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Late for Work 8/21: Why You’re Wrong to Doubt Lamar Jackson

082119_LFW

Why You’re ‘Wrong’ to Doubt Lamar Jackson

What if I told you Lamar Jackson was the best 21-year-old quarterback the NFL has ever seen?

NFL analytics authority Warren Sharp has the stats to back it up.

Heading into his second season and first as the starting quarterback, Jackson has garnered plenty of scrutiny from pundits and analysts who have questioned if his style is sustainable throughout a 16-game season.

Sharp dove into the stats to debunk that theory and found that Jackson actually performed as one of the best quarterbacks at his age.

Of 11 quarterbacks in NFL history to attempt at least 150 passes when they were 21 years old or younger, Jackson ranked first in passer rating, finishing ahead of Matthew Stafford, Alex Smith, Jameis Winston, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, and other notable names.

Jackson also ranked second in adjusted yards per attempt and second in completion rating, according to Sharp.

One of the biggest knocks against Jackson has been his size. At 6-foot-2, 212 pounds, he doesn't fit the mold of a prototypical pocket passer, but that hasn't hindered his ability to perform like one.

"Most are in the 6’4”, 225 lb range or bigger," Sharp wrote. "Most are pocket quarterbacks with big arms who throw the ball with touch and accuracy. Most were No. 1 overall draft picks. After all, those are the guys who get to start at such a young age. The guys who were groomed to pass downfield.

"You would think those quarterbacks could outperform Jackson as a passer. You are wrong about Jackson. And those well-groomed passers did not outperform Jackson – not even Jackson just as a passer."

When Sharp broadened the sample size, Jackson's rookie resume became even more impressive.

"Of 45 first-round quarterbacks drafted since Peyton Manning with at least 150 attempts their rookie season, Lamar Jackson posted a HIGHER YPA and a BETTER PASSER RATING in his rookie season than these QBs drafted above him over the last several years: Andrew Luck, Jared Goff, Sam Bradford, Carson Palmer, Peyton Manning, Carson Wentz, Mitchell Trubisky, and Darnold."

Sharp isn't proclaiming Jackson is going to be the next Peyton Manning or Tom Brady He doesn't need to be that type of quarterback for the Ravens' offense to succeed.

Remember, Jackson was thrust into the starting quarterback role midway through last season. The Ravens have had an entire offseason to tailor around Jackson's skillset with an offensive coordinator in Greg Roman who has a strong track record with dual-threat quarterbacks.

Sharp believes what Head Coach John Harbaugh and his coaching staff are doing should be applauded.

"The Ravens are doing what we know works," Sharp wrote. "They are adapting their offense to fit the skill set of their players. More teams should be doing just that. When teams do that with drop-back quarterbacks, tailoring plays to optimize their arm, you praise them. When the Ravens do it with a running quarterback like Jackson, you criticize them."

Notice how all of this hasn't even factored in Jackson's running ability, which might be his most dangerous asset.

“I’m highlighting Jackson as a passer, because that’s where you are wrong about him,” Sharp wrote. “Jackson as a runner? You’re 100% right. He’s electric. He’s dynamic. He’s incredible.”

NFL Network's Peter Schrager believes Jackson will have defensive coordinators up at night.

"Lamar has this flash to him, these highlights, these amazing different moves that when you see it, you know that there's potential of sizzle," Schrager said. "I don't know if he can throw 40 passes in a game and get the Ravens' win, but I do know that there is the threat of this happening every time he drops back, and that scares the rest of the NFL."

"Factor in his ability as a runner, and you may indeed have the best season for a 21-year-old quarterback in NFL history," USA Today's Doug Farrar wrote. "Factor in the in-season adjustments, and Sharp may be on to something.

"Jackson’s style is both old-school (predicated on a dominant rushing attack) and new-school (predicated on option, run-action, and play-action concepts). Whether he was the best 21-year-old quarterback ever brings up an interesting discussion. What we do know is that the 22-year-old version of Jackson will be one of the NFL’s most-watched players in 2019."

Get on the bandwagon while you can, because many believe it's about to take off.

"If you doubt him, you’ll probably be wrong about Jackson in 2019, too," Sharp added. "He’ll be just as dynamic a runner as you remembered him being last year. But he’s going to be a far better passer than what you were tricked into thinking he was last year.”

Willie Henry Primed for a Breakout Season

With the bulk of the Ravens' pass rush expected to come from the edge this season, don't sleep on the interior pressure.

SB Nation's Stephen White believes defensive end Willie Henry could be one of the sack leaders in Baltimore – if he can stay healthy.

