OWINGS MILLS, Md. — When it comes to Lamar Jackson, few have a better perspective than Robert Griffin III.
Part backup quarterback and part mentor, Griffin has watched nearly every pass that Jackson has thrown since Jackson joined the Baltimore Ravens as a first-round pick last season. Based on that, Griffin believes one of the biggest areas where Jackson will improve upon is his completion rate.
“With Lamar, I equate inaccuracy with just knowing, experiencing and feeling the way the game is played at the NFL level,” Griffin said. “Some guys are just inaccurate. They have a strong arm and they can’t hit a target. But Lamar can. He is an accurate quarterback. We’ve seen it in practice. We’ve seen it all throughout training camp. It’s just when the game comes and things are happening a little faster, it’s just about knowing and feeling it out. From Year 1 to Year 2, I would not expect his completion percentage to be 58 percent. But that just comes with playing.”
Accuracy has long been a question mark with Jackson, who connected on less than 60 percent of his passes in each of his three seasons at Louisville and finished with a 58.2 percent completion rate in his first season in the NFL. As a rookie, Jackson delivered strikes — like hitting tight end Mark Andrews in stride for a 68-yard touchdown at the Los Angeles Chargers — but he also thew routine passes in the flat into the dirt and had other throws sail over the heads of open receivers downfield.
Some quarterbacks have gone from sporadic throwers in college to more precise passers in the NFL. Brett Favre, Carson Palmer, Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan all completed less than 60 percent of their college passes and went on to produce completion rates over 62 percent in the NFL.
Other quarterbacks, specifically the ones that Jackson has often drawn comparisons with, have failed to fine tune their accuracy. Michael Vick completed 56 percent of his passes at Virginia Tech and ended with a 56.2 percent completion rate in the NFL. Colin Kaepernick hit 58.2 percent of his targets at Nevada and connected on 59.8 perfect of his passes with the San Francisco 49ers.
Griffin expects Jackson’s efficiency to grow along with his comfort level. When Jackson sees a coverage or a blitz, he won’t overthink the situation like a rookie and will instinctively know where to throw the ball because of experience.
The biggest difference this offseason will be Jackson’s snaps. Last year, Jackson stood while Joe Flacco directed the first-team offense in the spring and summer. With Flacco reportedly traded to the Denver Broncos, there will be plenty of more opportunities for Jackson to work on his throwing mechanics and footwork.
“His development in the passing game will naturally come,” Griffin said. “This offseason, he’s going to be QB1. He’s going to get most of the reps. He’s going to lead the offense. All of the things that he might have struggled with as a rookie, he’s naturally going to get better at them. He’s doesn’t have to press to say, ‘Oh my God, I have to get better at this right now.’ It’s honestly not his personality to do that anyway. Just by repetition and by work, he’s going to get better in those areas. He’ll continue to build the trust amongst players, coaches and then ultimately the fans as they see him continue to develop.”
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Even though Jackson failed to complete more than 60 percent of his throws in college, he did trend upwards in that area. His completion rates were: 54.7 percent, 56.2 percent and 59.1 percent.
Last season, Jackson was one of the more accurate first-year passers. His completion percentage ranked second among rookie quarterbacks in 2018, trailing only Baker Mayfield (63.8 percent).
But, in his first playoff game, Jackson misfired on seven of his first 10 passes against the Chargers. He finished 14-of-29 (48.2 percent), which was the most inaccurate performance in last season’s playoffs.
“[The critics] can keep talking,” Jackson said on “First Take” earlier this month. “When I started playing [in Week 11], I really didn’t have chemistry with the starting receivers. I was always with the rookies and stuff like that. Flacco was able to produce with the team. But I felt like each and every week, I was able to progress. But we’ll have to see next year.”
The Ravens can help Jackson become a more consistent passer with their personnel moves and tweaks to the offense. Jackson can have more time to throw if Baltimore upgrades the interior of the offensive line. He can improve in the short passing game if the Ravens add a pass-catching running back or if the coaching staff calls more wide receiver screens.
It will be a team effort in the evolution of Jackson and the Ravens’ passing attack.
“That’s the beauty of this place,” Griffin said. “They’re invested and committed to Lamar and doing it the way that Lamar can do it. That means in Year 2, you don’t switch it and try to make him a dropback passer. You do what you do and he’ll get better at the dropback stuff and it’ll be harder to stop. I look forward to seeing what happens.”