Mel Kiper, Todd McShay Have Lively Debate About Lamar Jackson
Should the Ravens draft a quarterback this year to potentially groom as Lamar Jackson’s replacement? If the question seems absurd, it’s because it is.
But that’s what ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay were posed with on their “First Draft” podcast.
Are the Ravens better served signing a veteran free agent as Jackson’s backup in 2019 or should they “dip into the draft, get a cheap, developmental quarterback that can maybe compete with Jackson down the line?”
Basically, this turned into a debate about whether doubling down on Jackson is the best long-term plan, and Kiper and McShay have their doubts.
“They’re moving forward with him. He’s the guy. Make no mistake about it, it’s Lamar Jackson,” Kiper said.
“Would you, Mel?” McShay interjected. “I’m asking you. … Be honest. I know you have friends there and all that. But, honestly, what would you do?”
“You could get Mel in the paper down there,” host Chris Sprow joked. Yuuuuup.
“You can’t not have concerns about Lamar Jackson. There’s nobody in that building that can say, ‘We know we have a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.’ You can’t say that,” Kiper said.
“What we do know about Lamar is nobody will outwork him. He will be a guy that gives effort. He will be a guy that that locker room loves, that they will go through a wall for. We know that he can run like the wind, we know he has a strong enough arm. But the accuracy, the mechanical, technical part of throwing the football is something he needs to work on. … Do you need that security blanket in case? In case he doesn’t … I watch the second Chargers game …”
McShay was way more stinging in his criticism. Let’s just say, he doesn’t “believe that.”
“I wish the best for him. I think he’s one of the most dynamic athletes I’ve ever seen, unbelievable college player and had a great rookie season for everything that he did,” McShay prefaced his statement with.
“But they have a defense and enough parts around the quarterback where if you have some competent quarterback play, you can actually get into the playoffs and make a little bit of a run. I really believe that. I don’t know that with Lamar you can.”
A ton has been made of Jackson’s accuracy. He completed 58.2 percent of his passes in the regular season, after being thrust into the starting job midway through his rookie year.
Jackson has never been a high completion percentage guy, though he improved each year over his college career, going from 54.7 as a freshman to 56.2 percent when he won the Heisman Trophy to 59.1 as a junior.
Of course, Jackson needs and wants to improve on his accuracy. That will be a huge focus, specifically on his mechanics, this offseason. But is it all a little too overblown?
Jackson’s completion percentage was higher than fellow rookie quarterbacks Sam Darnold of the Jets (57.7), Josh Rosen of the Cardinals (55.2) and Josh Allen of the Bills (52.8). And none of them ran for as many yards as Jackson.
Joe Flacco’s completion percentage his rookie year was 60.0. He was below 60 percent in 2011, 2012 and 2013, yet was a true pocket passer (and Super Bowl winner).
So, is Jackson that far off? He may never complete as many passes as Drew Brees (74.4 percent last year), but how many guys do? And don't the rushing yards that Jackson contributes make up for some more misses in the passing attack?
“We’re not going to bring somebody in to challenge Lamar Jackson right now,” Kiper said. “This year, we’re not going that route. We’re going to see about Lamar. But we need a quarterback, maybe at some point, to be brought in, and we need a quarterback that, if he gets hurt, can do the same thing.”
As Kiper referenced, much of the consternation revolves around the Chargers playoff loss, which wasn’t pretty for more than three quarters. People seem to overlook the 6-1 run, the AFC North title, and succumb to recency bias.
“I think that game against the Chargers, going around the second time, has got to concern you,” Kiper said. “Once the Chargers saw him on the field that one game, how they adjusted. It’s one thing to watch a kid on film … until you play against him.”
It’s understandable, but also something the Ravens have fought against this offseason. On Tuesday, Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman said there isn’t a “code you can crack.” The Chargers won up front, wreaked havoc, and Jackson and the run game struggled as a result. Plus, Baltimore fumbled the ball three times on its first eight offensive plays. That’s a brutal start to get past.
McShay advocated for the Ravens to bring back veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor to serve as the No. 2 who can step in if needed, whether because of injury or performance.
“Tyrod Taylor for the Baltimore Ravens is the perfect option. Because deep down, just about everyone in that organization has to know that this probably isn’t going to work long-term,” McShay said. "Tyrod becomes your bridge as a security blanket.”
