Could Lamar Jackson Be the NFL's Shohei Ohtani?
Shohei Ohtani's exceptional skills as a two-way player have been on full display the past two nights at Major League Baseball's Home Run Derby and All-Star Game.
So with the Los Angeles Angels' pitcher/designated hitter the talk of the sports world, NFL Network analysts discussed which current NFL player could excel on both sides of the ball.
For Michael Robinson, that player is Lamar Jackson.
"He's really good in short areas. He has very good short area quickness," Robinson said. "He can do it all. I know you're thinking, 'Hey, he's a quarterback; that's one of the least physical positions on the field.' Well, have you seen Lamar Jackson run the football? He runs the football like a tailback.
"So I think he could play defensive back. I think he can backpedal and catch the football. He can read defenses because he does that [with] that quarterback background. And I don't think this kid is afraid to stick his nose and his face right on the football and make the tackle."
The Ravens quarterback actually did play some safety in high school and laid some big hits in his day.
Robinson isn't the first former player to say that Jackson has what it takes to be a defensive back in the NFL. Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed said last year that the Ravens quarterback "has the heart of a defender."
"He's the ultimate athlete," Reed said. "I think he could've played safety."
Jackson flashed his ability as a two-way player over the weekend at his annual "Fun Day with LJ" event in his native South Florida. Videos of Jackson playing pickup football with kids showed him looking like a lock-down cornerback (as well as a wide receiver with good hands who can get separation).
On a side note, it was a little disappointing that the NFL Network analysts didn't show any love for Pro Bowl fullback Patrick Ricard, a defensive lineman in college who actually has played on both sides of the ball in the NFL.
Does AFC North Have the Best Starting Quarterbacks?
NFL Network's Lorenzo Alexander said NFL.com's Adam Schein got it wrong in his rankings of the eight divisions by quarterback.
The AFC North (Jackson, Joe Burrow, Baker Mayfield, Ben Roethlisberger) was No. 3, behind the NFC West (Kyler Murry, Matthew Stafford, Jimmy Garoppolo/Trey Lance, Russell Wilson) and AFC West (Teddy Bridgewater/Drew Lock, Patrick Mahomes, Derek Carr, Justin Herbert), in Schein's rankings. Alexander said the AFC North should've been No. 1.
"Lamar Jackson — MVP. Joe Burrow, future MVP the way he played last year as a rookie, real dominant. Baker Mayfield helped the Cleveland team win their first playoff game in who knows how many years. Big Ben was balling out last year. Everybody forgets how they started the season," Alexander said.
Schein and Alexander were in agreement on one thing: When talking about quarterbacks in the AFC North, the conversation begins with Jackson.
"Jackson is a flat-out stud and the best quarterback in this division, breaking ankles, throwing darts and generally taking breaths away," Schein wrote. "He's a former MVP who will be in the mix for the award every year for the foreseeable future."
Schein said he considered putting the AFC North at No. 2 over the AFC West, noting that Denver's situation (Bridgewater, Lock) "is the glaring 'Yeah, but …" Ultimately, Schein went with the AFC West because "Mahomes raised the bar and Roethlisberger lowered it."
"Big Ben is pushing 40 and his arm shows it," Schein wrote. "Obviously, he's a Hall of Famer, but remember: This ranking is based on my expectations for the 2021 season. And those aren't too high when it comes to Roethlisberger, especially behind Pittsburgh's patchwork offensive line. In 2021, Ben's the fourth-best quarterback in his own division."
Assessing Where the Ravens Got Better and Got Worse
With the start of training camp less than two weeks away, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec analyzed the Ravens roster and assessed where they are better, worse and about the same as last year.
Here's a look at two of the four areas where Zrebiec believes the team has improved and the only two where he thinks they've taken a step back:
Better: Interior offensive line
"An experienced and accomplished [Kevin] Zeitler should stabilize the right guard spot, which was a problem area for much of the 2020 season. [Bradley] Bozeman is also a more formidable option at center, assuming he's able to flawlessly get snaps back to the quarterback."
Better: Wide receiver
"The talent has been upgraded significantly. The addition of [Rashod] Bateman, [Tylan] Wallace and [Sammy] Watkins, coupled by another year of development for Marquise Brown and the team's returning young receivers, gives the Ravens one of the better receiving corps that they've had in recent years."
Worse: Offensive tackle
"The Ravens will be OK if [Ronnie] Stanley is back to himself and [Alejandro] Villanueva benefits from a change of scenery and position. However, there are still too many 'ifs' for the organization to feel all that comfortable at offensive tackle. It's certainly a position to watch this summer. Improvement from Tyre Phillips, one of the top swing tackle candidates, would help."
Worse: Outside linebacker
"[Matthew] Judon and [Yannick] Ngakoue didn't have big sack numbers last year, but they are accomplished pass rushers with big-play capabilities and other teams had to account for them. The Ravens didn't replace either one with a veteran. Unless [Jaylon] Ferguson or [Tyus] Bowser breaks out as pass rushers or [Odafe] Oweh is ready to make a major impact immediately, the roster lacks an 8-10 sack-a-year kind of guy."
Three Players the Ravens Should Build Around
Pro Football Focus' Ben Linsey identified three players to build around for all 32 teams based on production, age and positional value.
For the Ravens, Linsey went with Jackson, Stanley and cornerback Marlon Humphrey. It's hard to argue with those choices. All three are All-Pros between the ages of 24 and 27.
"Baltimore's offense — which has been built entirely around Jackson's unique skill set as a runner — ranks behind only the Chiefs in expected points added per play since 2019. That's worth building around," Linsey wrote. "Stanley is the other major cornerstone on offense, ranking in the 88th percentile of all tackles in pass-blocking grade since 2016.
"Humphrey would be one of the top defenders to build around in the league. He just turned 25 years old and is the only qualifying cornerback in the NFL to record coverage grades of at least 80.0 in the slot and out wide since 2017."