Lamar Jackson has a tough act to follow … and it’s himself.
The kid has electric talent and proved that at midseason last year, leading the Ravens to the AFC North title. But he’s 22 years old and he clearly has a lot more to learn before anyone can start an informed debate about whether he’s going to be an elite NFL quarterback.
If you recall, the guy he replaced — Joe Flacco — led the Ravens to the playoffs in each of his first five seasons and was Super Bowl MVP at the end of that run, yet people were still arguing whether he was truly elite right up until he was traded to the Denver Broncos.
Jackson was such a revelation when he took over for an injured Flacco in November that it was just assumed his trajectory would be forever upward until some of his weaknesses were exposed at the end of the season.
Of course, he doesn’t throw a perfect ball every time he drops back in the pocket or freelances in the backfield. He might never do that well enough to channel Patrick Mahomes, but he if he throws it accurately enough to be a more well-rounded Lamar Jackson, that guy just might be capable of leading the Ravens deep into the postseason.
It’s just not fair to expect him to be there when the season opens in September. He’s still very much a work in progress, so let’s get real on the sports-talk shows and buy into the process rather than rush to judgment.
The Ravens just had their first organized team activity and there were people picking apart every pass.
Let’s try to remember this is Jackson’s first offseason as the starter and — if not for the injury that sidelined Flacco — the upcoming season would, for all practical purposes, be his rookie year.
To his credit, Jackson doesn’t need all that noise because he’s already his own worst critic. When a young player sums up his first day of OTAs with the words “I sucked,” you probably don’t have to worry about his commitment to getting better.
He raised some eyebrows when he acted surprised that the Ravens coaching staff had built a whole new offense around him, but we shouldn’t make too much of that. Don’t know about you, but I just assumed Jackson already was the Ravens’ whole new offense.
It’s not as if he’s been in hiding since the season ended with that disappointing playoff performance against the Los Angeles Chargers. NFL rules prevent teams from overseeing offseason training before the start of sanctioned workouts, so Jackson worked on his footwork and throwing mechanics with a personal coach.
Now is the time when the players start to absorb the new schemes and terminology, and it was refreshing to hear he’s taking little for granted as he settles into a leadership role at such an early age.
“I want to focus on everything,’’ Jackson said. “I don’t feel like I have everything down pat. I’m not really comforted in just saying, ‘Oh yeah, I’m good at this, bad at that.’ I’m bad at everything right now until we’re where we should be.”
He’s an earnest young man who is a half-season ahead of schedule, but the level of anticipation that has followed him back to the Under Armour Performance Center defies football logic. And drawing any conclusions from a few early offseason run-throughs is a fool’s errand.
It might be August before anyone will be able to get a real sense of how much progress he has made refining his throwing mechanics. The first extended look at him under game conditions likely will come in the Ravens’ second preseason game.
Even then, it would be silly to think he’ll suddenly emerge from training camp as a fully developed quarterback. What we do know is on any given Sunday, he’s an explosive talent capable of making a game-changing play at any moment. He already proved that.
Let’s just try not to make him a victim of unrealistic expectations.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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