Summer 2024

20 NFL players to watch in 2020: Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson

Through Sept. 13, the first Sunday of the 2020 NFL season,
Sports Spectrum is highlighting one Christ-following player each day for 20 days.

Very few people, if any, predicted the season Lamar Jackson turned in last year. The Baltimore Ravens quarterback was coming off a rookie year that could have been categorized as good — a 6-1 record in his seven starts, 1,201 yards passing, six touchdowns, three interceptions — but nothing that would foretell what would take place in 2019.

In just his second year in the NFL, the 32nd overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft led the league in touchdown passes (36) and QB rating (82.3). His 3,127 passing yards ranked 22nd in the league, but came from only 401 passing attempts, far fewer than every other QB ahead of him. Jackson’s 66.1 completion percentage ranked eighth in the league, and was a marked improvement over the 58.2 he posted as a rookie.

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Oh, and he also rushed for 1,206 yards, breaking Michael Vick’s single-season record for a QB, and sixth among all rushers in 2019. That made him the first QB in history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. He also added seven more touchdowns on the ground, further contributing to the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense (33.2 points per game) and helping the Ravens to a 14-2 record, the best in franchise history.

All of which earned Jackson the 2019 NFL MVP award. He received all 50 first-place votes, making him the second unanimous MVP in NFL history (after Tom Brady in 2010), and he became the youngest quarterback to ever win MVP honors (22 years, 358 days old on Dec. 31, 2019).

Entering 2020, Jackson no longer has the cover of relative obscurity. He’s a well-known commodity now, as evidenced by his appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s “Football Preview 2020” magazine. Largely because of Jackson, the Ravens have five primetime games already on their schedule, with more possibly to come. The first such marquee matchup will take place Sept. 28, a Monday night tilt at home against the defending Super Bowl-champion Kansas City Chiefs, who also boast a young, up and coming quarterback in Patrick Mahomes, the 2018 MVP recipient.

With many eyeballs and expectations on him this year, it’ll be interesting to see how the 23-year-old Jackson handles it all. He did it well toward the end of 2019, after he’d already established himself as an MVP frontrunner. In a mid-December press conference, Jackson was asked if there is something or someone that keeps him humble while he’s enjoying all this football success.

“The Lord,” he promptly responded. “I give Him all His praise, the glory, the honor, because of what I am. I could have been doing anything, it’s crazy. I’ll be thinking about it, talking to Him throughout the day, like, ‘Man, I appreciate You, I thank You.’ Because if you feel like you’re bigger than the Lord, that’s when all that success die, it goes away. You got to let Him know He’s the reason you [have had] that much success. So I appreciate that from Him. And I’ve got my family around me, my teammates, great teammates, coaching staff. We’ve just got to keep it going and let the Lord know He’s No. 1.”

Jackson’s faith in Christ is something that was established at a young age with significant help from his mother, Felicia Jones. And it’s something he incorporates into his daily life, even football training.

As detailed by Sports Illustrated, in high school, Jones and Van Warren, a local coach in Pompano Beach, Fla., put Jackson through grueling workouts to ensure he could make it as a quarterback at the next level. The training sessions developed into a program called “Super 8,” which now works with other young, Black quarterbacks in South Florida. The clinics are free and open to anyone willing to put in the hard work, and the goal is to help kids earn a college scholarship.

The name “Super 8” comes from Jackson’s eight core values: God, prayer, faith, family, education, sacrifice, character and discipline. According to the SI article, “When Jackson changed from number 7 to 8 when he arrived at Louisville (‘A new era,’ Jones told Warren at the time, citing the Bible’s teaching that the eighth day of creation represents the new beginning) they had to add one more value. Fitting to Jackson’s path, the eighth one was faith.”

Jackson’s 2020 campaign begins Sunday at home against Cleveland, as the Ravens aim to quickly put behind them the sour taste left from 2019, when they were upset by Tennessee in the playoffs.

20 NFL players to watch in 2020
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