OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Lamar Jackson shrugs when asked whether he sees himself as the epitome of a new breed of dynamic, mobile quarterbacks who are redefining how NFL coaches, fans, and franchises view the position.
“I don’t know,” the Baltimore Ravens’ star signal-caller and MVP front-runner said after a recent practice. “If I have to run, I have to run. When I’m throwing it, I’ve got to get it to my guys. You could say that, but it’s a lot of us [mobile quarterbacks] out here now. I wouldn’t say I’m the one.”
Many teammates, analysts, and opponents say otherwise of the 22-year-old, who’s in the midst of a record-shattering season that has quieted skeptics who doubted whether Jackson and his unconventional style of play could succeed in the league.
Last week against the Jets, Jackson broke Michael Vick’s 2006 record of 1,039 rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season. The Louisville product has logged 159 carries for 1,103 yards, as well as 2,889 passing yards, and led his Ravens to an AFC-best 12-2 record, including 10 straight wins dating back to Week 5.
“The biggest thing about Lamar is you can’t prepare for him,” said Ravens wide receiver Miles Boykin. “He has that element to him where he can just create whatever he wants to do.”
While Jackson swears he cares only about continuing the Ravens’ 10-game winning streak, his stats place him on top, alone. He’s a solid 600 rushing yards above the next best member of an increasingly large and impressive group of pro quarterbacks who can beat opponents with their arms and their legs, a group that last season set modern-NFL records by logging 1,871 carries for 8,086 yards, and making 14.1% of the league’s run plays.
“It’s a new era in the league,” said Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. “There aren’t many quarterbacks in the league who just sit back and throw the ball.”
The Eagles defense turns its attention this week to one of those dual-threats: Dallas’ Dak Prescott, who called the matchup “a playoff game.”
While the Cowboys quarterback is no Jackson, and was outshined by running back Ezekiel Elliott in Sunday’s blowout of the Rams, Prescott has run 48 times this season for 235 yards and three touchdowns, making him the league’s eighth-most-productive running quarterback.
The Eagles’ Carson Wentz is not far behind, ranking 11th with 53 carries for 206 yards and a touchdown.
Around the NFL, offenses are being led by athletic playmakers who can burn defenses with their speed and agility. Just watch Kyler Murray in Arizona, or DeShaun Watson in Houston; Russell Wilson in Seattle, or Daniel Jones in New York; Josh Allen in Buffalo, or reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City.
This season, “it’s a lot different," said Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham. “A lot of guys you’ve got to prepare for — for run and pass.”
This type of quarterback poses new challenges for defenders, often changing the way they rush.
“These teams are really creative with their quarterbacks," Cox said. “With these running quarterbacks, knowing that he can run and also can throw the ball, he can hurt you both ways."
This is far from the first time NFL quarterbacks have deviated from the traditional pocket-passer mold.
Half a century ago, the elusive Fran Tarkenton racked up 675 carries for 3,674 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns over 18 NFL seasons. By 1990, Randall Cunningham and Steve Young were refining the dual-threat role. Then in the 2000s, there was Daunte Culpepper and, of course, Vick, who has mentored Jackson for years.
Vick, who set his rushing record with the Falcons, has said he thinks Jackson’s success has the potential to make dual-threat quarterbacks more than just a trend that comes and goes based on the talent coming out of college programs.
“This is a new era of football," Vick said last week in an interview with the Ravens. “If Lamar Jackson wins a Super Bowl, you’ll have so many kids wanting to be like Lamar Jackson."
“In fact, they already do,” he continued. “He’s a role model on and off the field. Kids of all color want to be like Lamar. They want to run the football like Lamar.
"To me, Lamar is already validated. Cam Newton is already validated. Russell Wilson is validated, doing his thing. You see more and more quarterbacks pulling it down and running. It’s part of the game.”
Historically, an athlete with Jackson’s skills might have been discouraged from playing quarterback as he advanced in football, instead transitioning to wide receiver or safety. For young black athletes, such as Jackson, Wilson, Watson, and Mahomes, they could look up to few NFL quarterbacks of color who were often excluded and held back by the racist stereotype that they weren’t smart enough to read defensive coverages.
Over the years, there has also been consistent concern that mobile quarterbacks have less longevity and are more prone to injury.
But in Baltimore, Jackson’s teammates said they believe this NFL season has the power to alter perceptions of the quarterback position for good, at all levels.
“No one’s ever going to be like Lamar, so you can’t replicate what he does on the field," Boykin said. "At the same time, I could see a lot of teams trying to do it.”
Right tackle Orlando Brown Jr., who sits next to Jackson in the locker room, made no bones about it: His quarterback sets the standard. But, he said, this crop of young, dynamic 2019 quarterbacks is making an impact.
“Just what those guys are able to do, it’s just going to force teams to evolve into this college-like spread style," Brown said, “where your quarterback doesn’t have to be the pocket-passer, your Joe Montana, your ‘in the pocket, this is what you got to have to be successful’ type of guy.
“These NFL teams are going to soon realize how much simpler it is to run this type of scheme,” he added, "and the stress it takes off offensive linemen.”
Not to mention the stress it adds to opposing defenses. That’s something the Eagles are preparing for as they look to a division bout against Dallas.
“Knowing that he can hurt you both ways, you just want to slow that down early in the game,” Cox said. “But at the end of the day, we still got to get him on the ground.”