Late for Work 8/12: Lamar Jackson Makes the Cover of Sports Illustrated 

081220-LFW
QB Lamar Jackson on Sports Illustrated Cover

Jackson Makes the Cover of Sports Illustrated

While Lamar Jackson hasn't won a Super Bowl title yet, it's hard to ignore the impact he's made in just two seasons. Now he can add another accolade.

Jackson made the cover of Sports Illustrated's football preview as a transcendent talent that's redefined how we look at the quarterback position.

"In 2020, this is how quarterbacks are going to play," former Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr told SI's Jenny Vrentas. "And I am pretty sure if you look at the little leagues right now, those coaches have been having their best player doing those things. We can redefine quarterback right now."

"The stigma of being 'dual threat'—and I say that with the air quotations—used to mean being a runner but now it really means dual threat, doing both," Jackson's private quarterbacks coach Joshua Harris said. "But I'll be the first to say this: It'll take consistency. If he comes back next year, he does similar or better, then people will start to realize, this is the way the position can be played."

Jackson has helped usher in a new generation of quarterbacks, but doubts have been raised during his journey. They've followed Jackson as a Heisman Trophy winner at Louisville to the closing seconds of an MVP campaign last season.

However, there is no doubt that Jackson has developed into one of the NFL's top quarterbacks at just 23 years old.

"In every draft room, including Baltimore's, grades on Jackson varied because his skills challenged traditional scouting checklists," Vrentas wrote. "But his supporters were adamant: In one Ravens pre-draft meeting, an evaluator declared that if they got Jackson, he would immediately be the franchise's best athlete ever. Where Baltimore charted a new path was then building an offense unlike any the NFL has ever seen, around its best athlete ever."

We've seen Jackson transform the NFL, but perhaps his biggest impact has been at the youth level.

Vrentas wrote that when Jackson graduated from Boynton Beach High School, he and youth coach Van Warren set up a clinic to help economically disadvantaged kids train and work towards football scholarships.

"They call their program 'Super 8,' teaching both football skills and eight core values: God, prayer, faith, family, education, sacrifice, character and discipline," Vrentas wrote. "When Jackson changed from number 7 to 8 when he arrived at Louisville they had to add one more value. Fitting to Jackson's path, the eighth one was faith.

"... [Warren] had thrown himself into this task out of frustration over seeing many of his Black youth players be told they wouldn't make it as quarterbacks at the next level. He vowed to make their passing mechanics so impeccable that no coach could ever use that as a reason to deny them a shot."

Jackson's No. 8 jersey symbolizes more than just fandom for young players, but also a belief that they can follow in his footsteps.

Head Coach John Harbaugh knew it when Jackson's MVP-defining moment came last season.

"Do you know how many little kids in this country are going to be wearing No. 8 playing quarterback for the next 20 years?" Harbaugh told Jackson as they sat together on the sideline in Cincinnati.

"I can't wait to see it when I get older. But right now I gotta get to the Super Bowl," Jackson said.

Does Daylon Mack Release Highlight a Concerning Trend?

Daylon Mack's release after one season highlighted just how deep the Ravens' defensive line is, but The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec believes it's part of a concerning trend.

"After getting eventual Pro Bowl nose tackle Brandon Williams with a third-round pick in 2013, the Ravens used eight picks on interior defensive linemen from 2014 to 2019," Zrebiec wrote. "Only one of them, defensive end Brent Urban, a fourth-round pick in 2014, made it to the end of his rookie contract with the team, and he played just 41 games for the Ravens over parts of five seasons."

Zrebiec acknowledged that players like Timmy Jernigan (second round, 2014), Willie Henry (fourth round, 2016) and Chris Wormley (third round, 2017) were serviceable options, but there were also misses.

"[I]t's fair to say the Ravens didn't get a whole lot of bang for their buck, particularly with four of those seven getting taken on Day 2 of the draft, where team officials expect to find starters," Zrebiec added. "Then, for the fifth-round pick the Ravens spent last year on Mack, they got a grand total of one game and nine defensive snaps."

The Ravens used two more draft picks at the position this year with third-round pick Justin Madubuike and fifth-round pick Broderick Washington Jr. After adding veterans Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe in free agency, the rookies aren't slated for starting roles in their first year.

But beyond this year, there will be increased pressure for the young defensive linemen to perform.

"The Ravens waiving Mack emphasized the age on which the defensive line is depending," WNST's Luke Jones wrote. "With Calais Campbell, Williams, and Derek Wolfe all 30 or older, Madubuike and Washington need to offer dependable depth as well as long-term upside."

Defensive Backs Crucial to the Pass Rush

The Ravens' pass rush wasn't limited to the front-seven last season. The defensive backs were crucial to pressuring the quarterback and the metrics back it up. According to Football Outsiders, the Ravens defense had the third-highest pressure rate in the NFL (35 percent).

Behind the New England Patriots, the Ravens were one of the best performing teams even when the quarterback wasn't pressured.

"Strong coverage allows defenses to scheme pressure, but poor coverage often negates pressure against today's quick passing offenses," Jones wrote.

The Ravens were the most blitz-heavy team under Martindale last season. The defensive backs were involved creating pressure and keeping the quarterback in the pocket on coverage sacks.

With two All-Pro corners and a deep depth chart, there's a reason why pundits are so high on the secondary heading into this season.

"I'm really intrigued to see how [Martindale] employs their defensive backs," Zrebiec wrote. "... There are a lot of tools there. Martindale is a creative guy and I want to see how he uses them all."

Mark Andrews One of Ravens' 'Most Indispensable Players'

Little by little, it seems like Mark Andrews is getting the recognition he deserves as one of the NFL's best tight ends. Pro Football Focus continued their series of ranking the top players in each positional group, and Andrews landed at No. 5 for the tight ends.

"The ability to draw targets is a skill in itself, and no tight end drew targets on a higher percentage of their routes (32%) than Andrews this past season," PFF's Ben Linsey wrote." Part of that had to do with the fact that Baltimore lacked pass-catching weapons, but a lot of credit should go to Andrews for his ability to create open throws for Jackson and take advantage of the passes that came his way. His 2.89 receiving yards per route run ranked behind only George Kittle on the year, and he was dominant out of the slot."

Andrews elevated himself into the top tier of tight ends with a Pro Bowl season in 2019. He had a team-high 852 receiving yards and led all tight ends with 10 touchdowns.

Andrews, a Type-1 diabetic, said there was never a thought of opting out amid the coronavirus pandemic. He's confident in his body and determined to pick up from where he left off last season as one of Jackson's top targets.

"That is significant news for the Ravens as Andrews enters his third season as one of the organization's most indispensable players," Zrebiec wrote. "The Ravens saw what effect Andrews not being 100 percent had on the offense last year and revisiting that reality would make it extremely difficult for them to replicate last year's offensive success."

Quick Hits

  • Ronnie Stanley and Matthew Judon were ranked among the NFL's top potential free agents in 2021.
  • Fox Sports' Mark Schlereth believes the Ravens have the best defense in the AFC: "They match their defensive personnel and what they do so well with what they do on the offensive side."

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