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According to the oddsmakers at DraftKings, the heavy betting favorite to be named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player is San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy, who threw four more touchdown passes against the Arizona Cardinals. That a second-year player has gone from “Mr. Irrelevant” to MVP front-runner is remarkable.
But while Purdy has had an impressive season and may well bring home the trophy at this season’s NFL Honors, with all due respect, he’s not truly the most valuable player in the league. The most valuable player in the NFL is the leader of the AFC’s best team. The most unique player in the league. The hardest player in the NFL to defend.
The NFL’s most valuable player is Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Admittedly, Jackson’s numbers weren’t jaw-dropping in Sunday night’s victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars—14 completions in 24 attempts for 171 yards with a touchdown and an interception while adding 97 rushing yards on 12 carries.
By Jackson’s standards, an average game.
But in the second quarter, Jackson showed why it’s not just the numbers with the 26-year-old—it’s a matter of making plays no one else in the league can make.
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There’s just no way to defend that. None.
Of course, Jackson has already won Most Valuable Player honors. In 2019, Jackson broke the NFL rushing record for quarterbacks with 1,206 yards and led the league in touchdown passes with 36. It’s no stretch to say that Jackson took the NFL by storm in his second season.
“Jackson is better now than he was in his 2019 MVP season and it’s not close,” he said. “Then, Jackson and the revolutionary Ravens ambushed the league because they were so unique. Now, Jackson is a fully formed quarterback operating at a high level with so much more on his plate. Jackson’s stats won’t compare to what he did in 2019, when he led the league with 36 touchdown passes and broke the single-season quarterback rushing record. The only category he’ll top will be in passing yards (possibly this Sunday). Stats aren’t everything. He’s been excellent week in and week out.”
Yes, Jackson’s rushing numbers are down relative to his 1,000-yard seasons—his 49.5 rushing yards per game entering Week 15 is the lowest total since his rookie year. But Jackson still leads all quarterbacks in rushing, and the fact is less rushing means fewer hits. Less punishment. A better chance of keeping the team’s offensive engine on the field.
But as a passer, Jackson is playing better than ever. Entering the Jaguars game, Jackson was completing 66.8 percent of his passes. His passer rating of 97.7 is his highest since 2020. Jackson just looks more comfortable throwing the ball than he ever has. He appears in complete command of Todd Monken’s offense.
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For his part, Jackson has made quite the impression on Baltimore’s first-year offensive coordinator.
“First of all, he’s already very confident in his ability,” Monken told reporters. “He loves playing football, he’s one of the rare guys I’ve been around; there’s guys that like football, he loves football, he loves to play. So those moments never get too big for him, from what I’ve seen, I’ve been here 13 games, that’s a pretty short stay. But it doesn’t feel that way. The more often you’re able to have success, certainly, it builds confidence with your ability to feel like you’re never out of it.”
Yes, Jackson has improved wide receivers this season, and that has played a part in his 2023 success. But when Jackson has to put the team on his back and carry the Ravens, he absolutely will. Two weeks ago in a surprising shootout with the Los Angeles Rams, Jackson threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns while adding 70 yards on the ground. After that game, head coach John Harbaugh admitted that even he is amazed by what Jackson can do on the football field.
“Lamar deserves so much credit,” Harbaugh said. “You forget Lamar sometimes. All these other things are happening, and we’re not going to talk about Lamar Jackson, who drove the offense. … Runs around, scrambles, finds guys downfield. He’s a very unique player, and most of the time it works out really great, just like any player. He’s one of a kind. There’s nobody like Lamar Jackson.”
And that’s the thing. Jackson is a unique player in the same way that Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs is. (Yes, Mahomes is the reigning MVP, and you can make a compelling argument there is no more valuable player in the league. But it’s occasionally fun to talk about other players, and we’re making that same argument here about Jackson.) There are things Jackson can do on the field that no one else in the league can.
With all due respect to Purdy, he may not be the most valuable player on his own team—it can be argued that the heart of San Francisco’s offense is running back Christian McCaffrey. It’s fair to wonder just how much the offense would drop off if San Darnold was taking snaps.
We’ve seen what happens when the Ravens lose Jackson—a Super Bowl front-runner becomes something between a fringe contender and an also-ran.
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The best part about the Purdy vs. Jackson argument is that we’re going to get to see it play out on the field next week. On Christmas night, we’ll get to watch Jackson’s Ravens take on Purdy’s 49ers in Santa Clara. Both teams are in the playoffs but have higher aspirations—the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Both teams have elite defenses. It should be a fantastic game and may well be a Super Bowl preview.
But even if Purdy’s Niners pull out the win at home and Purdy completes maybe the most unexpected ascension to megastardom in league history and wins MVP at the NFL Honors, it won’t change the fact that Lamar Jackson is the straw that stirs the drink in Baltimore. The engine propelling Baltimore’s journey toward (hopefully) Las Vegas and Super Bowl LVIII.
Lamar Jackson is the Baltimore Ravens. And there isn’t a player in the sport more valuable to his franchise.