Late for Work 6/24: Pundit Says Concerns About Lamar Jackson As a Downfield Passer Are Overblown

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QB Lamar Jackson

Pundit Says Concerns About Lamar Jackson As a Downfield Passer Are Overblown

Lamar Jackson is fully aware of the criticism regarding his ability as a deep passer, as evidenced by his recent statement that he's putting a "big emphasis" on being more consistent on long throws.

However, ESPN's Bill Barnwell contends that "concerns about Jackson as a downfield passer in terms of his skills are generally overblown."

"The former Heisman Trophy winner has a strong arm and can anticipate routes coming open. He actually ran a more traditional, complex deep passing attack during his time at Louisville than the one he has been using with the Ravens," Barnwell wrote. "He misses deep throws here and there, but not at a more noticeable rate than other quarterbacks. He posted a 90.0 QBR on those throws last season, which ranked 20th in the league, four spots behind [Josh] Allen. He was 12th in QBR on those passes in 2019. I don't think he's a problem on deep passes."

Barnwell also said that labeling Jackson's 2020 season as a disappointment is a misnomer.

"Was Jackson's 2020 season a disappointment? Depends on your baseline," Barnwell wrote. "If you were expecting him to remain as wildly efficient as he was during his MVP season in 2019, it might have been. Given that the Louisville product posted one of the highest touchdown rates (9%) as a passer in league history in 2019, it was always unrealistic to expect Jackson to keep up his prior level of play. Just about everybody who wins MVP declines, at least a little bit, the following season."

As to whether the Ravens should sign Jackson to a contract extension that will make him one of the highest-paid players in the league, Barnwell said the answer is obvious.

"Even if you're skeptical of his ceiling as a downfield passer, you can't form a reasonable argument against getting that deal done," Barnwell wrote. "Jackson was league MVP two years ago and ranked seventh in QBR last season. He has the best winning percentage for any quarterback in modern league history through three seasons.

"He's one of the smartest quarterbacks I've ever seen in terms of avoiding big hits, both in the open field and near the sideline. Is there some risk that Jackson loses some value as a runner and doesn't develop further as a passer? Sure. We also know his upside is truly special."

What Are the Ravens' Top Three and Bottom Three Position Groups?

The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer ranked the Ravens' 10 position groups, excluding special teams. Here's a look at his top three, followed by his bottom three:

1. Cornerback

"In a division where every opponent seems to add a game-breaking receiver every year or two, it helps to have perhaps the NFL's top group of cornerbacks. … Marlon Humphrey emerged as one of the league's top slot cornerbacks and forced-fumble artists over the past two seasons — and now he can return to the outside, his natural position. Marcus Peters, when healthy, was his usual ball-hawking self, finishing with a team-high four interceptions. Until a midseason injury, Jimmy Smith was one of the NFL's highest-rated corners."

2. Quarterback

"[Jackson's] mere presence on the field dictates the kind of coverages that opposing defensive coordinators feel comfortable deploying. If the Ravens embrace a more progressive, pass-happy approach this season, Jackson should be as prepared as he's ever been to handle the workload. ... With Robert Griffin III's release, the depth at backup quarterback is shaky. But Jackson's managed to avoid serious injuries throughout his career."

3. Running back

"Every NFL running back must wonder what it's like to play in an offense like the Ravens' and alongside a quarterback like Jackson. J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards are among the few lucky enough to actually do so. … Stylistically, Dobbins' speed and Edwards' power are perfect complements in the Ravens' record-breaking ground game. As receivers, though, they must do more."

8. Wide receiver

"The position's offseason workouts were promising. Sammy Watkins was healthy and productive. Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown built on his encouraging postseason run. Rashod Bateman was a smooth operator. The Ravens shouldn't have a bottom-half receiving room for long. But progress sometimes comes slowly."

9. Inside linebacker

"As [Patrick] Queen goes, so, too, will the position. The 2020 first-round pick played more than twice as many defensive snaps as any other Ravens inside linebacker last season. … Queen's potential is obvious. So are his areas for improvement. Though he finished with a team-high 106 combined tackles, Queen's missed-tackle rate was among the Ravens' worst. He also struggled in coverage, a focus of his offseason work. Having a normal preseason and new position coach, Rob Ryan, could help unlock more of the ability he showed at LSU and in flashes last year."

10. Outside linebacker

"The Ravens might still add to the position this offseason — Justin Houston? Melvin Ingram? — and for good reason. After losing Pro Bowl edge rushers Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue in free agency, the team's top two returning outside linebackers are Tyus Bowser, known more for his coverage skills than his pass-rush prowess (two sacks in 2020), and Pernell McPhee, a 32-year-old, hard-nosed run stopper. [General Manager Eric] DeCosta wisely invested in the group's future through the draft this spring, taking the raw but gifted Odafe Oweh in the first round and the technically sound Daelin Hayes in the fifth round."

Ronnie Stanley's Status Is Biggest Question Ravens Must Answer in Training Camp

Bleacher Report's Brad Gagnon identified the biggest question each team will face in training camp, and for the Ravens it's whether All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley will be ready to go.

Stanley, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury in November, is recovering from surgery.

"It's clear that the Baltimore Ravens' chances of breaking through in the AFC Super Bowl race are linked to the success of 2019 MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, which is why the Ravens have bolstered his support this offseason," Gagnon wrote. "How a new-look offensive line comes together will be a big part of that, and veterans Kevin Zeitler and Alejandro Villanueva will have to get acclimated quickly. But that's less of a focus than the health of standout left tackle Ronnie Stanley."

The good news for the Ravens is that Stanley is on schedule to play in the regular-season opener Sept. 13 against the Las Vegas Raiders, although he may not be ready for the start of training camp next month.

"He's on schedule is my understanding," Head Coach John Harbaugh said during minicamp last week. "I hear good things about it. He says good things. He's been in the weight room. He's been running. I doubt if we'll start him off the very first practice in training camp. I probably won't do that, even if he's ready. But he'll be out there I would anticipate in training camp, as long as there are no setbacks, and should be ready to open the season for sure. We'll just kind of play that as it goes. He looks good though, he's on schedule."

If Stanley ends up not being able to play in Week 1, the Ravens have contingency plans. Right tackle Villanueva played on the left side for seven years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Tyre Phillips and Patrick Mekari also could be options at left tackle after playing there in college.

Could J.K. Dobbins Rush for More Than 1,400 Yards This Season?

Dobbins was one of the most productive running backs in the league over the final five games of the regular season last year, so naturally big things are expected of him in his second season.

"Dobbins could produce more than 1,400 yards rushing in the new 17-game season, given how much the Ravens leaned on him down the stretch last season," ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote.

To put that number into perspective, the only Ravens running back to rush for more than 1,400 yards in a season is Jamal Lewis, who ran for 2,066 yards in 2003. Moreover, the only two running backs to eclipse 1,400 rushing yards last season were the Tennessee Titans' Derrick Henry (2,027) and Minnesota Vikings' Dalvin Cook (1,557).

Dobbins was on a torrid pace with 425 yards and six touchdowns over the final five regular-season games.

"The only running backs who recorded more rushing yards and touchdowns than Dobbins over that span were Taylor, Derrick Henry, David Montgomery and Nick Chubb," Hensley wrote.

After sliding well into the second round of the 2020 draft and being ranked as the 26th-best running back in the league entering this season by Pro Football Focus, Dobbins isn't lacking for motivation.

"You know that chip on my shoulder is pretty big," Dobbins said during minicamp. "Just a little fuel, like PFF ranking me 26th … I don't think I'm 26th, but I love that. That gives me room to improve. I've got people to prove wrong."

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