Joe Namath (AFL), Joe Montana, Brett Favre, and Peyton Manning. Those four quarterbacks are the only players in NFL history to win the AP Most Valuable Player award in back-to-back seasons in the Super Bowl era. Can Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson add his name to that illustrious list?
Jackson is coming off a stupendous 2019 MVP regular season, where he threw for 3,127 yards, rushed for 1,206 yards and accounted for 43 total touchdowns with only eight turnovers in 15 starts. It was truly one of the most spectacular seasons we've seen in recent years. What will Jackson do for an encore, particularly after a second consecutive early postseason exit?
William Hill U.S. lists Jackson with the second-best odds to win the MVP award in 2020 at 7/1 (+700). He trails only Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who won the award in 2018.
Jackson still has plenty of critics despite his 2019 MVP season. You'll hear that the key to his success in 2020 is his progression as a passer. Sure, that's true, but most of that progression will be aided by the new pieces general manager Eric DeCosta puts around him and from improving players already on the roster.
Stop and think--where would you rank Baltimore's offensive playmakers in relation to the rest of the NFL? Marquise Brown is a tremendous raw talent, but between his injury coming into the season, his style of play, and the fact he was a rookie, he was far, far from a true WR1. Willie Snead, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore, and the recently-departed Seth Roberts aren't starting-caliber wide receivers. Ravens running backs caught a grand total of 49 passes last season. Mark Andrews is the best of Baltimore's bunch and had a really strong season, but it's hard to consider him as one of the half-dozen best pass-catching tight ends in the league. Yet, despite all that, Jackson threw for 36 touchdowns.
What if the Ravens added Antonio Brown, which is a stretch given his behavior lately, but a productive AB can be a game-changer.
Coming into 2020, Andrews is still on the roster, Brown is healthy and has a much better grasp on how to operate in the NFL, and the Ravens appear poised to add another weapon in the upcoming NFL Draft (maybe even in Round 1). Various mocks have the Ravens adding in Round 1 or or in Round 2.
No matter which way you slice it, the addition of one of those rookies, the progression of Brown in Year 2, and the possibility that Andrews has room to grow adds up to Baltimore having a better group of weapons at Jackson's disposal in 2020 than he had in 2019. Plus, it's also possible that Justice Hill has a bigger pass-catching role in Year 2. There was optimism that the rookie running back would grow into that third-down role last season despite not being heavily used in the passing game at Oklahoma State. He didn't find his footing in that role early but showed flashes in his final three games of the season (Week 15, 16, and Divisional Round) with eight catches on 11 targets. If Hill proves to be a reliable pass blocker, he'll get more third-down snaps and could become the dump-down safety blanket the Ravens have been missing at the running back position in recent years.
It's reasonable to expect Jackson's touchdown percentage to regress from his 9.0% mark in 2019. Carson Wentz, who led the NFL in passing touchdown percentage in 2017, dropped from 7.5% to 5.2% in 2018. Mahomes, who led in 2018, dropped from 8.6% to 5.4% in 2019. If Jackson experiences a similar drop but plays 16 games, he'll have about 23 passing touchdowns based on his prorated numbers from this past season. If his prorated rushing and passing totals each take a 10% dip as well and we give him seven rushing touchdowns again in 2020, he'll still have a stat line of around 4,200 total yards and 30 total touchdowns. That'll put him in the MVP conversation.
But what if he doesn't regress that much? What if the improvement of the weapons around him helps mitigate those percentage drops? Let's say he replicates his per-game yardage totals over 16 games and experiences the average 2.75% drop Wentz and Mahomes experienced in the two examples above. Jackson's stat line would be around 4,600 total yards and 34 total touchdowns. That looks like an MVP season to me.
Style points matter in the awards conversation, and Jackson's success won't go unnoticed by even the most casual NFL fan. There will be a lot of attention around how things can go wrong for Jackson in Year 3 and not enough on how things can get better. A 7-to-1 return isn't the best value on a futures bet, but keep an eye on if that number moves in bettors' favor as we get closer to the 2020 season kickoff.
MORE FROM SI: