Lamar Jackson Hit With Dreaded ‘Sleeper’ Label Headed Into Pivotal Season

Ravens Lamar Jackson

Getty Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson stiff arms a Titans defender in a January 2021 playoff matchup.

The 2021 NFL season has only just begun, and analysts are already engaging in their annual tradition: predicting the downfall of Baltimore Ravens star quarterback Lamar Jackson.

In a segment on ESPN’s “Get Up” morning show, former Pittsburgh Steelers safety and NFL analyst Ryan Clark named his five quarterbacks under the most pressure this season before his colleague Jeremy Fowler offered Jackson as a “sleeper” candidate for the list.

While the Ravens are aiming for a Super Bowl this season, with their chances resting on Jackson’s shoulders (or rather, arms and legs), it’s difficult to see why Fowler believes that Jackson is under more pressure than the Colts’ Carson Wentz and the Panthers’ Sam Darnold, who occupy the top two spots on Clark’s list.

Could Opponents ‘Figure Out’ Jackson?

Jackson is no stranger to criticism, which he has faced since he entered the league in 2018, but Fowler’s comments ring particularly hollow when considering Jackson’s pedigree and unique situation in Baltimore.

At just 24 years old and entering his fourth season in the league, Jackson already has one MVP and three postseason appearances, owning a 30-7 overall record with the Ravens.

He took over the starting quarterback job from an injured Joe Flacco in his 2018 rookie season and never looked back, leading the team to playoff berths in every season of his young career, including a sterling 2019 that saw him unanimously named the youngest MVP in NFL history.

His dual-threat play style combined with the Ravens’ read-option playbook forces opposing defenders into tough choices, opening up space on the ground and through the air.

But a string of playoff losses has Fowler thinking that defenses could have an answer for Jackson this season.

In saying “figure out,” Fowler is specifically referring to Jackson’s capability as a dual-threat quarterback, suggesting there is a clear answer for the challenge he poses to opponents that will stop the 2019 MVP in his tracks.

But Fowler (and whoever he talks to in the league) misconstrue Jackson’s ability to run and pass as a weakness rather than what it is: the lifeblood of the Ravens’ offense.

Fowler’s analysis is not new or even unique to Jackson. This thread posted in response by ESPN analyst Bomani Jones breaks down why dual-threat quarterbacks face more criticism than their traditional counterparts in the NFL.

Fowler also ignores the challenges Jackson has faced since his arrival in Baltimore, especially his targets. Though Mark Andrews is a top-tier tight end, Jackson’s other receivers do not compare to the weapons of the NFL’s top quarterbacks.

The Ravens’ offensive line also struggled to protect Jackson last year following a season-ending injury to All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley, with inconsistency at center only making matters worse.

Despite these limitations, Jackson has achieved incredible success in his first three years, putting the pressure on the front office to improve his supporting cast. General manager Eric DeCosta seems to have answered the call, heavily investing into the wide receiver corps and the offensive line this offseason.

But the pressure will be on those acquisitions, as well as offensive coordinator Greg Roman, to optimize the passing offense. Jackson will only find himself in the hot seat if he is well-protected with open targets and fails to deliver through the air.

Social Media Reacts to Fowler’s Comments

Fowler’s comments quickly attracted attention on social media, as analysts and former players sounded off on Twitter.

Former Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith wrote, “Folks know what they are doing. Football is not rocket science. The problem is folks can be in great position and get shook out of their tube socks,” referring to Jackson’s ability to make even the most reliable tacklers look silly.

ESPN analyst and former Detroit Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky posted that Jackson had produced more than 8,000 total yards and 76 touchdowns in the last two seasons, asking “Who is figuring him out?”

USA Today’s Steven Ruiz noted that Jackson has been doubted throughout his entire career, despite his MVP trophy and the Ravens’ efficient offense with Jackson at quarterback.

But most telling was Ryan Clark himself, who responded to Fowler on air with a confused expression, saying “There ain’t nothing to figure out. We see what he’s doing. We just can’t catch him!”

Clark made it clear he didn’t agree with his ESPN colleague on Twitter, retweeting the original video with the caption “I’m confusion.”

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