The NFL’s annual Hall of Fame game is a glitzy, glamorous, event where many of the leagues’ past stars congregate to celebrate the game we all love. For many fans, though, the main attraction this year was someone stepping on to an NFL field for the first time.
When the Baltimore Ravens selected Lamar Jackson with the final pick in the first round of last Springs draft speculation around whether or not he would start this season started immediately. The 2016 Heisman winner was the most exciting player in college football the past two seasons and with Joe Flacco coming off of yet another below average season the table was set for a changing of the guard in the Charm City.
Jackson played the entire second half for the Ravens and left a bit to be desired. He completed 4 of 10 passes for 33 yards and linked up with fellow first round pick Hayden Hurst for a touchdown. Jackson also threw an interception in the third quarter. The quarterback ran the ball 8 times for 25 yards.
The rookie never seemed to settle into the game and had many jitters in his first NFL contest. On his first dropback of the game, he panicked and took off to run before ever really scanning the field to find an open man.
The play was a designed roll out to Jackson’s left. He never really set his feet to pass and looked as if he had decided to run from the start. Chicago did a great job stretching the defense in order to contain Jackson, but he tried his luck to run through them anyways and barely picked up anything on the play.
When Jackson was throwing his accuracy wasn’t quite there yet. He let passes float on him and his ball placement was not the best. His passes also did not seem to have the zip on them needed to beat NFL defenders.
Even the touchdown pass Jackson threw could have been placed better.
This pass should have been placed in front of Hurst instead of behind him. Had he thrown it in front of his tight end Hurst would have had a simple walk into the end zone after making the catch. By throwing it behind him, Jackson forced Hurst to expose his body to contact and make an unneeded adjustment to catch the ball.
His footwork needs a little work as well. Jackson spent a lot of time on his toes dancing around the pocket when he dropped back. The Ravens third string offensive line was awful and the consistent pressure the quarterback was under forced him to be on his heels all night. Even when he did have space and time to set his feet and step into his throws he didn’t, though, and it led to a few awkward releases and wobbly passes.
These are kinks that you’d expect for a first time quarterback, and ones that will probably be worked out of his game over the next month as he practices more and gets more live game action in preseason. He should get a better feel for the offense and playing football at NFL speed. He will also develop better timing with his receivers and they will eventually be on the same page.
While he had a rough game, the rookie did show flashes of the player he was back in Louisville.
On this play, Jackson went into his drop back and scanned the field. When nothing opened up downfield and the pass rush began to breathe down his neck he took off to run. He deke’d by the first rusher, slipped by another and then got to work in open space. His mix of speed, agility and open field vision is rare for a quarterback at this level and should create many highlight plays for the Ravens this season.
Jackson did struggle to get his feet sorted out when he was on the move Thursday night, but when he managed to properly balance himself he showed the types of great throws he can make on the run as well.
It’s impossible to make any judgments after half of a preseason game played alongside the third team offense against a third team defense. Jackson still has to grow a lot as a player before he will reach the level the Ravens expect to reach as a first round pick. It is clear that Flacco is still the teams best quarterback and will probably be listed as the teams’ starter when they take the field against the Rams next week.
Jackson’s NFL debut may not have been the exciting affair we expected, but it’s way too early to begin worrying about his NFL future.
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