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Late for Work 12/6: Comparing Lamar Jackson To Other Rookie Quarterbacks So Far 

120618_LFW

Comparing Lamar Jackson To Other Rookie Quarterbacks So Far

There was a lot of buzz about this year’s rookie quarterback class, and it’s coming to fruition.

The 2018 quarterback rookie class – which is comprised of Lamar Jackson, Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield, the New York Jets’ Sam Darnold, Arizona’s Josh Rosen and Buffalo’s Josh Allen – could all be starting this weekend for the first time.

So this has given pundits an opportunity to compare the rookie signal-callers thus far.

Jackson, who was the last quarterback drafted at No. 32, was also the last one to start an NFL game. Despite only having three games under his belt, he’s already tied with the other four quarterbacks for wins.

That Jackson already has as many wins as Mayfield, Darnold, Rosen and Allen is not surprising considering his team is easily having the most successful season of the five. The Ravens are the only team with a winning record, while none of the Browns, Jets, Cardinals and Bills have more than four wins.

ESPN took a look at the positives and negatives of each rookie thus far, as well as what lies ahead for each one. As far as QBR, Jackson ranks right in the middle ahead of Rosen (30.7) and Darnold (31.5), and behind Allen (53) and Mayfield (50.6).

When it comes to turnovers, both Jackson and Darnold have had their issues. Darnold leads the rookies with 14 interceptions, a worrisome trend for the Jets because he led the NCAA in interceptions last season. Jackson, meanwhile, has three interceptions in three starts, as well as five fumbles (though only one has been recovered by the opponent).

One of Rosen’s biggest struggles, according to ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss, has been taking “too long to get in the rhythm of the game -- usually two or three quarters.” It’s an area that Jackson has thrived in, as the Ravens have scored touchdowns on their opening drive in each of Jackson’s starts.

As far as Mayfield, both are in similar situations this week as far as looking for bounce back games. Mayfield has done well this year, but had a four-interception performance against Houston last week. The same could be said for Jackson, who completed just 12 passes and fumbled three times against Atlanta. Not as rough as Mayfield’s, but definitely his most frustrating start thus far.

Of the four, Allen is the one who has started the NFL most similarly to Jackson because of how often they run. Allen’s 234 rushing yards the past two weeks is the most by a quarterback in back to back games since 1951.

“He must protect his body over the final four games and stay on the field,” ESPN’s Mike Rodak wrote. “The only quarterback to attempt more rushes per game than Allen (7.1) this season is Cam Newton (7.6). If Allen does not slide or go out of bounds when running, the hits will add up.”

Does that sound like the criticism another rookie quarterback has been facing in recent weeks?

Jackson has certainly run the ball a lot, which has led many pundits to worry about if he’ll be able to hold up. Fox Sports’ Tony Gonzalez is among them, saying “This kid is going to get hurt… it is a matter of time, it’s not if, it’s just when. This is not sustainable… I doubt he makes it to the end of the season.”

The simple fact of the matter is that Jackson is a rookie who is learning the job on the fly. Rookie quarterbacks who are mobile, like Jackson and Allen, have to learn the right balance between running and passing. It’s called growing pains, with that balance and learning when to protect yourself at the top of the list. The hope is that Jackson finds that balance before suffering too hard of a hit.

Those growing pains aren’t stopping ESPN from thinking that Jackson will get to keep starting meaningful games down the stretch, which none of the other rookies will have the opportunity to do.

“Jackson isn’t close to being as polished as [quarterback Joe] Flacco,” ESPN wrote. “He is the better fit in Baltimore’s run-heavy offensive game plan. He adds an explosiveness and unpredictability that is tough for teams to prepare for in a week. How much the Ravens can overcome his growing pains will dictate whether they can reach the playoffs and make an unexpected championship run.”

Expecting a rookie to be as polished as an 11-year veteran with a Super Bowl ring is a bit unfair. The hope is that if Jackson remains Baltimore’s starter, he’ll continue to grow as a quarterback while the team keeps winning and makes the postseason for the first time since 2014.

Jackson is certainly off to a similar start to his career as Flacco, and the Ravens have been using a strategy akin to what they used when Flacco was a rookie. It was effective in 2008 when the Ravens reached the AFC Championship game with Flacco as a rookie under center. If Jackson remains the team’s starter, let’s hope the strategy has a similar effect.

How Tim White Has Helped the Defense

Being a member of a practice squad is a unique position to be in. You’re heavily involved in the day-to-day happenings surrounding an NFL team, but you aren’t eligible to play.

It’s especially tough if a player has been on the active roster, but now finds himself unable to participate on Sundays.  Wide receiver Tim White has traveled that route this year. White started the year on the practice squad, before being added to the 53-man roster ahead of Week 3’s matchup with Denver. Also a punt returner, White fumbled a punt against Cleveland in Week 5, and found himself on the practice squad again.

