Lamar Jackson made his first appearance as a member of the Baltimore Ravens, and while the stats weren’t glowing, the talent shined through.
The much-anticipated debut for Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson came later than expected, as the 2018 first-round pick was the third signal-caller to hit the field. He played the entire second-half of the 2018 Hall of Fame game after Robert Griffin III and Josh Woodrum. As expected, Jackson had both fans in the stadium and on social media on high-alert every time he touched the ball.
Though Jackson never created a game-breaking run that earned him the Heisman Trophy in 2017 at Louisville, his sheer speed on dropbacks, rollouts and scrambles was startling even for someone who has seen every single snap of his collegiate career. His movement was always in control, and yet it was as if he was holding down the turbo button at all times, even compared to legitimate NFL competition on the Chicago Bears’ defense.
His passing numbers were nothing to brag about, as he finished 4-of-10 for 33 yards, one touchdown and one interception. One of those attempts was dropped and another was a throwaway.
Looking beyond the numbers confirmed that it was wholly unrealistic to believe Jackson would be a precision passer, or have appear to have a more natural foot alignment at the top of his drop. But his positive plays and ability to create is what’s going to be the bigger focus moving forward.
His first completion came on his second drive, and on a third down. This was perfect for the coaching staff to challenge a young quarterback, as his situational play is going to be a critical factor in his success. My accuracy database had Jackson as an average player in terms of throwing a catchable ball on third and fourth downs at Louisville, so his ability to extend drives and create opportunities for touchdowns has room for improvement.
Jackson quickly drops back, and he’s seeing pressure up the middle by the top of his five-step motion. Instead of drifting towards the blitz as some recent, more raw quarterbacks have done in early action, he correctly identified the wide-side of the field as an extended throwing platform. His ability to quickly release the ball despite an uneven lower-body, and still generate above-average velocity, is what conjures up comparisons to Michael Vick as a passer.
Three plays later led to Jackson connecting to fellow rookie Hayden Hurst for an eight-yard touchdown. The play design was simple; a stick-flat combination with Hurst chipping the edge defender to delay his release from the line. Rookie linebacker Josh Woods was late reading Hurst’s movement, and Jackson took advantage of his identification of the blown man coverage. The ball is accurate, although not perfect, but it also gave Hurst more room to operate post-catch than leading him closer to danger near the pylon.
Not all went well for Jackson. His next throw after the touchdown pass was an interception. Coming from a tradition 21 I-Formation set, Jackson fakes the hand-off, and then things get messy. He quickly sees the fullback’s lack of positioning, which indicates he needs to go to his second-read. He does, but only after a slow and deliberate foot pattern at the top of his drop.
That one-second delay he imposed on himself mattered because Bears cornerback Doran Grant was sitting on the route. He made matters worse by planting his lead-leg stiffly, and the ball went to Jaleel Scott’s inside shoulder instead of giving his rookie receiver the chance to protect the ball an an outside-shoulder throw.
Even a perfectly thrown ball may have still been incomplete because of how early Grant seemed to read Scott’s route. This will serve as a key teaching moment for Jackson though since he did struggle throwing outside of the numbers in college as well. His variance as a passer is acceptable because he’s so explosive, but his placement has always been linked to his legs.
Jackson didn’t disappoint in his debut despite not hitting the home-run play. He wasn’t resorting to scrambles immediately and did well to keep his eyes downfield until it was clear he had to get upfield. His internal clock was adequate, and all three sacks were a credit to the defense, and not products of Jackson staring down receivers and losing track of the offense’s timing.
He’ll be under the microscope more so than most rookie quarterbacks due to the polarizing nature of his game and insincere assumptions of his mental capability on the field. The mistakes will happen, but more importantly, he looked cognizant of what’s plagued him in the past and tried to stand tall in the pocket despite constant pressure around him.