After being named unanimous MVP in 2019, Lamar Jackson took a step back in 2020. He was still very good and actually improved in certain passing categories, however, in the end, he left room for improvement. There were a variety of factors that contributed to a Ravens season that ended far earlier than the preseason expectations had set, including injuries to teammates and a positive COVID-19 test. For now, though, Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens are putting that in the past and staying focused on returning to their 2019 form.
Keys to Lamar Jackson Winning the 2021 NFL MVP
1 | Narrative
In 2019, the Lamar Jackson MVP “narrative” was virtually flawless. He was young, exciting, and leading the Ravens to the best record in football. He was making one of the largest jumps by a quarterback ever. Each week, he was posting jaw-dropping highlights while making defenses look foolish. He was posting eye-popping fantasy numbers, as well. Jackson was a star, through and through.
In 2020, he came back to earth despite leading the Ravens to an 11-4 record in his starts. He had 33 total touchdowns and ran for 1,000 yards again. However, he lacked the style and pizzazz he had in 2019. Sure, he had some spectacular highlight plays from time to time, but he had some of the worst throws of the season. Every highlight was matched with a head-scratching play.
In 2021, Jackson and the Ravens will be under less of a spotlight. There is no longer a “Jackson cannot win in the playoffs” rain cloud dampening Baltimore’s accomplishments. Sure, he has yet to play well in a playoff game, but he does have a victory under his belt. With the pressure off, Jackson can generate positive buzz. His highlight reel won’t be met with “well, he couldn’t beat the Tennessee Titans.”
If Jackson performs at a level between his 2019 and 2020 seasons, the narrative will have likely swung toward the media believing that it was one of the better seasons. For many, Jackson had a disappointing season with his 3,700 total yards and 33 total touchdowns. If he has 4,000 total yards and 35 total touchdowns in 2021, it could be viewed as a massive success.
Heading into 2020, Jackson had unrealistic expectations for his regular-season performance. Now, Jackson has much more realistic expectations and a greater chance to exceed them in 2021. This could easily lead to a second Lamar Jackson MVP award in three years.
2 | Reducing the Negatives
Jackson had 13 total turnovers in 2020: nine interceptions and four lost fumbles. These do not tell the whole story. Jackson had a slew of dropped interceptions and even a handful of fumbles that were fortunately recovered by the offense. According to PFF, Jackson was in the bottom-10 of quarterbacks at avoiding negatively-graded plays and turnover-worthy plays. In 2019, he was in the top-10 in both, including finishing with the lowest turnover-worthy play percentage among all qualified quarterbacks. If Jackson can find a middle-ground between the extremes, he will be a much more efficient passer (and runner) in 2021.
Jackson had a turnover in all four of his lost starts. With three of those four being one-possession losses, it can be easy to blame Jackson for blowing the game. These scars can often overwhelm even the most impressive of performances in other sections of the season. Why remember a dominant game when you can point out the time Jackson turned the ball over four times in a four-point loss (at home, no less).
If Jackson can inch closer to his 1.5% interception rate from 2019 and avoid a three or four-turnover game in 2021, he will be in a much better position to win the 2021 NFL MVP.
3 | Have a Showcase Game
It is hard to pick a single showcase game from the Lamar Jackson MVP season of 2019. One could point to Week one when Jackson terrorized the Miami Dolphins for 324 passing yards, five passing touchdowns, and a perfect passer rating. One could point to Week nine when Jackson touched up the undefeated New England Patriots for 224 total yards and three total touchdowns. Seven days later, Jackson had another perfect passer rating game against the Cincinnati Bengals. The next week? Jackson outdueled Deshaun Watson, hanging 301 total yards and four passing touchdowns on the Houston Texans. Eight days later, Jackson sliced and diced the Los Angeles Rams for 264 yards and five passing touchdowns.
There were probably had 12 showcase games in the Lamar Jackson MVP season of 2019. Even in his quiet performances, he was beating playoff-bound teams such as the Buffalo Bills or San Francisco 49ers. He had a game against the Arizona Cardinals that he totaled 392 yards and a pair of passing touchdowns. Even on a day he posted a 69.4 passer rating, he outdueled Russell Wilson and ran for 116 yards.
In 2020, Jackson has showcase moments, such as his touchdown pass to Marquise Brown on fourth down against the Cleveland Browns. He also had devastating touchdown runs against the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys as well as the playoff win. However, he never put it all together for 60 minutes. Jackson’s best game was likely his Week one, 320-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Browns.
The NFL will hopefully feature Baltimore in more primetime games in 2021 as Jackson is one of the biggest stars in the league. Jackson needs to treat these games as the most important games of the season if he wishes to add a second MVP to his mantle.
4 | Overcoming the Chiefs and/or Steelers
None of the first three keys to another Lamar Jackson MVP season will matter unless he has statement games (and wins) over the Chiefs and Steelers. Jackson has a career 78.9 passer rating against the Chiefs (a stat that ignores a pair of lost fumbles). Against the Steelers, Jackson is a catastrophe. He has a 59.2 rating (again, a stat that ignores a pair of lost fumbles) and seven turnovers in the last two games against them.
A win over either team (assuming Jackson plays well) would be a massive boost to the Lamar Jackson MVP talk. If Jackson and the Ravens were to go 3-0 in games against the Chiefs and Steelers, even if Jackson does not have stellar games, Jackson would be the clubhouse leader for MVP based on that alone. These games are likely picked to be primetime games, so Jackson could satisfy all four keys: changing the narrative, avoiding mistakes, having showcase games, and knocking off rivals.
The Chiefs and Steelers are responsible for the four worst games of Jackson’s career to this point, so if he can flip the narrative in those matchups, he would make significant progress.
Lamar Jackson MVP Odds
Moving into 2021, the Lamar Jackson MVP odds look great. He is not quite as high as the likes of Patrick Mahomes (+500), Aaron Rodgers (+700), or Josh Allen (+1400), but he is in the second tier of potential sleepers as Jackson and Russell Wilson are currently tied for the fourth-best chances to win the award, according to William Hill Sportsbooks, sitting at +1500. If Jackson can hit on these four keys, he could easily challenge even the strongest efforts of Mahomes, Rodgers, and Allen.
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