'Monster Season' Predicted for Lamar Jackson
On the same day that NFL analyst Nate Burleson said Lamar Jackson will be the face of the NFL over the next decade, NFL.com's Adam Rank named the Ravens quarterback as one of the players he'll be rooting for in 2019.
"Did you know that Lamar can run the football a little bit?" Rank wrote. "Oh, that's right, the internet is full of memes exaggerating this aspect of his game. But Jackson can indeed run the ball (556 rushing yards in his seven starts last season, or 79 yards per start) and throw it. So he's going to have a monster season this year, and I'm here for it."
Burleson said on "Good Morning Football" that Jackson just scratched the surface in 2018, when he went 6-1 as a starter in the regular season and helped the Ravens win the AFC North.
"I'm looking at Lamar Jackson, who's going to prove this year not that he's still fantastic when the ball's in his hand and he leaves the pocket, but he's a better passer than we all think," Burleson said. "Everybody's going to talk about, 'Well, defenses are going to know what's coming and they're going to game plan for Lamar Jackson.' They might. But what if he comes out and he throws the ball tremendously well? Now how do you stop him?"
Burleson also praised Jackson when he named the AFC North as the division with the starting quarterbacks he would want for the next five years.
"Say whatever you want about him being just a runner or a little bit of [Michael] Vick, and a little bit of this, a little bit of that … but if he comes out and throws as well as he runs, he's going to light this league on fire," Burleson said.
Three Keys for Ravens to Win AFC North
Ebony Bird's Chris Schisler identified three keys to the Ravens winning the AFC North in 2019.
Not surprisingly, Jackson's development as a passer topped his list.
"Jackson needs to silence all the haters that say he can't throw or that running quarterbacks don't last in the NFL," Schisler wrote. "Jackson needs to cut out the fumbles, and he's got to fix his throwing mechanics. Most importantly he has to improve in these areas without taking away from the strengths that make him such a dynamic quarterback."
Another key, according to Schisler, is whether offensive coordinator Greg Roman can bring balance to the offense.
"The running game will open up the passing game and the passing game will keep defenses honest," Schisler wrote. "There is a lot the Ravens can do on offense and it doesn't just hinge on the progress of Jackson. Roman is an integral part in making this work. If he calls the right shots, Jackson's play-making ability is going to make the Ravens a scary team."
On the other side of the ball, Schisler said that getting to the quarterback is key.
"There's no more Terrell Suggs. There's no more Za'Darius Smith. Now Matt Judon is the only proven commodity the Ravens have at outside linebacker," Schisler wrote. "It's one thing to be excited about [Jaylon] Ferguson going into his rookie year, it's another thing to depend on him. The Ravens have a championship caliber secondary, but the pass rush has to come with it."
Which AFC North QB Will be MVP Candidate?
NFL.com's Adam Schein made nine bold predictions for the 2019 season, and a third of them involved teams in the AFC North.
Schein likes the Cleveland Browns to win the division, which certainly isn't a bold pick, but he also thinks Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield will become an MVP candidate in his second season.
"Mayfield has the ability, leadership and swagger needed to make sure the Browns live up to the hype. And they will, by winning the AFC North," Schein wrote.
Also on Schein's list was his prediction that the Pittsburgh Steelers will finish third in the division.
"I loved the Steelers' aggressive draft move for Devin Bush, but it's everything else that concerns me," Schein wrote. "Starting with the fact that Cleveland and Baltimore are better."
OK, so now we know Schein has the Ravens finishing second. His other bold prediction involved the Cincinnati Bengals, who have largely become the forgotten team in the AFC North this offseason. Even though Schein believes the Bengals will finish last, he predicts a big season for Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton.
"Jonah Williams was a steal at No. 11, an excellent first-round pick to solidify Cincinnati's offensive line," Schein wrote. "A.J. Green will be healthy again -- and there's depth and youth around him at receiver. Joe Mixon is a star, having led the AFC with 1,168 rushing yards last season while averaging a healthy 4.9 yards per carry.
"And count me in the 'Zac Taylor can coach' camp. In fact, call me camp counselor! The Bengals needed a major lift post-Marvin Lewis, and I think they got it. Taylor will maximize Dalton. Cincy's offense is going to surprise some people. … Cincy will give up points in bunches, which will actually serve as a statistical boon to Dalton."
'Ziggy' Ansah Signing With Seahawks
With the second wave of free agency under way, the Ravens can scratch former Detroit Lions pass rusher Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah off their wish list.
Ansah, who was Sports Illustrated's top remaining unrestricted free-agent, has agreed to a one-year deal with the Seahawks and will fly to Seattle today to sign the contract, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported. The Ravens, Buffalo Bills and New Orleans Saints also had interest in Ansah, who visited with the Ravens in late April.
"The addition of a player with 48 career sacks and two double-digit sack seasons on his résumé, along with the drafting of Jaylon Ferguson, would go a long way toward solidifying a pass rush that lost [Za'Darius] Smith, Terrell Suggs and [Brent] Urban," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote on Monday.
Free agents signed after midnight Tuesday do not count against the compensatory pick formula.
The fifth-overall pick in the 2013 draft from Brigham Young, Ansah was at one point among the NFL's premier pass rushers. He was a Pro Bowl selection in 2015 when he had 14.5 sacks.
Ansah is still recovering from the shoulder surgery that limited him to seven games last season, although he still had four sacks in those contests. Ansah had a check-up with his doctor two weeks ago and no structural issues were found, according to Rapoport.
Ravens safety Earl Thomas was named as a comeback player to watch in 2019 by Burleson on "Good Morning Football."
Ravens defensive lineman Michael Pierce and linebacker Patrick Onwuasor were both named to Sports Illustrated's Andy Benoit's all-undrafted team.