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Steve Young appreciates what Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson bring to the game

The Hall of Fame quarterback weighs in on the NFL’s two biggest superstars

When it comes to the art of playing quarterback, perhaps no one knows more than Hall of Famer Steve Young. Whether orchestrating from the pocket or improvising on the run, Young did both better than most players who lined up under center during the NFL’s first 100 seasons. That’s why Young is eager to watch Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs and Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens duel again on ESPN Monday Night Football in a marquee Week 3 matchup of undefeated teams.

Mahomes and Jackson are the standard-bearers of two distinct groups of signal-callers at the dawn of the Era of the Black Quarterback. And in his role as an ESPN analyst, Young will be focused on the young superstars who embody excellence at professional sports’ most important position.

With Jackson, who’s only 23, Young is most interested in evaluating whether the 2019 Associated Press NFL MVP — and only the second player chosen in a unanimous vote, equaling a feat first accomplished by Tom Brady in 2010 — has made significant strides in the dropback passing game, which would complement his remarkable success as a runner.

“I’m going to be the one guy in the stadium [on the broadcast team] who has nothing to do but just watch him,” Young told The Undefeated last week. “I really want to watch him closely to give him the ‘eyeball test,’ but he says all the right things. … He wants to learn and he wants to get better and better and better.”

Then there’s Mahomes, who turned 25 this month and is the youngest player to have both a Super Bowl title and a league MVP award, having been selected the 2018 winner by the Associated Press in only his second season and first as a starter. He’s also the first classic dropback Black passer to be the consensus No. 1 player at his position in any era.

“He’s unique,” Young said. “You know, there are only a few guys who naturally find 22 people in a confined space as no big deal.”

Monday’s matchup marks the third Mahomes-Jackson showdown, with the Chiefs having defeated the Ravens in the previous two. For obvious reasons, however, the anticipation around this meeting is different.

Last season, only his second season in the league, Jackson rocketed to superstardom. The Ravens went all-in on their first-round pick in the 2018 draft, designing an offense to take full advantage of a sharp, strong-armed passer who also possesses off-the-charts athleticism. The Ravens finished with the NFL’s best record, earning home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Jackson, however, struggled with passing as the Tennessee Titans upset Baltimore in the divisional round. Mahomes, meanwhile, reclaimed the spotlight in the postseason, leading Kansas City to its first Super Bowl championship in 50 years.

Don’t be surprised if Monday’s game serves as a preview of this season’s AFC title game, especially if Jackson’s performance in the dropback game continues to improve under Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman. From what little Young has observed of Jackson in the Ravens’ first two games this season, he likes what he sees.

“His running is already at its peak. Right? So as he ages, that has to drop,” Young said. “But his passing, his ability to find the ‘truth’ in the passing game, that’s where the improvement can come from.

“And what I mean by the truth, the truth is to find a guy who’s open, to be able to find it with everything going on. It’s [the ability] to be able to decipher it all. It’s the ability to find that third receiver. And he’s knocking. He’s knocking on that door. I was 38 and still running around. No one runs like Lamar. So if he can do that, if he can find that truth in the passing game, he can be really effective with his legs for a long time.”

And how might Ravens opponents have to adjust if Jackson scales that mountain?

“If a defense had to defend Lamar as a really efficient quarterback in the pocket, and then add that running ability to it, what I say is, you would have to outlaw him,” Young said. “Like, just throw in the white towel.”

Mahomes’ passing has a similar effect on opponents. And, this offseason, he was rewarded with the richest contract in NFL history.

Among a group of melanin-rich franchise quarterbacks that includes Jackson, Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans, Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals, Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys and Cam Newton, who seems to be well along the path to reviving his career with the New England Patriots, Mahomes is currently the king.

That’s not surprising, Young said.

“It’s his presence,” said Young, a two-time AP MVP, a three-time Super Bowl winner and a Super Bowl MVP. “As a young man, he has an incredible presence. He has an emotional, mental presence on a field as if he was 40 years old. He has the same type of presence that I feel from a Drew Brees or a Tom Brady. That’s not fair. And I have to believe it’s because he grew up around the pro game. Yeah, it wasn’t football, it was baseball [a right-handed Major League Baseball pitcher, Patrick Mahomes Sr. played for six clubs in an 11-year career]. But like Peyton [Manning], he already entered the game with that natural conditioning that most people have to go through to play in the NFL.

“I remember the first time I watched film [after joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers], I was really young, and we were playing the [Green Bay] Packers. They put the film up, and I was like, ‘Wow. Here’s the Green Bay Packers. Holy crap.’ There are a few lapses. He doesn’t have that. When we make mistakes as quarterbacks, most of the time it’s because the data has overwhelmed us. Not him. Mahomes has the presence of a guy who has been around 15 years. It’s really something to see.”

The contrasting styles between Mahomes and Jackson will only make things more interesting to watch on Monday night. But the end result remains the same: When they’re on the field, fans should always bet on Black.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.