What Lamar Jackson's Critics Are Overlooking in the 'Figuring Him Out' Debate
Instead of debating whether opposing defenses will figure out Lamar Jackson this season, perhaps the question that should be posed is this: Will this be the season Jackson fully figures out how to prevent opposing defenses from figuring him out?
But no one seems to be asking that question. Go figure.
The fact is that Jackson has heard all the noise and he's putting in the work to improve aspects of his passing game, specifically being more consistent throwing outside the numbers and accuracy.
"The interesting thing is that the question [about defenses figuring him out] doesn't get asked of many other quarterbacks like it does of Jackson, as if Jackson's success is rooted in some sort of schematic shell game that'll be up once defensive coaches figure out which walnut the pea is under," Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer wrote. "And as if Jackson can't work, like other quarterbacks famously do, to stay ahead of all that.
"So if you want to say the league's figuring Jackson out, just know that he's figuring out a few things, too, and the guys in Baltimore are quietly excited. About where it might take him and about where it might take them."
Breer noted that Jackson has been working with Adam Dedeaux — a mechanics coach at 3DQB for a significant chunk of the NFL's starters — on his footwork and opening his hips to the target on his throws. The results have been apparent in practice.
"And like Jackson said, his spiral's tighter, and he's more accurate to parts of the field that he's never been before — something one Panthers staffer told me he noticed in saying Jackson's ball, that day, 'looked like it was coming out of a JUGS machine,'" Breer wrote.
"The truth, though, is that this is all a natural evolution for a quarterback committed to taking his game to another level. It's just that, for one reason or another, the outside focus on Jackson has been on some imaginary wall he's bound to hit, maybe because other mobile quarterbacks have hit one in the past, while he's focused on climbing over it."
At practice, Jackson has focused on staying patient in the pocket rather than tucking the ball and running it as soon as the opportunity presents itself. It's not that Jackson is going to stop doing what makes him special, but he knows he and the offense will be tougher to defend if his game continues to grow.
"I don't want to be too early [running]. I want to see things develop, see if I can hit my guy early in his route, or coming out of his route — first window, second window," Jackson said. "I wanted to be able to take it and see what works versus certain coverages, that's all it was. It wasn't me trying not to run or win from the pocket. I'm trying to win regardless, whether it's from the pocket or doing what I do."
The next step for Jackson is to take the progress he's made during the offseason into the regular season.
"Jackson's spent the whole offseason trying to catch up on what he hasn't been able to do yet," Breer wrote. "And while he's diplomatic in answering if he's been misperceived in the process — 'With the people that keep doubting me, I guess I am' — it's pretty clear he's heard things this offseason that he's gotten used to hearing his whole life.
"His response to it, over the next four months, and based on all the work he's done, should be interesting, with a little more to it than most people realize."
Reaction to Mark Andrews' Contract Extension
The Ravens haven't signed Jackson to a contract extension yet, but they secured his favorite target by agreeing with tight end Mark Andrews on a four-year extension worth a reported $56 million.
Andrews, who turned 26 yesterday, becomes the third-highest paid tight end in terms of yearly average salary ($14 million), only behind San Francisco's George Kittle ($15 million) and Kansas City's Travis Kelce ($14.3 million).
Here's what Ravens writers are saying about the extension:
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec: "Andrews is quarterback Lamar Jackson's favorite target and such a critical component of their offense. With Jackson under center, the Ravens count on their tight ends in the passing game and Andrews has been one of the most productive players in the league at the position over the past two years. Keeping him in the fold was extremely important and it allows the Ravens to turn their attention to a few other of their core young players who are nearing the end of their rookie contracts."
Russell Street Report's Chad Racine: "Mark Andrews is a cornerstone player for the Ravens. This is great news that it's getting done now. His annual average salary comes in just below George Kittle and Travis Kelce. Waiting until he would've become a free agent next season could have possibly put him out of the Ravens' price range."
Ravens Wire's Kevin Oestreicher: "This is a great deal for both Andrews and the Ravens. The fourth-year player gets the money he deserves while Baltimore is able to retain a great player while not paying him the most money at his position."
Baltimore Beatdown's Joshua Reed: "Many believed Lamar Jackson was at the top of the contract priority list and he most certainly still is, but it is nice to see the Ravens lock up his most trusted target for the foreseeable future. It's even nicer to see Andrews get what he deserves on his birthday of all days."
Report: Ravens Work Out Le'Veon Bell, Devonta Freeman After Justice Hill Suffers Season-Ending Injury
Pundits were already wondering if the Ravens were looking for more depth at running back after J.K. Dobbins suffered a season-ending knee injury, but their need at the position has significantly increased with Justice Hill reportedly suffering a torn Achilles during a recent practice that will put him out for the season.
With the season opener against the Las Vegas Raiders on "Monday Night Football" less than a week away, the Ravens are down to two healthy running backs on the roster: Gus Edwards and Ty'Son Williams.
In response, the Ravens reportedly worked out veteran running backs Le'Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman as well as Elijah Holyfield, a 2019 undrafted free agent who spent the past two seasons on the practice squads of the Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles.
Bell and Freeman are both former Pro Bowlers, but both have had drops in production in recent years.
"At 29 years old, a pairing with the run-heavy Ravens might help [Bell] rejuvenate career, provided he can rediscover his explosive style," NFL.com's Nick Shook wrote. "Freeman, on the other hand, has been on a steady decline for a few seasons. The former $41.25 million man in Atlanta was released after the 2019 season, a campaign in which he averaged a paltry 3.6 yards per carry. Freeman spent 2020 with the Giants, appearing in just five games as an in-season addition following Saquon Barkley's knee injury and failing to make much of an impact, recording an even-lower 3.2 yards per carry."