On Sunday Lamar Jackson completed a pass on 4th and 19 to set up Justin Tucker’s record 66-yard field goal. This came one week after leading the Ravens to a thrilling 36-35 comeback win against the Chiefs.
After that game, Jackson quietly ended up with 1003 pass attempts — an early career marker that shows his historic QB production.
However, after Lamar threw his second interception against the Chiefs in the 1st quarter, Pro Football Focus mocked Lamar’s interception with this tweet.
PFF could have posted some cool stat on the sheer rarity of a Jackson INT (he only threw three 1st-quarter career INTs before that night). That might have educated many of the idiots and bigots they emboldened in their comments who claimed “He can’t throw,” “Guy is a turnover machine”, and “There’s still time to move Lamar to WR.”
With Lamar, such ignorance is everywhere. But the problem goes far deeper than a bad tweet. It’s about bad math.
In the preseason, PFF also ranked the NFL’s top 50 players — and somehow Lamar missed the cut — the worst assessment of Lamar since NFL Hall of Famer Bill Polian wanted to move Lamar to wide receiver.
If we can’t trust the eyes of a 6-time NFL Executive of the Year like Polian to properly assess an electrifying Black dual-threat quarterback, then whose eyes can we trust? Nobody’s. You can’t trust perception — only production.
You also can’t trust PFF, and many other advanced QB metrics that consistently fail to accurately measure production of dual-threat quarterbacks. If you created some formula that does not rate Lamar as a top-50 player in 2021, or Cam Newton as a top-10 QB in 2015 after his 15-1, 45 TD MVP season (see QB DVOA and DYAR, Football Outsiders) — then you need a new formula. Go back to the lab. And be sure it addresses three separate levels of Lamar’s greatness:
1. Lamar’s Passing Production: It’s historic just by itself. When compared with QB greats at FIRST 1,000 passes, Lamar is top-5 in NFL passer rating; touchdowns; and TD-to-INT ratio (3.5) which also ranks 3rd all-time after Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers. And he did all this with Marquise Brown and Willie Snead as his primary wide receivers.
2. Lamar’s Rushing Production: Compared with others at this stage, Lamar is also the best rushing QB of all time (see more on that below). He has run for 700 more yards than Michael Vick, while producing TDs like Cam. Isolating his passing stats independent of his rushing stats inherently devalues Lamar’s impact. When adding his 21 rushing TDs, his true Total TD/INT ratio to start his career is a staggering 91-20 ratio (more on that as well).
3. Lamar’s Team Impact: Lamar is the Aaron Donald of offense. Donald changes nearly every Rams play to an 11 vs. 10 or 11 vs. 9 advantage as offenses use 2-3 guys to block him as teammates rack up tackles Donald creates. Teams also use extra men to shadow Lamar. He freezes defenders that open up both passing lanes for average receivers and running lanes for average running backs. Even assessing Lamar’s impact solely on his amazing stats is as short-sighted as assessing Donald’s by his sacks and tackles.
Instead of properly evaluating Jackson, too many statisticians and hi-tech Bill Polians are incorrectly assessing No. 1; severely devaluing No. 2; and just plain ignoring No. 3 because they can’t quantify it. Part of No. 3 shows up in his teams winning a staggering 80 percent of his games (32-8), after taking over a 4-5 team that missed the playoffs the prior three seasons.
Based on research of over 80 quarterbacks’ first 1,000 passes to within the closest game (i.e. 992; 1006; 1015), this article compares Lamar’s first 1,003 passes vs. all other current starting QBs; current/future Hall of Famers, and former league MVPs in the Super Bowl era. Unlike uneven “per-game” or “per-season” stats, 1,000 passes equalizes each QB’s number of attempts for a fairer comparison. Joe Montana never needed to throw for 4,000 yards in a season to win four Super Bowls. And neither does Lamar now. This article will respect the higher difficulty of past passing eras, and will value:
- Substance over Style: Mahomes gets no extra “wow” points for his elastic arm passes, Lamar doesn’t lose points if people don’t like his throwing motion. Muhammad Ali notoriously held his hands too low on his way to knocking out his opponents — the only part we care about.
- Production over Perception: Perception is sportswriters gushing all preseason over Mac Jones “speed in and out of the huddle,” “command at the line of scrimmage,” “pre-snap poise,“ “crisp decision-making,” and “no-nonsense mechanics.” Eye tests are no good here. Only 1,000 facts.
