Each year, NBC Sports analyst and former NFL quarterback Chris Simms unveils his list of the Top 40 passers in the NFL. His 2020 rankings have caused some stirs locally, notably his decision to slot Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins at No. 39, below the likes of Mitchell Trubisky.
Simms' placement of Lamar Jackson may also come with some questions.
The Ravens quarterback and 2019 NFL MVP checked in at No. 5 on his list behind Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes. By all accounts, that is a very good ranking. Last year Jackson was No. 30, and his 25-spot jump was the largest in this year's rankings. However, while Mahomes and Wilson are understandable, it is fair to wonder how the player that was considered the most valuable in all of football sits fifth on any list.
For Simms, the ranking is not a slight to Jackson. The analyst explained on his "Chris Simms Unbuttoned" podcast that he sees Jackson as one of the best in the game. His unique skillset has made him an unstoppable force on the ground, and Simms also sees Jackson as a "natural thrower."
“Awesome, exciting, one of the most explosive players in football," Simms said.
However, despite his belief that Jackson can throw as well as any other quarterback, Simms hasn't seen it consistently done yet. Though there have been flashes, he's too often seen Jackson place the ball in a spot that slows down a receiver or throw a bullet pass when a lob would have been better.
“To me, it's just those nuances that are holding back Lamar Jackson," Simms said. "I think they are conquerable, he’s gotten better at it, I’ve seen it already. But I think that’s what keeps him at five for me at this moment.”
Simms also noted that when evaluating Jackson, he had to go beyond the stats and overall success of the Ravens offense. On paper, 3,127 passing yards and 36 touchdowns look incredible. But the analyst thinks part of it was due to the way Baltimore's offense was run. With so many moving parts and a dominant ground attack, defenses were forced to stack the box, allowing Jackson to have an easier time finding open receivers.
“When you just look like the stats and the machine of which Baltimore was. And of course he took advantage of a lot of plays that were there to be had," Simms said. "You went, ‘well this guy is amazing, this is awesome.’”
“He’s a really good thrower, don’t get me wrong, but his great running ability is setting up some great passing looks sometimes too, to maybe fool us into thinking he’s a little bit better of a thrower than he is," Simms said.
He used Jackson's two playoff appearances to further explain his point. The Chargers and Titans both limited Baltimore's ability to run the football and then dared Jackson to beat them through the air. In those moments, though some of it was out of his control, Jackson struggled.
That is the main reason Simms doesn't have Jackson higher on his list. To him, the best quarterback is the one that can dominate in all phases of the game and can single-handedly will a team to victory through the air. Simms believes Jackson has the ability to do that, and his success running the football shouldn't be overlooked, but he's not there yet.
“Lamar Jackson I don’t think is quite ready to carry the team with his right arm," Simms said.
When he feels he is, Simms will have no problem moving Jackson up even further in his rankings.
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