Breaking down the MVP Race Between Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson – Who Wins?

With all due respect to Deshaun Watson, Christian McCaffrey, and others, Russell Wilson and Lamar Jackson have – for the moment, at least – just about separated themselves from the pack in the 2019 NFL MVP race. Both the Seahawks and Ravens are entrenched in second place in their respective conferences, in large part due to the heroic efforts of their breathtaking signal-callers. Both players are top five in the league in QBR, passer rating, and total touchdowns, where Russ just outpaces Lamar, 26 to 25. Below, I’ll analyze the race and predict who will outlast the field to take home the MVP.

Don’t look now, but Wilson, the 30-year old former Wisconsin Badger, is quietly putting together a Hall-of-Fame worthy career that could have him talked about as perhaps the foremost QB of the post-Manning/Brady era. Any seemingly well-intentioned compliments about Wilson as an “electric playmaker” or “incredibly efficient” undermine how complete a quarterback he is, and he’s shown us as much over the last eight years after being drafted in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Winning the starting job out of training camp, Wilson went out and tied Peyton’s record for TD passes by a rookie and collected the Rookie of the Year Trophy. He thrashed the Broncos in one Super Bowl and was a goal-line interception away from beating the Patriots the next year. He’s made six Pro Bowl trips in seven seasons, holds the record for most wins by a quarterback through seven seasons, and is one of two quarterbacks with a career passer rating over 100. 

This season, Russ is the same guy he’s always been, but he’s putting up bigger and bigger passing yardage to appease the counting-stats fans, and he can’t throw an interception. With his main passing target, another overlooked third-rounder (Tyler Lockett) and his backfield counterpart a former seventh-rounder (Chris Carson), Wilson has the highest completion percentage, passer rating, and yards per attempt of his career while he is pacing to break his previous high in yardage. He has 23 TDs through the air, three on the ground, and three total turnovers. And Wilson is at his best in crunch time, as seven of the Seahawks’ eight wins have been by one possession or less.

Lamar Jackson rounds out the duo that would’ve earned you a wild-eyed look if you had suggested they would be atop the MVP race ten weeks into the season. After impressing with three ninety-plus yard rushing performances across his eight starts in 2018, Jackson still did little to quell the rumblings that he was little more than an athlete, and his future might not be at quarterback. This season, however, Jackson has taken the league by storm as a full-time starter. Through ten games, Lamar has 25 touchdowns, just one behind Wilson, while tossing only five interceptions and completing 66% of his passes. Most stunning, however, are Jackson’s 788 rushing yards, good for 10th in the league among all players and almost double the next-highest quarterback’s total on the ground. Jackson became the first player in league history to post two games with a perfect passer rating in one season in blowout wins over the Dolphins and Bengals, and just embarrassed Watson and the Texans 41-7 in what was billed as one of the games of the season. Jackson has earned his status in the MVP race.

Ultimately, however, I think Russell Wilson takes home the trophy.

As electrifying and dominant as Jackson has been, Wilson has been with him every step of the way, and it’s a true neck-and-neck race. Jackson is just ahead in total yardage and has the highlight-reel plays. Wilson narrowly has Jackson beat in completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdowns, passer rating, and has fewer turnovers. The Ravens and the Seahawks have identical records and are near-locks to make the playoffs, while neither quarterback has an elite supporting cast on offense.

Unpacking a deeper layer of conditions though, I give Wilson a slight edge. The majority of those traditional stats favor Wilson, who is working behind a worse offensive line in both run blocking and pass protection than Jackson is, according to Football Outsiders. I feel Wilson isn’t as volatile game-to-game as well – Jackson had a streak of five straight games with a passer rating under 100 (though he did rush for over 100 yards twice in that span), while Russ has been below a 100 passer rating only twice this season. Finally, the Ravens close out the season with the fourth-hardest strength of schedule against quarterback scoring, according to FantasyPros, while the Seahawks are middle of the pack in that metric. This is a coin toss at the end of the day, and I don’t think you can go wrong with either player.

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