Can the former MVP return to his former glory?
Daniel Racz @Danny___Dimes
When Lamar Jackson entered the 2018 NFL draft, the football community debated whether or not his style would translate to the league. Though some believed Lamar’s athleticism could best be utilized as a wide receiver, the Ravens ultimately traded up into the first round to take the quarterback with the 32nd pick.
In his first full season as the starter, Lamar took the league by storm and won the MVP trophy. Many expected Lamar to repeat his 2019 success, but he fell short of expectations. Lamar did not throw for as many touchdowns, and he caught covid during the season, which caused him to miss time. The Ravens should feature an improved offensive line and playmaker group, so a repeat MVP performance could be on the horizon for Lamar Jackson.
Offensive Line Help
Prior to the 2020 season, perennial all-pro guard Marshall Yanda retired, leaving a hole on the Ravens’ offensive line. During the year, all-pro pass protecting tackle Ronnie Stanley tore his ACL, forcing him to miss significant time. Stanley is expected to be ready for week one, so Lamar will have his left tackle back.
During the offseason, the Ravens made additions to their line. To replace Orlando Brown Jr, Baltimore signed ex-Steeler tackle Alejandro Villanueva. Villanueva has been a consistently above-average tackle since entering the league in 2015, grading out above 70 in five of his six seasons per PFF. The Ravens also drafted guard Ben Cleveland in the third round. Cleveland projects as a potential day one starter and is a depth piece at worst.
The narrative that Lamar Jackson is a poor passer is without much backing. Lamar operates out of a run-first offense, making him a low-volume passer. Equating Jackson’s lack of opportunity with a lack of talent is a disservice to his game. During the 2019 season, Jackson’s MVP campaign, he threw at a league-average/above-average level in terms of playerprofiler’s accuracy metrics. Jackson finished with a 70.9 true completion percentage and a 75.8 clean pocket completion percentage, both ranking within the top fifteen in the league. In 2020, Jackson finished with 74.9 and 76.9 in those identical metrics, suggesting that Lamar is in fact getting better as a thrower. For all we know, the best is yet to come.
Dynamic Passing Offense
Lamar will not have to shoulder the same load that he has done in previous years. The Baltimore front office made significant investments to overhaul their passing game. While Baltimore has previously invested in size-speed specimens or deep threats, they focused on acquiring route-running specialists with yac or contested-catch skills this offseason. The Ravens drafted Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman with the 27th pick in the draft and selected Tylan Wallace in the fourth round. The Ravens also signed Sammy Watkins, but the two rookie wideouts are the main cause for optimism. Wallace dominated for years at Oklahoma State and will give Lamar a separator on the outside. Bateman can win from anywhere on the field, and he boasts sub 4.40 speed. The new-look Ravens’ offense could transform into a more balanced attack, and Lamar Jackson could be the main beneficiary.