Lamar Jackson Is No. 7 on Pete Prisco's Top 100 Players Rankings
A year ago, Lamar Jackson did not make CBS Sports' Pete Prisco's Top 100 NFL Players list, which was understandable considering the Ravens quarterback had started just eight games.
Prisco released his 2020 list yesterday, and this time Jackson was No. 7. While going from unranked one year to No. 7 the next is an amazing ascension, a strong case can be made that Jackson should've been even higher.
That's meant as no disrespect to the players ranked ahead of him …
1. Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes
2. Rams DE Aaron Donald
3. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson
4. Saints WR Michael Thomas
5. Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey
6. Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore
… but it's hard to believe Jackson didn't even crack the top five.
All Jackson did in his first full season as a starter was set a single-season rushing record for quarterbacks, throw a league-leading 36 touchdown passes and lead the Ravens to a franchise-best 14-2 mark en route to being named the second unanimous NFL MVP in history.
By comparison, Mahomes made his debut on Prisco's list at No. 2 last year after winning the MVP award in 2018. Prisco did say Jackson's season wasn't a fluke and the 23-year-old will only get better.
"As he grows as a passer – and he will – he will stay up this high on the list – and probably push even higher," Prisco wrote.
Overall, the Ravens placed five players in the top 100. The Packers and Cowboys led the way with seven players each, and the Chiefs, Saints, Buccaneers and Eagles had six.
Here are the other Ravens on the list, accompanied by Prisco's comments:
No. 27 - OT Ronnie Stanley: "In his fourth season, he emerged as a star at left tackle. His pass protection is outstanding, but he's improved as run blocker as well, which is a must in the Ravens offense."
No. 39 - DE Calais Campbell: "The 33-year-old Campbell is still playing at a high level, even if his sack numbers fell from 10.5 to 6.5 last season. ... He gives them a big, physical presence on their line."
No. 59 - CB Marlon Humphrey: "He's become [a] top-level cover player in the Ravens defense. He isn't great against the run, but he's a smooth cover corner."
No. 100 - TE Mark Andrews: "He emerged as the go-to player for Lamar Jackson, catching 64 passes with 10 touchdowns. He's also a solid in-line blocker.
Outside linebacker Matthew Judon and cornerback Marcus Peters were among the players Prisco said just missed making the list. Side note: Humphrey is actually one of the best tackling corners in the NFL.
Pro Football Focus Analyst Believes Ravens Are Overrated
The consensus opinion is the Ravens have a better team on paper heading into this season than the one that dominated in the regular season last year, but Pro Football Focus' George Chahrouri believes Baltimore -- which has an over/under of 11.5 wins – is overrated.
"They're overrated in the sense that 11 and a half is the same win total that the Chiefs have, but the Chiefs have by far the best quarterback in the NFL," Chahrouri said. "Lamar is great; he's not Patrick Mahomes. For the Ravens to win 12-plus games this year, they have to have that same kind of good luck they had last year. … They could be a very good team and win 10-11 games this year. Everyone is going to be coming for them every time they play the Ravens."
There's no denying a certain amount of good fortune plays a role when a team goes 14-2, but it's not like many of the Ravens' wins were determined by lucky bounces. They won games by margins of 49, 39, 36 and 34 points and defeated five teams that went to the playoffs by an average of 15 points. Baltimore's point differential of plus-249 was the highest since the 2007 Patriots team that went 16-0 (plus-315).
PFF's Steve Palazzolo wouldn't call the Ravens overrated, but he said he expects them to regress in 2020.
"They're a great football team. They can win any different way, they win the right way by going for it on fourth down, by having a great coverage unit, by having a unique, difficult-to-defend offense, but they're naturally just going to come down to earth a little bit this year," Palazzolo said.
Palazzolo cited the Ravens' AFC North rivals being better this season as one of the reasons they will regress. He also said "Lamar's accuracy might come back down to earth a little bit after four years of inaccuracy and last year's awesome season." Jackson completed 66 percent of his passes last season after not reaching 60 percent in his three years at Louisville and his rookie season.
Not expecting the Ravens to reach 14 victories again is understandable. After all, only two teams have ever won as many as 14 games in consecutive seasons: the 1989-1990 49ers and 2003-2004 Patriots. But to suggest someone as driven to improve and realize his full potential as Jackson will regress is a bold statement.
Ebony Bird's Norman Getsinger took the opposing viewpoint.
"Can Jackson improve to 70 percent completion percentage? That is completely doable, and if he makes the same improvement as he did last year, who knows what his ceiling can be?" Getsinger wrote. "With [Offensive Coordinator] Greg Roman staying another year, Jackson should be even more comfortable in the offense than he was last year.
"He will know what plays to run, he will know what plays to avoid, and his command of the offense will only continue to get better. … With the number of weapons at Jackson's disposal and his familiarity with the offense, expect the Baltimore Ravens offense to actually improve during the 2020 season."
The defense, which ranked fourth in the league last season, also figures to improve thanks to a revamped front seven to go along with arguably the best secondary in the league.
It will be a challenge to win 14-or-more games in 2020, but overrated? I think not.
Hollywood Brown Among Six Ravens Poised for Breakout Season
One of Jackson's main weapons is Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, who said he's going to "make a big statement" this season. Ravens Wire's Kevin Oestreicher believes the second-year wide receiver will make good on his vow, as he identified Brown as one of six Ravens who could be in line for a breakout season.
Brown, whose recent driveaway workout videos have been jaw-dropping, is looking to build on a season in which he was second on the team in receiving yards (584) and tied a franchise rookie record with seven touchdown catches despite playing with two screws in his foot.
"Now with a full season under his belt, an offseason of hard work, and a screw removed from his foot, Brown could very well be on his way to his first 1,000-yard season," Oestreicher wrote.
Here's a look at the other players on Oestreicher's list, accompanied by excerpts from his comments:
WR Miles Boykin: "The Ravens clearly have confidence in him, as they didn't sign a big name during free agency or select a 'star' in the 2020 draft. Instead, Baltimore drafted players who can complement him, not take away his snaps. With Seth Roberts out of town and Boykin having the prototypical size and speed, he's a player to keep an eye on in 2020."
G Ben Powers: "Powers learned plenty by sitting behind [Marshal] Yanda and absorbing everything thrown at him like a sponge. With so much uncertainty on the interior of the offensive line, now it's time for him to step up and show what he learned."
OLB Tyus Bowser: "Even with Pernell McPhee back in the fold now, Bowser should see a good amount of playing time as a key piece of the defense. He will be relied on to produce early and often, and with no one to take away his playing time, he should be able to focus on playing well knowing that the Ravens have confidence in him."
OLB Jaylon Ferguson: "Much like Bowser, Ferguson will again be relied on to improve and become a key piece of this Baltimore defense. He's a powerful player whose bullrush can devastate opposing linemen."
S DeShon Elliott: "Though Baltimore has their starting safeties in place with Earl Thomas and Chuck Clark, Elliott should still get plenty of time on the field. Whether it be on special teams or as an extra defensive back in certain defensive schemes, Elliott will have chances to prove he can remain healthy and create big plays."
- It's "Lamar Jackson, MVP Week" on NBC Sports' Twitter.