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Late for Work 6/11: Bill Polian: Lamar Jackson Has the Weapons to Take Next Step As Passer 

QB Lamar Jackson

Bill Polian: Lamar Jackson Has No Excuses Now

Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian once said that Lamar Jackson was better suited to be a wide receiver in the NFL than a quarterback, and although he later admitted he was wrong, he still feels there's significant room for improvement for Jackson as a passer.

With the addition the Ravens made in the passing game this offseason — signing veteran free agent Sammy Watkins and drafting Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace — Polian believes Jackson has the weapons necessary to take the next step.

"I'm not sure Lamar Jackson has any excuses now," Polian said on the Inside Football Podcast.

Polian said Jackson has no equal as a runner, but he needs to get better on throws outside the hash marks.

"He's an instant touchdown if you miss at the line of scrimmage," Polian said. "[fix quote]He's a real headache to defend because you have to do things against him that you don't normally do or practice. And now people who play them in the regular season or in the playoffs, certainly in the division, devote time to defending them even now in OTAs.

"The passing game is a completely different story. Inside the hash marks he's accurate, he'll find the open man, which is usually the tight end or their crossing receiver. Outside the hashes and down the field he's not as accurate as you'd like him to be."

On a side note, Polian was very complimentary of the Ravens' first-round picks, Bateman and edge rusher Odafe Oweh.

"[Bateman] is a solid, Reggie Wayne-like receiver who runs really well after the catch. He runs excellent routes. He has excellent hands," Polian said. "By midseason, he should fit in and be ready to go."

Polian should know considering he drafted Wayne in 2001. Wayne rewarded Indianapolis with 14 seasons, six Pro Bowls and 14,345 receiving yards (10th all-time).

"Oweh is really on the come," Polian said. "This is a guy who has worlds of ability. … Outstanding athlete. Little production at Penn State this year but so what. What they're banking on is future development. And we'll see what happens. But with the 31st pick, I can't argue with that."

Report: Todd Gurley Leaves Baltimore Without a Deal

Free agent running back Todd Gurley had a good meeting with the Ravens yesterday but left without a deal, according to Josina Anderson.

Gurley visited the Detroit Lions last month. Yesterday, Lions Head Coach Dan Campbell commented on where things stand with Gurley.

"I talk to General Manager] Brad [Holmes] every day, but the last time that we’ve really discussed Gurley is probably two days ago,” [Campbell said via The Detroit Free Press. "Look, we're not sweating it. Do we like the kid? Yes, we do, but we're, hey, if it works, it works. If it doesn't, it doesn't. But it'll be on our terms."

Yesterday's report that the Ravens were hosting Gurley raised eyebrows because the team has one of the NFL's best running back duos in J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. Gurley, who turns 27 in August, most likely would compete with Justice Hill for the third running back spot.

"If Anderson's source is right about Gurley looking for the best offer, it wouldn't be surprising to see the running back sign elsewhere," Raven Wire’s Kevin Oestreicher wrote. "The Ravens have just under $11 million in cap space, and with the team already having three good running backs on their roster, entering a bidding war for another when they have other needs might not be something that they want to do."

Gurley, a two-time All-Pro with the Los Angeles Rams, has seen his production decline significantly the past two seasons as he's battled knee problems. Last year with the Atlanta Falcons, Gurley ran for a career-low 678 yards and averaged 3.5 yards per carry, although he did score nine rushing touchdowns (tied for 11th in the league).

Baltimore Beatdown’s Kyle P Barber is in favor of the Ravens taking a chance on Gurley, a Baltimore native.

"I'm not arguing for Gurley to make the final 53. I'm only saying to give him a chance in training camp on the 90-man roster," Barber wrote. "At worst, he's cut and gone, likely on a cheap vet deal with little to no guaranteed money. At best, he earns a spot on the roster, likely behind J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards.

"Gurley has upside both as a runner and receiving threat. This is critical in a Ravens offense applying new concepts to open up the passing attack. Being capable of catching passes out of the backfield has become critical for the Ravens and Gurley has experience in this field."

NFL Network Pundits Are High on J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards

Speaking of Dobbins and Edwards, they were ranked as the fourth-best running back duo in the league by Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson of NFL Network.

"You better buckle your chinstrap when you get ready to play both of these guys," Tomlinson said. "It's going to be a long, hard-fought game because both of these guys come downhill. J.K. Dobbins is a little bit shorter with a low center of gravity, compact, strong. But Gus Edwards is a bigger type of back. They're going to pound you all game. Both of these guys average about 5 yards per carry. Incredible."

Actually, Dobbins averaged 6 yards per carry as a rookie last season.

Meanwhile, NFL Network's Maurice Jones-Drew ranked Dobbins at No. 4 on his list of top-5 breakout running backs for 2021.

Jones-Drew, a three-time Pro Bowl running back, noted how effective Dobbins was during the second half of last season and believes he'll hit the ground running, pun intended, this season.

