Ravens' Offensive Playmakers Shown Little Respect in ESPN Rankings
ESPN's Bill Barnwell said that defense no longer wins championships, offensive stars do. With that in mind, he ranked each team's offensive playmakers (wide receivers, tight ends and running backs).
Given Barnwell's stance on how championships are won, he probably doesn't like Baltimore's chances of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy this season. He ranked the Ravens' offensive playmakers at No. 25.
"Beyond [tight end Mark] Andrews, it's not pretty," Barnwell wrote. "Running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards were both felled by torn ACLs, leaving Baltimore to spend the season relying on replacement-level veterans. Dobbins led the league in DVOA and averaged six yards per carry as a rookie in 2020, so there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic, but Saquon Barkley is a reminder of how torn ACLs can be career-altering injuries.
"Unless (or until) the Ravens add a veteran, though, wide receiver is a problem. Rashod Bateman, a first-round pick last year, didn't stand out as a rookie, as he averaged 1.4 yards per route run with a 19% target share. There's obviously hope he'll emerge as a No. 1, but the trade of Marquise Brown forces Bateman into that role with Devin Duvernay, James Proche and Tylan Wallace as supplemental wideouts. The Ravens might be moving back toward a run-heavy approach, but they desperately need to add a wideout such as Will Fuller or Julio Jones before the season begins."
It's possible that the Ravens will sign a veteran wide receiver before the start of the season, although team officials have expressed confidence in their young receivers. As for Bateman not standing out as a rookie, that needs some context.
Bateman showed flashes of his potential, but he missed most of the preseason and the first five games of the regular season after undergoing groin surgery. He only played six full games with Lamar Jackson under center.
Meanwhile, Ravens running backs didn't fare much better in Sharp Football Analysis’ running back rankings by unit. They came in at No. 20, down from No. 8 in last year's rankings. The rankings were determined by average ranks from Sharp Football staff voters.
"Opinions varied on Baltimore's backfield with votes ranging from 16th to 24th," Sharp Football Analysis' Ryan McCrystal wrote. "If J.K. Dobbins returns to full strength and carries the unit, the high end of that spectrum is realistic. However, if he's unable to regain his form, Gus Edwards and Mike Davis may not provide enough quality depth for the unit to succeed."
Dobbins and Edwards have shown that when they're healthy, the Ravens have a strong 1-2 punch. In 2020, when the duo shared backfield duties with Mark Ingram, Dobbins and Edwards combined for 1,528 yards and 15 touchdowns and averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
Earlier this week, Dobbins disputed NFL Network's Ian Rapoport's report that it's "no sure thing" he'll be ready for Week 1.
The Ravens undoubtedly will proceed with caution with Dobbins and Edwards. In addition to the veteran Davis, the Ravens also have rookie Tyler Badie, who looked good in minicamp, and Justice Hill in the mix at running back.
The Case for Justin Tucker's Inclusion in 'Madden' 99 Club
Last night's ESPY awards included a rare miss for Justin Tucker, although this one was out of his control. He came up short in the Best Play category.
Tucker's game-winning, record-breaking 66-yard field goal in Detroit lost out to Megan Rapinoe's corner kick goal in the U.S. women's national soccer team's bronze-medal-winning match at the Tokyo Olympics.
While the ESPY eluded Tucker, NFL.com’s Adam Schein believes the All-Pro kicker is worthy of an honor that is arguably more prestigious: a spot in the exclusive "Madden" 99 club. A 99 rating is the highest number a player can achieve in the popular football video game.
Schein named nine players who he would give a 99 rating to and ranked them. Tucker came in at No. 3.
"A kicker at No. 3? A kicker at No. 3!" Schein wrote. "As the most accurate kicker in NFL history at 91.1 percent, Tucker is a legit weapon for Baltimore. You want clutch? How about booting an NFL-record 66-yard field goal as time expired in Detroit to lift the Ravens over the Lions, 19-17?
"This cat is different. Thunder in his foot, ice in his veins. Baltimore plays a lot of close games, so having an automatic kicker who can bank three points from basically anywhere on the plus-side of the 50-yard line is everything. Shoot, my colleague Dan Hanzus just welcomed Tucker beyond the velvet rope of the prestigious Superstar Club. This guy puts the 'foot' in football."
Tucker actually did join the 99 club last year, at least momentarily. His original rating for "Madden" was 87, but he was boosted to 99 for a limited time after his 66-yard field goal, which went on to win NFL Moment of the Year.
Pro Football Focus' Eric Eager: 'No One Has Done What Lamar Jackson Has Done at the Level He's Done It'
Jackson has been described as a unicorn and an anomaly. Pro Football Focus' Eric Eager pointed out just how accurate those labels are and why Jackson's impact is often underestimated and misunderstood.
"No one during the history of advanced player metrics (e.g. PFF, Next Gen Stats) has done what Lamar has done at the level he's done it," Eager wrote in a tweet. "For example, 73% of Mike Vick's 1,039 rushing yards in 2006 were on scrambles. Only 38% of Lamar's in 2019 were.
"So even Lamar Jackson's closest comparable player — both athletically and from a production standpoint — was playing a different game than Jackson was. That is going to make every mathematical assessment of Jackson a 'take with a grain of salt'-level one for me."
To Eager's point, Jackson's uniqueness is what seems to diminish him in the eyes of his critics, who are comparing an unconventional player to the conventional. What cannot be diminished or debated is Jackson's 37-12 record as a starter.
"That doesn't mean we stop trying to understand him, but what it does mean is that we probably understand him and his impact less than we think we do," Eager wrote. "Use his greatness — and he is great — as an opportunity to learn more about the game."