Late for Work 4/30: ESPN Analyst Ranks Lamar Jackson Behind Four Other QBs of Last Three Drafts

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Lamar Jackson throws a pass.

ESPN Analyst Ranks Lamar Jackson No. 5 QB Prospect of Past Three Drafts

Merriam-Webster defines a hot take as "a quickly produced, strongly worded, and often deliberately provocative or sensational opinion or reaction."

A photo of Dan Orlovsky does not accompany the definition, but perhaps it should after the ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback's recent hot take on Lamar Jackson.

On ESPN's "Get Up," Orlovsky ranked the top 5 quarterback prospects of the past three drafts. While one would assume it'd be a no-brainer that the reigning and unanimous league MVP, coming off a record-setting campaign and owning a 19-3 record as a starter during the regular season, would be No. 1 (or at least very close), that wasn't the case.

Jackson came in at No. 5 on Orlovsky's list, behind the New York Jets' Sam Darnold, 2020 No. 1 draft pick Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals, the Arizona Cardinals' Kyler Murray and Miami Dolphins rookie Tua Tagovailoa.

Orlovsky, who based his rankings on how he projects the quarterbacks to produce over the next 10 years, said the Ravens "going all in" on Jackson actually hurts the team in the long run.

"Once you go all in like the Ravens did with Lamar, it minimizes your roster flexibility in some ways," Orlovsky said. "You have to have very specific linemen. You have to have very specific skill players. You have to have a very specific backup quarterback that does the same type of things. So that makes it hard on an organization, I would imagine.

"And two, if [there's] anything that we've learned about the quarterback spot over the last year it's those hits add up. We saw it with [Andrew] Luck and we saw it with Cam Newton. Lamar has taken, just running the football, over 300 hits in his first two years, so I am concerned it will add up and become a conversation in five or six years."

In reality, Jackson hasn't taken that many hits. Yes, he's run 323 times, but he's often run out of bounds and avoided tackles. He has rarely taken a big hit.

ESPN's Domonique Foxworth vehemently disagreed with Orlovsky's assessment, calling it "absurd."

"If you are the only team that is running the ball and playing football in a certain type of way and teams don't prepare for you, that is an advantage," said Foxworth, a former cornerback who played for the Ravens from 2009-2011. "Saying that like it's some sort of disadvantage makes no sense to me.

"The only criticism of Lamar is you've yet to see him be able to come back in late situations, but he's only just coming off his second season. And somehow Sam Darnold is ahead of him? Stop it!"

Through the first two seasons of their careers, there's simply no comparison between Jackson, the 32nd-overall pick in 2018, and Darnold, the third-overall pick that year.

In addition to setting a single-season rushing record for a quarterback, Jackson threw a league-leading 36 touchdown passes (to just six interceptions), completed 66.1 percent of his passes and had a 113.3 quarterback rating in leading the Ravens to a 14-2 record and their second straight AFC North title.

Darnold has thrown a total of 36 touchdown passes in two seasons (to 28 interceptions) and has an 11-15 record as a starter with a 59.9 completion percentage and 81.1 quarterback rating. Jackson and Darnold went head-to-head last year. Jackson threw five touchdown passes, threw for 212 yards and ran for 86 yards. Darnold threw for 218 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, and had one 11-yard run.

Ultimately, Orlovsky's prediction that Darnold will be more successful than Jackson over the long haul is another example of the antiquated notion that a traditional pocket-passer is superior to a quarterback with Jackson's unique skill set.

"There's nothing quite like potential, and Darnold fits the more traditional image of a successful NFL quarterback than Jackson, who's somewhat of a unicorn," 247 Sports' Kevin Flaherty wrote in response to Orlovsky's rankings. "But even when building for the future and giving added weight to potential, it's hard to ignore what Jackson has already done in just two years in the league."

On a side note, the over/under for Jackson's total rushing yards in 2020 is 999.5, according to Caesars Sportsbook. In 15 games played, Jackson ran for 1,206 yards last year to join Michael Vick as the only NFL quarterbacks to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.

More Superlatives for Ravens' Draft

As the final grades for the 2020 draft trickle in, so does the praise for the Ravens.

Here's a sample of the most recent pundits' grades and analyses:

Business Insider's Tyler Lauletta: A+. "They entered the draft with very few holes to fill and thus were left with the luxury of taking the best player available throughout the early rounds of the draft. It paid off well. … The rich get richer."

The Baltimore Sun's C.J. Doon: A. "The Ravens filled their biggest need on defense (Patrick Queen, Malik Harrison), picked potential replacements for Marshal Yanda (Tyre Phillips, Ben Bredeson), added depth on the defensive line (Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington), gave Lamar Jackson more playmakers (J.K. Dobbins, Devin Duvernay, James Proche) and took a chance on an instinctive player with some athletic limitations (Geno Stone). It's hard to do much better than that for a team coming off a 14-2 season."

ESPN's Matt "Money" Smith: "For me, this was easy. The Ravens had the best draft of any team because it's already a great team. When you're picking late in each round and you're able to add … Patrick Queen – steal. Went way too low. Slipped because he's a linebacker. Round 2, J.K. Dobbins. Slipped because he's a running back. Three, Madubuike was one of the freaks. Ran a [4.83-second] 40 at 298 pounds at the Combine. Duvernay is just a track star that plays out of the slot. … Absolutely love what the Ravens were able to do. They're so much better than everybody else."

Which Ravens Rookie Will Make Biggest Impact?

While the overwhelming consensus is that the Ravens had an outstanding draft, there is no such consensus on which of Baltimore's picks will make the biggest immediate impact, which only strengthens the argument that the organization nailed the draft.

