Lamar Jackson has won a unanimous MVP award and is the winningest quarterback in NFL history through age 25. There were still people scrutinizing his long-term viability as an NFL QB entering this season.
Those people are probably a little more quiet these days.
After opening their season with an overtime loss, the Baltimore Ravens have reeled off five straight wins despite having the most players on injured reserve of any team in the league. Jackson is unsurprisingly at the center of that success. Not only is he still one of the most dynamic running threats the NFL has ever seen — he currently leads the league in yards per rush for a third straight season — but he has appeared to take a step forward as a passer as well.
So you can imagine Ravens head coach John Harbaugh had some thoughts when asked about his quarterback's critics on Monday.
From the Ravens' website:
"If you're looking for your headline here, I think the people who make those statements are kind of whistling in the graveyard just a little bit," Harbaugh said Monday. "It doesn't have any meaning. Anybody who knows Xs and Os are rolling their eyes when they hear something like that."
The loudest preseason putdown of Jackson arguably came via ESPN's Jeremy Fowler in August. On the "Get Up," Fowler reported that an anonymous assortment of people in the league believed NFL teams could "figure out" the Ravens quarterback this year.
Some reactions, including that of Fowler's colleague Ryan Clark, were incredulous, but the comments did reflect a frequently seen trope in discussion of Jackson, the idea that there's some magic strategy that will defang Jackson:
.@JFowlerESPN says Lamar Jackson is a sleeper for QB under the most pressure this season 😳
"There are a lot of people around the league that I speak to ... they say this might be the year that everybody figures out Lamar Jackson." pic.twitter.com/lXP0EUPkUJ
— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) August 20, 2021
Fast forward two months, and it is very clear the league has not figured out Lamar Jackson.
Through six games, Jackson is on pace to finish with 4,496 passing yards and 24 touchdowns with 8.4 yards per attempt. He has averaged 281 passing yards per game, more than 70 yards above his mark the year he won MVP. And he's doing that despite missing first-round wide receiver Rashod Bateman until last weekend, the Ravens' top three preseason running backs, highly important tight end Nick Boyle and multiple members of the offensive line.
Where some expected Jackson to regress or stagnate, he has continued to evolve. Like good quarterbacks do when they're 24 years old.
Of course, saying teams can "figure out" a player is comically reductive. It's not like you can put a QB spy on Jackson, go zone or just hit him with blitz after blitz. Not only is Jackson an elite improvisational playmaker, he also has a coaching staff that can adjust when other teams make their adjustments to Jackson.
From the Ravens:
"I don't think once somebody does something — some X and O idea — all of a sudden that's the answer," Harbaugh said. "We've kind of been saying that for three years now. There is no answer. You've got to play well. You've got to execute. Whoever executes better and makes plays, really, in the end is going to win. It's less about figuring somebody out."
Fortunately for Jackson's critics, they're at least more anonymous these days. Unlike, say, Bill Polian.