Brian Billick Says Lamar Jackson Will Be 'Boom or Bust'
This is the Lamar Jackson edition of Late for Work. Buckle up.
It seems one of the biggest doubters of Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson comes from close to home.
NFL Network's Brian Billick, the Ravens' former head coach, has previously been skeptical of Jackson, and yesterday, he questioned Baltimore's strategy of building the future around the young, athletic quarterback.
During a segment for "NFL Total Access," Billick pointed to the Ravens as a team that could have a storm cloud coming their way.
"It pains me to say it, but I think the Baltimore Ravens could be on that edge," Billick said. "They're going to play great defense, but they are all-in on Lamar Jackson. This could be boom or bust."
Billick's concerns center, not surprisingly, around Jackson's passing game. Jackson topped 200 passing yards just once in his eight starts. Of course, that's impacted by the Ravens not throwing all that much as they went to a run-heavy scheme down their playoff run.
But Billick's primary issue is Jackson's efficiency. He completed 58.2 percent of his passes during the regular season and went 14-of-29 (48.3 percent) in the Ravens' playoff loss.
Jackson didn't have enough passing attempts to statistically qualify, but he would have come in at No. 31 in the NFL – right above fellow rookies Sam Darnold of the Jets (57.7 percent), Josh Rosen of the Cardinals (55.2) and Josh Allen of the Bills (52.8)
"My concern is they are all-in on a guy that wasn't close to 60 percent completion. [Jackson] wasn't a 60 percent completion guy in college," Billick said.
"He averaged 20 rushes a game. You can't do that in the NFL. He's not going to last. It's going to be boom or bust. He's either going to make that transition or I'm not sure … can he be that five or six carry and 35 throw guy? Be over 60 percent? They're all in with this. It's going to be interesting."
It doesn't seem like the Ravens intend for Jackson to be a five-or-six carry, 35-throw kind of guy. One of his greatest weapons is his running ability, and he did that quite well (more rushing yards than any quarterback in NFL history). Baltimore doesn't want to try to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Perhaps part of Billick's concern comes from his past. Kyle Boller, Billick's quarterback from 2003-2007, had a career completion percentage of 56.7. Boller, however, also brought almost nothing as a runner.
That's what gets lost in the whole Jackson debate. It's fine to wonder how he'll develop as a passer and raise questions based on what we saw last year as a rookie. But the whole package must be taken into account.
"I'm never going to say a guy can't develop. You never know," Billick told Glenn Clark Radio a month ago. "Based on the last six to seven weeks that I've seen, I have concerns about that, just his throwing action and the lack of accuracy. But that doesn't mean he can't evolve.
"It's the old, do you have an athlete that can throw or do you have a quarterback that's an athlete? Right now, I think Lamar Jackson's just a phenomenal athlete that can kind of throw."
Welp, add Billick to the list of people Jackson can prove wrong. I'm sure Billick hopes he does.
Billick wasn't the only person with questions about Jackson. Pro Football Focus is releasing its 2018 season recaps and said one of the things that went wrong for Baltimore last year, both under Joe Flacco and Jackson, was the passing game.
Will Ravens' Offseason Strategy Change With Jackson? Differing Opinions
There's been a lot of discussion about how Jackson's rookie contract will alter the Ravens' offseason strategy, particularly regarding free agency.
I've written about it, discussed in Late for Work, it's been touched on by John Eisenberg, and by Garrett Downing on Final Drive. Now ESPN and The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec are weighing in, and they have slightly differing opinions.
ESPN seems to be leaning toward Baltimore using more money to put pieces around Jackson. As it pointed out, the Ravens are one of just 10 teams that don't have a wide receiver, running back or tight end among the top-19 highest paid at his position in 2019.
"The latest trend in the NFL is drafting a quarterback and trying to capitalize on bargain cap numbers in his first four years. Teams such as the Los Angeles Rams and Dallas Cowboys have spent big because Jared Goff and Dak Prescott, respectively, are currently cheap," ESPN wrote.
"DeCosta isn't expected to go binge shopping, but Baltimore can allocate more to its offensive skill positions According to Spotrac, the Ravens ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in cap dollars at running back (No. 25), wide receiver (No. 22) and tight end (No. 18)."
Despite the savings the Ravens will get from moving on from Flacco, Zrebiec says Baltimore "won't be among the league leaders in salary cap space, or even close for that matter."
"They will have enough room to be active early in free agency without having to make a plethora of roster subtractions. Their history, though, suggests they'll proceed with caution," Zrebiec wrote.
While Eric DeCosta is taking over for Ozzie Newsome, Zrebiec believes they share similar outlooks on the general construction of a team. Zrebiec has four reasons why the Ravens' free-agent strategy "probably won't change too much."
1) The Ravens have been tight against the cap for many years, and DeCosta was clear that he wants more flexibility
2) DeCosta is still focused on keeping the Ravens' own players, first and foremost
3) DeCosta still believes in building through the draft and compensatory pick formula
4) Like Newsome, DeCosta likes bargain hunting and patience in free agency
"I think free agency can be a dicey proposition," DeCosta said after his introductory press conference. "I think some of the best values in free agency typically happen a little bit later. You're not paying quite as much and you're getting a really good player who may not have been as sexy for other teams, so the money comes down a bit and you get good players that way.
"Daryl Smith is a great example of a guy who came in and played really good football for two or three years for us. He was a late signing. Those guys are out there. If you've got a good scouting staff you can find those guys and not pay the exorbitant amounts of money."
A New Quarterback Is Being Compared to Michael Vick
We've all heard the many comparisons between Jackson and Michael Vick because of the way they can run. Even Vick said Jackson reminded him of a better version of himself.
But the NFL news cycle, and player comparisons, moves fast, and there's a new golden boy being compared to Vick.
Oklahoma's Kyler Murray is expected to attend the Combine later this month, and his decision to continue going down the football path (he was also a first-round MLB pick as a pitcher) has generated a ton of buzz.
- Former Ravens safety and 2019 Pro Football Hall of Famer Ed Reed says there is no G.O.A.T. in the NFL. Sorry, Tom Brady (among others).
- Former Baltimore Orioles Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, who was also the first African-American manger in MLB history, died yesterday at the age of 83. Our condolences go out to his family, the Orioles organization and Baltimore fans everywhere.
- Ravens Team Photographer Shawn Hubbard got some great shots at Super Bowl LIII, as usual.