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How Fast is Lamar Jackson?

It’s difficult to put a quantitative number on how fast Lamar Jackson is. He didn’t run the 40-yard dash at either his Pro Day or the Combine. The closest thing we have to an official number is Lamar’s claim that he ran a 4.34 40-yard dash at Louisville’s “Speed Day” back in 2017. [1]

If that number is accurate, and Lamar could have replicated that time at the NFL Combine, he would have come close to setting the record for a quarterback, coming in second behind Marcus Vick who owns the combine record of 4.33.

Whatever Lamar’s time would have been in a controlled environment, we can examine his performance in games and how his speed and running ability can bend and distort defenses. 

This gives the Baltimore Ravens numerous options not available to teams that don’t have such an athletic game-breaker at the quarterback position.

Key Takeaways

  • While he didn’t run at the NFL Combine, Lamar Jackson ran a 4.34 40-yard dash in 2017 while at Louisville
  • If accurate, this would be the second-fastest time by a quarterback ever at the NFL Combine.
  • Whatever Lamar’s true 40-yard time is, he’s undoubtedly one of the fastest quarterbacks in the league, and Baltimore has done a good job of manipulating this threat to open up running and passing lanes for Jackson and the team’s other skill position players.

Why Didn’t Lamar Run at his Pro Day or the Combine?

Lamar Jackson isn’t the only super athletic quarterback to pass up the chance to run at the NFL Combine. Kyler Murray also chose to forego the 40-yard dash, citing a desire to focus on throwing and not wanting to risk injury. [2]

Lamar had a different reason. A Chargers’ scout approached him shortly before the combine about switching to wide receiver. Lamar, concerned that a blazing 40-time may inspire other teams to view him as a receiver, decided to focus on showcasing his passing acumen. [3]

“So that was the first time I heard it, I was like, ‘What?’ He told a Ravens podcast back in 2018, ‘Like he was like, ‘Oh, Lamar are you gonna go out for wide receiver routes?’ I was like . . . ‘No . . . I don’t recall saying that, I don’t remember telling you guys I’d go out for receiver routes.’ I’m like, ‘No, quarterback only.’ So that made me not run the 40 and participate in all the other stuff.” [4]

Lamar was the last pick of the first round of the 2018 draft, going number 32 to Baltimore after a trade with the New England Patriots. [5]

Murray is probably the closest comparison to Jackson, both as a quarterback and in his refusal to run at the combine. But neither decision seemed to hurt their draft stock. Murray went first overall the following year. [6]

Estimating Lamar Jackson’s 40-time

So we have Lamar’s claimed 40-yard dash time of 4.34 at the Louisville Pro Day, which would have been the second-fastest time by a quarterback ever at the combine.



But Lamar claims that he may be even faster. 

“I ran it with turf toe,” he told ESPN, “so I don’t know what I really run.” [7]

Coming into the draft, he didn’t seem interested in posting a 40-time. “Game speed tells all,” he told Pro Football Talk. [8]

But at the Nike Combine in 2016, Lamar’s 40-time was underwhelming with a time of 4.77. [9]

That’s still a decent time for a quarterback, but not what you’d expect from a player that ran a 4.34 a year later and claims turf toe slowed him down. 

Now maybe Lamar had a bad day at the Nike event. Or maybe he exaggerated his Louisville performance. Not all events are able to document 40-yard dash times as accurately as the NFL Combine where a tenth of a second can make a big difference. [10]

It’s hard to deduce too much from these two data points. And while Lamar is fast, it feels irresponsible to claim he could have broken Marcus Vick’s combine record. 

Maybe if the time at the Nike event was faster it would be easier to extrapolate a record-setting time. While we can’t disprove Jackson’s claim that turf toe slowed him down, it’s hard to gauge what that time would have been if that was the case. 

But even if we split the difference between those two times, that’s still a time of 4.55, the 16th fastest by a quarterback. I’m willing to bet that Lamar would have run faster than that, probably clocking a time between 4.45 and 4.5 which would put him comfortably in the top 10. Would that have helped or hurt his draft stock? That we’ll never know.

How Lamar’s Speed Translates to Games

The increasing number of athletic quarterbacks capable of making plays with their legs as well as their arms continues to rise. 

Since 2009, the percentage of a team’s rushing yards produced by the quarterback has risen steadily. Lamar Jackson has been instrumental in that jump, including two 1,000-yard rushing seasons in 2019 and 2020. [11]

Teams with running quarterbacks have an inherent advantage over teams with traditional pocket-passing quarterbacks. Playing man-to-man defense becomes riskier since defensive players often have their back to the quarterback to track receivers and are slow to react when a quarterback takes off. 

Defenses are forced to dedicate a player, usually a linebacker or safety, to marking the quarterback. This is known as a QB Spy.

Here the circled player is the Spy. Instead of dropping into coverage, his job is to make sure the quarterback (in this case Cam Newton) doesn’t have a free lane to run. This takes him out of pass coverage, tipping the odds toward the offense and inviting more single coverage. 

Many teams will also have dedicated running plays for their quarterbacks. Often they involve misdirection or deception, with a fake handoff to a running back or giving the quarterback an option to run, pass, or handoff, a concept referred to as a “Run/Pass Option.” 

Baltimore has excelled at these concepts since turning to Lamar as their full-time quarterback halfway through the 2018 season. [12]

The NFL is an arm’s race, with defenses and offenses in a constant battle to adapt, react, and keep the upper hand. While Lamar and the Ravens haven’t been able to repeat the success of his 2019 MVP season, he’s remained one of the most dangerous weapons in football when healthy.

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