Why the First QB You Should Draft Is Lamar Jackson
Both in life and fantasy football, there tend to be situations in which there's a clear cut, miles-ahead-of-the-rest favorite.
In other situations, there's a group of contenders that will provide a similar level of production, and choosing between them comes down to personal preference (ex. WRs). We will NOT be discussing one of those cases. Because in the case of choosing your top QB, there's only one right answer.
If I were being provocative, the title of this article might as well include "...and not Patrick Mahomes." The top tier fantasy QB conversation begins, escalates, and concludes with those two guys. I can't think of another year when a pair of QBs were ranked so consistently close together. Let alone a time when, depending on the writer, publication, and hour of the day, which one's ranked higher seemingly flip-flops with wild abandon. In overall rankings, they seem to never be more than five spots away from one another, and in more than a few they're literally side-by-side. So, who do you go with, and why is it Lamar Jackson? I'm here to explain.
I'm not going to try to convince anyone that Patrick Mahomes is bad or unworthy. It'd be a dumb and foolhardy exercise. Yet, the question must be asked: has he peaked, statistically? Probably, and let me tell you, what a peak it was: the highest scoring season for a fantasy quarterback, period. Joining the 50-TD-5,000-yard club, alongside it's only other member, Peyton Manning, will do that for you. But is something like that replicable? Well, let's look at last season.
Allow me to make my obvious caveat now, yes, Mahomes dislocated his knee! For those of you with iron-guts out there, it's quite easy to find the YouTube clip of a trainer popping it back into place. Yet, due to some weird superhuman quirk regarding his naturally loose ligaments, he missed only two games and, in his return, threw more passes and yards than in any other contest (50 attempts and 446 yards). His next two starts after that were letdowns, in which he tossed only one touchdown a game and couldn't top 200 yards in either. Lingering injury, rust, or strong defensive gameplans from division rivals? A mix of all three? Sure.
I say all that to say this, even with the most generous of projections for the 2.5ish games that Mahomes missed, he wasn't going to get within spitting distance of his record-breaking previous season. He played in 13.5 games, with totals of 4,031 yards, 26 TDs, and 5 interceptions. Not bad, but compared to the 16 games in which he racked up 5,097 yards and 50 TDs, it leaves you wanting. Just rounding up his stats from the game he was injured, and tacking on the averages from his MVP campaign brings us to 4,909 yards and 34 touchdowns. Even if we project that he wouldn't have added another pick in those games. Factoring in his rushing stats, and we can generously estimate that he would've clocked 365 points. Lamar still hung a full 50 burger over that number, despite sitting out Week 17.
While I do believe that Patrick Mahomes will outdo his numbers from last year, and it's less likely that Lamar will be able to outdo his, I'm confident that Jackson will remain the highest scoring QB in the league.
Lamar Jackson releases a strike downfield.Will Newton/Getty Images
First, we have to discuss Jackson's unparalleled ability to run the football. This aspect of his game is what makes him such a transcendent fantasy player, but he fares better without it than you might realize. He marshaled the most effective passing attack in the league last year by a
wide margin, as he matched Denver's starting back, Philip Lindsay, point for point. Erase his rushing numbers, and he'd still fall in the top half of fantasy quarterbacks with his 36 touchdowns and over 3,100 yards. Most impressively, he did all that on a team featuring a woefully ineffective set of wide receivers. His only consistent target was Marquise Brown, a rookie pass catcher, who struggled with lingering hip and foot injuries, while his scorching speed, the most valuable asset in his toolbox, was mostly underutilized. Remember that last bit.
We've already established that Lamar's legs make him special, but there's another way of looking at this. What his rushing attack actually provides is coverage for the errant off week. Every quarterback in the league will post a dud game for any number of reasons, Lamar not excluded. However, averaging 27 points a game means that a lot of things had to go right and, in this case, it meant some of Jackson's least impressive passing games could still lead to God Level fantasy performances. The three times he didn't throw a touchdown (against KC, CIN, SEA) he scored 21, 30, and 23 points, respectively.
An important thing to remember about the league's reigning MVP: his age. At 23 years old, he's still younger than the number one overall pick, Joe Burrow, and has plenty of room for improvement. His completion percentage skyrocketed last season after making simple mechanic changes and learning how to better read defenses. He's by no means a finished product, and one area of improvement is his deep ball. Generally, his accuracy on these passes were just about league average, much like the amount of times the running-heavy offense attempted such plays. Defenses will attempt to take away these gains first by crowding the box and the middle of the field, Lamar's preferred area of aerial attack, second, leaving wide open chunks of grass to the deep perimeters.
If he can begin to exploit defenses in this way next season, even in small doses, the floor of his production rises and it could keep his ceiling in a stratosphere occupied by a select few. This upgrade, along with the new wrinkles that Greg Roman, his Offensive Coordinator/Wizard, will be implementing to maximize Lamar's effectiveness will keep his stock trending upward (and beyond Mr. Mahomes).