The tortured legacy of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson will likely take another twist on Thursday night.
Jackson is expected to win his second NFL Most Valuable Player Award in five years as a starter. While that would seemingly put Jackson on a trajectory toward a Hall of Fame career, his legacy is also haunted by the specter of playoff failure and the many critics who deride his accomplishments as propped-up, regular-season fodder. Is Jackson really a great quarterback or a guy who does just enough to tantalize before disappointing in the biggest moments?
Front Row Seat
To one man who has watched Jackson up close and carefully from the beginning of his career, Jackson’s 2023 season is proof that he is a great player and that there is much more to come.
“He has built himself into a great thrower of the football,” said Marty Mornhinweg, who spent 35 years in coaching, including 25 in the NFL, and was the Baltimore offensive coordinator during Jackson’s rookie season. “There are a lot of guys who have made themselves more accurate and most consistent at the NFL level, like Brett Favre and Steve Young. Young worked really hard to become a better thrower.
“Lamar is like (Young in that way), and it requires patience as a team when you’re talking about someone with that kind of running talent … Lamar made a big step as a rookie, and he has made two smaller steps along the way. There’s another step to make, and I believe he’s going to get there.”
A Cut Above the Rest
The Associated Press MVP balloting results will be announced tonight during the NFL Honors program on NFL Network. Jackson is the odds-on favorite to win among the five players invited as finalists for the award. The others are Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen, San Francisco running back Christian McCaffrey, Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott, and San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy.
While there are good arguments for all five in a season where no candidate was overwhelmingly great, Jackson’s consistency and Baltimore’s excellent regular season seem to be deciding factors in his favor. Moreover, there is an impressive statement to be made about Jackson despite his pedestrian total of 24 touchdown passes and 3,678 passing yards.
For those like Mornhinweg who have watched Jackson closely, Jackson is a better quarterback today than in his breakout 2019 MVP season. That year, Jackson threw for 36 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He also rushed for 1,206 yards on 176 carries (an absurd average of 6.9 yards per carry) and scored seven touchdowns.
Jackson was a human highlight reel that season with his running ability. His array of spinning moves combined with astounding speed were breathtaking. At the same time, all players eventually slow down, and the toll of playing that style would never allow it to last, especially when facing disciplined defenses that could limit his impact as a runner and force him to throw.
When Jackson was knocked out of the playoffs, the criticisms of his passing ability began to mount, and they have only gotten more pronounced over the years.