This offseason the Baltimore Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta and the rest of the front office made it their mission to surround their unanimous league MVP-winning quarterback, Lamar Jackson, with more weapons in the passing game.
One of those new targets is veteran wide receiver Sammy Watkins who spent the previous three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs where he played in back-to-back Super Bowls and propelled them to victory in the 2019 title game.
That year it was veteran safety Jimmie Ward and the San Francisco 49ers who Watkins played an integral role in defeating in Super Bowl 54 (LIV). He finished with five catches for 98 receiving yards and made one of the biggest plays in one of the biggest moments of the game.
In an interview that he did with Grant Cohn of Sports Illustrated, Ward gave Watkins some lofty and completely unsolicited praise.
“Watkins just isn’t talked about because he has been hurt, but I like Sammy,” said Ward. “I feel like he’s a No. 1 receiver. I feel like he’s the reason (the Chiefs) won a Super Bowl.
Ward acknowledged that Kansas City’s top two targets, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight Travis Kelce, outshine the rest of the pass-catchers on the roster. However, he believes that Watkins is an unheralded stud in his own right with a nice blend of athletic intangibles and the unselfish mindset of a champion.
“Sammy is aggressive, tall, big catch radius — he’s an athlete,” said Ward. “He took a paycut for two years. I was pissed. He went to the Ravens though. Cool. Give ‘em hell over there.”
I was completely on board with Ward’s way of thinking about Watkins being underrated and having No. 1 receiver potential when healthy but he lost me when he gave his thoughts on the Ravens’ offense, how they can be beaten, and what attracted Watkins to Baltimore.
“The offense we ran (with Colin Kaepernick), that’s what Baltimore is running right now (with offensive coordinator Greg Roman),” said Ward. “That’s why I understand when you play Baltimore, you have to stop that run. And they built their defense up. So if guys ever start retiring on Baltimore’s defense, their offense will fall apart.”
“If you stop that run from Baltimore and force Lamar Jackson to throw the ball and their defense isn’t up to par, you can beat them. Because they kind of have the same system the 49ers had back in 2011 and 2012. They use the tight ends heavy. They get most of the balls. I don’t even know why Sammy Watkins went over there. Obviously, he’s not interested in catching a bunch of balls.”
Ward is correct in drawing similarities between the Kaepernick-led 49ers and the Jackson-led Ravens because Greg Roman was the play-caller and architect of both offenses. He loves running the ball as well as heavily utilizing the tight end position, but the biggest key difference is the quarterback under center.
While both Kaepernick and Jackson are two of the most dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks to grace the gridiron at the NFL level, the Ravens’ franchise signal-caller is the cream of the crop with more dimensions to his game both as a runner and a passer.
In addition to blazing speed, Jackson’s elusiveness, lateral agility, short-area quickness, and spatial awareness are already legendary. Kaepernick may have had a stronger arm in his early days but Jackson has already proved he can be equally dangerous throwing from the pocket as a passer as he is making defenders miss in the open field as a ball carrier.
Also stopping the Ravens from running the ball as effectively and dominantly as they have since Jackson became the starter is easier said than done. The 49ers came to Baltimore in Week 13 of the 2019 season, allowing 178 yards and a touchdown on the ground in a 20-17 road defeat.
If Ward thinks the Ravens are just going watch their defense age and deteriorate and not replenish or invest more resources in it before it becomes a liability, he’s sadly mistaken. They are not a team made up of coaches, executives, scouts, and players that rest on their laurels and don’t look for ways to improve each offseason.
A strong or at least stout defense will always be the backbone of any Ravens team no matter how prolific and potent the offense is any given year. They will continue to build through the draft and sign veteran free agents at key positions on both sides of the ball like they did with Watkins this year.