Could Lamar Jackson repeat as MVP? A progress report on the Ravens star, and what to expect in 2020 - Bill Barnwell
The 2020 outlook
If only because it’s virtually impossible to improve on an MVP campaign, history suggests that Jackson will decline some this season. He threw touchdowns on 9% of his pass attempts last season, which was just the third time a player has managed that over a full season since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. The other two guys are Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers, who were only able to do that once. It’s no criticism of Jackson to suggest that a 9% TD rate will be nearly impossible to replicate.
The players around Jackson have also changed. Hurst was traded to Atlanta for a second-round pick, depriving the Ravens of their third tight end and their best replacement for those times when breakout weapon Mark Andrews struggles to stay healthy. More significant was the retirement of star guard Marshal Yanda, who had made it to eight Pro Bowls across his final nine seasons in the league. The Ravens drafted Tyre Phillips and Ben Bredeson in the middle rounds and signed D.J. Fluker; while they’re one of the best teams in the league when it comes to drafting and developing interior linemen, it’s tough to imagine them getting Yanda-quality play at right guard this season.
With that being said, barring serious injury, Jackson isn’t going anywhere. He’s going to present the same problems for opposing defenses in the years to come, and the Ravens are committed to building their offense around his dizzying array of skills. Asking for another MVP performance in 2020 is likely too much, but he should remain one of the best quarterbacks in football.
As Baltimore Ravens aim to replace three offensive contributors, ‘opportunity looms’ for young players - Aaron Kasinitz
The Ravens traded Hurst in part because they had two top-notch tight ends in front of him on the depth chart in Nick Boyle and Mark Andrews. But the way Roman likes to organize his offense, with a reliance on tight ends and mixing and matching personnel, means Baltimore probably needs to keep a third player in Hurst’s old role.
And to replace the former first-round pick, the Ravens plans to let a trio of undrafted players duke it out.
Rookies Jacob Breeland (Oregon) and Eli Wolf (Georgia) join 2019 signee Charles Scarff (Delaware) in the competition.
“The opportunity looms, and it’s there for those guys,” Roman said. “Eli, Breeland and Charles, they’re all going to have an opportunity. It’s real.”
Breeland was on his way to a record-breaking season at Oregon last year before tearing his ACL in October, and even with plenty of talent, he’ll face an uphill climb to prove he can contribute on the heels of a major injury. Wolf never made significant dents on the stat sheet in college, but he earned praise from Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta as a potential hidden gem.
Scarff spent all last season on Baltimore’s practice squad, which doubles as a source of valuable experience and an indication that the team felt intrigued by his talent.
Undrafted, uproven players often enter training camp needing a little luck to make the regular-season roster, whether it be an injury to a veteran in their position group or a trade that opens room to shine or a timely performance in an exhibition game. For the Ravens’ three young tight ends, the door doesn’t need to be jarred open.
Said Roman: “They have a real, legitimate chance to make a positive impact on this team.”
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3. Ravens’ John Harbaugh
Regular season: 118-74 (.615)
Postseason: 10-7 (.588)
First, let’s review John Harbaugh’s resume, because it deserves praise. In his 12 seasons as the coach of the Ravens, he’s averaging 9.8 wins per season, has made the playoffs eight times, has won a Super Bowl, and just seized his first Coach of the Year award. But what solidified Harbaugh’s status as a top-three coach is his work over the past two seasons, specifically with Lamar Jackson.
First, Harbaugh made the switch from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson midway through last season. Despite their drastic difference in playing styles, the Ravens went 6-1 with Jackson at quarterback. Last offseason, the Ravens proceeded to make changes to their offense to cater it toward Jackson’s strengths. That might seem like an obvious thing to do, but in the NFL, it doesn’t always happen. Coaches are sometimes resistant to change. They’d prefer for their players fit their system rather than the tailoring the system around their players. Harbaugh, along with the rest of his coaching staff, built the perfect offense for Jackson’s undeniable talent, and was rewarded with an awesome 14-2 season that ended too soon in the playoffs. But with Jackson installed as the team’s long-term starter, the Ravens are set to build off that season and eventually take it a step further.
Harbaugh has also demonstrated a willingness to use analytics to make better in-game decisions. While many coaches in the NFL are resistant to change, Harbaugh has embraced change. The Ravens converted an NFL-high 17 fourth downs at an NFL-high success rate of 70.8 percent.
It’s Harbaugh’s willingness to evolve that makes me feel confident his placement on this list will age well. Not to mention, he’s going to be paired with Jackson for the next decade. The pair has already won 19 of its 22 regular-season games together. All that’s missing is success in January.