I have a reputation as a Lamar Jackson hater, which I find odd. If I was locked in a basement with no access to any other sports opinions I would say I was a Lamar Jackson fan. Sure, he’s not a very good quarterback right now, but he has all the tools to develop into one of the top passers in the league and at only 23 years old has plenty of time to improve.
But that’s not the world we live in. I’ve seen multiple articles and videos about if Jackson is better than Mahomes, which is just absurd. Jackson may have potential, but he’s not even in the same universe as Mahomes right now.
But then I got to thinking. I’ve never really sat down and watched him in detail, with the full glory of All-22. Maybe there’s something I’m missing.
So let’s give Jackson a chance and review one of his games, specifically his game against Houston. Jackson has games with lots of pass attempts, and he has games with a good Y/A, but he doesn’t have many games with both (which should be a red flag already). I chose Houston since it was the game of 8+ Y/A that had the most pass attempts with a grand total of 24 (for comparison, Mahomes averaged 8.3 Y/A and his only game below 25 attempts was when he got injured against Denver). If Jackson is a consistently good passer, this is the game where he should show it.
After watching for a bit a very consistent pattern emerged. See if you can spot it.
First play on Lamar Jackson, he had two guys wide open for an easy 1st down, but went with the tougher throw down the field instead (and missed). To be fair there was a bit of an opening, and it was only 2nd down, but still probably better to take the easy 1st down. pic.twitter.com/BIP2iqGery— Tony Sommer (@ajsommer1) June 15, 2020
Another play where Jackson misses wide open guys for firsts down (although they would require throwing with a bit of anticipation). Instead he chooses a throw that probably should have been a pick-6. pic.twitter.com/mAYIUHt4js— Tony Sommer (@ajsommer1) June 15, 2020
Yet again LJ misses a couple opportunities for easy 1st downs (and possible a TD). But even then he probably would have gotten a 1st had the throw been accurate. pic.twitter.com/MWNpn0dURx— Tony Sommer (@ajsommer1) June 15, 2020
Another play, another example of LJ having an open guy but being so late that he ends up making the throw way harder than he needs to make it. pic.twitter.com/6lhO71KTaF— Tony Sommer (@ajsommer1) June 15, 2020
Jackson was a bit late on the throw again. If the ball had arrived when the gif pauses it would have been an easy catch, but because it was delayed the defender was able to contest it. pic.twitter.com/Fi9UdBfFMk— Tony Sommer (@ajsommer1) June 15, 2020
Jackson was late with the throw, making it harder than it needed to be.— Tony Sommer (@ajsommer1) June 15, 2020
Might as well copy and paste at this point. pic.twitter.com/xSTkzDF35w
I spoke too soon about LJ not being too quick to run. Missed a guy wide open, and another was open enough for a TD with a good pass (that LJ is perfectly capable of making) but by that time he had already brought his eyes down. pic.twitter.com/pMbMFTFCE6— Tony Sommer (@ajsommer1) June 15, 2020
Starting to see a pattern? Jackson had all sorts of options, but selected none of the above and decided to imitate Josh Allen by throwing a short pass into the dirt instead. pic.twitter.com/Vec4ohf7lb— Tony Sommer (@ajsommer1) June 15, 2020
Had guys open, waited too long, had to throw it away.— Tony Sommer (@ajsommer1) June 15, 2020
Remember I selected this game because it was his 3rd highest Y/A of the season (the 2 better only had 17 and 20 attempts) and I'm not nit picking bad plays. People who think he's as good as Mahomes haven't watched the tape. pic.twitter.com/l58x37zMe8
By my count that’s 9 plays that can be summarized with “Had guys open but didn’t throw to them in time so had to try and make a more difficult play.” That makes for a better highlight reel, but when you’re trying to win a game it’s better to take the easy opportunities.
And it’s not like every other play was a great play and these were his 9 mistakes. Those were the 9 plays (of his 24 pass attempts) that matched that specific pattern. Here’s an example of an incompletion that didn’t make the cut.
