Ray Lewis Says Lamar Jackson Can Win a Super Bowl If …
Since Lamar Jackson became a starting quarterback in 2018, there's been plenty of debate about whether the Ravens' style of play can win a Super Bowl.
Baltimore has finished as one of the NFL's top teams during the regular season over the past two years, but has fallen short in the postseason.
That hasn't discouraged two-time Super Bowl champion, and Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, who said on ESPN's First Take that he's confident Jackson can lead the Ravens to a Lombardi Trophy.
"Can he? Absolutely! But you're going to have to surround him with the right pieces for sure," Lewis said. "I get it, we're the No. 1 rush team over the last two years. And that's great, that's great to do that. But to go to the next level, you're going to have to have a big-play X or Z on the outside that takes a lot of pressure off Lamar when Lamar's doing what he does."
Lewis is one of many who've expressed that the Ravens need to add more playmakers around Jackson to get over the playoff hump.
Some of that pressure was taken off late last week when the Ravens agreed in principle with free-agent wide receiver Sammy Watkins on a one-year deal.
The Ravens haven't been shy about saying their identity is run first, but pundits expect Watkins to bring help to the passing attack.
Ravens Wire's Matthew Stevens said there's reason to believe Watkins can be his best self with the Ravens.
"That 'X' wide receiver spot has been a missing link in Baltimore for quite some time, being truly filled last by Anquan Boldin," Stevens wrote. "Last year, the Ravens used a combination of Dez Bryant and Miles Boykin in that role, ultimately getting a combined 44 targets to go their way. Unfortunately, neither player truly excelled, seeing Jackson have to often force the ball to Brown or tight end Mark Andrews instead. That's where Watkins' signing makes all the sense in the world.
"Watkins has the size, polished route running, and just enough speed to be a pretty big upgrade over Boykin and Bryant. Watkins should force defenses to 'pick their poison' on every play, having to carefully choose where they spend the bulk of their focus defending. As long as each part of the offense does its job, someone should be open on every play among the trio of Brown, Watkins, and Andrews. And if defenses back off the line of scrimmage to stop the pass, Baltimore's league-leading rushing attack would be salivating at the chance to test it."
Even after the Watkins signing, pundits still expect the Ravens to continue adding receivers through free agency and the draft.
"Signing Watkins shouldn't mean that we will see the Ravens go to cruise control and ignore the wide receiver position for the remainder of the offseason," Ebony Bird's Richard Bradshaw wrote. "I would still expect the team to continue adding more pieces and competition to finally make such a historically weak position to the franchise a strength. Still, Watkins is a move the team is very proud of and I would tell you to not expect a heavy investment, such as a first-round draft choice, on the position. Watkins isn't the solution to the wide receiver woes, but he's a big start to fixing it in the eyes of the Ravens."
More Reaction to the Sammy Watkins Signing
You can imagine that when the Ravens sign a free agent receiver, there's plenty of reaction.
ESPN's Jamison Hensley believes Watkins can be a valuable underneath target for Jackson, and a good complementary piece to Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown.
"The Ravens' wide receivers have ranked last in each of the past two seasons in catches and receiving yards, and this group ranked among the youngest in the league because their two most experienced targets (Dez Bryant and Willie Snead IV) are free agents," Hensley wrote. "Before bringing in Watkins, the Ravens' top four wide receivers on their roster -- Brown, Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay and James Proche II -- were all drafted in the past two years, and none are over the age of 24."
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec gave the signing a "C" grade, but said Watkins brings reliable playoff experience and will serve as a veteran mentor to a young receiver group.
The biggest question for Watkins remains his health. As Zrebiec noted, he's played more than just 10 games twice in the past five years.
"If healthy, Watkins will give the Ravens a quality route runner and a reliable target in the intermediate areas of the field," Zrebiec wrote. "Watkins isn't a deep threat at this stage of his career. He ranked 64th out of 78 players last season in yards run per route, and he averaged a career-low 11.4 yards per reception. However, he can man the 'X-receiver' spot and take some pressure off Brown and Andrews."
It didn't take long for Ravens players to express their excitement.
Ravens Land First-Round Pass Rusher, Not Receiver in Mock Draft
Outside of receiver, pass rusher remains one of the biggest needs for the Ravens.
In a new mock draft, Zrebiec has the Ravens addressing the position in the first round with University of Miami outside linebacker Jaelan Phillips.
"The Ravens haven't used a first-round pick on an outside linebacker since taking Terrell Suggs at No. 10 in 2003, but this would be a good year for that to change," Zrebiec wrote. "The free-agent exits of (Matthew) Judon, (Yannick) Ngakoue and (Jihad) Ward leave Tyus Bowser, Pernell McPhee and Jaylon Ferguson as the top outside linebackers on the depth chart, and they combined for seven sacks last year. Defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale is creative with blitz packages, but the Ravens have to get more pressure from off the edge, and they don't have an explosive edge rusher on their roster."
The Ravens lost a good chunk of last year's sack production with Judon and Ngakoue's departures, but a draft top heavy with quarterbacks and loaded with skill position players gives them choices at pass rusher in the first round.
"Ravens' decision-makers have always said that beyond even the measurables — and Phillips is a well-built 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds — they look for production from pass-rush prospects," Zrebiec added. "In 10 games for the Hurricanes last year, Phillips had 45 tackles, eight sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss and an interception. He's explosive off the edge and stout against the run. He's athletic enough to play in space and strong enough to rush from inside, his versatility making him a perfect fit for Martindale's defense. Phillips has had some injury issues, so the Ravens will have to be comfortable with where he's at health-wise. Otherwise, he possesses so many qualities Baltimore looks for."
Draft experts like Mel Kiper have zeroed in on a first-round receiver for the Ravens, but some pundits believe Watkins' addition could give Baltimore some flexibility drafting at the position.
Zrebiec didn't wait long after the first round, mocking Michigan receiver Nico Collins at No. 58.
"The Ravens haven't had great luck with Michigan prospects in recent years, but Collins fits the profile of what the current receiving group lacks," Zrebiec wrote. "At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, he has the size and physicality. He also ran a 4.43 at Michigan's pro day last week, so he brings high-end speed. Collins needs polish, and he put up relatively modest college numbers (78 catches for 1,388 yards and 13 touchdowns in 27 college games), but the Wolverines' subpar quarterback play was a big reason for that. He's a vertical threat with speed, size and strong ball skills. Collins was too hard to resist here."
Report: NFL to Expand Regular Season Schedule
More football is reportedly headed our way.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that the NFL is expected to expand the regular season schedule from 16 to 17 games.
NFL owners are expected to meet this week and ratify the schedule expansion ahead of the 2021 season.
This move was expected to happen after owners agreed on procedures for an additional regular-season game back in December. So when the NFL released its regular season earlier this year, we already had an idea of the matchups for the 17th game.
For the Ravens, that will reportedly be the Los Angeles Rams.