As part of the organization, I can assure you that everyone does not feel that way.
Kiper at least pointed out that Jackson rallied the Ravens in the fourth quarter and had the ball with a chance to win at the end (before another fumble).
“The bottom line is some good things happened in the fourth quarter, so they go into the offseason with Lamar,” Kiper said. “At least he’s feeling a little better about himself, his teammates saw him rally them back. Now it’s more of a positive feeling than it would have been pulling him for Joe Flacco, who has since been traded.”
Thing is, Kiper and McShay aren’t the only pundits who think the Ravens should draft a quarterback this offseason. There’s a lot of love for Jackson, but there are still plenty of doubters too.
Recent QB Injuries Show Jackson May Not Be at Higher Injury Risk
Much of the debate about Jackson’s backup quarterback is about folks thinking Jackson has a higher risk of injury because he runs so much more than the typical signal-caller.
Roman and the Ravens, however, aren’t afraid of Jackson getting injured, and Roman has spelled out his argument that Jackson may actually be at less risk than pocket passers.
The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer dove into the “empirical data” that Roman referenced Tuesday and found that he has a good point. Roman has seen such injuries happen twice to his quarterback: Alex Smith suffered a concussion from a hit to the helmet in 2012, and Taylor missed two games with a sprained MCL in 2015.
“Neither injury was catastrophic, though,” Shaffer wrote. “Over the past two seasons, according to a review of nine high-profile, longer-term injuries, only one quarterback, the San Francisco 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo, suffered a serious injury during the kind of open-field run that Jackson delighted in attempting last season.”
Reggie Wayne Lists Baltimore Among His Top Places to Play
Former NFL receiver turned NFL Network analyst Reggie Wayne has been all over the Ravens recently.
He suggested that the Ravens should trade for Odell Beckham Jr., and now he’s kind of doing a little recruiting on Baltimore’s behalf.
Wayne listed Baltimore at No. 2 in his list of the top five cities to play in.
“There’s some old history that the Colts used to be in Baltimore. Every time we went to Baltimore, they reminded us,” Wayne said.
“There were a lot of times when we played them, they wouldn’t even put [Colts] on the scoreboard. They would just put ‘Indy.’ They hated us. So, to go in there and beat them, I loved playing there.”
Le’Veon Bell Will Hit Market as Free Agent
It’s official. Le’Veon Bell will become a free agent in less than a month.
“Le’Veon is still a great player. We can't afford to use any other type of tags,” Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert said Wednesday. “Le’Veon will be an unrestricted free agent at the start of the new league year.”
But, as we’ve debated before, are the Ravens a real possibility?
Besides the money, there were some interesting quotes from Roman this week. It’s clear that, while he’d of course take a running back that excels in the receiving game, he’s not chasing one. That is a major part of Bell’s game.
“I do feel though that in our system, the ability to run the ball comes first,” Roman said. “Then, if we can find a guy that really excels in that [receiving] area – we’d love to have him. But el numero uno for us is: Here’s the ball, and now go run with it.”
“For those dreaming of a Le’Veon Bell signing, Roman preferring a ‘stable’ of running backs and saying a receiving-minded back isn’t a top priority would probably make it unwise to hold your breath for the pursuit of the Pittsburgh Steeler free agent,” Jones wrote. “Not that I expected it anyway.”
In other Steelers offseason news (cause there’s a twist every day), Pittsburgh isn’t just going to give Antonio Brown away for nothing. Basically, Colbert is making a play for leverage after Art Rooney II said he will seek to trade Brown this offseason.
Colbert also squarely put himself in Ben Roethlisberger’s corner …
- Ravens tight ends dominated the AFC North in 2018, according to Pro Football Focus. Remember, Roman coached that unit last season.
- NFL Network’s Maurice Jones-Drew wants the Ravens to upgrade their running backs unit, add a big receiving threat and find the next Terrell Suggs this offseason. That’s a lot.
- Another prominent mock draft has the Ravens taking Ole Miss wide receiver D.K. Metcalf.
- Snow games are cool for those of us watching but count left tackle Ronnie Stanley among those who don’t want to play football in them.