Lamar Jackson Is the Perfect Late-Round Quarterback Target in 2019
There is still a long way to go before the 2019 fantasy season begins, but I was genuinely shocked to see that Lamar Jackson is only the QB19 (134th overall) according to Draft.com's average draft position (ADP) data. From Weeks 11 through 17 -- when he took over the starting job -- Jackson averaged 18.6 fantasy points per game and was the QB7 during that stretch. So what gives with his current ADP?
An Outlier Rookie Season
Jackson's 2018 rookie season was certainly unique, and the way he played the position might be scaring early bestball drafters away. In his seven starts after taking over for Joe Flacco, Jackson averaged just 159.1 passing yards per game -- fewer than fellow 2018 first-rounder Josh Rosen managed on the talent-barren Arizona Cardinals. While Baker Mayfield was shredding rookie quarterback passing records, Jackson was completing a subpar 58.2% of his passes during that time.
But he made up for his lackluster passing performance with his legs. Despite starting just seven regular season games, Jackson still finished the 2018 season with the title belt for most quarterback rushing attempts in a single season (147). We've seen mobile quarterbacks before, but we have never seen someone play the quarterback position quite like Lamar Jackson.
Part of Jackson's extreme rushing volume was surely a product of being thrust into the starting quarterback role partway through the season -- the Baltimore Ravens probably didn't have a fully-formed plan ready for Jackson when Flacco injured his hip. I don't think I need to tell you this, but Flacco and Jackson are two radically different football players. The team will likely develop a more fully-formed game plan for Jackson for the 2019 season, but we should be confident that Jackson's legs will maintain a prominent -- if not defining -- role in the Ravens offense.
Stepping Up as a Passer
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic for Jackson's 2019 season. We can't expect Jackson to make a Jared Goff-esque year two leap -- Goff broke records with his incredible improvement-- but we should expect him to make some strides as a passer. Jackson improved his completion percentages in each of his three years as the starter for the Louisville Cardinals, and at age 22 is still one of the youngest starting quarterbacks in league history.
With a whole offseason for the Ravens' offensive staff to scheme, we should expect Jackson's paltry rate of 22.6 passes per game as a starter to increase in the 2019 season. Their 2019 draft class also suggests that the team is looking to pass more -- the team spent two of their first three picks drafting wide receivers.
And not just any wide receivers, either. The Ravens selected two of the fastest wide receivers in the draft in Marquise "Hollywood" Brown and Miles Boykin. They had probably the thinnest wide receiver depth chart in the league heading into the draft, but the heavy draft capital invested in these pass catchers implies that the team is expecting to throw the ball more in 2019.
These speedy wide receivers should play into Jackson's strengths as a passer. While he had below average accuracy overall, Jackson was above-average on passes 15-25 yards down the field according to AirYards.com's quarterback efficiency tracking. Both Hollywood and Boykin effectively leveraged their elite speed at the college level, and should help Jackson do what he does best as a passer in the coming season.
The roster is also stocked with talent at the tight end position. Hayden Hurst, a first-round pick in 2018 that struggled to produce as a rookie, was a prolific pass-catcher at the college level. And Brown's former teammate Mark Andrews, himself a rookie in 2018, is coming off a season in which he managed a whopping 11 yards per target. He became the only rookie tight end in NFL history with 50 or more targets to sustain a yards per target mark in the double-digits. Between these tight ends and the new, young wide receiver group, Jackson has a supporting cast in place that should help him grow as a passer.
Jackson's high floor fantasy is driven by his legs. The fact of the matter is that we've never seen a quarterback run as much as Lamar Jackson. He finished his collegiate career with over 4,000 rushing yards -- more than all but two running backs drafted in this year's draft class.
We saw how that skill translated to the NFL in Jackson's rookie season. The Ravens turned into the most run-heavy squad in the league after Jackson took over, and that probably won't change in 2019 -- even if they pass the ball more frequently. His 17 rushing attempts per game as the starter during his 7 regular-season starts might fall off a bit, but his ability to rush is still going to be a focal point of the offense.
Jackson was no slouch as a rusher, either. He posted an impressive 51.52% Rushing Success Rate, a metric that quantifies how frequently a player's rush attempts added expected points to their team's total. So even though opposing teams knew a rush was likely coming, Jackson was able to produce a positive outcome for the Ravens offense over half of the time.
His rushing volume alone gives Jackson one of the highest floors in fantasy football at the quarterback position. In the seven regular-season games he started after taking over for Joe Flacco, Jackson averaged 79.4 rushing yards per game. If you play in a typical fantasy league, that's a baseline of almost eight points per game just based on his rushing alone. Once you start factoring in the two-point difference between passing and rushing touchdowns in the default scoring systems of most leagues, you can start getting a sense of the upside Jackson brings to the table on top of his high floor.
Between the Ravens' upgraded receiver corps and the typical development curve of young quarterbacks entering the league -- sophomore quarterbacks usually improve on their rookie passing stats -- there is reason to be optimistic about Jackson's 2019 passing outlook. The possibility of getting a baseline of 18.6 fantasy points a game should be enough to get you excited about Jackson as a late-round quarterback, but he could be just scratching the surface of his upside as a fantasy football option.
As of this writing, Lamar Jackson is available in the double digit rounds of fantasy drafts. While your leaguemates reach for passers like Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers early, you can stockpile running back and wide receiver talent and know that Lamar Jackson and his high fantasy floor will be waiting for you later in the draft.