During the 2018 NFL Season, Baltimore Ravens Quarterback Lamar Jackson was 27th on the Rushing Leaders List, running for an astounding 695 yards. Extrapolate that number throughout the other nine games that Jackson didn’t start and you’re looking at a player who would have led the league in rushing, surpassing rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott by 164 yards (Jackson’s projection would have placed him at 1588 yards).
Of course, there is one apparent issue when comparing Elliott and Jackson: Elliott is a 228 lbs. power–back whose frame is designed to complement the Cowboys pristine o–line, whereas Jackson is a 212 lbs. (some would say scrawny) quarterback, whose body isn’t engineered to endure the same contact as Elliott.
So how can the Ravens possibly expect Jackson to withstand the pressure of a successful sophomore season when his playing style will almost inevitably lead to a season-ending (and possibly career–ending) injury?
The answer: Greg Roman, a revamped wide-receiver corps, and the cliché, “you learn from your mistakes.”
In January 2019 Roman was named Offensive Coordinator of the Ravens. The promotion seemed likely as Roman had worked wonders to elevate the Ravens rushing attack over the past two seasons. From the electric, Irish-dancing Alex Collins to power-back Gus ‘the Bus’ Edwards and now star quarterback Lamar Jackson, Roman has an innate sense for how to capitalize on the run game. In fact, for the last seven games of the season––when Roman was significantly aiding ex-Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg––the Ravens monopolized the run-game in the NFL.
Where does Lamar Jackson come into play? Jackson has a similar playing style to that of ex-quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and Roman was Kaepernick’s Offensive Coordinator when the 49ers made their Super Bowl Run (ironically against the Ravens) in 2012. So it’s fair to assume that Roman has a clever and strategic game plan for how to employ Jackson’s speed and agility. Add newly signed free agent, Mark Ingram, fourth-round draft pick and home-run hitter Justice Hill, and Gus “The Bus,” and you have a three-headed monster on the ground that should alleviate a lot of Jackson’s pressure, resulting in fewer hits and more time to pass in the pocket—all of which could lead to a deep postseason run.
Lamar Jackson passing in the pocket? It’s not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the former Heisman Trophy winner from Louisville. To illustrate, in the seven regular-season games Jackson started, he threw for 171 yards per game, which ranked among the bottom four-QBs in the league. The problem was that the Ravens had no true leader at WR: Michael Crabtree was “washed-up” and tied for third in drops, and John Brown fell off the radar after Week 7. As a result, rookie tight-end Mark Andrews evolved into Jackson’s primary target.
However, after Ravens GM Eric DeCosta made the wide-receiver position a priority in the 2019 NFL Draft, there was a glimmer of hope for Ravens fans. In the first round, the Ravens drafted Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, a 5’ 9”, 168 lbs. receiver who can flat out run. Brown poses a similar threat to that of Tyreek Hill, a player who can burn the defense for a touchdown at any moment. Defenses will need to draw up game-plans to counter Brown’s speed, which will free up more space for Jackson to throw or take-off if needed.
Miles Boykin is another draft acquisition who will pad Jackson’s passing stats and could be a great “security blanket.” When you think of Miles Boykin, think Anquan Boldin. A 6’ 4”, 220 lbs. versatile playmaker who has similar speed to Brown, but can also box-out corner-backs and stiff-arm safeties.
With Brown and Boykin, alongside fan-favorite tight-end Mark Andrews, Jackson will have more opportunities to throw and prove himself as a passer. Expect more darts like this 68-yard touchdown strike to Mark Andrews:
“You Learn From Your Mistakes”
And, of course, as Jackson embarks on his second year as a starter he will continue to adapt from the mistakes he made last year. There will surely be instances where he gets popped out-of-bounds after scrambling from the pocket, yet with less frequency. As Jackson continues to have more game-experience he will not only evolve as a player but as a decision maker. He’ll know when to take that home-run shot to Marquise Brown, or when to find Mark Andrews or Miles Boykin to pick up a first down. He’ll begin to understand, like Cam Newton has, that he cannot risk his body on every play––that he must stay in the pocket and rely on his arm.
For Jackson, it is only his second year. But new play-callers and play-makers will help ensure that Jackson has a successful second season and avoids the dreaded, “Sophomore Slump.”