Lamar Jackson. MVP. Inside the Numbers
The Ravens led by Lamar Jackson are turning heads in the NFL right now. Over the last three weeks they went into Seattle and took victory over MVP candidate Russell Wilson. Lamar Jackson led the charge by urging John Harbaugh to go for a touchdown rather than settle for a field goal late in the game. His electricity is contagious as Marshal Yanda said, “If he wants to go for it, I want to go for it.” The endorsement of Jackson by his teammates doesn’t get much bigger than that.
Last week Jackson was put on display for a national audience when the then undefeated Patriots came to Baltimore and left with their first blemish. New England has the league’s top ranked defense and the Jackson led Ravens put up 17 on them before they knew what hit them. They would win by the same margin, 37-20, thanks to Jackson accounting for three scores.
The game ended with the crowd chanting “MVP! MVP! MVP!”. The sporting world is on board too. You can google it. Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post, USA Today, Pro Football Talk, and a host of other outlets are using “Lamar Jackson” and “MVP” in the same sentence, in the same headlines.
Is he worthy of that title though? Talk about high praise. I’ve been a supporter of Lamar since day one, but let’s keep it real. It helps that Tom Brady is a glorified dump off specialist these days. It helps that Drew Brees has missed significant time, and Patrick Mahomes has been absent for a few weeks so he’s unable to retain the spotlight. Let’s look at some numbers to see where Jackson lines up in the MVP conversation.
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Total Quarterback Rating (QBR): Created by ESPN. Takes into account all things a QB does, including rushing. Takes into account game situations, opponent, clutch factors, etc… Here are the top six in QBR.
Russell Wilson – 81.4
Dak Prescott – 81.1
Patrick Mahomes – 80.8
Deshaun Watson – 76.9
Matthew Stafford – 73.1
Lamar Jackson – 71.9
It is worth noting that these numbers are fluid. I started putting this piece together two days ago and was looking at various numbers, and two days ago, Jackson was fifth, and Stafford wasn’t in the top five. In fact, Prescott was number one and Wilson number two. The only thing that has changed is the Raiders and Chargers played last night. Writing this on a Friday, double checking the numbers, they changed.
Consider this to be like WAR in baseball, except not cumulative. But like WAR, a statistic that is supposed to encompass as much as they can. We know that often times counting stats are what really matter. Let’s assume that the top six in QBR are the leaders for MVP, and for sake of this piece we’ll ignore what Christian McCaffery is doing, looking to break Chris Johnson’s single season scrimmage yardage mark. Let’s look at traditional stats for these six and where they rank.
Looking at that, Russell Wilson is the front runner. Although Lamar Jackson out played him in their meeting. What often gets misconstrued in that though is that the Ravens defense beat Russell Wilson. Not Lamar Jackson. Jackson beat the Seattle defense. Remember in that game it was a late defensive score that sealed the win for Baltimore. Jackson has a game up on the competition as Seattle hasn’t reached their bye week yet.
We also have to figure in what Jackson does with his legs. It’s no secret he does what no one else does, or has, in quantity, or quality.
How do we combine those to account for Jacksons special ability? Add them up? Find out how many total yards, total scores, and total yards per play they accounted for?
That doesn’t help Jackson’s case much either. Of the candidates, his legs haven’t brought him quite to the same level. The lower yardage per play, lower TDs, that’s going to count against him.
Obviously lower passing yards, leading to lower total yards isn’t an indictment on Jackson’s ability. It’s a matter of the Ravens being a run first team with other players as well. It’s a matter of leading late in games often so going to the ground game even more when teams know you are going to run the ball. Long drives to chew away clock. In the Patriots game the Ravens had the ball only TWICE in the second half in which they needed to move it.
Think about that. They had recovered a Pats fumble and returned it for a TD to start the third quarter. Kicked it back to the Pats. They would score a TD, then the Ravens had a 14 play, 81-yard drive that chewed up 8:09 off the clock. Then the Pats would get it back and 12 threw an interception. The Ravens then went 14 plays for 65 yards and chewed up another 9:35 off the clock. Lamar Jackson was able to kneel on it twice to end the game. But you think about how the Ravens go about winning games, part of it is ball control. Jackson isn’t putting up as gaudy of numbers as the others on that list because, how can you when the max amount of yards Lamar Jackson could account for in that second half last week, was only 149? He did however account for 115 of those yards and ended two drives with the max number of TDs. Two. Against the number one defense.
I’m going to say this. I still don’t think there is a way to accurately account for what Lamar Jackson is doing. QBR may be the best way, for now. But if you look at that list, Matt Stafford? No thank you. Lamar Jackson really is revolutionary in the way someone like Roger Craig, and Marshall Faulk were. Running backs that would catch 100 balls like the game’s best wide receivers. Jackson is a quarterback who will rush more times than some teams top running backs. QBR is counting that, but enough? Considering he qualifies as a running back when it comes to rushing rate stats because he does it so much?
There is a half season of football still to go. You can expect some more Ravens games to be flexed into the national stage. The Ravens may get the chance to defeat another undefeated team when they face San Francisco in week 13. Chances for high profile wins and exciting plays in primetime games.
If the trend stays the course, and Lamar is in the conversation come January, even if the numbers aren’t quite up there with the other guys, Lamar Jackson might be the first MVP to be crowned on style points. That little revolutionary extra that the numbers aren’t accounting for. The voters, like pornography in the Supreme Court, may “know it when they see it” and vote accordingly.
Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370, and FOX45. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he can be reached at [email protected]