Lamar Jackson is a star and a threat to the Cleveland Browns

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 30: Quarterback Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens looks on in the second half of a preseason game against the Washington Redskins at M&T Bank Stadium on August 30, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 30: Quarterback Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens looks on in the second half of a preseason game against the Washington Redskins at M&T Bank Stadium on August 30, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens pits Baker Mayfield against Lamar Jackson. It is the first of what should be many matchups over the next several years between the young stars

This week the Cleveland Browns travel to Baltimore to play a rejuvenated Baltimore Ravens team led by emerging star Lamar Jackson, in what promises to be the first of many epic confrontations between two teams led by former Heisman winners Jackson and Baker Mayfield.

The last time we saw Baltimore, they were led by aging veteran Joe Flacco, whose skills have been eroding for a few years now. The Browns were able to get past the Ravens, in a 12-9 squeaker. This was back in the Hue Jackson era, and it is memorable because it was Hue’s last win for the Cleveland Browns.

It might not be so easy this time, and a key difference is quarterback Lamar Jackson.

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Lamar Jackson has been debated all over the Internet and the airwaves. Is the former Louisville Cardinal superstar going to make it in the NFL? At this point, there should be no debate. Although he is getting it done by running as much as passing, the kid is 5-1 as a starter.

He is here, he is starting and he is a star, and he’s going to get better in the next few years.

A small minority sports analysts had Jackson on a par with  “Big Four” of Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen. Most had him as a mid to late first round pick.  There were many reasons to doubt him.

One complaint is that he doesn’t have a professional agent.  His mother is his agent, and that introduces a major uncertainty about whether Jackson can be signed to a long-term deal. This is not an on-the-field issue, but it might have turned some teams off, and thus affected his draft position.

A second issue is that Jackson didn’t do well on the Wonderlic test, which is kind of an IQ test given to prospective NFL players. Out of 50 questions, Jackson scored 13, which is just slightly above a potted plant. But on the other hand, one is left to wonder about that because he elected to have a family member as an agent rather than a professional.

A professional agent would have prepared him for the test, or at least coached him through the mechanics of test taking to avoid a complete meltdown, which is apparently what happened. Jackson ran a complicated offense at Louisville under Bobby Petrino, which included many pro-style dropbacks from under center. He may not be a rocket scientist, but it can’t be that he lacks intelligence.

The largest issue is that Jackson is a running quarterback rather than a pocket passer. A lot of football people would much rather have a pocket passer instead of a running QB. Jackson’s sensational career at Louisville was largely built upon his running ability as much as his passing.

Some teams were down on his arm and wanted to consider him as a wide receiver or running back. The kid basically flipped those people a bird and refused to run a 40-yard dash, preferring to be evaluated on his quarterbacking skills. Had he run, he might have been somewhere between Michael Vick and Neon Deion Sanders.

But Jackson is not just another running quarterback. He is one of the most phenomenal running quarterbacks of all time. In his Heisman year, Jackson rushed for 1,601 yards and 6.9 yards per carry, while also throwing for 3,660 yards.

Jackson rushed for more yards that season than Michael Vick had in his entire college career (1,299 yards). He also passed for more yards that season than Vick had in his entire career (3,299).  Hence, if you want to compare the two for their style of play, fine, but there is no comparison as far as their accomplishments are concerned. Jackson is just an unbelievable athlete, and if they were coming out at the same time, it would be very hard to justify Vick at the top of the first round and Jackson at the end of it.  It ought to be the other way around.

It’s probably true that a running quarterback is subject to more frequent injuries due to the pounding. But Jackson is tougher than other quarterbacks and may hold up better. Michael Vick was able to play effectively into his 30s. Vick was very strong but kind of skinny and made you hold your breath when he was tackled.  Jackson is built like Hercules and punishes defenders when tackled.

For the Ravens, the operative statistic is that he has five wins versus one loss.  Jackson has done it without much skill as a passer, frankly. However, he is such a threat as a runner that opposing defenses are forced to adjust, and they have to commit an additional player to stop the run. Lamar Jackson is going to face more 8-in-the-box formations than any other quarterback with the possible exception of DeShaun Watson.

Football purists are put off that, at this stage of his development, Jackson still uses the one-look-then-run play. That is considered to be a college style play, and 90 percent of the quarterbacks who do that are going to get creamed.  But Jackson is not 90 percent of the quarterbacks.

When he decides to run, it is more than likely going to get positive yardage. In another season or two, Jackson will be better able to make his reads and make the right throw. But even with the wrong read, he is dangerous. That may be what the anti-Jackson critics are not getting.

His last game against the tough defense of the Los Angeles Chargers resulted in a career-high 204 yards and no interceptions. His maligned arm is much stronger and more accurate than his critics suggest.

The biggest problem with Jackson is that he is only 21, and as noted in previous articles in Dawg Pound Daily, no one ever had a decent year quarterbacking at age 21. Even Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton was only 2-8 as a rookie starter. He is the first 21-year-old to go four games over .500 in NFL history.

The best previous season for a 21-year-old was David Woodley who went 6-5 in 1980 for the Don Shula-coached Miami Dolphins. It’s not widely appreciated, but at age 21, there is just a learning and maturation process that a pro quarterback needs to have before he can reach his potential. Jackson is nowhere near his potential now, but is good enough to go 5-1.  That is a scary thought.

Like Mayfield, Jackson has turned around a team in the doldrums. Baltimore was an uninspiring 4-5 with veteran Joe Flacco at the controls and was contemplating firing John Harbaugh. Now, however, they are 9-6 and would win the AFC North with either a win over the Browns or a loss by the Steelers. This is parallel to the Cleveland Browns

This is the first of what promises to be a series of epic encounters between Jackson and fellow Heisman winner Baker (Feelin’ Dangerous) Mayfield. At age 23, has already become an epic passer. At age 23 and with four full years of major college ball behind him (five if you count his transfer year to Oklahoma in which he did not play) Baker is definitely much more advanced than Jackson right now.

Mayfield has been on fire ever since Hue Jackson was sent to the Happy Hunting Ground, going 5-2 since that momentous event, which is very comparable to Jackson’s team success. However, Mayfield has put up passing numbers that rank among the league’s best in that time. Jackson’s passing numbers are not nearly as impressive,  and the running yards only partially compensate. But as a team, the Ravens have gained an amazing 1,311 (218.5 yards per game).

But Jackson is on a very good team which is playing better defensively than any other team in the NFL right now.  And the Ravens are at home fighting for the AFC North Division championship.

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Consequently, the Ravens are on the brink of clinching the AFC North if they can get past the Browns.