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Late for Work 8/23: Apparently, THIS Is the Year When Lamar Jackson Gets 'Figured Out'

QB Lamar Jackson

'A Lot' of People Around the NFL Think Lamar Jackson Will Get 'Figured Out'

There are a lot of hot takes out there about Lamar Jackson. And then there are just harebrained takes.

On Friday's edition of ESPN's "Get Up," Jeremy Fowler named Jackson as a player who might be under more pressure than people think this season.

"There are a lot of people around the league that I speak to that are talking a little slick," Fowler said. "They say this might be the year that everybody figures out Lamar Jackson. There's sort of that feeling right now. He can definitely prove that wrong, but I think there's a little bit of pressure on him right now."

Sure, Fowler put it out there, but he's just conveying what he's supposedly hearing from "a lot" of people around the league. Who are these people?

The face of fellow ESPN analyst Ryan Clark says it all, and other media members jumped in as well.

This is hardly the first time people have trumpeted that Jackson and the Ravens' revolutionary offense built around him have been "figured out." It seems to bubble to the surface every time either one stubs its toe.

It was trotted out when Jackson and the Ravens lost to the Los Angeles Chargers in the Wild-Card round during his rookie season. Jackson returned the following year to win the unanimous MVP and the Ravens scored the most points in the league. It was cited after the Ravens were knocked out of the 2019 playoffs by the Tennessee Titans, but Baltimore returned to the playoffs and won a playoff game the following year.

The league has had three years to study Jackson and he's still tearing it up. Jackson's stats dipped last season and the Ravens dropped all the way from first in the league in points scored to seventh. That's hardly being "figured out."

What will happen this year? It remains to be seen, but there definitely are folks yet again sleeping on the offense's progression and Jackson, who dropped from No. 1 to No. 24 on the NFL’s Top 100 Players of 2021, as voted on by players.

ESPN's Jeff Saturday, a former longtime NFL center, expressed concern about the Ravens' passing game considering wide receivers Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, Rashod Bateman and Sammy Watkins have all missed time, as well as Jackson's late start because of COVID-19.

"When you talk about the development of the passing game, you can't do it," Saturday said. "We would like to say that you can do it once the season begins, but it's very difficult because you shrink the reps significantly.

"This is the time to find that chemistry. To find out, 'Hey Lamar, when can you really fit that ball in? What's the route really going to look like?' All of those factors play a huge part in the development of this passing game. It's not going to happen. Basically, what you're going to see is what Baltimore did last season because they're not going to be able to progress this thing like they want."

At least Sam Acho has the Ravens' back.

Will Ravens Make a Move Following L.J. Fort's Injury?

According to reports, an MRI confirmed what the Ravens originally feared, that inside linebacker L.J. Fort suffered a torn ACL in Saturday's preseason win.

"That would sting the Ravens at a position where they're excited about the progress of Patrick] Queen and [Malik] Harrison but short on dependable reserves,” [The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker wrote. "[Fort is] the kind of glue piece who never garners much attention but helps a contender get through rough patches."

Queen and Harrison had already shown they were going to be the Ravens' starting duo inside, but with Fort out, the Ravens have just Chris Board, Kristian Welch and Otaro Alaka behind them, and Alaka has been sidelined for most of training camp.

So will the Ravens make a move to bring in another established veteran? Two names being floated around are former Seahawk K.J. Wright and former Steeler/Jet Avery Williamson.

The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec did say the injury opens the door for a possible outside addition, but he envisions a more modest move, if anything.

Baltimore Beatdown’s Joshua Reed agrees that the Ravens likely wouldn't turn to the veteran free-agent market besides a back-end move for someone not expected to make the 53-man roster. Fort's injury could have a ripple effect on the defensive rotation, however.

"Fort was their best-proven coverage linebacker last season. Even though Queen has shown improved instincts and ability in coverage, the Ravens will likely return to running more of the DIME package on defense, where they suddenly appear to have the safety depth to properly run it as opposed to last season," Reed wrote.

