The Rams saw glimpses of the talent in training camp practices with the Baltimore Ravens before the 2018 season.
Lamar Jackson was a rookie at the time, the last player and fifth quarterback picked in the first round of the draft, and he was just getting a feel for the NFL game as a backup to Joe Flacco.
“You saw a dynamic athlete,” Rams coach Sean McVay said Monday.
A year later, Jackson is among the front-runners to be selected the NFL‘s most valuable player.
“Best player in the league right now,” Rams running back Todd Gurley said Sunday after a 17-7 victory over the Chicago Bears.
The Rams, fighting to stay in playoff contention, will try to control Jackson next week on “Monday Night Football.”
It’s a huge showcase for a Rams team that improved to 6-4 with its victory over the Bears, and for Jackson, who has led the Ravens to an 8-2 record.
Jackson, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner, passed for five touchdowns in Baltimore’s 59-10 season-opening victory over the Miami Dolphins. He has not stopped since. Rams linebacker Clay Matthews described the 22-year-old Jackson as “a human highlight film.”
On Sunday, in the Ravens’ 41-7 victory over the Houston Texans, Jackson completed 17 of 24 passes for 222 yards and four touchdowns. He had 86 yards in nine carries.
“The guys around him have a confidence because of his swagger and confidence,” McVay said.
Jackson has completed 66% of his passes, 19 for touchdowns. He has had only five passes intercepted, three coming in Baltimore’s 26-23 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers that started a six-game winning streak.
Jackson has rushed for six touchdowns and has eclipsed 100 yards rushing in three games.
The Ravens are averaging 428.6 yards per game, second in the NFL, and rank among the leaders in yards rushing (203.8) and scoring (34.1 points per game).
Safety Eric Weddle played three seasons for the Ravens before signing with the Rams. He has kept an eye on his former team and Jackson.
“That will be a great test for us,” Weddle said. “We’re excited for the challenge. We know we’ve got a great defense and we present challenges ourselves.”
The Rams defense has been stout the last four games. Or, since lockdown cornerback Jalen Ramsey joined the team after a mid-October trade.
But none of those games were against an opponent with a quarterback as mobile as the 6-foot-2, 212-pound Jackson.
Several Rams players said Monday that Jackson’s ability to extend plays was similar to that of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
But as Gurley did Sunday, linebacker Samson Ebukam compared Jackson to a former NFL star who redefined the quarterback position.
“I’d say he’s more like Michael Vick,” Ebukam said Monday. “Just a very versatile, fast, quick quarterback. He knows when to get down on the ground, not to take hits. He’s very smart.”
The Rams “have the right guys” to control Jackson because they are strong on the edge and also along the interior line, edge rusher Dante Fowler said.
“Once we start game planning and stuff like that, we’ll have the right plan for him,” Fowler said.
Then the Rams must execute that plan, knowing Jackson is capable of ruining it.
“Once he gets started, it’s a wrap,” Fowler said. “He’s a great dynamic player and kind of changing the game a little bit.
“We can’t let him have a really good game against us.”
McVay offered no update on whether receiver Robert Woods will play against the Ravens. Woods was not at the game against the Bears because of what the Rams have described as a personal issue. “We feel good about where the situation is at,” McVay said. ... Receiver Brandin Cooks, who has sat out the last two games while recovering from his second concussion of the season, is expected to play against the Ravens, McVay said. ... Right tackle Rob Havenstein (knee) is doubtful for a second consecutive game, McVay said. Rookie Bobby Evans started in place of Havenstein against the Bears.