You Need to Draft Lamar Jackson in Fantasy Football
As a passer, Jackson flirted with league-average efficiency in terms of adjusted yards per attempt (7.0, compared to the league average of 7.3) and relied mostly on his legs to generate fantasy points.
In fantasy football, passing stats aren't everything, and rushing quarterbacks are still an undervalued commodity. Jackson's current value is a perfect example. From Week 11 on last season, Jackson ranked as the QB9 in fantasy football formats, but, according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, his current average draft position (ADP) places him as the QB18.
Is Jackson bound to regress in 2019, or is the market too cold on him?
Some Promising Passing Signs
While Jackson is clearly a one-of-a-kind rusher, his legs were ahead of his arm last season.
But Jackson did show some signs of promise as a passer, though. Passing stats from a clean pocket are usually more stable -- better at predicting future performance -- than passing stats as a whole. And when given a clean pocket, Jackson was above league-average in converting air yards to passing yards on throws 15 yards down the field, per AirYards.com.
Looking at our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Jackson graded out decently well there, too. NEP what we use to determine the expected points added on each drop back throughout the course of a season, and it includes deductions for expected points lost on negative events such as sacks, incompletions, and interceptions.
Overall, he came in just 32nd in Passing NEP per drop back, but among rookie quarterbacks, he finished second, bettered by only Baker Mayfield.
Plus, we need to take into account the state of the Ravens' pass catchers last season, which was spearheaded by Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead -- not exactly a loaded receiver room. This offseason, the Ravens set out to improve on those guys, thereby investing in Jackson and giving their young signal caller a better chance to succeed.
The selections of Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin in the draft should help Jackson sustain a viable passing game. Brown was a prolific touchdown scorer in college, and Boykin is an incredible athlete. Baltimore also added Mark Ingram and Justice Hill in the backfield, two backs who can contribute in the passing game.
In terms of fantasy, we don't need Jackson putting together 300-yard passing games. We just need a stable base of passing yards, and his rushing will do the rest.
Most rookies struggle, and Jackson wasn't immune to those first-year growing pains. But he's far from a lost cause as a passer, and there's reason to be excited about the talent around him.
Rushing You Say?
A middling passer with rushing upside wouldn't be all that intriguing to draft as a starting fantasy quarterback. But Jackson doesn't have "rushing upside" -- he is a running back with the ability to pass.
Jackson got his first start in Week 11. From Week 11 through the final week of the regular season, only five players were given more rush attempts than Jackson's 119. That's five players -- including running backs -- not five quarterbacks.
If Jackson rushed 17 times per outing during all 16 games last season, he would've been second in the league in rushing attempts. Even Jackson's carriers were more valuable than average carries. Once he was starting, Jackson finished third in rushing expected fantasy points (the average fantasy points generated based on the situation of each carry), courtesy of RotoViz.
Since the year 2000, there have been just seven instances of a quarterback rushing 15 times in a single game. Jackson accounts for four of those games as well as four of the five highest rushing counts for a passer over that span.
Even if his rushing volume is scaled back -- something that will probably happen as the Ravens look to keep him healthy -- Jackson still has a chance to turn in the most prolific rushing season we've ever seen from a quarterback.
It'll be nearly impossible for Jackson to actually replicate his rush attempts per game from 2018. The Ravens have confirmed as much through their words and actions, with the signing of Mark Ingram being a solid upgrade on the likes of Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon.
Jackson doesn't have to run as much he did a season ago to pay back his draft cost, though. Using our projections, we have him slated to carry the ball 12 times per game, a far cry from his 17 attempts per outing in 2018, and finish with a whopping 899 rushing yards. Even with the drop in per-game attempts factored in, he's still expected to have a top-five rushing season for a quarterback in NFL history.
The projection for his rushing numbers is through the roof, and projections are usually conservative by nature. It's hard to overstate how great Jackson is as a rusher.
Finally, some skeptics of Jackson see Ingram as a significant threat for rushing touchdowns. Ingram is a proven touchdown scorer who has more rushing touchdowns in the past five years than every running back not named Todd Gurley.
The dirty secret is that both Jackson can still score even with Ingram in town. Jackson scored a rushing touchdown on 3.4% of his carries. The average quarterback carry resulted in a touchdown 3.8% of the time. Touchdowns are largely random, meaning that Jackson may be due for some positive touchdown regression. Of course, Jackson's case is very unique due to the sheer number of rushing attempts he amassed.
But even if Ingram does take some scoring potential away, an improved Baltimore offense, which could generate more scoring chances, and some positive regression in the touchdown department can alleviate any concerns of a low scoring total for Jackson.
If there is one real flaw in Jackson's fantasy output, it's his lack of weekly upside. His sample size is small, but on a weekly basis, Jackson finished between the QB5 and QB16 in every start last season. His rushing prowess clearly gave him a high floor, but he didn't provide a ceiling to match.
When looking at the top single-game fantasy quarterback performances, Jackson's low ceiling makes sense. Here's the list of the 50 best single-game fantasy outputs by quarterbacks since 2000.
There's a lot to digest there -- and some fun names from the past -- but the key takeaway is that passing is what gives quarterbacks massive upside in fantasy.
Only three of quarterbacks made the list while rushing the ball more than 10 times in the game. Jackson never ran the ball fewer than 11 times in a start. Conversely, the list of single-game studs features four games in which a quarterback threw the ball fewer than 25 times. Jackson never passed it more than 25 times in a game last season.
There's no qualms with Jackson's floor, but he is lacking in weekly upside.
What It All Means
Jackson proved that he could be a startable fantasy quarterback over the final seven games in 2018. Thrust into a starting role during a season that could have easily been a redshirt campaign for him, Jackson stepped up and helped the Ravens win crucial games down the stretch on the way to a division title.
He was the QB9 from Week 11 on, and while we've never seen a quarterback quite like him, he proved he can be a quality fantasy producer with his unique skill-set.
Jackson is a clear value in drafts, even if his fantasy stock rises some over the next few months. We rank Jackson as the QB11, a big jump from his current ADP of QB18.
On the downside, Jackson is missing one crucial component: week-winning upside. We can't just ignore that, and with quarterback streaming as effective as ever, there isn't a big reason to reach for a quarterback in the back half of your draft.
Jackson is different than most non-elite fantasy quarterbacks, however.
As a consistently high-scoring producer, Jackson deserves a spot on one-quarterback redraft teams, dynasty rosters, and best-ball squads. In daily fantasy, he's perfect for cash games thanks to his floor. And we can't dismiss the possibility of Jackson improving as a passer as he heads into Year 2 with an upgraded cast around him. Any improvements through the air -- even a slight improvement -- could lead to some big-time splash weeks in fantasy.
All in all, Jackson is a perfect late-round quarterback to target, and he's way too cheap right now.