There are two main camps around Lamar Jackson. The first camp focuses on Jackson being the youngest NFL MVP in the Super Bowl era. The other camp focuses on Jackson having two playoff losses.
Both camps make valid points, but the real Lamar Jackson lies between rampant regular-season success and playoff purgatory. Jackson is unlikely to replicate his magical 2019 regular season, but he is also unlikely to continue to descend to the levels of Matthew Stafford and Andy Dalton in terms of playoff ineptitude.
Why Jackson Likely Won’t Replicate 2019 Success:
Historically speaking, two of the closest contemporaries to Lamar Jackson’s regular-season success are Dan Marino and Patrick Mahomes. The playing styles could not be more different, but Marino and Mahomes were also second-year MVPs. Marino turned the rest of his career into a Hall of Fame-worthy career, but he never reached his peak of 1984 again.
Mahomes is entering his age-25 season, so he has many chapters to write for the rest of his career, but it is incredibly unlikely that he posts 50 touchdowns and 5,000 yards like he did 2018 regularly. Jackson’s 43 total touchdowns and 4,300 total yards are not as stark as Marino’s 48 passing touchdowns and 5,000 passing yards or Mahomes’s 2018 statistics, but Jackson is unlikely to replicate the efficiency level that he operated at in 2019.
In 2019, Jackson posted a top-20 season in terms of touchdown percentage at 9.0 percent. Of his contemporaries, only one (Frankie Albert in 1948 and 1949) was able to post a 9.0 touchdown percentage twice in their career. Mathematically speaking, Jackson is likely to regress statistically and end closer to 30 passing touchdowns than 40 passing touchdowns (assuming his pass attempts do not increase dramatically).
However, Jackson can improve without posting statistically ridiculous numbers again. The most obvious example of improvement without the accompanying statistical dominance is 2019 Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes was the best player in the NFL on a snap-by-snap basis for most of the season, but he saw a drastic statistical dip.
The raw numbers are influenced by Mahomes missing two games, but Mahomes’s rate stats (touchdown percentage and yards per attempt) fell from their absurd 2018 heights. Mahomes improved despite taking a statistical step back, and Jackson is in line to do something similar.
Jackson posted 1,200 rushing yards in 2019, leading the league in yards per rush. While Jackson might be a better running quarterback than Michael Vick, Vick is the closest contemporary to Jackson. Vick’s yards per rush numbers fluctuated mightily over his career with the Falcons, and Jackson should experience a similar ebb and flow to his rushing stats.
Jackson will be as dynamic as ever, but the gaudy numbers may not be as consistent as they were in 2019. Jackson had five games with 100 yards rushing in the regular season, and he averaged over 12 carries per game after Week 1. While he might have a couple of games eclipsing 100 yards in 2020, the consistency will be unlikely to be replicated.
Jackson’s yards per carry will likely be closer to a more modest 5.5 yards per attempt or 6.0 yards per attempt in 2020. The highlights will still be a weekly ordeal, but Jackson could fall short of the 1,000-yard plateau unless his usage as a runner is ramped up (which is unlikely given that the Ravens are unlikely to replicate the consistent blowouts they had in 2019).
Why Jackson Likely Will Escape the Realms of Stafford and Dalton:
Playoff failure can define a career, but the Ravens are in a position to consistently make the playoffs for the rest of Jackson’s career. From ownership down to head coach, the organization believes in Jackson and will continue to put him in advantageous positions with attempts to keep a formidable team around Jackson.
As an organization, the Ravens have been one of the most successful over the last 20 years. Head coach John Harbaugh has consistently been among the best in the NFL since he was hired in 2008. Under Harbaugh, the Ravens have been good defensively in 11 of 12 seasons.
With a strong organization, one of the best head coaches, and a consistently solid defense, the Ravens should be a playoff mainstay for the next decade. 14-2 was likely an aberration, but the Ravens are favored to win the division in 2020 for good reason.
While Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Cincinnati are decent picks to improve drastically in 2020, all three teams are fatally flawed. The Steelers are relying on a 38-year-old in Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger was poor in 2019, and he suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder.
While he could return to form in 2020, he could also succumb to similar struggles that have plagued his 2004 draft classmates in Philip Rivers and Eli Manning. The Steelers will be competitive, but a less than ideal Roethlisberger could keep the Steelers from knocking off Baltimore.
The Browns and the Bengals are historically irrelevant franchises that still suffer from questionable decision-making and poor ownership. Both franchises are consistently entrenched in turmoil as the Browns have had four different head coaches since drafting Baker Mayfield, and the Bengals could part ways with Zac Taylor if 2020 goes poorly.
The Browns have many talented players, but they failed in 2019. The Bengals will not be 2-14 again, but they will be relying on a rookie quarterback in Joe Burrow. Burrow may be a sensation, but the Bengals have other places to improve before making a jump to challenge Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
If the Ravens continue to make the playoffs, odds are that they will eventually get an advantageous matchup and exorcise their playoff demons. It is a terrible look to lose back-to-back home playoff games, but the Ravens would be favored to end the run next postseason.
The closest contemporary to the 2018-2019 Ravens in terms of playoff futility is the 2011-2015 Bengals, who went 0-5 in the playoffs. However, the Bengals only hosted two of those games, and they were forced to start backup quarterback AJ McCarron in one of those games. If the Ravens win the division for the next three seasons, they will almost certainly win at least one playoff game.
In recent weeks, many have compared Lamar Jackson’s initial playoff futility to that of Peyton Manning. Manning lost his first three playoff games and did not win a playoff game until he was 27. The Manning comparison has its flaws, but Jackson is only 23, and he should be a playoff mainstay for the next few seasons.
In the coming seasons, Jackson should continue to improve as a quarterback. He may never reach 36 passing touchdowns or 1,200 rushing yards again, but he has the work ethic to improve. The Ravens might not go 14-2 again in the Jackson era, but they should win a playoff game in the next couple of seasons.