- Results over Spliced Stats: Cherry-picked stats, often specifically invented for Lamar, or stat-splicing on how Lamar fares on throws with X amount of air yards during home games on Monday night, etc. is also of no value here.
Let’s evaluate performance in four parts:
No. 1 LAMAR HAS 5TH-HIGHEST PASSER RATING after FIRST 1000 Passes (Super Bowl Era/Post-Jim Crow QB Era)
A. HIGHEST PASSER RATINGS - FIRST 1,000:
- 109.2 Patrick Mahomes (2017-19)
- 105.6 Kurt Warner (1999-01)
- 104.3 Deshaun Watson (2017-19)
- 102.5 Dan Marino (1983-85)
- 101.9 Lamar Jackson (2018-21)
- 100.1 Russell Wilson (2012-14)
“Not bad for a running back,” as Lamar likes to joke.
While Mahomes shines bright, Marino and Warner’s blazing career starts stand out the most given their tougher passing eras and gap between their era’s closest QB competitors. Like Jackson, rookie Marino started nine games before taking the league by storm in his 1984 MVP-winning 2nd season where he shattered the NFL record books with 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns. His FIRST-1,000 pass rating of 102.5 strongly outpaced young Joe Montana’s first 1000 (90.2), and blew away his 1983 draft partner John Elway who struggled early (69.2).
In that epic 1984 season, Marino would lose in the Super Bowl (to Montana), never return, or reproduce the stretch of success from his first five years. Did opposing coaches “figure him out?” — using the media vernacular almost exclusively used for dual-threat Black QBs, but almost never for playoff-struggling white pocket passers (see Peyton in his 20s; and Philip Rivers).
No. They didn’t.
Marino peaking so early is a cautionary tale on just how much an organization can fail a legendary QB talent. In 1984, Miami had the 7th-ranked defense. Unlike Montana, the rest of Marino’s prime was wasted with bottom feeder defenses and back-up running backs. Once his Pro Bowl wide receivers Mark Clayton and Mark Duper aged out, Marino was on his own, and would never get career-altering draft support like Montana (see Jerry Rice/Roger Craig) or Elway (see Terrell Davis/Shannon Sharpe). Football ain’t tennis. If you want to win — support matters.
Here’s how some elite Super Bowl winning QBs of the 2000's started:
B. PASSER RATINGS — FIRST 1000 (TDs/INTs)
- 96.5 Aaron Rodgers (54/21)
- 87.7 Ben Roethlisberger (51/42)
- 85.9 Tom Brady (46/26)
- 80.1 Peyton Manning (50/42)
- 75.7 Drew Brees (35/33)
While all these ratings would all be inflated today, only Rodgers’ start would rank with the top currently. Young Tom and Ben would each win a Super Bowl by their 2nd season, but did so as conservative game managers alongside top-ranked defenses and run-led offenses. They evolved later. But not before Ben posted his worst season in his 3rd year. Did teams “figure Ben out?” Nope. He was adjusting to a new life after Steelers Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis retired.
Young Peyton and Brees struggled the most. Peyton gunslinged his way to 100 interceptions in his first five seasons, and kept on getting “figured out” in the playoffs capped off by an atrocious 41-0 drubbing by the Jets in his 5th year.
No. 2: LAMAR HAS 4TH-MOST TOUCHDOWN PASSES after FIRST 1000 Passes (Super Bowl Era/Post- Jim Crow QB Era)
In their FIRST 1000 passes, Sid Luckman, Otto Graham, Johnny Unitas (71 TDs), Len Dawson (81 TDs) and a few other QBs from 1930-1960s had prolific TD pass totals, but played in an era that either banned all Black players or all Black QBs to challenge their totals. Since 1970, here is who threw the most early TDs:
A. MOST TD PASSES — FIRST 1000:
- 75 Marino (26 INTs)
- 73 Kurt Warner (34)
- 71 Patrick Mahomes (16)
- 70 Lamar Jackson (20)
- 68 Dave Kreig (44)
- 63 Russell Wilson (22)
- 63 Deshaun Watson (22)
- 63 Tony Romo (36)
- 61 Ken Stabler (54)
Lamar’s FIRST 1000 passing TDs has kept a historic pace as Marino and Warner. Marino’s high-volume 2.88 TD/INT rate back then is as, or more, impressive as Mahomes and Jackson today.