Pro Football Focus' Sam Monson ranked Queen, the 28th-overall selection, as one of the best rookie scheme fits of the draft.

"Patrick Queen brings speed and coverage ability to [the linebacker position] and gives the Ravens the ability to be even more creative in the positionless-defensive scheme they have been working up," Monson wrote. "Queen had an 82.0 PFF coverage grade this past season and is still barely scratching the surface of what he can do in that area. He goes to one of the best defenses in the NFL, one uniquely qualified to take advantage of what he does well and put him in a position to succeed."

Queen was given the third-highest odds to win Defensive Rookie of the Year by DraftKings Sportsbook, trailing only No. 2-overall pick Chase Young of the Washington Redskins and No.-8 overall pick Isaiah Simmons of the Arizona Cardinals.

Russell Street Report's Aidan Griesser believes it's the other linebacker the Ravens drafted – Malik Harrison, who was selected in the third round at No. 98 overall – who will be the biggest rookie contributor on the team.

"For me, the more traditional inside backer is more likely to help the Ravens from the start, as [Harrison's] ability to help in the run game may be more applicable early on than are Queen's impressive coverage skills," Griesser wrote. "The 6-foot-3, 247-pound LB will be the true thumper inside that the Ravens missed dearly last season, and running behind Derek Wolfe, Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell, Harrison should be able to shoot gaps and thrive."

Bleacher Report's Maurice Morton identified Dobbins, drafted in the second round with the 55th-overall selection, as one of the Day 2 picks who will become a star in 2020.

"If the Ravens dial back on Jackson's carries, Dobbins should have enough touches to hit the ground running. He would share the workload with Mark Ingram II," Morton wrote. "… In Dobbins' final campaign with the [Ohio State], he logged 301 carries for 2,003 yards and 21 touchdowns. Clearly, he can handle a featured position."

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. chose instant-impact rookies from each round, and one of his selections from the final two rounds was Proche, the SMU wide receiver/return specialist taken in the sixth round with the 206th pick.

"Proche, who caught 111 passes and had 15 touchdowns at SMU last season, might have a hard time cracking a deep Ravens receiver rotation in Year 1, but he has some upside as an early-impact punt returner," Kiper wrote. "He has great hands and decent speed."

Six Free Agents the Ravens Should Target

Now that the draft is over, teams will put their focus back on filling their remaining needs in free agency. Ravens Wire's Kevin Oestreicher and Matthew Stevens identified six free agents the Ravens should pursue.

Here are some excerpts:

OLB Pernell McPhee: "Pernell McPhee re-signed with the Ravens for his second stint with the team after being drafted by Baltimore in 2011. He was originally slated to just be a veteran training camp body but ended up winning a roster spot after an impressive preseason. McPhee accumulated three sacks in seven games while also being a force against the run and playing all over the defensive line. … McPhee could be had on a cheap one-year contract, but if last year was an indication, they'd get value on that deal."

OLB Clay Matthews: "Matthews is another intriguing veteran pass rusher who could be brought into Baltimore not only to produce on the football field but to help mentor young players such as Tyus Bowser and Jaylon Ferguson. … He had eight sacks playing for the Los Angeles Rams in 2019 despite only suiting up for 13 games. He also has experience playing both outside and inside linebacker, something that Baltimore could value further."

G Josh Kline: "He's started in 77 of the 92 games he's played in over his seven-year career and could be a nice veteran player for the young Baltimore offensive linemen to learn from."

WR Taylor Gabriel: "If Baltimore is looking for a wide receiver that has experience and fits their scheme, Gabriel could come in and provide them with solid production."

CB Logan Ryan: "The Ravens love having a stable of capable cornerbacks. With Baltimore declining Brandon Carr's 2020 option, they're left with one less than they had last season. While the Ravens could be relying on Tavon Young to return from injury and players like Iman Marshall and Anthony Averett to step up, adding some experienced depth inside also makes a lot of sense for this team. … Ryan offers Super Bowl experience, versatility, blitzing and playmaking potential, and isn't afraid to run up and make a tackle."

T Donald Penn: "If you look at Baltimore's roster right now, the most glaring hole is at tackle. Sure, the Ravens have Pro Bowl players in Orlando Brown Jr. and Ronnie Stanley, but the depth behind them is scarily thin. … Signing Penn to a cheap one-year deal would give Baltimore experienced depth in the case someone went down. And it's not like Penn is a dud either, earning a 64.1 overall grade from Pro Football Focus last season."

My take: Of the six players mentioned, a veteran edge rusher such as McPhee or Matthews makes the most sense. Obviously, McPhee knows the system and is well-liked and well-respected within the organization. Matthews, who turns 34 in May, is at a point in his career in which he likely wants to play for a Super Bowl contender, and he reportedly considered signing with the Ravens last year before joining the Los Angeles Rams. A six-time Pro Bowl selection, Matthews proved last season that he can still be productive.

Quick Hits

  •  Yahoo Sports' Matt Harmon gave the Ravens an "A" grade in his assessment of every team's offense after the draft. "Marquise Brown is a breakout waiting to happen," Harmon wrote. "It's wild that Jackson was as productive a passer without the ultra-talented Brown healthy and popping off for 16 games."
  • NFL.com's Lance Zierlein projects the Ravens to receive one compensatory pick next year. "The Ravens see their signing of [Derek] Wolfe canceled out by the loss of Seth Roberts, leaving [Michael] Pierce's departure as the trigger for a fifth-round comp selection," Zierlein wrote.

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