LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- Before the Ravens took a chance on Lamar Jackson with the 32nd overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, there were many scouts and skeptics who believed he couldn’t play quarterback in this league.
The Ravens saw potential in his unique style that others didn't, and they've reaped the rewards with Jackson, who won the NFL MVP award in 2019. Playing at such a high level is a goal for Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields, who has studied Jackson’s dual-threat abilities and why he has become a great in the league.
Fields has watched the finer points of Jackson’s game, like how he sells a run-pass option or creates leverage for a running start to beat a defensive end in pursuit. As he has studied, Fields has developed a healthy respect for Jackson.
“There’s not many guys who are like Lamar Jackson,” Fields said. “You should just call it what it is. He does stuff that some receivers, running backs can’t even do.
“Just all of the backlash he got coming out of college saying he was a running back and stuff like that, he’s just proving everybody wrong.
“He’s one of the best in the league right now.”
On Sunday, the Bears (3-6) will host the Ravens (6-3) at Soldier Field with the parallels between Fields and Jackson coming to the forefront. While the 22-year-old Fields has often downplayed quarterback matchups – pointing out they’re never on the field together – the meeting with Jackson, 24, will be different.
There are similarities between the two, and perhaps Fields could measure up statistically and in stature to Jackson in time. In the Bears' loss to the 49ers on Oct. 31, Fields became the third quarterback in franchise history to rush for more than 100 yards when he carried 10 times for 104 yards against the 49ers. It's a feat Jackson has accomplished 10 times in his career and one Fields hopes to achieve in many games to come.
Jackson is averaging 271.9 passing yards and 71.0 rushing yards per game this season. He ranks in the top 10 in the NFL in both passing and rushing yards per game.
“Can make every throw,” Bears safety Tashaun Gipson said of Jackson. “But at the same time, can bust a 90-yard run on you and make your whole defense look silly.
“You’re witnessing a premier athlete at the quarterback position that we’ve never seen before.”
Part of what has made Jackson so successful is Baltimore’s commitment to his strengths. Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman has altered the foundation of his scheme to best suit Jackson’s capabilities, starting with the read options. It’s similar to the adjustments he made in San Francisco from 2011-’14 in building an offense that best suited then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Since committing to Fields as their starter in September, the Bears have gradually incorporated more offensive elements that fit his style. They’ve changed coach Matt Nagy's playbook and catered more to Fields' skill set. That has meant more designed runs, read options and moving pockets than what they used for veteran Andy Dalton in the first two games of the season.
“We’re all learning what Justin really does well in a game situation,” Bears passing game coordinator John DeFilippo said.
Whether it’s Nagy returning in 2022 for a fifth year as Bears head coach or the team being led by his replacement, that position will revolve around Fields and his future. After all, the franchise made a significant move in trading up to draft Fields and has invested in him to be the franchise quarterback that Chicago has long coveted.
As Fields strives to be a star, he will keep looking toward Jackson and how he has changed their position.
“We don’t have to be old-fashioned, pro-style passers to get it done,” Fields said. “It just shows that it’s kind of a new wave coming and that athletic guys can play quarterback.”
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.