The value of a quarterback has always been weighed by the caliber of their arm. It's not the only component determining a quarterback's status as an elite QB1, but it is the most obvious. Quarterbacks throw the ball, some beautifully, and most importantly accurately. We are living in a golden age of the quarterback--an age where we sometimes feel like we're watching video game avatars and not real life pros.
We're also smack dab in the middle of the career of one of the best rushing quarterbacks to ever play the game--Lamar Jackson. Many believe the Ravens leader to be one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL. Yet Jackson has never won a Super Bowl, or even made it to the big game. So the question is: When a quarterback's greatest asset is a stellar run game, is it enough to win a ring?
Lamar Jackson Can Run
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No one can say Lamar Jackson isn't an explosive player to watch. The 2019 MVP can cut, weave, jump, pass and extend a play in nail-biting fashion. However, statistically speaking, he's not an elite touchdown passer, lagging behind this season's leading passers Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Matt Ryan and Josh Allen (Brady sits shy of the top five, at the sixth spot). When it comes to passing yards this season, Lamar sits at the very bottom of the pack.
Jackson's rushing game is his bread and butter. In fact, heading into Week 8, Jackson sits at the number five spot for top five rushing yards in the league. He finds himself amongst some of the most effective running backs this season; sitting at the top are Nick Chubb, Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, and Derrick Henry.
Is it exciting watching Jackson run over defensive lineman and dodge tackles? Absolutely. Does it put the Ravens at risk by having someone at the helm who is willing to put his body on the line and run downfield? Again, Absolutely.
One can't help but wonder if Lamar's proclivity for the run game is playing a factor in the type of payout Baltimore is willing to give the Pro Bowler. However, even Jackson's run game has decreased the past two seasons. Would you want to extend a hefty sum to a player who, despite having prior MVP caliber seasons, has yet to lead you to a Super Bowl, and every week increases his chances of injury? Every time the Ravens quarterback tucks and runs, he raises the collective blood pressure of all the executives sitting in the Baltimore owners box.
Legendary Rushing Quarterbacks
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Historically speaking, out of the top five all-time career rushing quarterbacks, only two rushing legends have hoisted the coveted Lombardi Trophy. Russell Wilson and Steve Young are the two run savvy quarterbacks who were able to parlay their rushing yards to championship rings.
It's quite a feat to engineer a winning season on a quarterback's rushing yards alone, which is why Michael Vick is not one of the QBs we're going to mention. Russell Wilson and Steve Young were both able to excel as dual-threat weapons. Hall of Famer Steve Young, who won three Super Bowls (1989, 1990, 1995) with the San Francisco 49ers, had an elite, well-rounded game. He also had a certain indefinable, elusive characteristic that rallied his team and made everyone around him better.
Jackson has undeniably earned his spot amongst the NFL's best rushing quarterbacks. The star Raven became the first quarterback in league history to have two 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He's well on his way to joining the exclusive top ranking list of all-time rushing quarterbacks. The question is, can he join the likes of Steve Young and Russell Wilson and gain an exalted Super Bowl win? Not many run focused quarterbacks have been able to soar there.
History Making Run Game vs. History Making Pass Game
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NFL trends ebb and flow, just like any other trend. There have been years when throwing deep reigned supreme and years where the run game ruled the chains. In this day and age, we're seeing some of the best young arms taking control of the league while the veterans slowly bow out--or in Tom Brady's case, bow out and then suddenly jump back in. Either way the future of the league surely lies in the hands of the league's most powerful cannons: Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, and Justin Herbert.
That's why watching the goat, Tom Brady, face off with another future NFL bearer in Lamar Jackson is appointment TV. The fascinating thing is that for all the strife and struggles facing Brady's Bucs, he's still Tom Brady--you can never count him fully out. He can conjure up a drive so awe-inspiring you forget he's a 45 year old quarterback who's been dominating the league for 23 seasons. Even when he's playing below Brady standards, he can and will still throw a perfect spiral 20-40+ yards to connect with his receivers.
Jackson on the other hand, despite all the excitement he brings, isn't going to consistently blow your mind launching the football. He'll shuffle out of the pocket and hurdle over defenders to get you the next first down though, and he may even run it into the end zone himself to pick up six. Although, the past two seasons Jackson's rushing touchdowns have fallen from sevento only two--a number numerous quarterbacks have also achieved. I say this not to discount the incredible talent the Ravens' quarterback brings to the league, but to reiterate the differences between a run-first quarterback and a classic gunslinging quarterback.
Could Jackson Be a Sophisticated Passer?
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Time will be the ultimate tell of Jackson's NFL legacy, but as the league's quarterbacks become more and more explosive throwing the ball, Lamar's passing abilities become comparably lacking. For a statistical comparison, Mahomes leads the league in pass yards with 2,159 and Jackson lags behind this season with 1,397 yards passing, through seven weeks. If you add both quarterbacks' rushing yards to that total it does bring them closer (Lamar has 510 rushing to Mahomes 113) but still, there remains a noticeable disparity between Jackson and the top tier quarterbacks this season.
The most successful rushing quarterback of all-time, Steve Young has a lot of thoughts on Jackson's lacking passing game. "My position is they will never get to championship football without a sophisticated passing game, and that's not anything to do with Lamar Jackson," Young said. "Lamar Jackson is a complete player that is not trained in being a sophisticated passer.
Whether it's the Ravens' fault Lamar isn't growing his game or it's the athlete holding himself back, one thing is certain--if the Baltimore quarterback wants to get paid the big bucks, he's got to advance his passing game. Steve Young is passionate about Jackson's raw untapped talent and vocally blames the Ravens for the quarterback's shortcomings.
"And now you're asking, 'Why isn't he paid to be Patrick Mahomes?' Because they haven't given him a chance to be Patrick Mahomes," Young emphatically continued. "So until they do, Lamar Jackson's damned because of what the Ravens are doing, not because of Lamar Jackson."
I respect Steve Young, but I disagree. Some players have "it" and some players don't. Lamar's passing game is his responsibility to grow and his alone. If he had a more dependable arm, Baltimore would use it. I'm not denying Jackson's power or gifts, I just think it's possible we've already seen the magic Jackson holds and it's unlikely he's going to suddenly pull a rabbit out of his hat. After five seasons in the league the quarterback knows the mindset and work ethic required to stay relevant in the NFL. A run game that fires up the flock makes for electric viewing, but has yet to lead Baltimore to the promised land. Lamar needs more than a record breaking run game to reach the highest level in the NFL--Steve Young knows it, Ravens fans know it--and I'd be shocked if Jackson didn't know it too.
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