Lamar Jackson has rewritten the NFL record books for quarterbacks who run well. Going into Thursday night’s home game against the Jets, the Ravens QB needed only 23 rushing yards to break Michael Vick’s single-season record (1,039) for the position. He ended up with 86 and is now up to 1,103.
The record, however, has been a formality for a while, given Jackson is now averaging 78.8 rushing yards over 14 games and is now on pace to finish with 1,261 yards. Even if Baltimore rests him in Week 17, should it have the AFC’s top playoff seed in hand, he will end up shattering Vick’s 2006 mark.
Maybe, with Jackson officially surpassing Vick on the ground, the focus can turn to what really has made him the heavy NFL MVP favorite in 2019: his passing.
Consider after his great performance against the Jets (15-of-23, 212 passing yards, 5 passing TDs) these are now Jackson’s numbers through the air: 66.2 completion percentage, 2,889 yards, 33 touchdowns to only six interceptions, 8.9 adjusted yards per attempt, 112.8 passer rating, a league-leading 80.2 QBR. With what he did Thursday, he’s now on pace for 3,302 passing yards and 38 passing TDs.
Here is what Vick did over a full 16 games for the Falcons in 2006: 2,474 passing yards, 20 passing TDs to 13 INTs, 5.9 adjusted yards per attempt, 75.7 rating, 49.3 QBR. Vick’s peak as a passer came in 2010 in 12 games with the Eagles: 3,018 passing yards, 21 TDs to six INTs, 8.5 adjusted yards per attempt, 100.2 rating, 65.0 QBR.
Vick did operate in a slightly less pass-happy era, but there’s simply no comparison to Jackson when it comes to throwing the ball. The recent overall season by a QB who can run well that is more in line with Jackson’s breakout second year actually belongs to his veteran backup, Robert Griffin III.
Griffin, as NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 with the Redskins, posted these overall numbers: 65.2 completion percentage, 3,200 passing yards, 20 TDs to five INTs, 8.6 adjusted yards per attempt, 102.4 passer rating, 69.4 QBR. He added 815 rushing yards and seven rushing TDs. Again, Jackson is both the better passer and runner in 2019, as he already has scored as many times rushing as Griffin did then.
Griffin wasn’t in the MVP conversation then, while Jackson is dominating it now. While on the topic of dual-threat QBs, let’s look at Jackson vs. 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton. This is what Newton did for the Panthers four seasons ago in leading them to Super Bowl 50: 59.8 completion percentage, 3,837 passing yards, 35 TDs to 10 INTs, 8.3 adjusted yards per attempt, 99.4 passer rating, 67.0 QBR. He also ran for 636 yards and 10 TDs.
One more time: Jackson is having a more efficient season than Newton did and close to more prolific in terms of combined yardage and touchdowns.
Jackson isn’t hitting 50-plus TD passes the way that Tom Brady (2007), Peyton Manning (2013) and Patrick Mahomes (2018) did in their MVP campaigns. He also isn’t rating what Aaron Rodgers (2011, 2014) and Matt Ryan (2016) did during their recent MVP runaways.
But considering the few outlier spikes in production from those other quarterbacks, Jackson is having such an elite passing season, he would still be an MVP candidate if he had zero rushing production.
Jackson has been a dazzling runner at the position like the game has never seen in a single season. But that was the more elementary part of the equation in Year 2 after he rushed for 695 yards and five TDs while getting only seven starts as a rookie.
Imagine how gaudy Jackson’s numbers passing would be if he didn’t vulture his own production with his consistent chunk runs and rushing scores in the red zone. Ravens coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman have tailored their system to Jackson’s unique strengths and were confident he could produce, but no one could have expected this high level of passing so soon for any QB. What Jackson is doing in a slightly different way has the same wow factor of what Mahomes did last season.
Jackson’s running gave him high floor as a sophomore. But his downfield passing is what allowed him to rocket from intriguing late first-round Heisman Trophy winner to the best and most valuable player in the NFL.