Not all MVP seasons are created equal. There are some that make people say, Sure, I guess Tom Brady was the most valuable player in the league. But how do you define value, anyway? He was the best player, but if you take Brady off the Patriots, Bill Belichick could probably still get 10 wins out of that rost—and it’s at this point that my eyes glaze over.
Then there are MVP seasons when people say, Holy shit, [insert name here]!, and don’t need to add anything else. That’s what happened in 2019, as Lamar Jackson put up the most holy shit season since, well, Patrick Mahomes in 2018. But though NFL fans have been spoiled during the past two seasons, these performances are still special. Think of them more like Olympic MVP seasons: incredible athletic achievements that come around only once every four years or so. Jackson’s 2019 season belongs in the same conversation as Aaron Rodgers’s 2011, Tom Brady’s 2007, Peyton Manning’s 2004, Kurt Warner’s 1999, Steve Young’s 1994, Joe Montana’s 1989, and Dan Marino’s 1984. A season for the ages.
On Saturday night at the NFL Honors ceremony, the league crowned Jackson as the MVP—just the second unanimous selection in history. While Jackson’s season ended early at the hands of the Titans in the AFC divisional round, the Ravens’ shocking exit shouldn’t overshadow just how special his season was.
Let’s start with the numbers. Jackson’s passing line is remarkable. He connected on 66.1 percent of his attempts and accumulated 3,127 passing yards and 36 touchdowns in 15 games, with only six interceptions. He added to that an additional 1,206 rushing yards on 176 carries with another seven scores.
The efficiency with which Jackson guided Baltimore’s offense is remarkable. He averaged 8.2 adjusted net yards per attempt and had a QBR (81.9) that was more than five points higher than anyone else. His 6.9 rushing yards per carry is higher than the passing yards per attempt of nine qualified quarterbacks, including Carson Wentz and Tom Brady. Did you know that Jackson’s passing touchdown percentage of 9.0 was higher than Mahomes’s 8.6 in 2018? (Lamar juices that number a bit by recording fewer pass attempts due to all his rushing, but still!)
Jackson also had the best rushing season of any quarterback in league history, and it isn’t remotely close. He broke Michael Vick’s single-season record for QB rushing yards by 167 yards despite playing one less game than Vick. And while no QB had ever rushed for 70 yards per game before this season, Lamar eclipsed 80. In fact, he had the eighth-most rushing yards per game in the league, regardless of position. That was more than Saquon Barkley, Leonard Fournette, Mark Ingram, Aaron Jones, Todd Gurley, Alvin Kamara, Melvin Gordon, Le’Veon Bell … you get the idea. Not bad for a quarterback!
But the stats don’t fully explain what Jackson did this season. He’s arguably the most elusive player since Barry Sanders, so naturally he shines the most when you watch him on tape. There are quite literally too many Lamar highlights for a single article—and you’ve probably seen most of them by now—so let’s just pull out a couple to demonstrate how incredible Jackson was this season:
You may think it’s odd to highlight a 5-yard run on a second-and-17 in a game the Ravens lost, but this was the moment when it started to click for me that Jackson may be the best runner I’ve ever seen. It’s the play that stuck with me all season. Lamar runs with a ridiculous level of body control—and the way he put Chiefs defensive end Alex Okafor on his ass is jaw-dropping. Jackson has everything you could want in a runner: video-game jukes, after-burner-level speed, and catlike agility. But sometimes he has more than that too. On a number of runs this season, he demonstrated such great feel for the physical space on the football field that he could make you believe he has Spidey senses. He regularly turned runs that should have gone nowhere into solid chunks of yardage, and runs that should have gone for chunk yardage into jail-break touchdowns. Does he have eyes in the back of his head? Or is he actually a Jedi?
But let’s not forget the passing highlights either. What stands out to me about Jackson as a passer is how calmly he stands in the pocket. He’s not jumpy, and never drops back with the intention of scrambling. You’d expect Lamar to lean on his rushing ability as a crutch, but he rarely does. Even so, he can still kill teams with his movement in the pocket, as he did to the Browns on this Week 16 touchdown:
How is Cleveland supposed to defend this? Not only does Lamar hang tough in the pocket, but he virtually flicks his wrist and launches the ball downfield. Jackson can drop a dime as easily as he can stop on one—all told, he has more tools with which to pick apart an opposing defense than any other player.
Jackson redefined what a quarterback can do in 2019. NFL teams will no doubt be looking to imitate that success in the years to come—don’t be surprised if mobile quarterbacks start flying off draft boards in the next few seasons. At the very least, a player like Jackson will never make it to the end of the first round again.
But there is only one Jackson, and there’s only ever been one season like his 2019. Regardless of how it ended for him and the Ravens, Jackson’s performance deserves every bit of praise.