Lamar Jackson has morphed from a quarterback many questioned going into the season to one who has the 10-2 Ravens poised to seize the AFC’s No. 1 seed. With the MVP now looking like Jackson’s to lose, here are 15 components associated with his rise.
1. As a senior at Boynton Beach (Fla.) High School, Jackson piloted his team to a 63-58, come-from-behind win in October 2014. The Tigers’ quarterback accounted for seven touchdowns -– including a 6-yard game-winning run with 6 seconds left -– that night to defeat Coconut Creek High. Jackson rushed for 169 yards and five TDs and threw for 329 yards on just 13 attempts.
Boynton Beach went on to an 11-2 record during Jackson’s final season. Jackson’s cousin, Raiders rookie cornerback Trayvon Mullen, was a junior on Coconut Creek’s team that year. The cousins met again in 2017, with Jackson steering Louisville’s offense and Mullen a Clemson corner.
2. Despite accounting for 80 touchdowns (45 passing, 35 rushing) in two seasons at Boynton Beach, Jackson was tabbed a three-star recruit. Recruiting website 247sports.com’s consensus rankings placed Jackson as the 2015 class’ No. 12 dual threat passing prospect and No. 409 overall recruit. The dual threat talents from that class have fared better than the pro-style prospects, with Kyler Murray, Sam Darnold and LSU’s Joe Burrow ranked in front of Jackson on the multipurpose-quarterback side that year.
3. Louisville coach Bobby Petrino did not use Jackson as his first-string quarterback to start his freshman season, instead giving Reggie Bonnafon the call in Louisville’s 2015 opener against Auburn. That arrangement lasted barely a quarter, with Petrino plugging in Jackson after the Cardinals fell behind 17-0 after a quarter.
This game — a 31-24 Auburn win — changed Bonnafon’s career. A top dual threat quarterback recruit in 2013, Bonnafon saw extensive action at quarterback as a freshman in 2014. Jackson’s quick ascent relocated Bonnafon to wide receiver, but with that experiment not working, he became a running back as a senior in 2017. Now in his second NFL season, Bonnafon is a Panthers running back.
4. Closing out a breakout freshman year, Jackson delivered one of the more electrifying bowl performances in recent memory. Gashing Texas A&M with zone reads, Jackson rushed for a career-high 226 yards in Louisville’s 27-21 win in the Music City Bowl. He also posted 227 passing yards, becoming only the third quarterback to surpass 200 rushing and 200 passing yards in a bowl. He joined Vince Young and Johnny Manziel in that regard. Considering how many bowls are now played, that’s quite the achievement.
5. Jackson’s Heisman Trophy 2016 slate started with an eight-touchdown half against Charlotte and ended with near equally stunning results. Although Louisville lost four times, its quarterback accounted for 5,114 yards in 13 games. By season’s end, Jackson’s 3,543 passing yards ranked 16th in college football. He somehow paired that with the 10th-most rushing yards (1,571). The latter total bettered the work of Saquon Barkley (Giants), Kareem Hunt (Browns) and Derrius Guice (Redskins) that season.