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It's Not Safe to Call Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson the Future of the NFL Yet

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - DECEMBER 09:  Quarterback Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs shakes hands with quarterback Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens after the Chiefs defeated the Ravens 27-24 in overtime to win the game at Arrowhead Stadium on December 09, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Baltimore Ravens v Kansas City Chiefs | Jamie Squire/Getty Images

In the span of less than an hour yesterday, Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes dropped jaws across the nation, making two unbelievable plays that showcased all the skills and attributes that make them so special.

The first came from Jackson, Baltimore's awe-inspiring quarterback, who juked and spun his way through the Bengals (admittedly porous) defense on his way to a nearly-unthinkable touchdown run.

Mahomes' moment came shortly after, as he leapt in the air with defenders closing in around him and managed to complete a pass to Mecole Hardman, who raced into the end zone for another seemingly-impossible score.

But while these moments transcended our collective expectation of what's possible, and while Jackson and Mahomes have done this countless times during their short NFL careers already, it's far too early for anyone to crown them the future of the NFL.

I say that not because they can't be. They absolutely can. They are two of the most talented players in recent NFL memory and the expectations we have for them is reaching unattainable heights. But many other quarterbacks with similar skillsets to them have been shouldered with astronomical expectations before too and failed to live up to them (Cam Newton/Mike Vick, who had/are having great careers, but aren't the supernatural players many expected).

Part of that was self sabotage (Vick). But the other part (Newton) had more to do with playing style and the short NFL lifespan mobile quarterbacks have. Like running backs, when quarterbacks use their legs to extend plays, they're often put in compromising positions, and one misstep could change everything.

Mahomes missed two games this season after dislocating his knee cap. Jackson injured his ankle last year against the Chiefs, though he didn't miss any time. While that highlights their durability, the risk of something happening for them is higher than for a player like Tom Brady, and when the general public says Mahomes and Jackson are the future face of the NFL, you have to compare them to the current face, and the reality is Brady's most impressive attribute is longevity.

As the NFL continues to give offenses more leverage over defenses, teams will look for mobile quarterbacks who can extend plays and give their wide receivers more time to get open. Just look at the Giants with Daniel Jones and the Cardinals with Kyler Murray. This isn't a fad. It's a trend.

Mahomes and Jackson are the best current examples of players who possess that rare trait of being able to run and throw. But like Newton and Vick, who electrified audiences with seemingly-impossible plays and were similarly hailed as the future faces of the NFL, Mahomes and Jackson face tough obstacles on their way to that plateau, and saying they've reached it already is premature.