Two Sets of Rankings Rate Lamar Jackson As a Tier 2 Quarterback
The Athletic and Pro Football Focus each released their tiered quarterback rankings yesterday. Shockingly, reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson did not make the top tier in either one.
Actually, Jackson not being recognized as one of the best of the best at his position is no longer shocking, although after a season in which he led the Ravens to a No. 1 seed, set the single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback and led the NFL in touchdown passes, it should be.
Jackson was placed in the second tier on both lists. The Athletic's rankings were determined by surveying 50 NFL coaches and evaluators, while PFF’s rankings were based on grading every player on every play and tapping into multiple years of data to project future performance.
Five quarterbacks made Tier 1 status in The Athletic's rankings: Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Deshaun Watson. Jackson was the second highest-rated quarterback in Tier 2 (trailing Tom Brady), so he came in at No. 7 overall.
Jackson received 16 Tier 1 votes, 31 Tier 2 votes and three Tier 3 votes. Yes, three coaches/evaluators really placed Jackson in the third tier.
"The most dominant guy in the league. How is he not a one now?" an NFL executive said.
Apparently, what prevented Jackson from making the top tier was that he did not "expertly handle pure passing situations."
"Jackson belongs in the top tier if we waive the pure-passing requirement that arguably has stood between the Ravens and a playoff victory over the past two seasons," The Athletic's Mike Sando wrote. "Pure-pass situations arise when, through score differential and time remaining, the offense must pass, thereby freeing defenses from worrying about the running game. Jackson's success is predicated on an exceptionally well-schemed running game that features his generational talent prominently."
One former head coach said: "You could make the case Baltimore, with that defense, wins their playoff game if they have Brady last year."
In PFF's rankings, Tier 1 consisted only of Mahomes and Wilson. Jackson was placed at the top of Tier 2.
"It may be difficult for Jackson to duplicate his incredible statistics from a year ago, as a touchdown rate of 9.0% is not sustainable, but he'll still be one of the league's most dangerous quarterbacks," PFF's Steve Palazzolo wrote. "His improved accuracy puts defenses in a bind, and the next step in his development will be finding success with passing in come-from-behind situations where conditions are less favorable."
An Inside Look at Marquise Brown's Offseason Transformation
By now, you've surely seen Marquise "Hollywood" Brown's insane offseason workout videos, from grueling uphill sprints to catching up to passes he launched from a JUGS machine.
The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer took an in-depth look at Brown's regimen by speaking with trainers who have worked with the second-year wide receiver this offseason.
Brown showed flashes last season of why the Ravens selected him in the first round, as he tied a franchise rookie record with seven touchdown catches despite playing with a screw in his left foot after undergoing Lisfranc surgery less than a year earlier. One of Brown's trainers, P.J. Quarrie, said Ravens fans have yet to see the real Brown.
"Interviews with three trainers who've worked with Brown this offseason depict a player hell-bent on domination and healthy enough at last to do it," Shaffer wrote. "He is stronger and faster now, a more complete receiver. But it is not the made-for-social-media highlights that have left them awed; it is Brown's complete commitment to reconstructing his body, almost from the ground up."
Quarrie said his early sessions with Brown focused on building strength back up in his foot.
"We took it all the way back to, like, basic walking," Quarrie said. "Walking stuff, proper way to move, building it up, and then you're going from there."
Brown progressed quickly. The next step was to get faster, or at least as fast as he was prior to the surgery. To that end, Brown worked with Daniel Harper, a high school track coach and coach of a club team. Harper put Brown through drills that focused on running uphill.
"During one workout set, Harper had Brown climb the first hill with one foot — the bottom half with his left, the upper half with his right, no stops allowed," Shaffer wrote. "It was like asking someone to climb a staircase with a stubbed toe."
As is evident by Brown's physical appearance in his videos, he's also bulked up. After playing at around 170 pounds at Oklahoma, the 5-foot-9 Brown told Bleacher Report he was down to 157 at one point last season. Now he's a "solid" 180, Quarrie said.
Harper also has served as Brown's strength and conditioning coach and nutritionist.
"Brown's vein-popping, eye-catching physique has been rigorously sculpted, the product of both open (bench press) and closed (back squat) kinetic-chain workouts," Shaffer wrote.
Harper said there are "no vanity exercises; every movement has a functional application."
"Say Brown needs to beat press coverage against a bigger cornerback," Shaffer wrote. "Harper's had him set up in a push-up position, his hands cupping a medicine ball. The goal isn't just to go down and up; it's to explode over a nearby 6-inch hurdle, absorb the impact, do another medicine ball push-up, then explode back over the same hurdle, again and again."
Said Quarrie: "He's doing it the right way. His body understands, 'OK, I got this extra 15 on, but we know how to move with it.' And it doesn't look like he has lost one step. If anything, he's more explosive and maybe even faster at 180."
Ravens Don't Make Top Two in Most Talented Team Rankings
Several pundits have rated the Ravens as the most talented team in the league, but NFL.com's Maurice Jones-Drew is not one of them.
The former NFL running back put the Ravens at No. 3 in his rankings of the 10 most talented teams. More surprising than the Ravens not making the top two is that the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs didn't either.
I'll at least give Jones-Drew credit for thinking outside the box. He placed the New Orleans Saints at No. 1, followed by the Atlanta Falcons, who are coming off a 7-9 season. The Chiefs were No. 5, one spot behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and one spot ahead of the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers.
In addition to the Ravens, the other AFC North team to make the rankings was the Pittsburgh Steelers, at No. 9.
On the Ravens, Jones-Drew wrote: "As good as Jackson and the offense were, the powerful offensive line deserves more credit than it gets for paving the way for the league's most dynamic run game and a passing game that developed with its young quarterback. The Ravens are deep at the tight end position even after trading away Hayden Hurst, but they're missing consistent production from the wide receivers. The defense could vie for top honors by the look of the starting 11. With Calais Campbell leading the way up front, first-round pick Patrick Queen and Matt Judon manning the middle and Humphrey, Peters and Earl Thomas covering the back end, this unit could give any offense fits."
Did the Ravens Defense Get Better, Worse, or Stay the Same?
Speaking of the Ravens defense, ESPN’s Jamison Hensley analyzed whether the unit got better, worse, or stayed the same at each of the unit's position groups. (He provided a similar analysis of the offense last week, as detailed in Friday’s Late for Work.)
With the Ravens making significant additions on the defensive line (veterans Campbell and Derek Wolfe) and at inside linebacker (draft picks Queen and Malik Harrison) this offseason, it's no surprise that Hensley rated those positions as having gotten better. The other group he believes got better — cornerback — was regarded as one of the best, if not the best, in the league last season.
"The Ravens didn't add a free agent or draft pick to one of the top cornerback groups in the league. So, how can it be better?" Hensley wrote. "Nickelback Tavon Young, who missed all of last season with a neck injury, is back and gives the Ravens another playmaker in the secondary. In 2018, Young was one of four players in the league to score multiple defensive touchdowns, recording scores off two fumble recoveries."
The Ravens remained the same at outside linebacker and safety, although the latter position could prove to be better than it was last season
"Depth will be improved [at safety] if [DeShon] Elliott can stay on the field. He has missed 26 of 32 games because of injuries," Hensley wrote.