When Ravens tight end Isaiah Likely arrived in Owings Mills for the team’s workouts this offseason, he didn’t recognize his close friend, the guy who happens to be the team’s star quarterback. There, throwing passes to him, was Lamar Jackson. There was just … less of him.

“I’m like, ‘Who is that?’” Likely recalled thinking in an interview Thursday on FanDuel TV’s “Up & Adams.” He joked with Jackson: “What, you ain’t been eating, L?”

A year after making headlines for what he earned — a record-breaking $260 million contract extension — the NFL’s reigning Most Valuable Player is under scrutiny for what he’s lost. Jackson told Complex Sports recently that he weighs about 205 pounds, down from 215 last season and 230 in 2022. Likely said Jackson told him he’s “back [to] running how I am.”

“I’m just going to say it now: If y’all thought L was fast before, and L couldn’t get caught before, man ... " Likely said, laughing as he trailed off.

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If the Ravens’ roster is a never-ending construction project, so, too, is the physical makeup of the players who fill it. Jackson’s body will evolve in the four months before the season kicks off, perhaps drastically so.

But his weight loss is at least notable. The last time Jackson played at a listed weight of 205 pounds was in 2016, his sophomore year at Louisville, when he won the Heisman Trophy. At the NFL scouting combine two years later, he was up to 216 pounds. As a rookie in Baltimore, his listed playing weight was 212 pounds. Not until the 2022 season did that figure change.

If Jackson intends on playing this season at the lightest weight of his career, he could solve one problem while perhaps creating a more existential one. By some metrics, Jackson’s 2023 was the slowest of his career. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, his top speed (19.62 mph) was the lowest of his six seasons in Baltimore. And, on the 64 regular-season plays in which he covered at least 25 yards of total distance as a ball carrier, Jackson hit 17 mph just 25 times (39.1%). From 2018 to 2022, he reached 17 mph on over half of those longer runs.

With a leaner frame, Jackson might be a half-step faster — and with another half-step of separation, Jackson might’ve broken free in January for an improbable 82-yard touchdown after catching a deflected pass against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game.

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The Ravens’ playoff run last year was Jackson’s first since 2020; injuries sidelined him late in the 2021 (knee) and 2022 (ankle) seasons. For all the crunching open-field hits Jackson has avoided over his career, he is not bulletproof. And a leaner frame might leave him even more exposed to injury risks, especially behind an offensive line set to take a step back in 2024.

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According to TruMedia, just four quarterbacks since 2000 have started at least 12 games in a season while playing at 205 pounds or lighter: Kirk Cousins (eight times), Jeff Garcia (five times), Doug Flutie (once) and Bryce Young (once). None was the running threat that Jackson is; only Garcia rushed for more than 300 yards in a season.

Height matters at the position, but so does weight — good weight, anyway. Quarterback Jayden Daniels, the eventual No. 2 overall pick of the Washington Commanders, opted out of measurements at the scouting combine, perhaps out of fear of recording a less-than-ideal weight. (A month later, at LSU’s pro day, he weighed in at 210 pounds.) An anonymous NFC executive told NFL.com before the draft there were concerns about Daniels’ durability, pointing to an ankle injury and concussion he’d suffered in recent seasons and his Jackson-esque playing style.

“He needs to add some body armor,” the executive said.

That could be Jackson’s aim right now. He hasn’t spoken to local reporters since the end of the Ravens’ season, nor have team officials been asked about Jackson’s body composition. Organized team activities don’t begin in Owings Mills until the week of May 20.

But, after a wiry Jackson reported for voluntary workouts last month, strength and conditioning coordinator Scott Elliott indicated that the Ravens’ focus was on building him back up.

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“Lamar is in great shape, and what it’s allowing us to do … is to add lean muscle on top of it,” Elliott said. “We did shoulder conditioning today to help him be the elite quarterback that he is. So I would say this: I’ve never been more excited in April for Lamar Jackson.”

Even if there is less of him to get excited about.

Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring.

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