Mailbag: Is Lamar Jackson Running Too Much?

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Mink: Lamar Jackson had 21 rushing attempts in the 34-31 overtime win over the Vikings. That was by far the most he's had this season (previous high was 16 vs. the Chiefs … another win). Every time Lamar runs a lot in a game, the "sustainability" debate fires up again. Look, the Ravens are going to do whatever it takes to win a game. If that means putting the rock in Lamar's hands 21 times, then that's what they'll do.

It was just a week ago when there were widespread complaints about the running backs not being good enough and that Lamar was the only one able to run the ball. Now, after one game, we're going to complain that the running backs aren't getting it enough? Jackson is one of the best runners in the NFL. He has nearly as many rushing yards over expectation (231) as star Colts running back Jonathan Taylor, per ESPN's Bill Barnwell.

Overall, the Ravens don't want to put a huge number of runs on Jackson's plate. And the type of runs matters. Are they called runs or are they scrambles? Sometimes, this is Jackson tucking and running himself when he doesn't see much open (as was the case many times in the first half against the Vikings).

In 2019, when Jackson was the MVP, he averaged 11.7 carries per game. This year, he's averaging 12.1. So not a big difference at all. Even though Jackson is leading the ground attack without J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, Baltimore is just throwing the ball more than before to make up for the losses.

Now Jackson still should be aware of trying to avoid big hits, which he is. He often gives himself up or dives to the turf to avoid shoulder blows. Does he take some bad ones sometimes? Yes. But the Ravens aren't going to take away one of his greatest attributes because they're scared.

Downing: Replacing DeShon Elliott in this defense won't be easy. Not only does he bring an emotional edge to the group, but he's arguably been one of the best Ravens defenders this season. The Ravens will likely use a group effort to replace him after the season-ending injury.

Rookie Brandon Stephens is the natural candidate to step into a more significant role, just like he did earlier this season with Elliott sidelined. That's a tall order for a third-round pick who converted from cornerback to safety this offseason (and from running back before that), so Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale may get creative with some of the schemes he deploys. The Ravens could also turn to veteran Jimmy Smith in certain packages, as he's a natural candidate to match up against talented tight ends. Geno Stone is also likely to see an uptick in his playing time, but Stephens and Smith are more likely to do the heavy lifting based on what we've seen earlier this season.

Mink: I've thought about this for my own fantasy team, which has Marquise "Hollywood" Brown as a starting wideout (and Lamar and Mark Andrews, btw). I've been debating whether to pick up Rashod Bateman because he clearly has the talent to be a very productive target (both in real football and fantasy).

On one hand, I do think Sammy Watkins' return will take away some of Bateman's targets (he's had 20 through his first three games). Bateman has seamlessly stepped into the chain-moving role that Watkins was handling so well before his hamstring injury and I expect Watkins will take some of those duties back.

On the other hand, what does that open up Bateman to do? Could he play more in the slot and get some mismatches on deeper routes over the middle of the field? Bateman hasn't hit a long play or touchdown yet. I think those are coming and would lead to more fantasy points than the solid outputs he's had so far, even if there are fewer targets.

Downing: Peyton Hillis, that's a name I haven't heard in about 10 years. Nice reference, but I wouldn't really expect that. Hillis was a big running back, but Ricard is a different beast as a 300-plus pound converted defensive lineman.

There's no doubt that he's a handful to bring down when he gets the ball in space, but I wouldn't count on the Ravens lining him up in a single-back set and giving him the ball. Ricard is the best in the league at what he does — clear holes for the running game. It's great to see him bulldoze defenders in the secondary, but that's not going to become something that happens 15-20 times a game.

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