"An uptick in Chris Board's playing time could be a possibility as well in a similar [rotation] on defense. He'll also likely be an even bigger factor on special teams since Fort was a core member in that phase as well."

Ravens' Bubble Has a Dozen Players With Toughest Calls in the Secondary

This is the time of year when everybody has their roster card out, trying to figure out the Ravens' 53-man roster. Reminder to play the “You Pick the Team” contest!

Zrebiec posted his latest thoughts Sunday, breaking it down into three categories of players "looking good but not a lock," "up in the air" and "not looking good." While most roster decisions have been made, he has a dozen players in the "up in the air" category – or truly on the bubble.

Here are a few from the list, with Zrebiec's commentary:

WR Miles Boykin

"It's hard to know what to make of Boykin's status. He hasn't practiced since Aug. 2 because of a hamstring injury and he struggled through the few practices he did participate in. If the Ravens' top receivers are healthy or close to it, where does Boykin even fit? However, if he's jettisoned, the Ravens really don't have any size in their receiving corps. Boykin is also a good blocker and solid special-teams player."

OLB Jaylon Ferguson

"Ferguson, who has made little impact after being drafted in the third round in 2019, was pushed onto the bubble when the Ravens signed Justin Houston. He's flashed at times this summer and he's played extremely hard, but he seemingly has not done enough to make a significant move up the depth chart. Don't dismiss the fact that defensive coordinator Don 'Wink' Martindale is a big Ferguson backer."

S Ar'Darius Washington

"The undrafted free agent out of TCU has made plays throughout camp and has shown really good instincts. His size and lack of high-end speed still spur questions about how he'd fit. He's probably behind [Geno] Stone at this point and the Ravens don't have a whole lot more space in their defensive backfield. But Washington is a guy who they'll have to think long and hard about keeping."

Zrebiec believes the toughest decisions looming are in the secondary, where Washington and Stone are battling at safety and Chris Westry and Shaun Wade are competing at cornerback. All four are on Zrebiec's "bubble." So are running backs Justice Hill and Ty’Son Williams.

Baltimore will have to go from 85 players to 80 by 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

AFC North's Strength Rests on Steelers and Bengals

According to ESPN's Football Power Index (PFI) ratings of all 32 teams, the Ravens are projected as the league's fourth-best team. The rival Cleveland Browns come in sixth.

Yet despite that, and despite three teams going to the playoffs last year, the AFC North did not take the top spot in ESPN’s preseason division rankings. Instead, that went to the NFC West (Rams, 49ers, Seahawks, Cardinals).

"It wasn't particularly close for the top spot," ESPN's Dan Graziano wrote.

It's mostly about depth. While the NFC West doesn't have a single team ranked as high as the Ravens or Browns, it's expected to be competitive from top to bottom.

"This is the only division with two teams in the FPI top six, and neither of them is the defending division champion," Graziano wrote. "That would be the Steelers, who started last season 11-0 before running completely out of gas and losing to the Browns in the wild-card round. The division's overall ranking is dragged down by Cincinnati.

"But is there another division whose last-place team embarrassed its first-place team on Monday Night Football in Week 15? Is there another division whose third-ranked team – based on FPI – has a coach (Mike Tomlin) who has never had a losing season in 14 years and a quarterback who has never had a losing season in 17 (Ben Roethlisberger)? The Browns attacked their defensive deficiencies this offseason and could have as many as nine new starters on that side of the ball. The Ravens' Lamar Jackson was league MVP two seasons ago. The Bengals should get Joe Burrow back healthy and believe they've beefed up his supporting cast in his second season. And the Steelers? Well, they're the Steelers."

Quick Hits

  • While Jackson dropped in the Top 100 Players of 2021 list, cornerback Marlon Humphrey jumped from No. 86 to 38. Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs said Humphrey is "more physical than anybody on the field."

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