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Is Lamar Jackson This Year's Pat Mahomes?


Can Tony Pollard replace Zeke? Is T.J. Hockenson the next George Kittle? Is Lamar Jackson the next Patrick Mahomes? We’re driven to hyperbolic statements; it’s the nature of fantasy sports. Yet, while the rest of the owners in your league are losing their minds over every good or bad game, you should take a second to really consider the stats from a more level-headed point of view.

First up, Lamar Jackson. The second-year quarterback has taken the fantasy world by storm this season. Thought of as one of the best late-round quarterback options coming into this season, the Louisville product has come out of the gates firing, completing 41 of 57 passes for 596 yards with seven TDs and zero INTs over his first two games. Naturally, the question emerges: Is Lamar Jackson this year’s Pat Mahomes?

Just so we’re all on board with the comparison, this is the same Pat Mahomes who threw for 5,097 yards and 50 TDs last year with a 66% completion-percentage and two rushing touchdowns as the cherry on top. Mahomes was QB1 at the end of the season by 63 points over second-place Matt Ryan and finished with an average fantasy points per game which was four points higher than the next closest QB. Basically, Mahomes was out of the pool and showering while the best of the rest were still swimming the final laps of the race. He Michael Phelps’d them. Expecting Jackson to do the same is a fool’s errand. So before we dive in more fully, we should knock down the expectation a bit: Is Lamar Jackson a top-five QB going forward? That seems fairer to the second-year quarterback. Let’s start with the positive.

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Rushing Floor

Coming into the league, many scouts thought of Jackson as a running back. Something Lamar Jackson is well aware of. After taking over as the starter last year, the 6’2” signal-caller averaged 17 carries and 79 rushing yards a game. Those points are magic for a quarterback and gave the second-year pro a rock-solid floor.

Then the Ravens signed Mark Ingram in the offseason and drafted Justice Hill in the fourth round. They were clear signs that this team wanted to run the ball often and maybe didn’t want their quarterback, who is only 210 pounds, to be carrying the ball that often.

During the Week 1 blowout of the Dolphins, Jackson only carried the ball three times. The Ravens were in complete control and let their running backs do the heavy work. Last week, in a close contest with the Cardinals, Jackson had 16 carries; although, it is important to point out that Ingram got hurt and briefly had to leave the game.

All of which is to say that I think the Ravens want Jackson to run less. Even in his phenomenal game last week, he got fewer carries than he averaged last season. With the new influx of talent at the running back position, Jackson is more likely to see 8-to-10 carries a game than the 17 from last year. Since he is not the team’s short-yardage back, as Josh Allen appears to be in Buffalo, those carries won’t likely have the added value of often leading to six points.

 

Growth as a Passer

While Jackson will still possess a solid rushing floor, his evolution as a passer is what is forcing me to even contemplate the question this article is posing. We talked all offseason about the offense Greg Roman would design for Jackson, and the success the new offensive coordinator had with similarly mobile quarterbacks, Tyrod Taylor, and Colin Kaepernick.

Through two games the new offense seems to be a huge success. Not only that, but Jackson‘s progress as a pocket passer has been readily apparent. Last week, he was dropping dimes on deep balls to Marquise Brown, while standing tall and patient in the pocket.

He is clearly a much-improved passer, which, when paired with his elite arm strength, gives him incredible upside potential as a fantasy option.

However, everything is not rosy. There are some knocks against Jackson when considering if he can be a top-five quarterback.

 

College Accuracy Issues

Lamar Jackson may look improved as a passer, but we’re talking about two games. It’s the definition of a small sample size. If we’re going to still hammer Josh Allen for being an inaccurate quarterback then we need to retain some questions about Jackson.

Jackson was a 57% passer during his time at Louisville. Josh Allen completed 56.2% of his collegiate passes at Wyoming. Lamar Jackson has completed 72% of passes through his first two games, while Allen has completed 65%; yet, the fantasy community continues to suggest Allen is inaccurate due to his track record and Jackson is now over any accuracy issues.

I think it’s more likely that both players have made improvements and adjustments, but it’s important to keep in mind that a 57% passer becoming a 72% passer in less than two seasons is also highly unlikely. It seems more likely that Jackson will settle around 65%, which would still be a solid improvement but would suggest regression from the first two weeks.

 

He Hasn’t Been Tested Yet

It’s also important to keep in mind the two defenses that Jackson has faced so far this season. We already mentioned that the Dolphins were his Week 1 opponent, and it’s clear to everybody that they are tanking as aggressively as any team has in recent memory.

However, his Week 2 opponent wasn’t that much better from a secondary perspective. The Arizona Cardinals were without their top two cornerbacks, Patrick Peterson and Robert Alford. In the Week 1 overtime game against the Lions, they allowed Matt Stafford to throw for 385 yards and three touchdowns.

The Ravens may not have the hardest schedule going forward, but it will certainly get more difficult for Jackson than it has been so far. He still has to face the Browns secondary twice, the Patriots, Bills, Seahawks, Rams, and two games against Pittsburgh with new cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick,

There will be many games in there where we should expect muted passing outputs from Jackson considering the Ravens desire to run the ball.

 

Unproven Wide Receiver Corps

The last thing to keep in mind when projecting Jackson’s success during the year is how young and inexperienced his wide receivers are. Sure, they’ve looked great so far, but, as noted above, a lot of that has to do with the quality of opponent. Rookie wide receivers have a notoriously slow adjustment period to the NFL game.

Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin have shown themselves to be talented football players, but they will struggle in games this season. Especially with cornerbacks like Fitzpatrick, Stephon Gilmore, Tre’Davious White, Marcus Peters, and Denzel Ward still to come on their schedule.

 

Verdict

With all this in mind, I wouldn’t be actively looking to sell high on Lamar Jackson, but if somebody is offering you a top-three round WR/RB, you can make the move. A glance at the Yahoo transaction trends shows that Jackson has recently been traded for a Baker Mayfield/T.Y. Hilton combo, has been packaged with Todd Gurley in a deal for Alvin Kamara, and has been traded straight up for the combo of Aaron Rodgers/Marlon Mack – a deal I would make in a heartbeat.

Despite his hot start, Jackson only has two more points than Dak Prescott and five more than Pat Mahomes.  With all of the above factors in mind, I don’t expect Jackson to finish as the QB1, like Mahomes last year. I would assume that Jackson finishes as a top 10 QB this season, likely at the tail end of the top five or just outside. He’ll be a valuable asset for you, and certainly win you more than his fair share of weeks, but I think there will be more volatility than many are currently expecting.

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