Fran Tarkenton retired nearly 40 years ago, having led the NFL in passing yardage (3,468) his final season. Steve Young hung ‘em up 20 years ago, departing with a career passing rating (96.8) that ranks No. 7 all-time.
However, despite the list of luminaries who have led potent attacks, “dual-threat quarterback” remains something of an asterisk. It isn’t a full-fledged stigma, yet it carries a sense of “otherness” … as in other than a “regular” QB.
Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson isn’t your typical quarterback. For that matter, neither is Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, though he distinguishes himself through normal measures (i.e., passing ability), not the former’s preternatural skills as a rusher.
Both have been absurdly good in their first two games this season and they’ll face each other Sunday in Week 3.
Putting himself in the same sentence with Mahomes makes a great opening argument.
According to NFL Research, the pair are the only QBs in the Super Bowl era with a 70 percent completion rate, seven touchdown passes, and zero interceptions over the first two games of a season. In a shock to stereotypes and pigeonholes everywhere, Jackson’s passer rating (145.2) and completion percentage (71.9) are slightly higher than Mahomes‘ (136.3 and 71.4).
Like virtually everyone else reading this column, I would prefer Mahomes as my QB. But Jackson’s emergence makes me revisit the league’s historical fondness for statuesque passers opposed to mobile options.
In a segment on ESPN, the Hall-of-Famer Young expressed surprise and disappointment that runner-passers continue to be exceptions in the NFL. He thought they would become the norm after he retired with two MVP awards and a pair of Super Bowl rings.
But NFL executives still seem to prefer QBs like Tom Brady, whose main threat as a runner is causing convulsive laughter among would-be tacklers. A quarterback who spends his life in the pocket makes games less stressful for his general manager, who doesn’t have to worry about scampers ending in big hits.
Besides, the way officials call roughing penalties nowadays, standing in the pocket is almost safer than standing on the sideline.
Jackson might as well have been a single-wing halfback the way Baltimore used him as a rookie, after he supplanted Joe Flacco on the depth chart last season.
Jackson had 26 rushing attempts in his first start and averaged 17 as the starter before registering just nine carries in a playoff loss against the Chargers. He completed more than 60 percent of his passes just once and didn’t offer evidence that much improvement was possible.
He looked like a rich man’s Tim Tebow.
But this season, he looks like the next, great dual-threat legend. In last week’s 23-17 win against Arizona, Jackson produced the most rushing yards (120) ever for a player who threw for more than 250 yards in the same game. His feats included a perfectly placed ball that hit tightly covered Hollywood Brown in stride, good for a 41-yard gain on third-and-11 that allowed Baltimore to run out the clock.
“To make that throw,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh marveled to reporters afterward, “you can talk about any quarterback you want in the history of the game. There’s no quarterback making any better throw than that. Ever.”
Mahomes appears destined to be mentioned in conversations about the best passes and passers ever. It’s far-fetched to think Jackson will qualify. But he’s made remarkable strides since leaving Louisville and listening to several NFL talent evaluators say he’ll never succeed at quarterback.
His attitude and work ethic are such that his running might be on the verge of sharing top billing with his passing. Once unthinkable, that transformation is happening sooner than later.
“Y’all watched Lamar make great throws all day from the pocket,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury told reporters. “He’s improved dramatically there. You’ve got to tip your hat to him. He’s staying in there and throwing it. He can beat you that way and beat you with his legs. He’s going to be hard to handle for anybody.”
⦁ Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.
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