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Why Lamar Jackson Should Be a First-Round Pick in 2020


Sometimes I like to make noise and some headlines if I can. That is why I host shows six days a week on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio representing RotoBaller. If I can get people buzzing about a topic, calling in or responding on social media with passion and vigor, I am having fun. But whenever I raise a subject that can cause a stir, I believe in it wholeheartedly. I don’t stir a ruckus just for the heck of it. If I start talking about why divisions are a silly fantasy football concept or the fact that New York City really doesn’t have an NFL team, I truly believe in those things. We can fight all day on it. You’re not changing my mind.

But I don’t always intend to get people talking. Especially when I am drafting. I am just executing as I see fit to win a league. I am not looking to be a prime subject of analysis. That goes for mock drafting also. I draft in a mock as I would a real league. So when I shook up the entire room and became a hot topic of conversation on Sirius XM’s Early 2020 Fantasy Football Mock Draft this week, it was not intentional. I knew who I picked in the first round might raise some eyebrows, but I didn’t care. I got the player I wanted at the 11th overall pick. The best player on the board. Heck, I might have taken him a few picks earlier if that is where I was slotted in the 12-team mock. I would have taken him where I did if there was a $1,000 entry fee.

Yes, I took Lamar Jackson with my first-round pick.

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Shaking Up An Early Mock Draft

It was a choice that defied all fantasy logic. The seemingly golden fantasy rule of experts everywhere is to not take a quarterback so early. The position is deep and you only start one. I stepped out of line there. The guys in the chat room immediately let me know I did. I was bucking history, they said. It was the earliest they had seen him go in any mock so far.

I usually follow the “wait on QB” mantra myself in every league, every year. But Jackson is not like any other fantasy QB we have ever seen before. There is only one of any player like him, and you cannot wait to get such a unique difference-maker. He stands out so much above everyone at his position.

One of my league mates warned me that regression was coming. But even if it does, how hard can it really strike? We already know the kind of player Jackson has become and he is not going to change his approach in a major way. It’s not like I am expecting his rushing yards to be cut in half in 2020. Jackson was sixth in the NFL in rushing yards in 2019! He rushed for an unreal 1,206 yards. Obviously, that is better than most other running backs in the league.

From that perspective, the pick is nowhere near as crazy as some may make it out to be. I am getting the only QB in fantasy football that can challenge many of the more productive RBs in the rushing department. Then, on top of that, I get his passing totals. Again, Jackson is not just any QB. He is a hybrid performer the likes of which we have never seen in our game.

Jackson also led the league in TD passes this past season with 36. No player has ever performed at such a high level of duality in fantasy football. Even in his best season, when he rushed for 1,039 yards, Michael Vick threw 20 TD passes. He never threw more than 21. Jackson is already looking like a better, smoother passer than Vick ever was. Those who played fantasy football in the Vick era well knew that we always waited for that true monster season from him, but it never happened. He was too erratic as a passer to ever approach Jackson-like levels.

Jackson led the league in TDs with a makeshift receiving crew that did not have any consistently effective wideouts. Baltimore will certainly look to improve in this area during the offseason. If they do, Jackson may pass more and run less. But not to the point where the statistical alterations are going to be tremendously significant. If I get improved passing numbers and slightly reduced rushing production, so be it. Jackson will still be far ahead of everyone else as a dual passing/rushing threat. I will still be the only person in my league to have him. I am still getting a QB with bonus RB production attached like no one else will have.

 

Bucking First-Round Trends

Everything was going according to the expert scripts when I picked at No. 11 overall. Eight RBs and two WRs were off the board. I could have landed a top-level RB, as that area was quickly thinning out. Or I could have gone for an elite WR. But there was only one player on the board who was so much more unique than the rest while being elite. So I took him.

People will now take shots on me on Twitter. They’ll make fun of me. They might even unfollow me. I don’t care. I took the best player available. If I could have taken Christian McCaffrey, Michael Thomas, Saquon Barkley, DeAndre Hopkins or Davante Adams, I would have tabbed all of them over Jackson. McCaffrey is simply the best in our fantasy game, and Barkley may have more upside than anyone at RB other than CMC. Those three WRs are so ultra-dependable at such high levels I cannot pass on them. Throw Derrick Henry into that mix too, as he is the most unstoppable force in the game. Maybe I would take Tyreek Hill ahead of Jackson too. But that is where the list of players I would take ahead of him ends.

By taking Jackson first, and then going to the extreme of taking three WRs next (Julio Jones, Keenan Allen, Devante Parker), I left myself in a less than ideal situation at RB. So I went for rookie D’Andre Swift and James White as my top two RBs. I was still okay with those choices. You are often not going to have an ideal roster on draft day. I have often won before in my most competitive leagues by waiting on RBs. I pulled off a three-peat in my most prominent league last season with Josh Jacobs and Miles Sanders as my top two RBs. Besides, I already had a built-in RB type with Jackson (wink, wink).

How a roster looks on draft day, especially in February, will not be quite how it looks in October. We never end up with the same full crew of guys we draft. But our cornerstone players in the early rounds will be our true difference makers. We want players who will elite and not disappoint us. Jackson embodies all of those traits in manners that no one else does. Only an injury can prevent him from being so much better than everyone else at his position again. When he is healthy, he always will be from fantasy perspectives.

You may offer that some said similar things about Patrick Mahomes before last season. But Mahomes doesn’t rush for more yardage than many RBs.

Lamar Jackson is the most unique player in fantasy football. I won’t pass up any opportunity to have him anchor my team in the back half of first rounds in 2020.

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