"I think Dobbins is coming into his own," Jones-Drew said. "We saw what he was able to do at Ohio State. He goes to the Baltimore Ravens and fits right in. He's a guy that's going to jump out."

Analyst Says Ravens Have One of the Biggest Roster Concerns in NFL

The Ravens have one of the deepest rosters in the league, but there is one glaring weakness, according to senior analyst Gil Brandt.

Brandt ranked Baltimore's lack of a pass rusher at No. 2 on his list of the biggest roster concerns across the NFL.

"At 45.3 percent, no team had a higher blitz rate than the Ravens in 2020 (per Next Gen Stats), and that won't change in 2021 under coordinator Wink Martindale," Brandt wrote. "But the cast of edge rushers will shift, with Matt Judon (six sacks in 2020) and Yannick Ngakoue (three sacks in nine games with the Ravens last season) signing with the Patriots and Raiders, respectively.

"Jaylon Ferguson and Tyus Bowser return, but neither player currently scares opposing offensive coordinators. The ideal scenario would be for first-round pick Odafe Oweh and fifth-rounder Daelin Hayes to prove quick learners. It would not surprise me to see Baltimore add a veteran (someone like Justin Houston) at some point."

The notion that the Ravens need another pass rusher isn't new, and Houston reportedly visited the Ravens in April. The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec said he believes the Ravens will add a veteran pass rusher before the start of the regular season but doesn't think "they feel a desperation to do it."

Zrebiec noted that the Ravens trust Martindale's ability to scheme pressure and they have confidence in their young players. Plus, he said the team has noticed the recent trend of opponents "game planning to get the ball out quickly against them to answer their blitz tendencies and that nullifies some of the pass-rushing impact from the edge."

During a conference call with PSL owners last month, Martindale said sacks are "superficial."

Ja'Wuan James Signing Gets Good Reviews

General Manager Eric DeCosta is receiving praise for his shrewd move of signing right tackle Ja'Wuan James to a two-year contract for a reported $3.5 million with an additional $5 million in incentives.

"This is a smart signing for the Ravens who acquired a good player on a cost-friendly deal. It's a low risk/high-reward type of move," Ebony Bird’s Justin Fried wrote. "In other words, the best type of move."

James, 29, is a former first-round pick who has started all 65 games he's played in. He suffered a torn Achilles while working out this offseason, but the Ravens are hopeful he could return at some point this season.

The move makes sense for the Ravens, who don't need James to play right away since they signed veteran offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva earlier this offseason. Moreover, only $500,000 of James' deal is reportedly guaranteed in a signing bonus.

"James can take all of 2021 to recover from his torn Achilles,"CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora wrote. "This transaction isn't even really about that. It's about maximum flexibility in 2022. … They didn't really address tackle in the draft and waited for the offensive line market to thin out and then essentially signed Alejandro Villanueva for $8M this season to move to the right side, with the contract including what is essentially a team option for 2022 at $8M. And now they have James at a base salary of $2.5M for 2022 with the chance to make another $5M in incentives based on how much he plays.

"At that rate, it's worth it to keep him even as just a potential replacement swing tackle should injury arise (the cap is going to skyrocket next year, too, remember). If Villanueva is aging or struggles to switch the right side, you can swap James in a year from now and pocket cash and cap savings that can be spent elsewhere. If Stanley's health is a concern and his ankle procedures lead to more problems (worst-case scenario), well, you have Villanueva at a very reasonable $8M who has played on the left side for a long time, and James can step in at right tackle."

Is Marquise Brown on the Hot Seat?

Bleacher Report’s Brent Sobleski selected one player from each team who is on the hot seat in 2021, and he named wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown as the player feeling the heat in Baltimore.

"The 2019 first-round pick led the team with 769 receiving yards last season. But for context, Brown finished 42nd overall in the category," Sobleski wrote. "Yes, Baltimore is a run-first team. At the same time, quarterback Lamar Jackson lacked the consistency needed in the passing game. As such, the Ravens signed Sammy Watkins in free agency and then drafted Rashod Bateman in this year's first round."

To Sobleski's point, the additions of Watkins and Bateman — as well as Wallace — figure to take some pressure off Brown.

"If it works out the way the Ravens have imagined it, Watkins, Bateman and Wallace will take some of the defensive attention off Brown and tight end Mark Andrews and free up Brown for more big plays," Zrebiec wrote.

Brown just turned 24 last week and has shown flashes of his first-round talent, including in the postseason.

CBS Sports’ Tyler Sullivan predicted a breakout season for Brown in 2021.

"The Ravens receiver had a very strong end to his 2020 season, averaging over four catches for 56 yards and a touchdown in his final six regular-season contests," Sullivan wrote. "In the playoffs, Brown also seemed to take another leap in his development, catching 11 of his 16 targets over two contests for 196 yards. Over that eight-game run to finish his season, Lamar Jackson looked Brown's way more than seven times per-game, which is particularly noteworthy.

"If that continues, Brown could be on the verge of a career year as he enters his third-season in the NFL."

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