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BHM Profile: Lamar Jackon’s journey to two-time MVP

Lamar+Jackson+is+a+very+influential+black+quarterback+who+continues+to+break+records.+Design+by+Dia+Cohen
Dia Cohen
Lamar Jackson is a very influential black quarterback who continues to break records. Design by Dia Cohen

On April 27, 2023, Lamar Jackson became the highest-paid player in the NFL when he signed a $260 million, five-year extension with the Baltimore Ravens. Leading up to the deal, many NFL fans had speculated about Jackson’s future with the Ravens, as he had ended his past two seasons with injuries and was placed under the franchise tag before signing his deal. Many questioned his true value and doubted that he was worth the money. Now, as the season has come to a close, Jackson closed in on his second MVP award and won a playoff game in which he threw for two touchdowns, rushed for two touchdowns and finished with a 100+ passer rating, the first player in league history to do so. 

While he continues to perform at a high level, Jackson is used to the doubters and constant criticism. He had only four Power Five offers in his senior year of high school. This was despite throwing for 2,263 yards and 31 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Boynton Beach High School in Florida. Jackson was just a three-star recruit. 

Jackson eventually committed to the University of Louisville when then-head coach Bobby Petrino promised him he would play quarterback. He had received interest from other schools, which admired his speed and agility but not his throwing arm. The University of Georgia wanted him but insisted on a position switch. In an interview in 2016, Jackson described the situation. “Georgia said they wanted me at safety. They were out of the equation right after they said that. …”. 

Despite having interest from multiple powerhouse programs that wanted him to play running back, receiver or defensive back, Jackson believed in his ability to play quarterback and needed a team that felt the same. So, in 2015, he suited up for Petrino and the Cardinals as a true freshman. 

In his first college season, Jackson only completed 54.7% of his passes, starting in eight games but playing in twelve. He passed for 1,840 yards – throwing 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions. In his sophomore season, Jackson became an explosive force throwing for 3,543 yards and 30 touchdowns, while only throwing nine interceptions. The campaign included a statement win over Florida State, a top-ten matchup in which Louisville pummeled the Seminoles behind a 216-yard performance by Jackson. 

Jackson capped off a record-breaking season by winning the Heisman trophy at 19 years old, the youngest to ever win the award. He won, beating out two future first-round pick NFL quarterbacks – Deshaun Watson and Baker Mayfield. 

“To me, he is the best player that you’re ever going to see,” said Bobby Petrino, Louisville’s head coach at the time. Jackson finished the year as Louisville’s leading single-season rusher, recording a school-record eight 100-yard rushing games and setting an ACC record of 21 rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. 

Fast forward to 2018 when Jackson was declared for the draft. Analysts and scouts had plenty of doubts about Jackson’s quarterback ability. In a scouting report from the combine, his accuracy was criticized and scouts determined that he wasn’t patient enough with the passing game and was too reliant on his running ability to escape the pocket. The report said that Jackson “will need significant work on his dropback footwork moving forward” and cited the fact that he elected not to run the 40-yard dash as a sign of immaturity. 

As Jackson later revealed, he chose to not run the 40 because, as when looking for a college, he was choosing to bet on himself and his ability as a passer. Throughout the draft process, many teams looked at his speed and saw a wide receiver or running back, not a quarterback. Despite knowing that he would likely go earlier in the draft and acquire a starting role in another position, he knew he could succeed at quarterback and refused to entertain the idea of playing another position. It was a polarizing move that some categorized as immature or foolish, but it ended up paying off in a big way.

Jackson and other potential early picks were invited to the 2018 NFL Draft in Arlington, Texas. In the NFL Combine, an event where the NFL invites the top college prospects to showcase their skills and meet with potential future teams. Lamar refused to do any speed, agility and strength-related tests. This was most likely due to his Combine performance, and because of it, Jackson ended up falling to the end of the first round, picked 32nd overall by the Baltimore Ravens.  

Jackson began the season as the Ravens’ backup quarterback behind first-string Joe Flacco. Jackson made his NFL debut in the first game of the season, a blowout against the Buffalo Bills. In week 11, Jackson had his first NFL start because Flacco was injured. He continued playing for the rest of the season and ended with 1,201 passing yards, six passing touchdowns and three interceptions. Jackson also had 695 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns in his rookie season. 

In 2019, Jackson had his breakout season. He became the Ravens’ starting quarterback and passed for 3,127 yards while throwing 36 touchdowns compared to a mere six interceptions. He also had 1,206 rushing yards with seven touchdowns. Jackson led the Ravens to the playoffs for the second year in a row, becoming the youngest player to do so. 

Jackson won the NFL MVP award in 2019 because of his statistics and performance throughout the season. He became the youngest player to ever receive this award. 

Jackson continued to dominate the league after being selected to three Pro Bowls and winning many more accolades. He passed for 3,678 yards and threw only seven interceptions versus 24 touchdowns in the 2023 season. Jackson also rushed for 821 yards and ran for five touchdowns. With these statistics, Jackson secured another MVP award for the 2023 season.

Jackson has faced many ups and downs, challenges and doubters throughout his football career. He has always believed in betting on himself, no matter what the outside world may think, and it has paid off in a big way. He continues to represent himself and those who may face similar challenges and sets an example for so many young people who aspire to reach his level of success.

About the Contributors
Lydia Adams, Staffer
Lydia Adams is a sports staffer on RedEye. In her free time, she likes to run, read, and watch a lot of sports. Her favorite teams and Louisville and the Cincinnati Bengals. You can contact her at [email protected].
Ava Blair, Sports Editor
Ava Blair is the sports editor for Manual RedEye this year. She enjoys sports photography, watching NFL football, listening to Taylor Swift and playing lacrosse. You can contact her at [email protected].
Dia Cohen, Photo and Design Editor
Dia Cohen is the Photo and Design Editor for Manual RedEye this year. She loves to read, play piano, draw and stargaze. She is passionate about covering criminal justice issues. In short, she's a real renaissance woman. You can contact her at [email protected].
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