Should You Start Lamar Jackson in Fantasy vs. the Raiders?

Should You Start Lamar Jackson in Fantasy vs. the Raiders? article feature image

Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8).

  • Rookie QB Lamar Jackson got a win in his first NFL start with a record performance on the ground.
  • Here's how the Baltimore Ravens can exploit the Oakland Raiders in Week 12.

I’ll be leveraging my experience as a high school football coach and fantasy analyst with a statistics background to identify aspects of one matchup every week that you can take advantage of while setting your fantasy football lineups and/or placing bets on the upcoming slate.

This week we are focusing on how Lamar Jackson will impact the Baltimore Ravens offense when it faces the Oakland Raiders.

A Unique Prospect

Coming out of Louisville, Jackson was one of the most unique quarterback prospects we’ve ever seen. He entered the draft as a dynamic athlete, comparable to elite talents like Michael Vick with a much more developed resume.

Jackson is a Heisman Trophy winner with 38 college games under his belt. In his final two college seasons, he averaged 18.9 rush attempts per game, along with 32.3 pass attempts.

Jackson was straight out of a video game at Louisville, responsible for 50 rushing touchdowns in his career, and averaging more than six yards per carry.

Jackson’s rushing ability made him stand out from the other four first-round. Even as a subpar passer (his career completion rate in college was just 57%), it’s possible he turns in a productive NFL career.

Should he become an average-or-better passer, he could be one of the most dynamic players ever to play the position.

Offensive Impact

Jackson’s presence has tremendous impact on the Baltimore offense. In his first career start, Jackson ran the ball 27 times — the most ever for a quarterback since 1960.

Eighteen of those carries were designed runs that weren’t quarterback sneaks — and he averaged more than six yards per carry on those runs.

As a team, the Ravens averaged 4.8 yards per carry — more than a yard higher than their season average through the first 10 weeks of the season (3.61). In total, the team ran for 260 yards.

So what is it about Jackson that gives the Ravens such a leg up on the ground?

A majority of Jackson’s runs came on read-option plays. When most teams run the football, the quarterback plays no role other than to hand the ball off to the running back. The offense is essentially playing 10 on 11.

On read-option plays, the quarterback is responsible for keying a particular defender. Instead of just handing the ball off to the running back, the quarterback will put the ball in his stomach and hold it there while reading the game-planned defensive player (typically this is the last man on the line of scrimmage, but not always). This is called the mesh.

If this player — typically unblocked — takes a path toward the quarterback, he simply hands the ball off to the running back. If the defender takes an angle to tackle the running back, the quarterback will pull the ball from the mesh and run.

On read-option plays, the quarterback is essentially “blocking” a defender with the read. This forces defenses to play the run differently than they would otherwise, and puts them at a disadvantage — particularly against quarterbacks as fast as Jackson, and in schemes as well developed as the one put together by Marty Mornhinweg and Greg Roman.

After spending time with Vick and Colin Kaepernick, Mornhinweg and Roman coaches understand how to get the most out of a quarterback with special rushing ability.

Oakland is Slow on Defense

Before teams can stop Jackson, defenses will need to catch him first. Unfortunately for the Raiders, they boast one of the slowest defenses in the NFL. Here are the 40 yard dash times for their starting 11 according to Player Profiler:

  • DE Frostee Rucker – 4.89
  • DE Arden Key – 4.93
  • DT Maurice Hurst – 5.03
  • DT Jonathan Hankins – 5.31
  • LB Tahir Whitehead – 4.62
  • LB Jason Cabinda – Did not run
  • LB Marquel Lee – 4.83
  • SS Karl Joseph – Did not run
  • SS Marcus Gilchrist – 4.51
  • CB Gareon Conley – 4.44
  • CB Daryl Worley – 4.64

Only Conley runs under a 4.5 out of the defenders who start, and he does the least of any player in run support given his position. It is no surprise that the Raiders are bottom 10 in Pro Football Focus run defense, rush DVOA, and yards per carry allowed.

To compensate for its lack of speed, Oakland will likely need to add a defender to the box, which will leave them exposed to the pass game, or potentially getting creased if Jackson can get to the sideline.

Play Jackson in Fantasy

Jackson ran for more than 100 yards in his debut, scoring 19.7 points on DraftKings without finding the end-zone. His upside in this matchup is very high as a 10.5 point home favorite against the Raiders.

His price has come up to $5,700 on DraftKings and $7,400 on FanDuel, but he is still one of the best quarterback plays on the main slate. Jackson’s rushing prowess is great for the Ravens, but may not be good for backers in the betting market.

Since 2003, home favorites coming off of a 200-yard rushing game are covering just 45.2% of the time according to our Bet Labs data.

Being so run-heavy makes it more difficult to string together scoring drives, and could hurt Baltimore in its quest to cover such a big spread.

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