Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner defended Lamar Jackson after Jackson fell to 0-2 in his postseason career with the Ravens’ 28-12 divisional round loss to the Tennessee Titans Jan. 11, but he did cast doubt as to whether free-agent receivers would want to play in the Ravens’ run-heavy offense.
Against the Titans, Jackson threw two interceptions, lost a fumble and failed to convert on two critical fourth-and-1 chances. Jackson threw for 365 yards and ran for 143 yards, but a sizeable chunk of that came while the Ravens were down multiple scores in the second half and abandoned their typical offense to try to get back into the game.
Jackson also struggled in the Ravens’ wild-card loss to the Los Angeles Chargers last January, when Baltimore was stuck in neutral for three quarters. Warner, now an analyst for NFL Network, came to Jackson’s defense on Twitter after the loss to the Titans and explained on Glenn Clark Radio Jan. 16 why he did so.
“To me, it was almost like just kind of waiting in the weeds until there’s a performance like that, then ready to pounce and say, ‘I told you so! I told you so!’ That’s the kind of stuff to me that’s pathetic,” Warner said. “The guy has shown what he’s capable of doing. I’m not sitting here saying he’s a finished product. Does he need to get better in the passing game? Of course he does. But how many quarterbacks, period, when you drop back to throw 73 times are going to be successful and have that kind of performance?”
Warner explained that what a quarterback shows early on in his career isn’t necessarily what he’s destined to be long term. Just because Jackson has struggled in the postseason during his first two years doesn’t mean he always will, according to Warner, who mentioned that Peyton Manning threw a rookie-record 28 interceptions in his first season before putting together one of the finest careers in NFL history.
“[Jackson’s] strengths were what they did this year. His strength hasn’t been dropping back 35 or 40 times and throwing the football and dissecting a defense. That is where he needs to work and get better,” Warner said. “And if he adds that to the mix, holy cow is it going to be scary. But that’s another part of it, too, is that we just look at all these other quarterbacks and think what they are now is where they started and it’s not the case. I mean, he just turned 23 years old. I mean, are you kidding me? He’s got so much room to grow, so much distance in which he can cover.”
Warner himself experienced peaks and valleys throughout his career. The signal-caller for the “Greatest Show On Turf” with the St. Louis Rams, Warner threw for 12,612 yards and 98 touchdowns from 1999-2001. He appeared in two Super Bowls and won one during that time.
He then struggled with injuries throughout the next several years; from 2002-2006, Warner was 8-23 as a starter with three different teams. But he ended his career with a bang with the Arizona Cardinals. From 2007-2009, Warner threw for 11,753 yards and 83 touchdowns and led the Cardinals to a Super Bowl appearance.
Quarterbacks with long-term success find a way to evolve along with the game, according to Warner.
“What I believe is that the great ones — the Peyton Mannings, the Drew Breeses, the Tom Bradys, those kinds of guys — you watch them improve every year, and that doesn’t mean every year for their first four years,” Warner said. “You watch them get better in Year 8, in Year 10, in Year 12. You watch them pushing to try to reach that ceiling and see how far they can push that. That, to me, is another sign of a great quarterback.”
Jackson, the presumptive league MVP, threw for 3,127 yards and 36 touchdowns while running for 1,206 yards and another seven scores during 15 games in 2019; he sat out the Ravens’ regular-season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers Dec. 29 along with several other starters. He completed 66.1 percent of his passes, up from 58.2 percent a season ago.
“I just think he’s been incredible all year long,” Warner said, but he does wonder whether free-agent receivers will rush to play for the Ravens given their run-heavy attack. The Ravens were first in the league in rushing attempts (596) and last in pass attempts (440) this year.
Robby Anderson, A.J. Green, Emmanuel Sanders and Amari Cooper are among the top receivers scheduled to hit the free-agent market.
“I think it’s a really tough sell for really good wide receivers because in this day and age, wide receivers are based on numbers and statistics,” Warner said. “We saw what Michael Thomas did,  receptions this year. If you’re under 100 receptions, you’re not considered one of the elite receivers. It’s so much about touches based on the nature of how this game is played now that I think it’s going to be a tough sell to get receivers to go to a system where throwing is not first, not second. It’s third or fourth down the list.”
For more from Warner, listen to the full interview here:
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