Though he’s now on the practice squad, White has proven himself extremely valuable in recent weeks. How? By helping cornerback Jimmy Smith get back to playing his best football.

“White is the type of receiver that has given the 6-foot-2 and 210-pound Smith trouble over his career. A former track star at Arizona State, White is extremely shifty and athletic,” The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec wrote. “Despite the fact that White is only 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, the Ravens had him play [Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio] Jones in practice last week because he is very good at getting off the line of scrimmage.”

The practice against White has been huge for Smith, who struggled after returning from a four-game suspension and suffering an Achilles injury in December. The lowest moment for Smith was against the New Orleans Saints, a loss for the Ravens that he blames on himself. Smith admits he had some confidence issues after that game.

The coaching staff thought measuring himself against the type of receiver he traditionally struggled with could help Smith get back to game speed. Smith has definitely improved his game since that happened, especially in Atlanta, when he was one of the main cornerbacks that limited Jones, who leads the NFL in receiving yards, to just two catches for 18 yards. 

“The straight line part was easy, but the side-to-side, I wasn’t quick enough. I could feel it,” Smith said. “Once I started being able to cover Tim White and really just matching up with him every day in practice and getting that back, is when I started feeling like, ‘OK, I got it. It’s coming along.’”

For White, it’s a role he’s taking extremely seriously.

“I’ve seen him really grow and get a lot better, basically with just being patient,” White said. “That’s his main emphasis. He’s like, ‘You’re teaching me to stay patient, not to jump on every single move.’ I just try and give him the best look that I can and whatever advice that he has to give me as far as what he sees another receiver do, I just try and imitate it and be the best that I can by helping him out.”

Could James Hurst Prompt Offensive Line Shuffling?

The revitalization of the Ravens’ run game has played a big part in their current three-game winning streak. A stagnant aspect of the offense at the start of the season, the Ravens have almost equaled their run total from the first nine games of the season in their past three contests.

The offensive line has been crucial in the entire operation, with a major part of it being the continuity the group has had. The same five – left tackle Ronnie Stanley, left guard Alex Lewis, center Matt Skura, right guard Marshal Yanda and rookie right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. – have started the past three games. To compare, in the four games before their bye, the Ravens had four different starting offensive lines.

That starting combination could change this week with James Hurst potentially being available to play for the first time since Week 6. Though Hurst started six games at right tackle, he also started all but one game at left guard last season, and Zrebiec is theorizing that he could reprise that role.

“Lewis continues to be hampered by neck/shoulder injuries and his availability for this weekend’s game is in question,” Zrebiec wrote. “You wonder if the Ravens will give Lewis a little rest and try to break the trend of him coming out of games because of it.”

Part of this equation is Brown, who has done an excellent job since becoming a starter when Hurst got injured. To Zrebiec, it wouldn’t be a wise move Brown out of the lineup, with his size and physicality being a welcome addition to the line.

If the Ravens opt to keep the chemistry going with their starters, Hurst’s versatility could also put him in a super sub role. In his career, Hurst has started 15 games at left guard, 14 at left tackle and seven at right tackle. With Lewis and Stanley both having to leave games recently with injuries, Zrebiec thinks “the Ravens could use [Hurst] as the swing man off the bench.”

“Either way, he’d upgrade the depth of a group that has dealt with a lot of in-game injuries,” Zrebiec wrote.

More Ty Montgomery this Week

The Kansas City Chiefs are known for putting up points in a hurry, as they lead the NFL both in passing plays (63) and running plays (15) that have gone for more than 15 yards. It’ll be an interesting test for the defense, as the Ravens have allowed the fewest explosive plays this season.

For PennLive’s Aaron Kasinitz, facing a quick strike offense like Kansas City’s will mean less of running back Gus Edwards, and more Ty Montgomery.

“If the Ravens are forced to play with a large deficit or air the ball out more frequently Sunday than they have the past weeks, Montgomery could play a larger role,” Kasinitz wrote. “He’s become Baltimore’s go-to third-down back and led the team with five receptions last week.”

Another note on Montgomery is that he is a superb pass blocker, the Ravens could use him more in that capacity as well. Either way, utilizing Montgomery’s speed and ability to add yards after the catch by making defenders miss could be a crucial part of the game plan in Kansas City.

Quick Hits

  • Cornerback Marlon Humphrey was profiled by Pro Football Focus’ Austin Gayle, who believes that the second-year Alabama product is close to “earning elite status in the league.”
  • Kasinitz also believes that safety Eric Weddle will be a key figure for the Ravens on Sunday. “It’d be difficult for the Ravens to contain all of the Chiefs’ offensive playmakers one-on-one,” Kasinitz wrote. “They’ll need Weddle, the defense’s signal-caller and a crafty veteran, to be on top of his game to stop the NFL’s most explosive offense from beating them deep.”

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