Maybe it's hindsight bias, but I don't understand why he didn't just scramble. It's 1st and 15 and they're up 24-0. Why not pick up the easy 5-10 yards (who knows, maybe more)?— Tony Sommer (@ajsommer1) June 15, 2020
That being said, not a terrible decision, just missed a difficult throw. pic.twitter.com/QYkmGQ5hEK
Or plays that were positive, but didn’t take any sort of exceptional skill on Jackson’s part.
Decent throw here. Could have been a tick earlier, but he found the open guy and it got the job done. I give it a 8/10, 9/10 with rice. pic.twitter.com/yjMQjU7Cuq— Tony Sommer (@ajsommer1) June 15, 2020
Good decision to tuck and run when everybody's covered (he ran through the wrong hole, but this is a QB evaluation so we'll ignore that).— Tony Sommer (@ajsommer1) June 15, 2020
I'm honestly surprised that he doesn't scramble too much. Despite his flaws, he shows that he's capable of being a real NFL QB. pic.twitter.com/9qTOFDND9Y
(To be fair on this one, his athleticism ended up making it a bigger play than anybody else would have made, but we’re judging quarterbacking ability not running ability)
Since it was a TD I figured I'd include it, but I think the HOU defense gets most of the credit for this one. No wonder KC was able to put a 50 burger on them in 3 quarters. pic.twitter.com/XsBhc6hEp3— Tony Sommer (@ajsommer1) June 15, 2020
Not any sort of exceptional play, but it does highlight his arm talent. pic.twitter.com/xy7yH0kANu— Tony Sommer (@ajsommer1) June 15, 2020
I also skipped some plays that weren’t interesting, like screens and other short passes like that. So those 9 plays really stuck out. Jackson struggles to consistently read the field quickly which causes him to make things harder than they need to be. It’s amazing that he managed to do as well as he did.
That being said, while the film backs up my opinion that Jackson is massively overrated, it also backs up that he is not necessarily doomed to fail. He has a lot of potential, which he showed in this game on a couple plays.
A good play from Jackson. Threw with anticipation, throw was accurate, touchdown. Not much more you could ask. pic.twitter.com/C8Zq0zSBdQ— Tony Sommer (@ajsommer1) June 15, 2020
Another good example of why Jackson is a good prospect, and why he should have been drafted much higher. An absolutely perfect throw. pic.twitter.com/lvBr1GHjEf— Tony Sommer (@ajsommer1) June 15, 2020
This play shows why Jackson has a ton of potential to be an elite QB, even if he's not there yet. His guy was covered, so LJ moved the defender with his eyes to open him up. This is a Mahomes-level move. pic.twitter.com/XdPOO7ogFG— Tony Sommer (@ajsommer1) June 15, 2020
That last one is one I really want to focus on. Looking off defenders isn’t too unusual, but usually it’s something quarterbacks do as they wait for the play to develop. In other words they do it from the very start and it doesn’t take a lot of processing ability. The next level of looking off defenders is what Mahomes is able to do, which is realize in the middle of the play that the defender is in his way, move them, and make the throw. The no look pass was an example of this, but Mahomes does it on a fairly regular basis.
This play is Jackson doing that next-level looking off defenders. In the middle of the play he realizes the defender is in his way so moves him out of the way with his eyes. If you were just casually watching the game a lot of these other plays would have grabbed your attention more, even though they were actually negative. But this play shows just how high Jackson’s ceiling is.
Is Lamar Jackson as good as Mahomes? No, that idea is laughable. But that doesn’t mean Jackson sucks and will be out of the league in 3 years either. He has shown that he has everything you need to become an elite quarterback in the NFL. But he isn’t there yet, and there have been plenty of guys who had the potential who never reached it. Let’s all just be honest about how good he really is and not get overhyped because rushing counts more than passing in fantasy.