"Henry can be explosive at times getting off the football," White wrote. “[add]He uses his hands well to keep blockers off of him, and he just has a knack for being able to escape off of blocks and get to the quarterback. He has a good feel for running pass-rush games, and he is cat-quick when he runs line stunts, which puts him in good position to be able to make blocks when it ends up being a passing play.

"I get the feeling watching him that if he could just play a full season, there is no telling how many sacks he could rack up because the guy just finds a way to get back there. Even when he doesn’t beat the blocker cleanly, Henry keeps working until somehow, someway it’s like he just appears in the quarterback’s face."

The best ability is availability and Henry was active for just three games last season. But when Henry is on the field, White sees a fourth-year player performing like a seasoned veteran.

"If you go back and watch his rookie film, you will see him manhandling offensive linemen on a regular basis," White wrote. "And I mean, he does have some good size on him at 6’3 and almost 290 pounds. Hell, I even saw him easily toss one of the best guards in the game, Kelechi Osemele, out of the way to make a tackle back in 2017. It remains to be seen if he will have that same kind of power after his injuries last season, but if he is anywhere near being as strong as he was, there won’t be any easy answers to how you are supposed to block this kid."

Henry posted a breakout season in 2017, totaling 3.5 sacks, 32 tackles, and five passes defensed in 14 games. He's eager to prove what he can contribute in a full 16-game season.

“I feel like I might have had, what, 30, 40 snaps last year? Not enough," Henry said. "I need to be out there. I love playing this sport so much, going out there and competing ... I’m just ready to get out there and play Raven football.”

PFF: Patrick Mekari Shining in the Preseason

Left guard remains one of the most interesting battles and biggest question marks heading into the regular season, and Patrick Mekari has put himself in the mix to win the starting job.

The undrafted rookie out of Cal has shined in two preseason games and ranks among the top pass-blocking rookie offensive linemen, according to Pro Football Focus.

“[H]e's catching the eye of his coaches," PFF's Ben Cooper wrote. "Jaguars veteran Datone Jones failed to earn a pass-rush 'win' off him in 10 matchups. Green Bay’s promising rookie Kingsley Keke suffered the same fate in seven faceoffs.

"Similar to Jenkins, the Ravens are experimenting with Mekari. He saw time as a tackle and a guard at California, allowing just two sacks across more than 1,200 pass-blocking snaps. His success was well-documented, as he notched the third-best pass-blocking grade (89.2) among Pac-12 tackles in 2018 and the fourth-best overall grade (80.2) — one spot behind none other than [Eagles tackle Andre] Dillard."

Mekari could have the best track to the Ravens’ 53-man roster of the undrafted rookies. The Ravens have previously found undrafted gems on the offensive line such as center Matt Skura and guard/tackle James Hurst.

Cooper noted that if Mekari doesn't make the Ravens' roster, he'll "almost certainly" land with another team.

“Perhaps there’s a chance Mekari sneaks his way onto the Ravens roster with continued — and unprecedented — success at his least-experienced position, an otherworldly feat at the NFL level for a rookie,” Cooper wrote.

Justin Tucker Featured on HBO's 'Real Sports'

Justin Tucker told reporters after Tuesday's joint practice that he hasn't hit his prime yet and the NFL's most accurate kicker of all-time hasn't limited his skillset to kicking through the uprights.

Tucker appeared on HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" and spoke about the pressures of kicking and his love for opera singing.

"When I'm back there in that moment, I'm the guy," Tucker told HBO's, Bernard Goldberg. "I'm going to make this kick, and nobody can take this moment away from me."

Added Head Coach John Harbaugh: "Most of the time, instead of calling the field goal [unit] to go out, I've got to call the field goal team to come back if I want to go for it. Because he'll be 10 or 15 yards on the field, and we'll be going for it an I'm like, 'Tuck, we're going for it.' He just assumes he's going to get the kick."

You can catch the entire episode here.

Quick Hits

  • After two weeks of the preseason, the Ravens landed at No. 12 on NFL.com’s latest power rankings.
  • Hungry for some football? M&T Bank Stadium will debut the Pratt Street Hoagie this season – a pit beef sandwich topped with house-made crab dip.
  • The Ravens' passing attack had a strong showing against the Eagles in joint practices yesterday. "The Ravens tight ends and overall offense had their way with the Eagles defense," Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz wrote. "Unofficially, Ravens quarterbacks — Jackson, Trace McSorley and Joe Callahan — were 15 of 18 with five touchdowns during the opening 7-on-7 period of the practice."

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