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.
6. While Jackson is not the only teenager to win the Heisman, he is the youngest player to be awarded college football’s top honor. At 19 years and 337 days, Jackson was five days younger than 2013 winner Jameis Winston. Jackson finished third in the 2017 Heisman voting, losing out to Baker Mayfield despite totaling more passing (3,660) and rushing yards (1,601) than in his '16 Heisman slate.
7. Selected 32nd overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, Jackson was the lowest-picked Heisman Trophy winner since Ohio State’s Troy Smith -– the 2006 recipient -– went to the Ravens in the fifth round in 2007. Smith played four NFL seasons. The Ravens traded down twice before using their original first-round pick on tight end Hayden Hurst. They acquired the No. 32 choice in a trade with the Eagles.
8. The Ravens did not begin the Jackson era until Week 10 last season, moving him into their quarterback slot after Joe Flacco’s hip injury. Running a traditional NFL offense for 10-plus seasons with Flacco, John Harbaugh adapted quickly and green-lit 147 Jackson carries last season. That remains the NFL season quarterback record, breaking ex-Bear Bobby Douglass’ 47-year-old mark. Jackson played sporadically before becoming Baltimore’s top quarterback, so most of those carries came in seven games. After 12 games of his second NFL season, Jackson is eight carries from breaking his own record.
9. A day before his 22nd birthday, Jackson endured one of the worst starts to a playoff game in modern NFL history. With just more than nine minutes remaining in the Ravens’ wild-card game against the Chargers, their rookie quarterback had completed 3 of 10 passes for 25 yards and an interception. The Bolts also sacked Jackson five times in that span. While Jackson recovered with a respectable finish in a game that was not as close as the 23-17 score indicated, that outing placed doubt on the current MVP frontrunner’s credentials as an NFL passer.
10. In Jackson's first season as a full-time NFL starter, the Ravens are 10-2 for the first time in their 24-year history. Baltimore’s second NFL franchise has a strong record for playoff qualification, booking AFC slots in 11 of 23 years, but its best previous 12-game start was 9-3 in 2006. That Steve McNair-led team finished 13-3 -– the best record in Ravens history. The Ravens, despite winning two Super Bowls and appearing in two more conference championship games, have never been the AFC’s No. 1 seed.
11. The 22-year-old superstar has shown rare versatility at the college and pro levels. He is the 3,000-yard passing-1,000-yard rushing club’s only member to accomplish that yardage double twice at a Division I-FBS school, doing so in 2016-17. Against the Bengals in Week 6 this season, Jackson became the third quarterback in NFL history to throw for 200-plus yards and rush for more than 150. He joined Michael Vick and Colin Kaepernick in this group, with the ex-49ers passer doing so in a playoff game.
12. Although rampant skepticism existed about Jackson’s passing ability translating to the NFL, the second-year quarterback is surging into the upper reaches of league history for his age group. Jackson’s 25 touchdown passes trail only Seattle's Russell Wilson this season. Only nine passers have thrown 30-plus TD passes in their first or second seasons, and two of those –- Kurt Warner and Jeff Garcia –- did so after experience in other pro leagues. Jackson is on pace for 33 TD tosses, which would tie him for sixth all time among first- or second-year quarterbacks.
13. Nearly half of Jackson’s touchdown throws have come in two games. His five-touchdown pass performances against the Dolphins and Rams in an 11-game span are more five-TD games than Joe Flacco compiled in his 11-season Ravens career (one). Only one of Jackson's 10 combined touchdown tosses occurred in a fourth quarter, and it happened nine seconds into the final stanza in Week 12 in Los Angeles.
14. Should Jackson stay healthy the rest of the way, he will almost certainly smash the season quarterback rushing record. His 977 yards through 12 games already rank second all time in this category, behind only Michael Vick’s 1,039 from 2006. The number at season’s end could resemble the gap between Dan Marino and the all-time list after his 48-touchdown pass 1984 season. Jackson is on pace for 1,302 rushing yards; no other active QB has ever surpassed 850.
15. Twenty-nine quarterbacks have won MVP honors since the Associated Press’ award debuted in 1957. Most of the honored passers rode traditional seasons to that finish. Only Cam Newton and Steve Young rushed for more than 500 yards as MVPs, with the Panthers' centerpiece totaling 636 on the ground in 2015 and the 49ers’ Hall of Famer amassing 537 in the first of his two MVP seasons (1992).