In case you couldn’t tell from my numerous Baltimore references, I’m a Baltimore sports fan. Like many, I was elated when the Ravens decided to draft Lamar Jackson in the 2018 Draft. Who wouldn’t be? He’s a dual threat quarterback who can kill defenses with his arm as much as he can with his arm.
Over the last three years, he’s lived up to the hype. Between leading the Ravens to the playoffs in his first two seasons and the MVP last season, the Ravens looked like they won the 2018 Draft for sure. He’s been brilliant more often than he’s looked lost. Most of the time, that is. This season, something has seemed off.
Between defenses figuring him out and him seeming out of sorts passing-wise, this fan is worried. Now I’m not an NFL pundit or a GM. I’m just a guy who wears purple on Fridays and watches the team most games. However, I’m seeing things that make Lamar seem more like a Colin Kaepernick (from a strictly playing perspective) and less like, say, a Russell Wilson.
Now, don’t get me wrong: Kaep isn’t a bad ceiling. At all. Kaep was an amazing QB when he was on. He led the 49ers to the playoffs most of his tenure in the league. Hell, I think that he’d at least be a passable backup still, because the QB-turned-activist has a cannon. The fact that he’s out the league is messed up (and an article for another time).
However, even with all that, you don’t necessarily build a team around a Colin Kaepernick type. When Kaep was off, he was off. He had a good supporting cast, but when he struggled, he seemed very hesitant. He seemed like he forced plays that he wouldn’t normally have made. His legs didn’t take him as far as they did when he first emerged on the scene.
Again, this is just my opinion, but similar things have happened with Lamar Jackson this season.
To be fair, Lamar doesn’t have a Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin or a healthy Vernon Davis on his side. He’s also not a 6’4” mountain of a quarterback. The Ravens’ coordinators play him more as a running QB who manages the game while the RB corps runs amok. This isn’t even all Lamar’s fault as a player.
The Ravens have kind of failed Jackson by not getting him a top-tier wide receiver during the offseason. No offense to Willie Snead, but he’s not the guy you want doing the damn job for you. Marquise Brown is great, but because Lamar has seemed hesitant, the 5’9” speedster has been limited in his own evolution. When the biggest WR signing you get in a year is signing Dez Bryant to the practice squad (then not using him as much—then putting him on the COVID list)? You’ve got some issues.
Now the Ravens’ passing game has always been predicated on a QB passing to a tight end. But it’s 2020, not 2003. Depending on a TE for most of your passing needs, even when it’s Mark Andrews is passé. So as the 2020 season, as wild as it’s been, is closing out…what’s next?
The Ravens need to make sure Lamar Jackson feels comfortable running and passing. Right now, that starts with revamping their game plan so he doesn’t just have to pass between the numbers. The coordinators have to make—and keep—him comfortable passing all over the field.
It continues with making sure Jackson is less likely to run around in the backfield, risking sacks, fumbles and injury. He’s got legs. Make sure he remembers to use them more than he has in 2020. This goes back to making him feel more comfortable. He exhibited these skills and that comfortable nature again during the “Cramp Game” last week. He’s taking steps in the right direction as the season goes on.
Lamar has the ability to be one of the greats, but it’s an all-hands-on-deck situation.
In the offseason, the Ravens also need to play hard to get a top-tier receiving threat. In other words, someone to mentor Hollywood Brown and someone to take the pressure off him and Andrews to make catches. They can’t go bargain hunting, even if they’re somewhat strapped for cash. The defense is always a next man up sort of thing; they’ll be fine if someone like Matthew Judon walks. The offense won’t be fine if Lamar Jackson keeps regressing and doesn’t have any weapons to elevate his game.
The Ravens have a chance to make some noise again this season and next. Heck, if they resign Lamar after next season, they’ve got the chance to make noise for years to come. Let’s just make sure everyone can do what they need to.
I still have Big Truss in the team.