Lamar Jackson Is Still Elite. Don’t Focus On Early-Season Woes.

Most pundits assumed that Lamar Jackson would regress slightly heading into his third season and fresh off of an MVP award. Regression came early and hard this season, and it’s causing us to forget how dominant the dual-threat still is. While some people will be happy to fade Lamar Jackson heading into the 2021 season, I’ll still be targeting the electric play-maker. He finished as the QB7 in per-game numbers, but if you listened to Twitter buzz you’d think that he’s not even a QB1 anymore.

After an earth-shattering 2019 campaign, Jackson became the first quarterback off the board in many drafts this year. By most standards, he failed to live up to his lofty expectations. And once you combine Jackson’s shortcomings with the emergence of other young stars like Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, Deshaun Watson, and Justin Herbert, it makes it difficult to gauge exactly where to draft Jackson in 2021. Had he not set the bar as high as he did last year, I don’t think this disrespect he’s currently getting would even be discussed. Let’s compare his record-setting 2019 to his “disappointing” 2020 campaign.

Lamar Jackson’s 2019 vs 2020 Per-Game Numbers

20192020
Passing Yards208.5183.8
Completion%66.1%64.3%
Passing Touchdowns2.41.73
Interceptions0.40.6
Rushing Attempts11.710.6
Rushing Yards80.467.0
Rushing TD0.470.47
Rushing Yards/Attempt8.926.32
Fumbles0.60.67

Sure, he regressed i just about every category, but I’m going to explain why I expect him to bounce back in 2021. I prefer to buy-low on a player rather than buying at an all-time high, which is what his draft capital this year demanded. If Jackson showcased his floor this year with 2,750 yards through the air and another 1,000 on the ground, I’m more than happy to buy more shares during his value dip.

Heading into Week 6 this season, Jackson was sitting 11th in scoring per game amongst quarterbacks, the lowest he’s been positioned over the last two seasons. There wasn’t much to get excited about for those that reached in the first and second round. Trading him away was going to be a huge draft capital hit and you couldn’t bench him given his weekly upside. Over those first five weeks, Jackson was averaging just 8.2 carries per game for 47.6 yards. There was some offseason speculation that the Ravens were going to focus on keeping him in the pocket and minimizing the hits he took, but this was a huge cause for concern. Worst yet, the Ravens were 4-1, with their only loss coming from the Chiefs. There was no reason to change anything up.

And then Weeks 7-11 happened…

But the tides changed after Week 6 and the Ravens soon lost three of their next four games. From that point onward, John Harbaugh stopped trying to make Jackson something he’s not and let him run loose. To close out the fantasy season over the last four weeks (Week 13-16), Jackson averaged 11.3 carries per game for 83.3 yards with an average of 1.0 rushing touchdown per game. That’s almost identical to his season-long averages in 2019. They won all four of those games and Jackson officially returned to his MVP form. During that four-game stretch, he averaged 28.3 fantasy points per game, less than 0.6 away from being the QB1 and behind only Josh Allen.

The best part of this? Getting the run game going opened up more opportunities for Jackson as a passer. Jackson completed 69.5% of his passes for an average of 2.0 touchdowns and 0.5 interceptions per game. Up until that point, Jackson was completing 63.4% for 1.5 touchdowns and 0.6 interceptions per game.

This run-first recipe has been proven to win games for Baltimore over the last two seasons, so I’m not sure why Harbaugh tried something new early on. We all just saw it; Jackson carried the ball 16 times in a Wild Card matchup against the Titans on Sunday and posted a season-high 136 yards while completing over 70% of his passes. Most importantly, the Ravens secured the W.

Another promising split from this year is Jackson’s ability to score when J.K. Dobbins is heavily involved in the gamescript. Dobbins saw 50% of his team’s snaps in just six games this season. But Jackson rushed for four of his seven touchdowns in those six games. If Mark Ingram is gone in Baltimore (likely) and Dobbins gets the lead role next year (also likely), that’s just more great news for Jackson.

So what does this mean for 2021?

Like I mentioned previously, the key to the Ravens’ success is getting Jackson going in the run game. Not only did Lamar Jackson become the first quarterback ever to record two 1,000-yard rushing seasons, but he did it in back-to-back years. Craziest yet, he did it before turning 24 years old! The Ravens tried to make Lamar Jackson something he isn’t to start this season but I don’t expect them to make the same mistake in 2021. We’re likely to see Jackson run wild throughout the remainder of their playoffs this year, much like he did on this 49-yard scamper.

I understand the apprehension and there is certainly risk that Jackson is a middling QB1 again next year. His schedule late in the season was easy and that could definitely skew his projections. But I’d be totally confident drafting him as my QB1 behind only Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen next year and you should too.

Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube page for quick and easy-to-digest Quick Shots. Give me a follow on Twitter at @dkluge90 and keep up to date with Fantasy Football Intervention @JoinOurCircle_. Thanks for reading and be sure to check out my FFI bio.

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