I almost wrote something about Lamar Jackson five weeks ago. I actually told Taylor Venema, who I typically make aware of what I’m writing, that I would. Lamar Jackson had just shredded Syracuse (a team that, once they found their footing, became good enough to thump Virginia Tech, and whose coach leads the league in motivational speeches), and this came after spending exactly one half of football completely embarrassing Charlotte. But neither of those teams were worth much at the time (Charlotte still isn’t) and I was worried that getting on the Lamar Jackson hype train too early would surely set up a crushing disappointment when he faced a much more competent defense in FSU. And then the Cardinals laid waste to the Seminoles, and any doubts I had were gone. However, at that point, everyone was talking about Jackson. It was impossible not to; his statistics were speaking for him, and by speaking I mean screaming at you while punching you in the face repeatedly. And then the Clemson game happened, and despite a fantastic performance that really didn’t get going until the second half, folks kind of stopped talking about him, mostly because he lost. Louisville would then go on a bye, and then quietly struggle with Duke on Friday night. This might lead folks to believe that the Lamar Jackson thrill ride is over. After all, struggling with a 3-4 team that’s 0-3 in conference play the week after a bye has to mean Jackson is beginning to cool off. Looking at the numbers, though, tells us that’s not the case.
At his worst, Jackson is still better than entire teams.
Halfway through the season, we can start to get a feel for how Jackson plays at his worst. Looking at just his last two games, Jackson put up lesser numbers to his first four starts, and using those as a benchmark, we can get an idea of what you could expect from Jackson on a slow day. If this benchmark remains where it is throughout the season, it’d be absolutely bonkers. Against Duke, Jackson only completed 13 of 26 passes for 181 yards, one score, and no picks…but he also ran for 144 yards on 21 carries for a touchdown. In a game that saw Jackson go for his lowest possible total yardage mark of the year, he still managed to get more than the entire Duke team, gaining 325 to the Blue Devils’ 239. In fact, in every game but one this year, Jackson has gained more yards than the entire team he was playing. The one game he didn’t was against Clemson, who has a top-ten defense, and they still only out-gained him 507 to 457 (he also accounted for three touchdowns).
We’ll still get ample opportunity to see Jackson perform against top-tier defenses: still on the schedule for the Cardinals is NC State, Boston College, and Houston, who all have top-15 defenses. If Jackson can still put up 300 yards and a pair of scores in those games, it’s hard to find another loss on Louisville’s schedule, and virtually impossible to see anyone else accepting the Heisman trophy come December.
We have yet to see Jackson at his best for 60 minutes.
When looking at a player like Jackson, I’ve always found the floor more interesting than the ceiling. Sure, they can be completely awesome in some games, but if they bottom out in others, that inconsistency can drive you crazy. But with Jackson, it’s a little complicated. You see, I don’t think we’ve even seen Lamar Jackson play his best game yet. We saw what he could do in just one half against Charlotte, which was complete 17 of 23 passes for 286 yards, six touchdowns, and no picks, while also running for 119 yards on 11 attempts and scoring twice. That was just in 30 minutes of play. We also saw what he can do against a top-tier defense during the Clemson game, and considering he only had 149 total yards, no scores, and a pick in the first half, that means he was only really clicking for half of that game. They lost by one score, if you don’t recall. So against a top-four, playoff contender with one of the best defenses in the country, Lamar Jackson played one mediocre half and one excellent half and his team lost in the final minute by six points. Just imagine what would’ve happened if he played two excellent halves.
Jackson’s numbers will probably drop off…but not by much.
With three great defenses still on the Cardinals’ schedule, it’s hard to think that Jackson’s numbers won’t start to diminish at least a little bit. But even with lesser numbers, he’s still performing better than most every other player in the country on a good day. Not only that, but he also still gets Virginia, Wake Forest, and Kentucky later this season as well, which will allow him to inflate those numbers a bit. ESPN and commentators and analysts will try and point you toward other players having great weeks and who are looking good because having a runaway best player in the country isn’t great for things like ratings and suspense with awards and things of that nature. They might stop talking about Jackson altogether. Don’t be like them.