What will Lamar Jackson do for an encore? That is the main question surrounding the Baltimore Ravens heading into 2019, one year after Jackson took the NFL by storm following his terrific stretch in the second half of last season.
The catch is, Jackson did not play a full season in 2018, as he stepped in for an injured Joe Flacco midseason and ended up leading the Ravens to an AFC North division title.
So, next weekend will mark Jackson’s first true season opener as a starter.
Here are three things to watch from the youngster in Week 1:
3. Will he Slide?
We’ve seen this before with mobile quarterbacks. They’ll always try to fight for that extra yardage, and their careers will end up being shorter because of it.
Jackson may be the most athletic quarterback we have ever seen, so he is obviously tempted to try and dive head-first and/or take a hit rather than simply making the safe play and sliding.
You have to think that John Harbaugh has counseled Jackson on playing it safe to try and prolong his career, but whether or not Jackson actually does that in a game remains to be seen.
I understand that scrambling is what makes Jackson so effective, but sliding a few times here and there can make all the difference in Jackson playing until he is 38 or playing until he is 32.
2. Will he Throw the Ball 30 Times?
Jackson recently said that he would be throwing the football around 30 times per game this season, well above his average of 22.6 passes per contest last year.
Will that actually come to fruition, and will it happen as soon as Week 1?
Jackson has apparently been working on his passing game all offseason, so we’ll get to see if all of that effort pays off pretty soon. Let’s be honest: for Jackson to ever truly be an elite quarterback in this league, he needs to throw the ball better.
Yes, he was a dynamic force in 2018. Yes, he went 6-1 as a starter during the regular season. But he threw for just 1,201 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions while completing only 58.2 percent of his passes.
That won’t cut it for a franchise quarterback.
It will be interesting to see if the 22-year-old seriously lets it rip 30 times on average this season, and, if he does, how effective he is in doing so.
1. How will Lamar Jackson Adjust to Adjustments?
You know that every team around the league—particularly in the AFC and especially in the AFC North—has watched film of Jackson this summer and has schemes ready to stop him.
Remember: Jackson took over in the middle of the season in 2018, so opponents were simply not ready for him.
But now, teams have had an entire summer to prepare, and they are sure to throw some different looks at Jackson this year. The question is, how will Jackson adjust to those adjustments?
If Jackson is unable to adapt, it might be a long season for him. If he is, then opposing clubs just won’t know what to do.
We’ll see what happens against the Miami Dolphins next Sunday.