The hype surrounding Lamar Jackson headed into his third season in the league, and second as a starter, is absolutely justified. And that doesn’t mean, if Jackson takes a step back statistically next season, any criticism off that is necessarily warranted.
But how much of a decline can be expected from Jackson?
Statistically, the Ravens changed the way football was played from an offensive standpoint in 2019. They broke the single-season rushing record for yards in a season and had the league’s most dynamic and successful mobile quarterback in any season in league history.
But in a box score sense, Jackson is likely due for a decrease in production for two main factors.
Firstly, defenses will be able to prepare for the Ravens’ offense more adequately, considering most teams on the 2020 schedule have seen the offense. While the narrative that the Ravens offense was easier to play the second time around was overplayed, seeing that offense up close before is a clear benefit. And secondly, it’s just hard to match such successful production from year-to-year in the NFL. It’s unreasonable to expect the Ravens to break the single-season rushing record each year, or for Jackson to go on a stretch of multiple MVP awards in a row.
A look at the last six MVPs, all of which were quarterbacks, shows there’s a clear path to a "less productive" 2020 season — but also some hopeful signs for the Ravens.
2014, Peyton Manning: 12-4 record, 395-for-597 passing, 66.2 completion percentage, 4,727 yards passing with 39 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, 8.1 adjusted yards-per-pass attempt.
In fairness to Manning’s 2014 season, he stood no chance of repeating his 2013 campaign when he threw for 55 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. He led the Broncos to the Super Bowl in 2013 after a 13-3 regular season, but Manning’s numbers in 2014 were still strong enough for him to be one of the league’s best passers.
His downfall didn’t come until a year later, where he suffered the worst year of his career due to age and injury. But as for Manning’s 2014 season, even when he wasn’t his best, he was still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
2015, Aaron Rodgers: 10-6 record, 347-for-572 passing, 60.7 completion percentage, 3,821 yards passing with 31 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, 7.1 adjusted yards-per-pass attempt, 344 yards rushing, one rushing touchdown.
In a year similar to Manning’s a year prior, Rodgers wasn’t able to back up his incredible 2014 season — but still was excellent. In 2014, he threw for 38 touchdowns and just five interceptions with 4,381 yards passing. While his touchdowns, yards and completion percentage fell and his interception count rose, he was still one of the league’s best.
The Packers, who lost two more games in 2015 than a year prior, lost in the divisional round to the Cardinals.
2016, Cam Newton: 6-8 record (15 GP), 270-for-510 passing, 52.9 completion percentage, 3,509 yards passing with 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, 6.4 adjusted yards-per-pass attempt, 359 yards rushing, five rushing touchdowns.
This is perhaps the most worrying comparison on this list, as Newton and Jackson are the most comparable players of any of the six quarterbacks.
Newton’s 2015 season was, by far, the best of his career. He threw for 35 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions with 3,837 yards passing. He added 636 yards on the ground with 10 touchdowns as the Panthers went 15-1 and lost to the Broncos in the Super Bowl.
In 2016, however, Newton and the Panthers fell off a cliff. They weren’t able to repeat their success from a year earlier and went from 15-1 to 6-10 and placed last in the NFC South. Carolina's offense, which ranked first in the NFL in Newton’s MVP campaign with 31.3 points-per-game, fell to 15th in 2016 with 23.1 points-per-game.
If Jackson turns out to have the success, and titles, that every other player on this last has, the Ravens will be giddy. A career trajectory like Newton’s, though, will leave the Ravens wanting more.
2017, Matt Ryan: 10-6 record, 342-for-529 passing, 64.7 completion percentage, 4,095 yards passing with 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, 7.5 adjusted yards-per-pass attempt.
Ryan, like a few others, had a tall task to repeat his MVP season. He threw for 38 touchdowns, 4,944 yards and threw just seven interceptions, all career bests.
In returning from a devastating collapse in the 2017 Super Bowl, the Falcons made the playoffs once again, but took a step back and lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Eagles. The team’s offense, which scored 33.8 points-per-game in 2016, fell from first in the league to 15th and scored just 22.1 points per game.
While Ryan had a mostly successful season in 2017, his numbers were nowhere near what they were a year prior under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who left for the 2017 season.
2018, Tom Brady: 11-5 record, 375-for-570 passing, 65.8 completion percentage, 4,355 yards passing with 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, 7.8 adjusted yards-per-pass attempt.
Brady’s regular season in 2018 was, by Brady’s standards, nothing special. He posted the worst record of his career since 2009 and went 11-5. On the heels of a Super Bowl defeat, the Patriots lost two more games than in 2017 and Brady’s passing numbers took only a slight dip.
New England’s offense, which ranked second in 2017 with 28.6 points-per-game, scored 27.3 in 2018. The team was mostly the same from a year prior and won the Super Bowl against the Rams.
In what could be the Patriots’ last ride of their dynasty, Brady proved he didn’t need the MVP award to win a Super Bowl.
2019, Patrick Mahomes: 11-3 record (14 GP), 319-for-484 passing, 65.9 completion percentage, 4,031 yards passing with 26 touchdowns and five interceptions, 8.9 adjusted yards-per-pass attempt, 218 rushes with two rushing touchdowns.
Mahomes set the league ablaze in 2018 and threw for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns. Despite an injury in 2019, he recovered in time to lead the Chiefs to the Super Bowl.
His 2019 season wasn’t as strong, statistically, as his first full season as a starter, but his interception rate improved as his completion percentage remained nearly the same. The Chiefs scored about seven less points per game, but the defense improved from 24th in the NFL to 7th over one season.
So what do all those numbers and quarterbacks tell us about Jackson’s 2020 season?
Firstly, it’s unlikely that he or the Ravens will repeat their historic 2019 season. Jackson combined for 4,333 total yards and 43 touchdowns and threw just six interceptions. He rushed for more yards (1,206) than any quarterback in history and was at the command of the league’s best offense, one that scored 33.2 points-per-game.
Not only that, no quarterback on that list led their team to a better record the year after they won the MVP award. If fans are expecting a better season than 14-2, or even another 14-2 season, they might be in for a rude awakening.
The Ravens added a second-round running back in J.K. Dobbins to the mix to take the load off the rushing attack, and then added two more wide receivers to continue changing the outlook of the offense.
In that sense, if Jackson throws more than he did in 2019, he reasonably has the best chance of anyone on this list to improve statistically from his MVP season in terms of total yards. But routinely expecting the league's top offense is unrealistic.
Simply, the Ravens’ 2019 season statistically may have been the high-water mark offensively for Jackson's career — and that’s not a cause for concern. Improving upon 33.2 points-per-game each season is an impossible task for Jackson and the Ravens, and they can still boast the league's best, or one of the best, offenses without setting records seemingly each week.
But just because his and the Ravens’ offensive numbers might go down, as Brady and Mahomes proved, that doesn’t mean Jackson is incapable of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at season’s end.
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