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Late for Work 7/22: Three Areas Where Lamar Jackson Can Improve As a Passer

QB Lamar Jackson

Looking at the Areas Where Lamar Jackson Can Improve As a Passer

The prevailing opinion is that the Ravens need a more consistent passing attack to take their high-scoring offense to an even higher level and advance past the divisional round of the playoffs.

To that end, the Ravens haven given Lamar Jackson more weapons this offseason and patched up their offensive line. For the Ravens to get to the Super Bowl, however, The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer says they'll also need more from Jackson as a passer.

Shaffer identified three areas where Jackson can improve in 2021. Here are some excerpts:

Deep shots

"He is not a bad downfield thrower, nor is he an especially good one, either. He has the arm strength to pump balls 30, 40, 50 yards through the air, but his mechanics are prone to breakdowns, and his receivers have rarely bailed him out. The strangest quirk of Jackson's downfield efficiency is that, in his two seasons as a full-time starter, he has been significantly better when pressured than when not. In 2019, he finished first in the NFL in passer rating on throws of at least 20 air yards when pressured (123.7), and 15th when not pressured (96.3). Last season, he was again No. 1 on pressured drop-backs (151.4) and 33rd otherwise (50.7) on deep throws."

Man-to-man coverage

"Bad luck accounted for some of Jackson's regression [against man coverage last year]. His throws were far more often on-target in 2020 (78.9%, 11th overall) than during his MVP-caliber 2019 (74.3%). Wide receivers Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown and Miles Boykin and tight end Mark Andrews combined to drop seven of Jackson's 58 passes against man coverage last season, for a dreadful 12.1% team-wide rate. His lower touchdown rate (13.2% to 8.6%), meanwhile, was largely inevitable. … Odds are that Jackson's 2020 struggles against man coverage were an anomaly. With more talent out wide, Jackson should bounce back in a big way."

Out and corner routes

"On out routes and corner routes [last season], both patterns that take wide receivers to the sideline, Jackson had a 63.5 passer rating (33rd among quarterbacks with 20-plus attempts) and more interceptions than touchdowns. By every metric, Jackson's 2020 was a step down from his 2019, when he was both accurate (68.3%) and turnover-averse (no interceptions). He completed only 57.5% of his attempted out and corner routes last season — though three drops by Brown didn't help — and his on-target rate was 33rd in the NFL."

Jackson and the other quarterbacks report to training camp today. While much of the talk this offseason has centered around Jackson's contract, the fourth-year signal caller has continuously said his focus has been on improving.

Industry Buzz: Jackson Will Sign First, Get Biggest Deal of 2018 QB Class

There's been much talk and speculation this offseason about the pending contract extensions for 2018 first-round quarterbacks Jackson, Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield. The main question has focused on which of them will sign first and who will get the biggest deal.

"Industry buzz seems to think Jackson will not only sign first but get the biggest deal of these three, since he's the one with an MVP trophy he can wave in his team's face at the negotiating table," ESPN’s Dan Graziano wrote. "Jackson is working without a traditional agent, which throws at least some uncertainty into the issue. But the Ravens have made it clear they want to keep him and understand what it'll cost."

The cost figures to be less than Patrick Mahomes' $45 million-a-year average and ahead of Dak Prescott's $40 million.

"As always, the key will be to watch the structure and guarantees," Graziano wrote.

As noted in Late for Work last week, Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer predicted Allen will get the largest contract, followed by Jackson and Mayfield. Breer cited the risk of injury based on Jackson's style of play as the main reason for Allen getting the bigger contract of the two.

Graziano believes otherwise, mostly because Jackson has accomplished more thus far in his career than Allen.

"Allen will surely be watching the Jackson negotiations, and it probably makes sense for him to wait for Jackson's deal to be done and slot in right behind it," Graziano wrote. "He surely wouldn't mind topping it, but again, no MVP trophy yet."

On a side note, in looking at players at other positions who could get extensions, Graziano wrote that tight end Mark Andrews "doesn't have the numbers to challenge George Kittle and Travis Kelce at the top of the tight end market but still should be able to pull in $11 million or more a year at a position whose market value is slowly starting to rise."

