When the Ravens square off against the New York Jets on “Thursday Night Football” at M&T Bank Stadium, Lamar Jackson will get a good look at a quarterback taken before him in the 2018 draft — just as he did last week, and just as he’ll do again next week.
The Ravens are in a run of three consecutive games against Class of 2018 quarterbacks, facing in succession Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills (taken No. 7 overall), Sam Darnold of the Jets (taken No. 3) and then Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns (taken No. 1).
Of course, the Ravens also snagged a quarterback in that class, trading back into the first round to take Jackson at No. 32 overall. (The Ravens also briefly saw the other quarterback taken in the first round that year when they faced Josh Rosen as a reserve during the Ravens season-opening 59-10 rout of the Miami Dolphins.)
Here’s a brief rundown of how the five first-round quarterbacks have fared this season, listed in the order in which they were drafted:
- — Record as starter this year
Less than two full seasons into their careers, the story of these players is still unwritten, but it’s pretty clear that Jackson, on the strength of his singular dual-threat ability and demonstrable improvement as a passer, has elevated to the top of this list.
In fact, Jackson, with a league-high 28 touchdown passes and on the verge of breaking Michael Vick’s single-season record for rushing yardage by a quarterback — he needs 23 yards to do that — has elevated to the top of any list of quarterbacks this season.
Jackson is considered the front-runner to win the league’s Most Valuable Player award after leading the Ravens to an 11-2 record, a franchise regular-season record nine straights and current No. 1 seeding in the AFC.
The brash Mayfield hasn’t led the Browns to AFC North supremacy or the brink of the Super Bowl, as many prognosticators were expecting back in July, and Rosen has struggled to find a footing, first with the Arizona Cardinals and now with Miami after the Cardinals dealt Rosen away after drafting Kyler Murray No. 1 overall this past spring.
The mobile Allen has struggled with accuracy — a concern of scouts when Allen was a draft prospect — but he has the Bills on the brink of their first 10-win season in 20 years. The Ravens denied that Dec. 8 with a 24-17 win in which Allen was harassed to the tune of six sacks and went 17-for-39 for 146 yards.
Then there’s Darnold, the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder who left USC early and became the No. 3 overall pick. Darnold was sidelined for three games early this year by mononucleosis, which derailed the Jets’ season almost before it started; they stumbled to an 0-4 start with Trevor Siemian and then Luke Falk taking over for Darnold.
A healthy Darnold, though, has the Jets (5-8) trending in the right direction, with four wins in their past five games. In that span, Darnold has completed 106 of 173 passes (61.3 percent) with nine touchdowns and two interceptions.
Jets head coach Adam Gase said the most notable improvement from Darnold has been in his “decision-making. He’s done a really good job of kind of knowing when to throw it away, knowing when to pull it down and run, move on in his progression. … Each week we’re getting a little better at it.”
Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith said Darnold “can make all the throws,” and has targets that include former Pittsburgh Steeler and longtime Ravens nemesis Le’Veon Bell (55 catches for 403 yards) and top receiver Jamison Crowder (60 catches for 618 yards). Bell, who also has 183 carries for 589 yards, missed the Jets game this past week with the flu but is expected to play this week.
Because of their twice-a-year AFC North matchups, and because of their bookend status in the 2018 first round, Jackson and Mayfield will always be subject to comparison, much as Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan were in the 2008 draft class. But Jackson also figures to be compared throughout his career to Darnold, Allen and Rosen as well.
For his part, Jackson said recently that he doesn’t spend any time on such comparisons.
“I’m focused on what we have going on, what we have in front of us,” Jackson said. “I focus on myself and my teammates. I don’t really care what other people have going on, to be honest.”
Jackson also said while quarterbacks get the recognition and the accolades, “It’s a team game. … It’s those offensive linemen grinding throughout the game, our running backs blocking or making great runs and our receivers and tight ends catching passes and blocking and stuff like that. So it’s not about quarterbacks winning games. It’s a team thing with me.”