Lamar Jackson’s finish to his rookie season left him, in his own words, “ticked off.”
The Ravens’ rookie quarterback struggled through much of his playoff debut, though he rallied to give Baltimore a chance in the final minute of the loss. That performance will contribute to the conversation about Jackson this entire offseason.
Afterwards, however, Jackson’s teammates focused more on his future than his uneven showing as the youngest quarterback to ever start an NFL playoff game.
“You guys can tell, he’s devastated right now, and that’s what’s going to drive him in the offseason,” veteran safety Eric Weddle said. “And he’ll come back 10 times better than he was this year.”
Here are five reasons why Jackson can be better next year:
Improved ball security
Jackson led the NFL with 12 fumbles this year, despite starting just seven games. He had three more in the wild-card loss.
Head Coach John Harbaugh said improving ball-handling will be the No. 1 priority this offseason. While that applies to the entire offensive operation, it starts with Jackson.
Part of the issue this year was that Jackson didn’t have all the reps a starting quarterback would normally have. The Ravens worked on their read-pass option offense during the summer, but didn’t dive fully into it until Jackson became the starter in Week 11. That meant center Matt Skura, the running backs and Jackson all had to build a lot of cohesion very quickly. With more time and more reps, that should improve.
“When you’re basing the offense on the principles on which we’re basing the offense on, you have to be a great ball-handling team,” Harbaugh said. “The truth is, we didn’t get enough work at it in the offseason.”
Improved throwing accuracy
Had he had enough attempts to qualify, Jackson’s 58.2 completion percentage would have ranked 31st in the NFL, just below Joe Flacco (61.2) and Blake Bortles (60.3). It was higher, however, than three other first-round rookie quarterbacks: Sam Darnold (57.7), Josh Rosen (55.2) and Josh Allen (52.8).
Jackson had a career 57.0 completion percentage in college. He may never be Drew Brees-like (74.1 percent this season), but Jackson doesn’t need to be. You won’t see Brees ripping off long runs either. They’re just different quarterbacks.
With that said, Jackson and the Ravens would of course like to see him improve his throwing accuracy because it would take Baltimore’s offense to another level. While Jackson made many beautiful throws, there were too many that skipped in the dirt or sailed over a receiver’s head.
With a full offseason working with the Ravens’ offensive coaches, including Quarterbacks Coach James Urban, Jackson’s mechanics will improve, which should lead to a better completion rate. The arm talent is there; it just needs to be polished.
“Once he gets this offseason, he’ll take the next leap,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “Once he gets his eyes set, his mechanics will improve, and let’s see what we got with Lamar.”
Throwing talent is one thing. The other big part of the passing game is understanding the entire scope of the offense, what defenses are trying to do to counteract it, and where the ball should go.
The Ravens used a more simplified version of their offense in 2018 to make life easier for the rookie quarterback. As the weeks went by, Baltimore opened up more and more of the passing game to Jackson, and he took steps each week. Now entering Year 2, the Ravens will only continue to put more on Jackson’s plate.
In addition to working on Jackson’s mechanics, expect Ravens coaches to spend a lot of time with Jackson in the film room this summer.
“He’s such a bright kid, unbelievable energy and personality,” Weddle said. “He’s likeable. He works hard.”
Takes over leadership reigns
Coming in behind a Super Bowl-winning quarterback who had been in Baltimore for 11 years, then replacing him mid-season, presented a possible awkward situation for Jackson. Not only did Flacco handle it with class, but the rookie was careful not to step on the veteran’s toes.
With Flacco set to depart this offseason, Jackson will officially take over the leadership reigns that come with being a starting quarterback. Jackson will take on an even bigger leadership role in the locker room, which should only help him blossom in Year 2.
“You have a rookie quarterback that led us to a lot of wins,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “I think Lamar is a natural leader in itself, so whatever way it falls, I always know we’re going to have Lamar. He definitely was emerging as a big leader on this team.”
It should be noted that Jackson got some good advice from Flacco this season, including in the playoff loss. Jackson entered his rookie season saying he wanted to learn as much as he could from the veteran. He soaked it up, and will be better for it next year.
“Everyone was talking to him. I told him, ‘Hey, just tell everybody to shut up at some point,’” Flacco said after the Chargers loss. “I just told him, ‘Listen, finish strong. At some point you’re going to be proud of how you finished no matter what happens. This is all part of it. You know, dealing with the situation right now. It’s still a game, so go out there and do what you can to get us back in it. Handle yourself the way you would like to see yourself handle the situation.’”
Better protection in front of him
It wouldn’t at all be surprising if the Ravens’ devote a fair amount of resources this offseason to beefing up the offensive line in front of Jackson. Jackson admitted that he didn’t play like himself in the playoff loss, but frequent pressure from the Chargers’ pass rush didn’t help the situation. Baltimore could focus on upgrading the interior of its offensive line.
The Ravens’ existing offensive linemen will also get more accustomed to blocking in the read-pass option offense, and for Jackson’s unique style. While rookie right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. was accustomed to it, it was an adjustment for the veteran linemen.
That all means Jackson, who posted the most rushing yards for a quarterback in league history, could be even more dynamic as a runner next season.