Lamar Jackson: The NFL’s most talented?

Lamar Jackson: The NFL’s most talented?

Watch Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens (6-2) in action on Thursday Night Football as they travel to Miami to take on the Dolphins (2-7) – live on Sky Sports NFL from 1.20am in the early hours of Friday morning

Last Updated: 11/11/21 5:46pm

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is on pace to finish the season with an NFL-record 5,969 total yards Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is on pace to finish the season with an NFL-record 5,969 total yards

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is on pace to finish the season with an NFL-record 5,969 total yards

As well as the one that leads to the Super Bowl, the race that tends to dominate discussions during every NFL season is: who is the league’s Most Valuable Player?

Aaron Rodgers is the reigning champion, and a three-time winner, Tom Bray has also claimed a hat-trick of wins en route to his seven Super Bowl titles, while Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson are leading the way from the next generation with one crown apiece, in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

As to who is the NFL’s most ‘talented’ player? That is a different question, but one which former NFL offensive lineman Brian Baldinger believes he knows the answer.

Brian Baldinger sings the praises of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson on Inside The Huddle, hailing him as the NFL's 'most talented player'

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Brian Baldinger sings the praises of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson on Inside The Huddle, hailing him as the NFL’s ‘most talented player’

Brian Baldinger sings the praises of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson on Inside The Huddle, hailing him as the NFL’s ‘most talented player’

“Lamar Jackson is still the league’s most talented player,” Baldinger said on Inside The Huddle (Sky Sports NFL, Tuesdays, 9pm).

“And now he is becoming the most talented player, with better quarterback skills.”

Sky Sports’ Neil Reynolds was just as effusive in his praise of Jackson, saying: “Within league circles, he is considered a bit of a Madden (video game) cheat code.

“He just does stuff that you shouldn’t be able to do.”

November 12, 2021, 12:30am

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There has always been an acceptance that Jackson is a prodigious talent ever since being drafted in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens in 2018. But there were concerns, and in some cases continue to be, over his ability to transition into a pure pocket passer in the NFL.

He has undeniable, raw athleticism, size, power, speed, elusiveness, arm strength, it’s all there. But could he make the touch throws, throw with anticipation? Could he lead his team from behind (when teams rely on passing the football to ensure they don’t drain the clock)?

Even despite Jackson’s MVP campaign in 2019 – where he threw for 3,127 yards and 36 touchdowns, as well as rushing for 1,206 and seven scores – these questions remained entering this season, only for Jackson to answer them emphatically through the first nine weeks.

Check out some of Lamar Jackson's best highlight plays from the 2021 season so far...

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Check out some of Lamar Jackson’s best highlight plays from the 2021 season so far…

Check out some of Lamar Jackson’s best highlight plays from the 2021 season so far…

Yes, he remains a devastating weapon with his legs. He has already matched Michael Vick’s NFL record of 10 100-yard rushing games, still at the tender age of 24, and is on pace for a third-straight 1,000-yard season after notching 600 through eight games. But it has been his success – and specifically his improvement – through the air that has really stood out this year.

His average of 276.1 passing yards per game is up considerably on his 2019 career-high mark of 208.5 and last year’s 183.8 that prompted most of the criticism of the young QB.

And he has done this while pretty much singlehandedly carrying the Ravens offense – which lost their entire starting backfield (J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Justice Hills) to injury early season – on his back and, more often than not, from behind.

Jackson has doubled his number of career fourth-quarter comeback wins with four in this season alone. Three of those saw the Ravens trailing by more than 10 points in the second half – Jackson was previously 1-7 for his career in such contests – with their 34-31 overtime victory over the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday the latest.

Will Blackmon looks at some of Lamar Jackson's highlights from the Baltimore Ravens' Week Two win over the Kansas City Chiefs

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Will Blackmon looks at some of Lamar Jackson’s highlights from the Baltimore Ravens’ Week Two win over the Kansas City Chiefs

Will Blackmon looks at some of Lamar Jackson’s highlights from the Baltimore Ravens’ Week Two win over the Kansas City Chiefs

The Ravens twice trailed the Kansas City Chiefs by 11 points in the second half of their Week Two meeting, only for Jackson to finally defeat his ‘Kryptonite’ in eking out a 36-25 win. Admittedly, he owed their 19-17 comeback win over the Detroit Lions to the boot of Justin Tucker and his NFL-record 66-yard field goal, but the Week Five 31-25 overtime triumph over the Indianapolis Colts -which saw the Ravens trail 22-3 late in the third quarter – was all him.

Jackson had a career-high and franchise-record 442 yards passing in that game, along with four touchdowns passes and 62 yards rushing. It is one of six games this season in which he has returned over 200 yards passing and 50-plus rushing yards – the most in the NFL (Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen next best with three).

Watch Lamar Jackson's best plays from his career night against the Indianapolis Colts in which he racked up 504 total yards and four touchdowns!

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Watch Lamar Jackson’s best plays from his career night against the Indianapolis Colts in which he racked up 504 total yards and four touchdowns!

Watch Lamar Jackson’s best plays from his career night against the Indianapolis Colts in which he racked up 504 total yards and four touchdowns!

“He is special,” Reynolds added. “And Baltimore need him so much to win; his value is immense to that team.”

“The knock was always that ‘if he gets down, he can’t come back’. But he has proven he can do that. And he has definitely developed as a quarterback – he is taking more shots downfield, the passing game is more of a factor for the Ravens.”

Baldinger has seen it too. “He is reading defenses much better; he is letting the coverage dictate where to go with the football.

“It used to be that if his first receiver – Marquise Brown, whoever – wasn’t there, he was taking off with his legs.

“Now, he is staying in there, trusting his protection. He is playing quarterback from the pocket much better and when, or should I say if, the Ravens get to the postseason this year, they will be better equipped if they fall behind like they have the last couple of seasons.”

Baltimore Ravens linebackers coach Rob Ryan returns to Sky Sports to talk up his team's superb start to the season

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Baltimore Ravens linebackers coach Rob Ryan returns to Sky Sports to talk up his team’s superb start to the season

Baltimore Ravens linebackers coach Rob Ryan returns to Sky Sports to talk up his team’s superb start to the season

Even with Jackson and the Ravens’ impressive 6-2 start to the season, it is still very much a case of ‘if’ they get to the playoffs rather than ‘when’. In a packed AFC conference, currently 11 of the 16 teams have five wins of more – four of them making up Baltimore’s division – and only seven of those will progress to the postseason.

It means they can ill afford to slip up on Thursday night where they are heavy favourites against the 2-7 Dolphins for their meeting in Miami. Especially given that the Ravens still have five critical AFC North divisional matchups, as well as games against NFC contenders the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams to come down the stretch.

But while the road to Super Bowl LVI may still be unclear at the midway point of the season, there can be less debate had about the frontrunner for league MVP – or, at least, its most talented player. He is leading the offense in Baltimore.

Watch Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens in action on Thursday Night Football as they travel to Miami to take on the Dolphins, live on Sky Sports NFL from 1.20am on Friday morning.

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