2019 was Lamar Jackson’s year.
It’s not just that Jackson was the “Best Raven” or the “Best Pro Athlete in Baltimore” or the “Best NFL Player” regardless of city. He was arguably the best pro athlete in any of the major American pro leagues in 2019, making him our easy choice as Athlete of the Year.
Jackon’s on-field brilliance was evident weekly. He almost single-handedly transformed a franchise that had historically been synonymous with defense alone and turned it into an offensive juggernaut. He was an unstoppable dual-threat force who shattered records and ankles with similar ease. Those gaudy statistics weren’t remotely empty, either. His excellence made the Ravens the best team in the NFL in the process, defeating a who’s who of top Super Bowl contenders throughout the year.
Jackson’s impact wasn’t limited to the field, however. He revitalized a franchise that had been mired in mediocrity since winning Super Bowl XLVII. He galvanized the city in the process, exciting even the most ambivalent of sports fans. It still went beyond that. He emerged as the league’s defining “must watch” player (TV ratings for Ravens games beat out Redskins games in Washington, D.C.!) and developed into a true pop culture figure throughout the country.
And the sheer joy he displayed at all times was simply infectious. It’s not just that he was the best player in football, it’s that he also managed to somehow say and do everything else you could possibly want a superstar athlete to say and do. He represented himself, his family, his team and his adopted city at every turn.
Kids embraced his mannerisms. Old folks embraced his catch phrases. Everyone watched him say, “Mazel Tov,” on Cameo at least 20 or 30 times. An entire city developed a “Big Truss” with its quarterback. It is one of the most unique phenomena we’ve seen in Baltimore sports history. And it is a love affair that shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
While he shares our top honors with Sportsperson of the Year Mo Gaba in 2019 (because some things are just that much bigger than sports), we expect it will be far from last time Jackson is featured on our “Best Of” cover. And we purposely decided to cap the number of “Best Of” honors we’d give him because admittedly, it could have filled the entire issue.
BEST RECORD BREAKER
There are too many to list, but highlights include the single-season quarterback rushing yards record; becoming the first player to accumulate 200 passing and 150 rushing yards in a single game; becoming the second player with multiple games of perfect passer ratings in the same season, and tallying the most 100-yard rushing games for a quarterback in a single season. He also led a team that posted its best scoring season and its longest winning streak in franchise history.
Few players were as scrutinized during the NFL Draft process as Jackson, with many analysts suggesting in 2018 that he would need to switch positions. After seeing him in action late in the 2018 season, some pundits suggested he was no more than a glorified running back. Jackson didn’t forget. After throwing for 324 yards and five touchdowns in a Week 1 win against the Dolphins in September, Jackson’s response during his postgame news conference was perfect. “Not bad for a running back.”
After the Ravens lost to the Chiefs in their first “barometer” game of the season, pundits gave the Ravens little chance of beating the Seahawks in Seattle in October. The Ravens had a one-possession lead when they got the ball at their own 10-yard line with 12:47 to play in the fourth quarter. The next time Russell Wilson saw the football, there was only 3:47 remaining in the game and his team trailed by 10. The stats? Thirteen plays, 86 yards, nine minutes and one massive iced victory.
His 10th-best run this season would probably be a defining career highlight for most other players. But the best came in November, with thousands of his former Louisville fans in the stands in nearby Cincinnati. Jackson took off from the 47-yard line, encountered a group of FOUR Bengals defenders downfield and authored an unforgettable spin move to break free for a score. “He is Houdini!” Kevin Harlan exclaimed on the CBS broadcast.
There were those who wanted to dismiss what Jackson did in Week 1 because the Dolphins were a “tanking,” terrible opponent. Even reasonable critics still had questions about his ability to throw outside the numbers. So against the Cardinals a week later, facing a third-and-11 from his own 44 with 3:05 left in a one-score game, what did he do? He dropped a 41-yard bomb down the far sideline right in the bucket to Marquise Brown to ice the game.
Photo Credits: Kenya Allen/PressBox and Phil Hoffmann/Baltimore Ravens