Marino’s TD targets were “The Marks Brothers,” a dynamic duo of Mark Clayton and Mark Duper. As part of the “The Greatest Show on Turf,” Warner was surrounded by the Hall-of-Fame talent of Marshall Faulk, Orlando Pace, Isaac Bruce, and let’s not forget Torry Holt.
Warner would decline in subsequent years. Was Warner “figured out?” No again.
Warner would overcome a mid-career, injury-plagued six-year slump before his late-career run and Super Bowl resurgence at age 37 with the Arizona Cardinals, despite a terrible defense. In five Cardinals playoff games, Warner would post an absurd 117.4 passer rating. To do that he needed new Pro Bowl wideouts Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, and NFL teams to have faith in his redemption in a way they won’t now for Cam Newton.
Will Lamar Jackson face the same fate as Cam as having a strong tight end (see Mark Andrews), but mostly 3rd-string wide receivers most of his career? Sure hope not.
So how can Lamar have 70 passing TDs with no top wide receivers?
The answer is Lamar himself.
As a run-threat on every down, he is often the one creating the receiver separation. Lamar’s throwback jump pass for a 4th quarter TD came after a Chiefs defensive “miscommunication.” Lamar tends to cause many “miscommunications” where defenders freeze unsure whether to trail the receiver or stay home to stop Jackson.
Jackson can produce elite stats without great receivers in ways immobile pocket passers like Warner couldn’t.
This even includes the great Tom Brady, who had a dismal 78.5 passer rating in his last nine Patriots games (4-5 including playoff loss). But Brady very wisely swapped the NFL’s worst receivers for the best ones in Tampa, while leaving Cam a pile of shit so foul it may now end his career instead of getting an injury-free chance at a Kurt Warner 2nd act.
But not only that. “Even in obvious passing situations, Jackson has performed like one of the best quarterbacks in the league, The Athletic’s analyst Steven Ruiz writes, “only Mahomes has been better on those plays.”
No. 3 LAMAR HAS THE 5TH-FEWEST INTERCEPTIONS after 1,000 Pass Attempts (SB Era/Post Jim Crow QB Era*)
In their FIRST 1,000, only a handful of QBs have ever thrown fewer interceptions than Jackson’s 20. His early 3.5 Pass TD to Interception ratio is 3rd all-time. Here’s how his FIRST 1,000 to other starting quarterbacks in 2020 and 2021:
INTERCEPTIONS of Starting QBs in 2020-2021 – FIRST 1000:
- Vs. 2018 Draft Class: 32 Baker Mayfield; 32 Sam Darnold; 25 Josh Allen; 20 Lamar Jackson
- Vs. Other QBs (30+ INTs): 42 Ben; 38 Alex Smith; 36 Fitzpatrick; 35 Stafford; 33 Brees; 32 Kirk Cousins
Lamar threw for 70 touchdowns. None of the 10 players above threw more than 51 (Ben).
Lamar threw for 7,559 yards. Of these 10, only Ben threw for more — but double the interceptions.
HIGH INTERCEPTIONS BY PAST HALL OF FAMERS – FIRST 1,000
- 1990s: Peyton Manning 42 / Brett Favre 39
- 1980s: Troy Aikman 45 / Warren Moon 43 / Elway 41
- 1970s: Terry Bradshaw 65 / Bob Griese / 54; Dan Fouts / 52
Young Terry was a wild one! These young struggling greats had high interception rates even when judged in their own era. All had more INTs than TDs except for Peyton (50 TDs); and it wouldn’t be until their 4th thru 7th seasons that these players started putting together legendary seasons.
The comparison is not that Peyton’s FIRST 1,000 produced more INTs than Lamar — it’s that he more than doubled Lamar, and far more than many of his contemporaries.
Have a look at this:
Notice any pattern above?
This FIRST 1,000 list is disproportionately filled with Black QBs with lower interception rates, higher TD-to-INT ratios, especially after the pivotal year of 1995, the first year NFL owners employed more than three starting Black QBs in a season (defined by 100+ passes). Young struggling white QBs are allowed more second chances, and in the case of Ryan Fitzpatrick — infinite chances (59-87-1 with 9 teams). Just ask Vince Young, who is younger than Fitz, and posted a 31-19 record before his career ended in 2011.
