Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes Both in Discussion for NFL's Best Player
Patrick Mahomes put on a show in Sunday's AFC Championship game as he led the Kansas City Chiefs to their first Super Bowl appearance in 50 years. That performance has led to some anointing the third-year quarterback as the best player in the league.
It's not an unreasonable conclusion, and obviously there's no denying Mahomes is a special talent. However, Lamar Jackson's record-breaking 2019 campaign -- his first full season as a starter -- cannot be easily dismissed.
When Fox Sports 1's Marcellus Wiley was asked whether Mahomes is clearly the best player in the NFL, he was quick to point out that Jackson has to be in the discussion.
Wiley contended that Jackson had a better rookie year than Mahomes, as Jackson went 6-1 as a starter, while Mahomes played in just one game as he sat behind starter Alex Smith. Jackson and Mahomes both had outstanding second seasons, but Wiley gave the edge to Jackson there as well.
"We were just up here for weeks saying, statistically and by impact, Lamar Jackson probably had the best year we've seen at the quarterback position," Wiley said. "So, we can even say 2-0 in terms of rookie year, second year, Lamar Jackson. Now we're starting to pour on some gravy for Patrick Mahomes because he's in his third year. We haven't seen the evolution of Lamar Jackson in his third year.
"Even in Patrick Mahomes' greatness, he's starting to learn a lesson from Lamar Jackson and leaning to his running ability to close that gap. So as insane as Patrick Mahomes is with his arm talent is as insane as Lamar Jackson is with his mobility. And if you want to say what's the difference between those two guys? I think that Lamar Jackson is closer as a passer to Patrick Mahomes than Patrick Mahomes is as a runner to Lamar Jackson. … For me, it's still Lamar Jackson."
NFL Network's Deion Sanders also wouldn't concede that Mahomes is "the best player in the NFL right now," citing what Jackson accomplished in leading the Ravens to a franchise-best 14-2 record.
It's an interesting discussion, and one that very well could be debated for years to come. Jackson has the higher career winning percentage as a starter (.864 to .774), but Mahomes is 3-1 in the playoffs and is headed to the Super Bowl, while Jackson is 0-2 in the postseason.
By the way, the Ravens will host the Chiefs at M&T Bank Stadium next season.
Wide Receiver, Offensive Line Among Areas of Need
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec took an in-depth look at where the Ravens' roster stands heading into the offseason and assessed the level of need at each position.
As our own Ryan Mink wrote yesterday, Zrebiec identified the front seven -- defensive linemen and linebackers -- as an area the Ravens should focus on improving. The other two position groups Zrebiec believes should be priorities are wide receiver and offensive line.
"There are bigger holes on the roster, but the Ravens need a big, athletic and physical target who could be a complementary piece to [Marquise] Brown and [Willie] Snead IV, and help Jackson take the passing game to another level," Zrebiec wrote.
"This year's draft is said to have one of the deepest receiving classes ever, so the Ravens should be able to find an immediate contributor after the first round. The question is whether they also go the free-agent route to get Jackson another weapon. A.J. Green, Emmanuel Sanders, Amari Cooper and Robby Anderson are the top pending free agent receivers."
Baltimore, of course, is very familiar with Green, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection who has earned a reputation as a "Ravens Killer" as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler made the case for the Ravens pursuing the 31-year-old Green, who did not play a snap this season due to an ankle injury.
"Signing Green would give the Ravens immediate production. Drafting a rookie is hit or miss," Schisler wrote. "Finding a rookie who can produce the way Green presumably could, is a hard thing to do. Green would be a great complement to Brown. You would have two receivers that you could [put] outside or in the slot. Defenses couldn't just concern themselves with one side of the field, bracket [tight end] Mark Andrews and be good to go.
"If Green could bring in 60 receptions for 800 yards (which is a low estimate if he's healthy) the Ravens' offense would be completely transformed. The Ravens would have two exciting receivers to go along with their full dose of tight ends and running backs."
Regarding the offensive line, there is uncertainty there because it's unknown whether eight-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda will return for his 14th season or retire.
"The Ravens have been bracing for Yanda to move on, so they won't be surprised if he does," Zrebiec wrote. "They will, however, have a major hole in their offensive line, which exceeded expectations this season. When you couple Yanda's tenuous status with the significant knee injury sustained in December by center Matt Skura, who is no lock to be ready for next year, you understand why solidifying the offensive line is one of the offseason's biggest priorities.
"The good news is that [Ronnie] Stanley and [Orlando] Brown Jr. are both Pro Bowl performers at the tackle spots and [Bradley] Bozeman played well in his first year as the starting left guard."
Dean Pees Retires, Anthony Weaver Reportedly Promoted
Former Ravens Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees has retired for the second time.
The past two seasons, Pees, 70, was the defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans, who knocked the Ravens out of the AFC playoffs with a 28-12 win in the divisional round on Jan. 11.
Pees was the Ravens' defensive coordinator in 2012 when they won the Super Bowl. He retired following the 2017 season after leading the Ravens defense for eight years, but he was coaxed out of retirement by Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel, who played for Pees in New England.
Before coming to Baltimore, Pees was the Patriots' defensive coordinator from 2004-2009 and won two Super Bowls with them.
While Pees is ending his career, a former Ravens player is expected to get his first opportunity as a defensive coordinator.
Anthony Weaver, a defensive lineman who was selected by the Ravens in the second round in 2002 and played four seasons in Baltimore, is expected to replace Romeo Crennel as the Houston Texans' defensive coordinator, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported. Weaver has been the Texans' defensive line coach since 2016.
Edge Rusher Zack Baun Goes to Ravens in Mock Draft
The Baltimore Sun’s latest mock draft has the Ravens selecting Wisconsin edge rusher Zack Baun with the 28th overall pick.
"Trying to guess what the Ravens do with this pick is tricky," The Sun's C.J. Doon wrote. "They could certainly use help at linebacker and edge rusher, especially if they're not able
to re-sign Matthew Judon. And with so many talented wide receivers available, they might be tempted to pick one. In the end, Baun offers a unique skill set as a pass rusher and coverage linebacker that would fit perfectly in the Ravens' scheme."
Alabama edge rusher Terrell Lewis, who has been linked to the Ravens in other mock drafts, goes to the Titans at No. 29 in Doon's scenario.