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Patrick Mahomes vs. Lamar Jackson: A battle of two legitimate MVP candidates

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Week 3 will not only feature two of the top AFC contenders thus far, but also two quarterbacks playing as well as any in the league.

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Baltimore Ravens v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

There are multiple reasons to get excited about the Kansas City Chiefs’ Week 3 game against the Baltimore Ravens. It is the Chiefs’ home opener and Arrowhead Stadium will be electric. It features two of the four undefeated teams (2-0) in the AFC. It will be a rematch of a great game from last season — a 27-24 Chiefs victory in Week 14.

All that considered, the most exciting part of this game will be the matchup of young signal-callers. Chiefs fans know how hot of a start quarterback Patrick Mahomes is off to this season — but second-year Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is step for step with him in the way-too-early lead for the MVP award.

Jackson — on 57 attempts — and Mahomes — on 77 attempts — have put up incredible numbers so far in 2019 (Pro Football Focus):

  • Both are completing over 71% of their attempts
  • Both are top three in the league with over 10 yards per attempt
  • Both have thrown seven touchdowns and zero interceptions — which are only the 10th and 11th instances of that being done through two games in NFL history
  • Both are top three in the league in passer rating and ESPN’s QBR
  • Both are top five in the league in passer rating on passes thrown 20 or more yards down the field
  • Both are top four in the league in passer rating when under pressure
  • Both are top five in the league in passer rating when throwing from a clean pocket
  • Both are top three in the league in passer rating when throwing out of play action — and top four in the league in yards per attempt off of play action

Jackson has the NFL’s highest PFF passing grade at 91.2 — while Mahomes is seventh in the league with an 81.2 grade. The Ravens have gone against the two worst defenses in terms of yards per game, but Jackson’s performance should not be undersold. It’s obvious from watching his play that he has vastly improved his accuracy and ability to throw from the pocket with good timing.

Mahomes and Jackson have more similarities than just their performances this season. Both were very polarizing college prospects when they decided to enter the NFL Draft.

It is well documented that Mahomes had varying expectations. In his two seasons starting at Texas Tech University, he had a record of 12-13 as a starter and did not make it to a major bowl game. There was a precedent set by past Texas Tech quarterback prospects that labeled him as a system quarterback — someone who would not be able to win outside of head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offensive scheme.

Although it was easy to see the awesome arm talent Mahomes had, the critics would point to his unconventional throwing motion and inconsistent footwork to show that he would be a developmental project for a professional team. There were advocates for his talent, but many draft evaluators cautioned that he might be a reckless gunslinger with frequent bad decisions on throws.

NCAA Football: Texas at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

While Mahomes had skeptics of his style of play, Jackson faced extremely unfair criticisms — including some questioning whether he should even play the quarterback position in the NFL. The most prominent media member with this opinion was former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian, who explained why he believed the three-year starter at Louisville should switch to wide receiver on ESPN’s Golic and Wingo during the 2018 offseason leading up to the draft.

After explaining his opinion by raving about Jackson’s athleticism, Polian added this quote on the show:

“Clearly, clearly not the thrower that the other guys are,” he proclaimed. “The accuracy isn’t there.”

He also cited Jackson’s 6-2 height and weight of 216 pounds as being “short and slight.”

Polian was not the only evaluator to think of Jackson as a receiver.

I think it’s fair to say that both Mahomes and Jackson have proven pre-draft skeptics wrong.

Week 3 will not be the first time these budding superstars have played each other. As mentioned above, the Chiefs beat the Ravens 27-24 in last season’s Week 14 matchup in Arrowhead Stadium.

It took a miraculous fourth-down throw from Mahomes and overtime to take down the streaking Baltimore team; they had won three consecutive games coming in since Jackson took over as the starter. It is still the only regular-season loss Lamar Jackson has suffered as a starting NFL quarterback — he is 8-1 in his nine regular season starts.

The 2018 game featured a run-heavy Baltimore attack that attempted 40 rushes compared to 26 attempts at throwing. Jackson had 14 of those carries and rushed for 4.8 yards per attempt against a bad 2018 Chiefs defense.

The Ravens’ offensive strategy has relied less on Jackson’s running ability so far in 2019; the quarterback has 19 rushing attempts through two games and has increased his passing attempts per game rate from 24.3 in 2018 to 28.5 in the first two games of 2019. The Week 2 game against the Arizona Cardinals featured 37 attempts — a career-high for Jackson with his previous regular-season best at only 25 attempts.

Arizona Cardinals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

There are a plethora of young signal-callers performing well in the AFC — getting their fans excited about the future of their franchises. Houston TexansDeshaun Watson has shown enough ability to be a potential MVP candidate one day. Baker Mayfield set rookie records for the Cleveland Browns last season and has a young arsenal of weapons setting him up for the future. Josh Allen has embraced his role as the leader of the Buffalo Bills while leading the team to a 2-0 start.

With all those names in mind, Mahomes and Jackson could be the future of this conference. The Week 3 game may just be one of the early chapters in a long story featuring the Chiefs and the Ravens as contenders for the Lamar Hunt trophy for years to come.

It’s early in the 2019 season, but both teams — and their young franchise quarterbacks — look primed for runs to Super Bowl 54 and beyond.