Analyst Compares Lamar Jackson to NBA's James Harden
Lamar Jackson has drawn comparisons to Michael Vick for his playing style, and to Patrick Mahomes for his career arc. Now the Ravens quarterback is being compared to NBA star James Harden, and it's not intended as a compliment.
The comparison was discussed on the “Chris Simms Unbuttoned Podcast,” with the idea being that Jackson and Harden both have had spectacular regular seasons but have come up short in the postseason.
"It's probably not fair, but this idea that James Harden can beat up on the bad teams and his stuff works in the regular season, but then when you get down to the best four teams, they're going to have the players and the scheme to be able to neutralize a guy like James Harden," Ahmed Fareed said when asking Simms about the comparison. "Is there any truth that that way of thinking could go over to Lamar Jackson and that the best four teams always will have an answer for that kind of player?"
Simms replied: "I think there is some truth. I understand the comparison being made there. … It's cool when you're running around and making people miss, and that's why he was the No. 1 player [on NFL Network's 'NFL Top 100 Players of 2020']. … You don't have to watch games; you just saw the numbers and highlights and went, 'Damn, he's awesome.'
"But if they're going to go to that next round of the playoffs, or get to the final four or the Super Bowl, his game will have to grow a little bit as a pocket passer. Because I don't think the great defenses, once you get into that divisional round, or get into the championship game, they're not going to be overpowered or fooled by some of the things that might work in the regular season for the Ravens."
I think Fareed nailed it when he began the discussion by saying the comparison probably isn't fair. No disrespect to Harden, but he's been in the NBA for 11 years; Jackson, 23, just completed his first full season as a starter. It's way, way too early to suggest Jackson is a great regular-season player who gets "figured out" in the postseason.
Perhaps a better comparison – certainly not in terms of playing style, but perhaps (and hopefully) career arc – would be to Peyton Manning, who lost his first three playoff games but went on to win two Super Bowls and play in two others.
As for the notion that Jackson "beat up on the bad teams," the fact is that he went 5-1 against playoff teams during the 2019 regular season. In those games, he threw nine touchdown passes to one interception and rushed for 443 yards (5.9 yards per carry) and five touchdowns.
Jackson also threw five touchdown passes (with no interceptions) and ran for 95 yards in a 45-6 road win over the Los Angeles Rams, who just missed the playoffs after going to the Super Bowl the year before. Jackson and the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers, who played in this year's Super Bowl.
On a side note, NFL.com’s Adam Schein re-ranked the top 10 players on the NFL Top 100 list. He placed Jackson at No. 3, behind Mahomes and Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
"Jackson's an electric runner, smooth thrower and brilliant decision-maker. He's just a winner," Schein wrote. "And spoiler alert: He's only getting started. Jackson's going to be even better as a deep-ball thrower in 2020. Frightening."
Ravens Used Tight Ends Differently Than Rest of the League
A major component of the Ravens' revolutionary offense last season was the way they used their tight ends. FiveThirtyEight’s Andres Waters took an in-depth look at how the Ravens flourished by using heavy formations with its trio of tight ends (Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst) and well as fullback Patrick Ricard.
"While the rest of the league was building offenses out of spread formations, Baltimore designed a system that ran nearly half of its plays from heavy formations, according to ESPN's Stats & Information Group," Waters wrote. "Out of 1,060 total offensive snaps in the regular season, Baltimore lined up 453 times (or 42.7 percent of its snaps) in heavy formations that featured different pairs of the tight ends plus Ricard. Meanwhile, the rest of the league lined up for only 27 percent of plays from heavy sets."
Waters noted that the Ravens used the heavy sets to extend drives and control the clock.
"But perhaps even more important was Baltimore's third-down conversion rate on plays from heavy packages: The unit converted 69 percent of third downs during the regular season," Waters wrote. "Converting on these downs at such a high rate led to the team averaging nearly 35 minutes of possession time. Their production on the ground also regularly opened up the passing game by forcing defenses to use personnel packages designed for crowding the line of scrimmage. This created opportunities for the offense to capitalize on mismatches by forcing bigger and slower defenders to cover the tight ends.
"Jackson was able to make the most of these moments, as each of the three tight ends recorded at least 20 receptions for over 200 yards. Andrews, Boyle and Hurst averaged 12.3 yards per reception while accounting for over half of the team's 1,569 total passing yards from heavy formations. Although Ricard was mostly used as a blocker throughout the season, he also recorded a touchdown catch out of a heavy set and finished the regular season with eight total catches for 47 yards."
Although Hurst was traded this offseason, Waters believes the Ravens will continue using the scheme. The team is high on undrafted rookie Eli Wolf, who will compete for the No. 3 tight end spot.
"What remains to be seen is whether the rest of the league will have caught on to the Ravens' unconventional offensive approach and devised a way to stop it, or if Jackson and his plethora of diverse weapons will carry them to another postseason," Waters wrote.
Marcus Peters Is a Sleeper Pick for Defensive Player of the Year
Cornerback Marcus Peters immediately paid dividends for the Ravens after they traded for him in October, and the four-time All-Pro could be an even bigger factor this season, NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah said.
Jeremiah picked Peters as a sleeper candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.
"Marcus Peters [with] a full year in this Ravens system where they're playing with a lead, he might pick off 10 or 11 passes this year," Jeremiah said. "The way he likes to play the game, keep an eye on him as a sleeper Defensive Player of the Year candidate."
The 27-year-old Peters, who signed a three-year contract extension in December after the Ravens acquired him from the Rams in exchange for linebacker Kenny Young and a 2020 fifth-round pick, has more interceptions (27) than any NFL cornerback since entering the league in 2015.
Ravens Won Big by Trading for Calais Campbell
There have been several blockbuster trades this offseason, but one that shouldn't be overlooked is the Ravens' acquisition of Pro Bowl defensive lineman Calais Campbell from the Jacksonville Jaguars in exchange for a 2020 fifth-round pick, Pro Football Focus’ Ben Linsey wrote.
Campbell, who signed a one-year extension and turns 34 in September, has made the Pro Bowl three straight years and five times in the past six years. He provides a significant upgrade to the Ravens' interior pass rush, which was an offseason priority.
"The only two defensive linemen to grade higher than Campbell since he joined the Jaguars [in 2017] are Aaron Donald and Fletcher Cox," Linsey wrote.
As General Manager Eric DeCosta said after acquiring Campbell, he plays like a Raven. Campbell, who is entering his 13th season, is also a run-stopper and has started 90 straight games dating back to 2014.
"If you're a contender, you would be foolish to not capitalize on situations where there may be dysfunction or instances where a bad team is merely trying to unload a veteran and build towards the future — take the sure thing who will help your team now rather than playing the lottery late in the draft," Linsey wrote.