Close your eyes. Imagine a quarterback who, on any given play, is capable of creating something out of nothing. Whose footwork is closer to a ballerina or break-dancer than a quarterback. Who can take off in the blink of an eye and gain 30 yards while leaving defenders sprawled behind him. Oh, and he can launch the ball 50 yards downfield with only a flick of the wrist.
For Falcons fans, the quarterback who could be seen clearly in the mind’s eye was undoubtedly Michael Vick. For Ravens fans, they now have a crystal-clear image of that quarterback as well: Lamar Jackson.
When the Ravens take the field in Atlanta on Sunday it could be the rookie quarterback who draws favorable comparisons to the Falcons’ former No. 7 leading them.
The comparisons between Jackson and Vick have been taking place for a while now, and they became especially more frequent during Jackson’s Heisman-Trophy-winning season at Louisville. But the NFL is full of stronger faster players, and yet, the comparison remains.
"Once he gets out of the pocket, it's like watching a young Michael Vick," Ravens Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley told ESPN’s Jamison Hensley this summer. "It's amazing to watch. When you're defending him, you just have to act like you're tagging off -- you don't want to be on the highlight reel."
So, how similar are Jackson and Vick?
For starters, Jackson has the kind of speed, fluidity and elusiveness that Vick used to drive NFL defenders insane during his time in Atlanta. There have been other mobile quarterbacks since Vick, but unlike, say, Cam Newton or Russell Wilson, Jackson looks and feels more like Vick with the ball in his hands.
The threat that both of these players presented as runners meant that coordinators could utilize them as a weapon and build an offense around their unique gifts, which the Ravens have done since Jackson has been the starter.
Against the Cincinnati Bengals, Jackson’s first game as the starter, the Ravens rolled out an offensive game plan filled with read-option plays to maximize Jackson’s effectiveness. The result was a 267-yard rushing explosion, led by Jackson’s 119 yards on 26 carries.
The read-option wasn’t en vogue when Vick played for the Falcons, who instead ran plenty of bootlegs to get their star quarterback in space. But both teams did find a variety of ways to get their quarterback on the run in space.
But even when the play isn’t designed with the quarterback in mind, Vick and Jackson can turn a negative play into a positive one in the blink of an eye.
Vick’s escapability ranks up among the very best to ever play the game of football. Displaying something close to a sixth-sense for oncoming defenders, Vick’s cat-like quickness helped him leave opponents tackling air.
Jackson’s own abilities aren’t quite at that level, but he’s certainly well-equipped to keep plays alive by escaping immediate danger.
The other obvious similarity between the two dual-threat quarterbacks is their arm strength. More specifically, their arm strength when throwing on the run.
“One, I see his ability able to throw it on the move,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said of Jackson. “I think that’s an added element that you see, OK, he can run boots and keepers to go. It’s important to be able to run those and break contain, but it’s the more explosive plays comes on the boots where you’re able to rip them down the field.”
Jackson has been faulted for his sub-par accuracy in his two games as a starter. In those two games, Jackson completed 61.3 percent of his passes.
But that number isn’t out of line for a rookie quarterback. In fact, three rookie quarterbacks taken ahead of Jackson in April’s draft – Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold and Josh Allen – are all completing less than 56 percent of their passes this season. The No. 2-overall pick in 2017, Mitchell Trubisky, completed 59.4 percent of his passes as a rookie.
Jackson does take risks, but he’s also shown plenty of reasons for optimism as a passer. And, notably, he has much more of a tendency to keep his eyes downfield while scrambling than Vick ever did.
Vick was often criticized for his lack accuracy, and probably for good reason – he finished his time in Atlanta with a 53.8 completion percentage. The one thing that was undeniable about Vick, however, was that he had an absolute cannon.
Jackson again compares favorably in this area. Like Vick, Jackson seems to get the ball downfield with surprising ease and can shoot balls into tight areas with only the flick of his wrist. There are times when Jackson does show impressive touch on his passes, allowing him to finesse the ball into a tight area when he needs to.
But it’s much more fun to watch him do this:
If Jackson is to become a great player in the NFL, he will need to string together those highlight-reel plays with more consistency, but there have been plenty of highlights throughout his first season.
“We’ve seen it from around these parts before,” Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel said, alluding to Jackson’s similarities to Vick. “A guy with that enormous ability. You have to look at it as a guy who can also throw from the pocket. He can make plays happen. He’s very electric. (Jackson’s speed) adds a different dimension. It’s going to be hard for one guy to stop him.”
Should Jackson start again in place of an injured Joes Flacco on Sunday, Falcons fans with get an opportunity to see No. 8 first-hand. And he may just end up reminding them of some of the jaw-dropping plays No. 7 used to make.