Despite his 2019 MVP season, many NFL experts still aren't convinced that Lamar Jackson is the league's best.
In a debate with Domonique Foxworth on ESPN's First Take on Monday, Stephen A. Smith shared his top-five quarterbacks in the NFL, slotting the reigning MVP fifth overall.
Two days later, ESPN released a poll conducted with 50 NFL personnel to rank the top 10 quarterbacks in the league this season. Jackson was ranked sixth behind Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson and Drew Brees.
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But after the record-breaking season the Ravens quarterback had –– a performance that earned him the league's top individual honor –– how can so many still doubt his ability to succeed?
Smith cited two faults of Jackson's game to justify his claim –– passing inability and playoff performance.
"There was a guy that ran the football very, very effectively, matter of fact as a quarterback led the team to have one if not the top-rated run attacks in football," Smith said. "That would happen to be Tim Tebow when he was with the Denver Broncos. But what did I repeatedly say about my friend? He couldn't throw the football at the NFL level. I never believed it, and that was a problem."
Smith referenced Tebow's rise and fall in the NFL and credited his inability to find longevity as a starting quarterback to his inconsistent and inaccurate arm –– something Jackson similarly struggles with.
The Ravens led the league in rushing offense and ranked second in total offense but earned just the 27th spot in passing offense. Jackson ranked eighth in completion percentage among all quarterbacks but first in rushing yards and sixth in rushing yards among all players. For Smith, this discrepancy does not warrant Jackson a top-two quarterback spot.
"No one can run the football like Lamar Jackson. Nobody," Smith said. "Not at the quarterback position in the NFL. We know that. That's just on another level. But in terms of throwing the football, even though he's had his moments, and he definitely improved in accuracy in terms of completing 66 percent of his passes last season, I don't think he can throw the football like Deshaun Watson."
Smith referenced Watson and a number of other quarterbacks higher on his list like Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson and Drew Brees and praised their accuracy, leadership and veteran play, which earned them the spots ahead of Jackson.
In addition to the issues with Jackson's arm, Smith also believed his playoff performance holds him back. Jackson posted an 0-2 record in his first two playoff performances, falling to the Chargers in 2018 and the Titans in 2019.
Overall in his career, he completes 63.7% of his passes and posts a 4.66 TD/INT ratio. On the other hand, during the playoffs, he completed 51.1% of his passes and posted a 1.0 TD/INT ratio.
As Smith noted while he did improve from a 48% completion rate to 52% in the playoffs this year, he will not reach an elite level of play until he can perform in the postseason.
While Smith was certainly skeptical of Jackson's ability to succeed in the league long-term, he still understood the hype.
"I'll tell you this though, he is top-two box office. He might even be number one."
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