Currently, four tight ends are making more than $11 million per year, according to Over The Cap: Kittle ($15 million), Kelce ($14.3 million), Hunter Henry ($12.5 million) and Jonnu Smith ($12.5 million).

Three Questions Ravens Need to Answer Before Start of the Season

CBS Sports’ Bryan DeArdo identified the three biggest questions for each AFC North team heading into the season. Here are some excerpts from his take on the Ravens:

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the revamped offensive line?

"Baltimore suffered a big blow when they were forced to trade away starting Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Brown Jr. this offseason. To help replace Brown, the Ravens signed former Steelers Pro Bowl left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. While he has impeccable durability (his 96 consecutive games played led the Steelers), Villanueva is not as good in pass protection as he was during his Pro Bowl seasons of 2017 and '18. … John Harbaugh will have to choose his new starting left guard before the season-opener. Harbaugh recently called it a 'wide open' competition between rookie Ben Cleveland and veterans Ben Powers and Tyre Phillips."

Who is the No. 3 wide receiver?

"Marquise Brown and Sammy Watkins are expected to be the top-two receivers on Baltimore's depth chart. Rookie Rashod Bateman should be considered the front-runner to be the Ravens' No. 3 receiver, but he faces decent competition in second-year wideouts Devin Duvernay and James Proche II, fellow rookie Tylan Wallace and veteran Miles Boykin."

Is the pass rush good enough?

"The Ravens are hoping for a breakout season from Tyus Bowser, who recorded two sacks and three interceptions last season. Baltimore is also hoping for early returns from rookie Odafe Oweh, who did not record a sack during his final season at Penn State. Look for the Ravens to possibly explore signing a veteran free agent pass rusher if they see signs of weakness from this part of their defense during training camp."

Darius Slay Says He's Studying Tape of Marlon Humphrey

Marlon Humphrey has been ranked in the top two or three on multiple "best cornerbacks" lists this offseason. It's not just analysts and industry insiders who are high on Humphrey; his peers also recognize his talent.

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Darius Slay tweeted that he's watching tape of Humphrey and Marshon Lattimore to prepare for training camp.

It's high praise that a former All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler entering his ninth season is studying Humphrey, who is entering his fifth season.

"Even for a player with 406 total tackles and 20 interceptions Slay still wants to improve his game, and is probably looking to Humphrey to see how the Baltimore defensive back has become so dominant in using his physicality to force the football out of ball carriers hands as well as disrupt their overall timing," Ravens Wire’s Kevin Oestreicher wrote.

"Humphrey is becoming an example for cornerbacks all around the league, and that speaks to the player that he's already become. The way he's ascended so fast has been astounding, and he still has plenty of room to grow."

Will Any Undrafted Rookies Make the Team?

The Ravens' 17-year streak of keeping at least one undrafted rookie on their original 53-man roster ended last season, and it might be more difficult than usual for an undrafted player to make the team this season, Press Box’s Bo Smolka wrote.

"By the nature of camp practices, it is often the receivers and defensive backs that shine in these situations," Smolka wrote. "It's harder for an interior defensive lineman to come up with a highlight reel play, though Michael Pierce did exactly that in his preseason finale as an undrafted rookie at New Orleans, a game that might have earned him a roster spot.

"This year, wide receiver and cornerback might be the deepest positions on the team entering camp, so barring injury, it will be difficult for anyone to climb the depth chart there. But it won't be for lack of trying. A few players who flashed in spring workouts and could generate buzz this summer are wide receiver Jaylon Moore, cornerback Khalil Dorsey and cornerback Chris Westry."

Smolka identified the three undrafted rookies he believes have the best shot at earning a roster spot.

"Contenders could be safety Ar'Darius Washington, an undersized ballhawk at 5-foot-8, and tackle Adrian Ealy, since depth is a question there," Smolka wrote. "It's also probably worth keeping an eye on inside linebacker Barrington Wade, given the Ravens' long history of mining undrafted talent at that position."

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