Quarterback Exit Interview: Can Lamar Jackson beat the regression bug?

Scott Pianowski

I did not have a strong year projecting the quarterback position in 2019. I was around industry consensus on Lamar Jackson, and that simply was not good enough. (Ironically, my one Jackson team somehow missed the playoffs.) A lot of my quarterback targets had disappointing years.

And yet, it was one of my best profit years for fantasy, filled with deep playoff runs and a handful of titles and cash spots.

These two contrasting things merge at a simple point — quarterback is everything in the NFL, but it’s of lesser importance in fantasy. And while a QB problem is a nightmare for a pro team, it’s the most fixable problem for a fantasy player.

Don’t get me wrong, it would have been fun to be in on Jackson, the player of the season. He’s headed for the MVP. Along with Christian McCaffrey and Michael Thomas, he dominated in our world. He brought upside and floor every week. And unlike McCaffrey and Thomas, Jackson wasn’t that expensive in the summer — the profit windfall was gigantic. I tip my cap to people like Andy Behrens, who pounded the table for Jackson all summer.

So it’s difficult to squint ahead to 2020 and imagine Jackson won’t be the best quarterback again. He’s a star passer. He’s the best running quarterback we’ve ever seen. Baltimore’s infrastructure is strong. Jackson is young, smart, athletic, coachable. What’s not to like here?

But sustained dominance is hard. And we’ve seen this before, a player who dominates the QB position then falls back in the following year. Regression is a beast.

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 22:  Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens reacts to a broken play during the game against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 22, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. Baltimore defeated Cleveland 31-15. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
Lamar Jackson was the fantasy value of the year in 2019, but is he worth first-round tender next season? (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Take Patrick Mahomes last year. MVP, most fun player in the league, revolutionary guy. And then this year he had some injuries, the Chiefs hit a few potholes, and the touchdown rate fell. Mahomes had a good year, sure, but he didn’t fully justify his ticket.

Russell Wilson was easily the QB1 in 2017; he fell to QB9 the next year. Cam Newton smashed everything in his MVP year, the easy QB1. He was QB18 the next season (and he played in 15 games). Peyton Manning went from record-breaker in 2013 to QB4 in 2014; not a massive dip, but a notable one.

Michael Vick broke fantasy in 2010, to the point that some called him the No. 1 overall pick for the next year. He wound up QB11, in part because he missed three games. To be fair, missed time was standard with Vick; he played one 16-game season for his entire career. And while it feels cheap to ding Tom Brady for a 15-game injury, he did crash after his 2007 season, too.

What could befall Jackson? Maybe teams will have better defensive plans for him. Maybe Jackson will encounter injury — while he sure seems to have that Wilson sense of how to avoid the kill shots, it only takes one to derail a season. Jackson’s league-best touchdown rate — a whopping 9.0 — is sure to fall. And after watching Jackson set a new record for QB rushing yards, I’m reluctant to expect a full-on repeat of that. That’s not how outlier seasons generally work.

Jackson’s monster season, to me, reinforces two things — I want a quarterback who’s a dual-threat if I can land him, and I want to try to hit a home run in the middle rounds. And even if all that falls apart, there are always secondary routes to consider. Look at the return Josh Allen gave us this year. Look what Ryan Tannehill did when he got a chance to play. Daniel Jones was a monster down the stretch. If you had the stones to ride with Ryan Fitzpatrick in December, you’re planning a parade route now.

I want to be transparent on this — I have Jackson tentatively slotted No. 1 on my 2020 quarterback board. I’m just not going to draft him at the likely cost. It’s always been the easiest position to navigate, and the easiest position to fix even if things initially go bad. I’ll stick with that idea as I get ready for the fresh season.

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No, it’s not the fun call to make. And it sure wasn’t fun to be out on Jackson this year. But my goal is focused on finding the next Jackson; the next middle-round or waiver-wire smash. This has never been a position where I want to pay for big-ticket retail. My early picks will focus on other areas.

Pianow’s Way Too Early 2020 Quarterback Board

1. Lamar Jackson

2. Patrick Mahomes

3. Russell Wilson

4. Deshaun Watson

5. Josh Allen

6. Kyler Murray

7. Matt Ryan

8. Dak Prescott

9. Drew Brees

10. Jameis Winston

11. Carson Wentz

Consider that list in pencil. I won’t even think about it when my real rankings come out in the spring and summer; I always start from scratch. This is just something to keep us warm on a cold January night.

Next up: The running backs.

Previous Issues

Wide Receiver Exit Interview

Running Back Exit Interview

Tight End Exit Interview