QB Fantasy Bust: Lamar Jackson

Some average draft positions reflect a balance between ceiling and floor. If a player exceeds expectations, then he’ll probably beat his ADP. If he falls short of expectations, then he’ll probably finish worse than his ADP. Pretty basic stuff.

But many ADPs assume optimal or minimal production. This isn’t necessarily deliberate. ADPs are based on how people are drafting online, which often are based on expert rankings, which often are based on collective thinking around a few publicly available pronouncements and stats. So if there’s a collective excitement around a player, and his ADP improves, it might hit his realistic production ceiling without anyone batting an eye.

Our job is to spot these runaway trains of market optimism/pessimism and assess when a player’s value is too high or too low.

In Lamar Jackson’s case, it’s too high. The market continues to rank him based on his 2019 breakout campaign when he came within a hair of Patrick Mahomes’ 2018 all-time QB fantasy points record. He averaged 27.7 fantasy points per game that year, despite attempting only the league’s 26th most passes. His rushing numbers accounted for 39% of his fantasy point total. In his two seasons since, Jackson’s running game has accounted for 40% of his fantasy points.

But his overall fantasy points per game have declined each year since 2019. Why? In large part because defenses have adjusted, as is often the case, even with the NFL’s top playmakers. Jackson’s rushing attempts and yards-per-carry keep dropping. His sack rate and interception rate keep climbing. His deep-ball completion percentage remains below average.

Nov 28, 2021; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) throws as offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva (78) blocks during the first quarter against the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Losing Marquise Brown this offseason hurts. The Ravens hope (and we expect) Rashod Bateman to thrive as the No. 1 WR. The undervalued Devin Duvernay could step up as the No. 2 WR. However, it’s hard to rationalize seeing Brown’s exit as anything but a net negative for Jackson. The speedster earned 29% of the team’s non-RB targets. He and fellow-jettisoned receiver Sammy Watkins accounted for 56% of Baltimore WRs’ yards-after-the-catch and 66% of the WR corps’ 20-plus-yard pass plays.

Meanwhile, Mark Andrews probably can’t outperform last year’s phenomenal numbers. His 153 targets were one short of the most by a TE in any NFL campaign since targets started getting tracked. He was perhaps the first receiver in NFL history to secure at least one 100-plus-yard, one-plus-TD performance with three different QBs in the same season. Simply remarkable and also difficult to replicate in what’s expected to be a more balanced attack.

After all, the Ravens want to establish the run more than they did last year, when they were forced to roll with two semi-retired, post-prime RBs instead of the injured J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. Assuming Dobbins and/or Edwards are good to go by Week 1, we should see some pressure taken off Jackson, culminating in fewer passes per game and perhaps fewer rushing attempts per game.

Keep in mind, that Jackson was the QB7 in fantasy points per game last season, which he achieved thanks to a career-high 31.8 passes per game. In 2020, Jackson threw the least in the fourth quarter, accounting for only 17% of his non-overtime pass attempts. Last year, however, he threw the most in the fourth quarter, accounting for 28% of his non-overtime pass attempts.

He worked harder and achieved less. That’s not a promising sign for someone who probably has to play his best since 2019 for a shot at top-four production.

Most of the fantasy universe believes Jackson will be better this season than he was last year or even the year before when he finished as only the QB9 in points per game. 87 of 107 experts compiled by Fantasy Pros (81%) rank him in the top five. 104 of 107 (97%) place him in the top eight.

But there’s simply too much downward pressure on Jackson’s ceiling to justify drafting him at or near his QB4 ADP. He’s a long shot to finish in the top eight.

Lamar Jackson, BAL (QB4 ADP)
Contrarian Prediction: Not a top-eight QB

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