not quite 25 years old he's won an MVP award, a Super Bowl and a Super Bowl MVP—and has thrown for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in a season—is unreal.
Lamar is good. Lamar has a chance to be great. But for now, Mahomes is still the best.
My initial gut reaction sided with Mahomes in what seems to be the obvious answer. Or is it?
The more I thought about the possibility, the more I leaned toward Jackson. The reason is simple: Jackson's already an MVP, and he hasn't come close to reaching his full potential.
As good as Mahomes is—and he's great—it's hard to see him improving upon the type of numbers we've already seen. Whereas Jackson hasn't come close to realizing his full potential as a passer. The reigning NFL MVP will continue to refine his footwork and mechanics while becoming more adept at reading defenses.
Plus, the 2018 MVP can't affect the game in the same way Jackson can as a runner. Even if the Ravens offense grows stagnant, Jackson's ability to create with his feet has never been seen at quarterback.
This is like Superman (Mahomes) vs. Spider-Man (Jackson). Everyone really wants to find reasons to pick Spider-Man. He's younger and cooler! He's more fun to watch! He's a plucky underdog! And if an army of evil robots were marching toward your town, who would it be a job for? You know it. At the end of the day, Spider-Man can bounce around slinging all the webs he wants. If Superman decides he wants to throw him into the sun, it's over.
In football terms, maybe Mahomes and Jackson are nearly equals at the start of the game or when the score is tied. But even the best teams in the NFL find themselves trailing by two touchdowns at some point. Jackson hasn't proved yet that he's an upper-echelon pure passer who can bring the Ravens back when the option threat is taken away. As for Mahomes, that's pretty much all he did in the playoffs and Super Bowl.
Oh, and don't hit me with the "Superman and Spider-Man come from different comic book universes" nerd rage. They met. And Spider-Man only landed a punch because Supes got hit with one of Lex Luthor's power-draining gizmos. 'Nuff said.
Mahomes: 4 votes
Jackson: 3 votes
It was close, but the slimmest possible majority of Bleacher Report's NFL correspondents preferred Mahomes because of his sustained magic.
Still, everyone who voted for Mahomes essentially left room for that to change. It was apparent this was a debate between one player with unmatched early-career accomplishments and one with unprecedented early-career potential.
But that's complicated by the fact that Mahomes still—amazingly—has plenty of room to grow, while Jackson still—incredibly—has accomplished a ton for a guy whose high ceiling might be his top selling point.
It seems there's really no wrong answer.