Following a Sunday rout of the Miami Dolphins that saw quarterback Lamar Jackson tie the Baltimore Ravens’ franchise record with five touchdown passes, the 22-year-old was asked if his performance would be enough to silence those who say he’s incapable of throwing the ball at an NFL level.
Donning a wry smile, Jackson quipped back with the same phrase some critics have used to discredit him.
“Probably not,” he told reporters. “But not bad for a running back.”
For those who believe in his passing abilities, Jackson’s Sunday outing was as impressive as it was cathartic. He completed 85 percent of his 20 passes for 324 yards, and his perfect 158.3 passer rating was also a first in Ravens franchise history. The four touchdown passes he threw in the first half were two shy of his total from last season.
Jackson throughout his rookie year was ridiculed for his arm as often as he was lauded for his stellar running ability. His shaky performance against the Los Angeles Chargers in last year’s playoffs served as more fodder for detractors, and some pundits suggested the dual-threat quarterback was not fit to play the position at all.
But the perception that Jackson wouldn’t last as an NFL quarterback dates back to his days at Louisville. In early 2018, former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian famously said Jackson, who is 6-foot-2, was too short and not accurate enough to play the position at the pro level — even though Jackson won the Heisman Trophy in 2016.
“I think wide receiver,” Polian, now an ESPN analyst, replied when asked which position Jackson should play in the NFL. “Exceptional athlete, exceptional ability to make you miss, exceptional acceleration, exceptional instinct with the ball in his hand, and that’s rare for wide receivers."
Polian, who had previously said Jackson “might be a receiver,” went on to compare the quarterback to star wideouts Antonio Brown and Julio Jones.
That same year, ESPN football analyst Mel Kiper Jr. cited Jackson’s “accuracy throwing the football” in college as evidence he shouldn’t be taken in the first round of the NFL draft. (Jackson was taken with the last pick in the first round.) And in 2017, Sports Illustrated quoted an anonymous ACC coach who said Jackson “has no shot at playing quarterback in the NFL.”
“None. He can’t make the throws and can’t read coverages,” the coach told SI. “He’s not going to have a chance.”
But on Sunday, the Ravens dominated thanks to Jackson’s arm. He dazzled with an array of throws, including this impressive, backpedaling toss to rookie wide receiver Miles Boykin in the end zone:
Despite Jackson’s desire to rely on his passing abilities this season, many headlines coming into Week 1 focused on his proficient running ability. Some pundits even predicted he would break Michael Vick’s famous 2006 single-season quarterback rushing record of 1,039 yards.
On Sunday, however, Jackson ran three times for six yards — fewer than Miami quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick gained on his single carry.
The Ravens will probably go as far this season as Jackson can take them, and while he won’t have to repeat Sunday’s performance every week, he’ll also have to prove that this outburst against a woeful Dolphins squad wasn’t a complete outlier.
If Week 1 is any indication of what’s to come, however, it might time for Jackson’s doubters to finally back off.
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