The announcement that Lamar Jackson was voted the NFL’s Most Valuable Player of 2019 might seem anticlimactic to some, since it was obvious to just about everyone that he was the most impactful figure in the league during the regular season.
Certainly, no one should have been surprised after he pretty much swept all the relevant in-season honors, led the Ravens to their best record ever and captured the imagination of an entire nation of football fans.
The Ravens’ faithful, in particular, fell in love with his unique talent and humble nature, neither of which weighed as heavily in the selection process as the team and individual records he set during his first full season as a starting quarterback at the professional level. But it is that humble nature that will prevent him from expressing what this great new addition to his trophy case really represents.
Ravens star quarterback Lamar Jackson talks about with all the accolades he still remains humble.
If it symbolizes anything more than a great statistical season, it is the way Jackson proved so many wrong and — in the process — became a transformational figure during the NFL’s 100th anniversary season.
There are still doubters, and they were emboldened when he struggled in the playoffs for the second postseason in a row. But all that the Ravens’ quick divisional-round exit proved was that Jackson is still human and that, for all of his otherworldly athletic ability, he still can get better.
That should be a scary thought for the rest of the league, with most of the key players from the record-setting offensive unit expected back and the front office clearly determined to assure the team will enter the 2020 season in a position to win its third straight AFC North title and push a couple of games deeper into the postseason.
No one is happy with the way this season ended. The loss to the Tennessee Titans was a gut punch that is going to leave an ugly mark on this team’s psyche until the Ravens get back to work this spring and can transform it into a motivational chip on their shoulder pads.
When Jackson was asked after that loss what he needed to improve on for next year, he delivered the right answer: “I’ve got to work on everything," he said. “There’s always room for improvement. I need to improve on everything, whether it’s running, throwing the ball, pocket poise, everything.”
No one should doubt that commitment after the strides he made year-over-year following his successful — but also unfulfilled — rookie season.
Jackson’s performance after replacing an injured Joe Flacco at midseason, though impressive under the circumstances, still left room to wonder whether he could overcome some mechanical issues to become more than a running back with a single digit on his back.
He committed to changing that perception and worked hard to improve his passing skills during the offseason. Convincing the football intelligencia that he could be both an elite and complete quarterback obviously wasn’t going to be easy.
The naysayers were waiting when training camp opened and plenty of them were quick to embrace Baker Mayfield and the rebuilt Cleveland Browns while dismissing Jackson as just another one-dimensional running quarterback.
We all know what happened after that.
Of course, it wasn’t the first time Jackson had been underestimated. He’s been hearing the same things since he came out of high school. So, he went to Louisville and won the Heisman Trophy in 2016 and was a Heisman finalist the following year, only to have draft guru Todd McShay urge him to go back to school for one more year while ranking him as the No. 7 quarterback heading into the 2018 draft.
He would not even have been chosen in the first round if the Ravens had not seen more in him than anyone else and traded up to get him with the final pick on the first night of the draft. That put him in the right place at what many thought was the wrong time when he had to step in for Flacco ahead of schedule.