NFL Analyst: Lamar Jackson Will Silence His Doubters
After Lamar Jackson confidently fired a strike to home plate when throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Camden Yards last night, he was, of course, scrutinized by the media -- even if it was done tongue in cheek.
The real debate, which continues to rage on, concerns Jackson's ability to throw a football. On that topic, NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal believes Jackson will sway the naysayers this season.
"I don't understand why America isn't more excited about Lamar Jackson," Rosenthal wrote. "Jackson overachieved during his rookie year by any reasonable measure."
While everyone marvels at Jackson's blazing speed and running skills – and rightfully so – Rosenthal pointed out that Jackson wasn't as one-dimensional as some think.
"He threw for 7.1 yards per attempt as a 21-year-old, higher in 2018 than trusty veterans like Andy Dalton and Matthew Stafford," Rosenthal wrote. "Jackson made enough high-quality throws as a rookie to make you believe better days are ahead. He's not Vince Young or Blake Bortles, two highly drafted physical specimens who rarely showed the feel for the quarterback position that Jackson has flashed, albeit inconsistently."
Rosenthal also praised Jackson's pocket presence.
"Jackson's sneaky-good pocket movement was a pleasant surprise on tape," Rosenthal wrote. "He has a natural feel for moving away from pressure while staying inside the pocket. This is a skill separate from his ability to take off and run, one that some veteran quarterbacks never learn."
Rosenthal acknowledged that ball security and accuracy are two areas in which Jackson must improve, but he said there should be no doubt about Jackson's arm strength.
"Anyone who questions Jackson's arm strength isn't paying attention," Rosenthal wrote. "He made some spectacular throws across his body, including one flat-footed attempt to Chris Moore that went over 50 yards down the field against the Chiefs in Week 14. He's able to throw with touch and power on the run, proving to be more accurate overall last season when he was on the move."
NFL Network's Kyle Brandt also sees a huge upside in Jackson as a passer. On "Good Morning Football," Brandt named Jackson was one of the top five most pivotal players in the NFL this season.
"We have still yet to see the classic, break-Twitter, Lamar highlight. It's coming," Brandt said. "Imagine a whole season of running him here, running him there, and then he unleashes buttery throws like [his 68-yard touchdown pass to Mark Andrews against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 16]."
Brandt and Rosenthal both dispelled the notion that Jackson's uneven performance in the Ravens' loss to the Chargers in a first-round playoff game last season was proof that the success Jackson had in leading the team to a 6-1 record in the regular season isn't sustainable.
"The idea that defenses, notably the Chargers in the postseason, 'figured out' Jackson fails to reckon with how much the Ravens offense should evolve," Rosenthal wrote. "Viewing a 21-year-old quarterback's struggles as a final judgment is a mistake that dunderheaded evaluators have made since the beginning of takedom. The Ravens have committed as an organization to building around Jackson and they are just getting started.
"It's hard to imagine a better coach for Lamar Jackson than Greg Roman. Elevated to offensive coordinator in January after influencing the Ravens' running game as an assistant in 2018, Roman has the chops to get weird. He helped Colin Kaepernick be a supernova for a few seasons in San Francisco and worked with Tyrod Taylor in Buffalo. After building the Lamar offense on the fly at midseason last year, Roman now has an entire offseason to do his worst."
Even though Jackson struggled against the Chargers in the playoffs, Rosenthal said there were positive takeaways.
"Jackson's misfires and fumbles were costly, but the two long touchdown drives he led in the fourth quarter count," Rosenthal wrote. "They were highlighted by some beautiful, pinpoint throws. He got the ball back for his team with a chance to win with under a minute left. He competed.
"That type of fight wins over teammates, which is a strength of his going back to Louisville. A lot of quarterbacks are popular with their teammates, but the devotion Jackson inspires is rare and genuine. The mostly-young team around Jackson looks ready to grow with him."
Ravens Predicted to Finish 5-11 by Sports Illustrated Writer
There seems to be plenty of cause for optimism for Ravens fans this season, but Sports Illustrated's Conor Orr begs to differ. In predicting the records for all 32 teams, Orr has the Ravens going 5-11 and finishing last in the AFC North.
While Orr's colleague at Sports Illustrated, Andy Benoit, wrote earlier this week that he expects the Ravens' defense to regress, Orr believes it's the offense that will be the problem.
"Their record here isn't a reflection of some foreseen Jackson regression, but more an offensive regression as a whole," Orr wrote.
Apparently, Orr wasn't impressed by the addition of two-time Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram and rookie playmakers Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, Miles Boykin and Justice Hill to an offense that was ninth in total yards and second in rushing yards last season.
The Ravens' history suggests Orr's prediction is off the mark. The Ravens have had just one losing season under Head Coach John Harbaugh, who is entering his 12th year. In 2015, the team was ravaged by injuries, including to Joe Flacco, and finished 5-11. The only other times the Ravens won fewer than six games were 2007 (5-11) and 1996 (4-12), the franchise's first year in Baltimore.
Orr's forecast also has the consensus division favorite Cleveland Browns going 9-7 and missing the playoffs. Orr has the Pittsburgh Steelers winning the AFC North with a 10-6 record.
Don 'Wink' Martindale Lauded as NFL's Best Defensive Coordinator
The Ravens' Wink Martindale continues to be recognized as one of the best defensive coordinators in the league. In fact, former NFL executive and current analyst Michael Lombardi believes Martindale is the best.
"He's got the way to relate to players, he's smart, he can scheme and he can match up," Lombardi said on his "GM Shuffle" podcast.
In his first year as defensive coordinator last season, Martindale oversaw the league's No. 1 defense.
"He did it last year with a good defense and he got them to play at a higher level than they ever played before," Lombardi said. "I think Martindale has done a good job of molding his talent and getting the best out of players."
Lombardi's praise for Martindale comes on the heels of Orr identifying Martindale as a possible head coaching candidate.
On a side note, Lombardi's top five defensive coordinators included former Ravens Outside Linebackers Coach Jim Schwartz (Philadelphia Eagles) and former Ravens Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees (Tennessee Titans).