Longtime NFL safety Bernard Pollard stirred the pot on Twitter earlier this week by claiming that Lamar Jackson is not a top-10 quarterback — and the Ravens QB wouldn’t let it go. A debate originating from an ESPN survey that polled NFL decision-makers and players on the top 10 players at every position raged on from Tuesday into Wednesday.
So let’s take a look at the numbers. Is Lamar a top-10 quarterback as he heads into a contract season, and how will his 2022 production affect his potential extension with the Ravens?
Bernard Pollard wages Twitter battle with Lamar Jackson
Pollard, who played for the Ravens and three other teams before retiring in 2014, claimed that Jackson is a “top-10 talent” but not a top-10 quarterback. He also said Baltimore would have trouble bringing in receivers while Jackson is under center.
“No TOP Wr will ever come there while LJ is there,” Pollard tweeted. “Plenty of WRs have been available to get in the offseason while LJ has been starting, but nobody wants to go. They give him the respect, but they don’t want to play with him. LJ is good but he’s not able to make the throws.”
The Ravens dealt Marquise Brown to the Cardinals during the draft after he requested a trade. Jackson wasn’t pleased with that move. While Brown didn’t say he asked for a trade because of Lamar, he admitted he requested to be dealt because of Baltimore’s offensive scheme … which is largely tailored to Jackson’s strengths.
Is Lamar a top-10 QB?
Based purely on 2021 results, Jackson was not a top-10 quarterback. He missed five games with injury/illness and looked worn down for much of the year. Lamar threw a career-high 13 interceptions and posted a career-low 50.7 QBR.
But it’s not fair to simply look at last season when evaluating Lamar’s status in the NFL. The Ravens weren’t just the most injured team in the league in 2021 — they lost more games to injury than any club in Football Outsiders’ database. With health questions at the skill positions and along the offensive line, Jackson was put in a difficult position.
However, when you look at the entirety of Jackson’s career with the Ravens, his production looks a lot better. For one, the highs are certainly there.
QBR is a more accurate metric than passer rating because it includes a quarterback’s contributions to the running game. Lamar’s 83.0 QBR in 2019 was the highest figure in the league since Aaron Rodgers’ 83.8 mark in 2011. Jackson also finished first in expected points added per play in 2019, so it’s no surprise he walked away with the MVP award.
Lamar was the youngest player in NFL history to win an MVP (and he’s still only 25 years old). But he did take a slight step back in 2020. His passing touchdown rate dropped by more than two percentage points, he ranked seventh with a 67.3 QBR, and he finished 11th in EPA/play.
Jackson has been on a downward trend since his MVP campaign. Therefore, you can see why Pollard and those polled by ESPN placed the Ravens QB outside the top 10. But it’s not as if anyone is saying Lamar is the 20th-best passer in the league.
Rankings are fun, but the more accurate way to assess NFL quarterbacks is to place them in tiers. Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Josh Allen, Tom Brady, and Justin Herbert comprise Tier 1. Jackson probably joins Matthew Stafford, Joe Burrow, Dak Prescott, Deshaun Watson, and Russell Wilson in Tier 2.
2022 is a critical season for Jackson
Jackson, who acts as his own agent, hasn’t shown any inclination to work out an extension with the Ravens. He’s set to play out the 2022 season on his $23.016 million fifth-year option. If Baltimore can’t get Jackson to agree to a new contract by next March, they’ll surely use the franchise tag to retain him.
The top of the quarterback market has eclipsed $50 million per year. Thus, Lamar probably doesn’t want to ink a new contract coming off the worst season of his career. The Ravens can point to his recent trend of production and say he’s not worth that type of money. Perhaps they hope Jackson will accept something in the $40-$45 million range.
That’s why the 2022 season is so crucial for Lamar. If he can get closer to his 2019 performance, the Ravens will offer him a blank check next offseason. If Jackson struggles or gets injured again, he won’t be in a position to break the bank.
Having traded Brown, the Ravens are expected to return to their run-heavy ways next year. J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards should be healthy after missing all of 2021, and Baltimore improved their offensive line by drafting center Tyler Linderbaum and signing right tackle Morgan Moses.
That style of offense could allow Lamar to flourish as he has in the past. Yet, it could also put him at further risk of injury. The Ravens must weigh every consideration — including Jackson’s skill set, health, weapons, and contract status — as they envision what their offense will look like in 2022.