For young Black QBs, growing pains are often perceived as “can’t read defenses,” and other career-ending language that reduces their worst games or seasons to unfixable flaws. When Jameis Winston broke from that mold for one season under Bruce Arians’ let-it-fly offense to became only the 5th NFL player to throw for 5100 yards (and 33 TDs), his 30 interceptions had him begging for a roster spot at a 1M contract at half-the-rate of Nathan Peterman.
Look closer, and you’ll find that Vince Young’s FIRST 1,000 production was same as Eli Manning’s, and Jameis’s first 5 years was just like Eli’s brother Peyton’s, and the unfairly maligned Geno Smith had an almost identical career start to Drew Brees – except for future starting chances to make good.
With rare exception, when Black QBs throw INTs like Fitz or Sam Darnold, they might soon be out of the NFL like Vince or Cam. For Black QBs, having high TD-to-INT ratios aren’t just nice stats — they’re job requirements.
Lamar has started 39 games over his FIRST 1,000 throws, below are leaders in rushing yards and rushing TDs across each player’s 39th start.
Michael Vick or Cam Newton? Without Lamar, this is a reasonable debate on the most valuable rushing QB.
Vick’s 6,109 career rushing yards and 36 rushing TDs; or Cam’s 5,398 rushing yards and 70 rushing TDs — a TD rushing total surpassing at least 10 HOF running backs including O.J. Simpson, Thurman Thomas, and Larry Csonka. When comparing their first 39 starts, Lamar beats Vick by 701 yards, and is only four TDs short of Cam. With Lamar Jackson, this debate is over.
Jackson is the most valuable rushing QB ever — with the technical rushing exception of “Playoff Kaepernick.”
This also includes surpassing Cam’s rarely-appreciated QB specialty – rushing for first downs. Last year Cam had 55. Lamar had 56. Both were better than most running backs. In 2019, Lamar rushed for an amazing 71 first downs – good for 4th in the NFL — right after Derrick Henry’s 73. Read that again.
The larger question is what is all this worth to the larger Greatest Quarterback Start Debate?
Based strictly on FIRST 1,000 passing production, Marino, Warner, Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Mahomes had the best starts in their era. Dan, Kurt, and Pat all had better passing starts than Jackson – but not by that much. A review of other advanced stats such as “Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt” (ANY/A) also supports this.
When we add Lamar’s 3,000+ rushing yards, 21 TDs, and 189 extra 1st downs gained, Lamar takes a solid lead for the strongest QB start of the Super Bowl Era, and he is doing it with the fewest offensive weapons – as was displayed by an array of perfectly-thrown dropped passes on Sunday.
STOP SEGREGATING QB PASS/RUSHING STATS – START COMBINING THEM
When Lamar ran for two 4th-quarter TDs to beat the Chiefs, it counted for the same exact points as if he threw those TDs. So why don’t we show that PRODUCTION?
A. MOST TRUE TDS (PASS + RUSH) – FIRST 1000
- 91 Lamar (20 INT)
- 77 Marino (26)
- 75 Deshaun (22)
- 74 Mahomes (16); 74 Warner (34); 74 Dave Krieg (44)
- 71 Russ (22)
Lamar dominates the pack with 91 which brings his true TD/INT Ratio to 4.55. Lamar has also averaged 6.7 yards per carry after his rookie year – one higher than many QBs yards per PASS. What if we treated his rushes as passes and combined them?
LAMAR’s PRODUCTION RATING (Pass Rating Adjusted to include rushing gains)
- 101.9 Lamar’s PASSER Rating — FIRST 1,000
- 109.5 Lamar’s PRODUCTION Rating (Pass Rating with Rushes Integrated) – FIRST 1,000
Not bad for a dual-threat quarterback.
Lamar’s Production Rating treats his runs and TDs as passes instead of separating them.
This isn’t hard. Just add a few more simple combined stats to the other 800 NFL advanced metrics.
Instead, the NFL analytic community keeps devaluing Lamar Jackson. And when they also clown one of his very few INTs, that video is often worth more than 1,000 passes
Lamar Jackson is only 24 years old, and just posted the greatest FIRST 1,000 Pass start in modern quarterback history.
Now write about it.