Ravens need more from Lamar Jackson, NFL Draft rumors and more

Lamar Jackson is already phenomenal, coming off being the NFL MVP. However, for the Baltimore Ravens to win a Super Bowl, he must improve again.

Lamar Jackson needs to follow in Patrick Mahomes’ footsteps.

The deeper reality is far more complex, but it boils down to a singular idea.

Jackson and Mahomes are the last two NFL MVPs. Two years ago, Mahomes captivated the NFL world, throwing for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns. He led the Kansas City Chiefs to the AFC’s top seed and was within a Dee Ford penalty from dethroning the New England Patriots.

Mahomes then returned in 2019 and saw his numbers decline. Missing two games with a dislocated kneecap and battling through season-long ankle issues, Mahomes barely eclipsed 4,000 yards passing and threw for only 24 touchdowns.

By any statistical measure, he regressed. Yet the film showed a different story. It showed Mahomes making more on-time plays. It showed a more intuitive understanding of the coverage. It showed a more assertive leader.

Ultimately, it showed Mahomes holding up the Lombardi Trophy.

Enter Jackson.

Jackson, 23, is phenomenal. The Baltimore Ravens’ All-Pro quarterback accounted for 43 total touchdowns and 4,333 yards in 15 regular-season games last season.

He led the Ravens to a 14-2 record, the league’s best. Baltimore was a heavy favorite to demolish the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Divisionals, only to be rudely upended.

Entering his third season, Jackson is tasked with winning the Super Bowl. Somehow, a quarterback without a playoff win has to win it all or have his campaign branded a failure. Thus is the NFL.

To become a champion, history suggests he needs to continue improving as a passer.

As a rookie, Jackson completed 58.2 percent of his attempts for 7.1 YPA. Last year, those numbers jumped to 66.1 percent and 7.8 YPA. His percentage of throws for touchdowns skyrocketed from 3.5 to 9.0, the league’s top number.

Regression says Jackson won’t rush for a quarterback-record 1,206 yards, or launch a touchdown pass on every tenth throw. Odds are significantly stacked against either being repeated, whether it be for injury, defensive gameplans or poor luck.

To combat this, Jackson needs to improve on the margins. Looking at his film, the former Heisman Trophy winner can be more accurate on throws outside the numbers and on the intermediate level. Jackson’s ability to understand defensive schemes also has room for improvement, which is true of any quarterback at this stage of his career.

The numbers are going to deflate, but his play doesn’t need to go with them. Mahomes was living proof of this last year. Jackson can do the same in 2020.

Much like the Chiefs, Baltimore is strong in most areas of the roster. Hell, there’s a strong case to be made the Ravens have the league’s best 53. Even with the retirement of future Hall of Fame guard Marshal Yanda, Baltimore has assembled an elite group, now bolstered with the offseason additions of defensive linemen Derek Wolfe and Calais Campbell.

At 23 years old, Jackson has already reached the pinnacle of individual achievement. He’s the MVP,  and the face of his franchise. He’s a household name even for those typically unaware of NFL stars.

Still, there is much to prove. It may seem unfair for an MVP to need improvement. Why can’t the rest of his team get better? Why don’t the receivers take on more questions after a substandard 2019?

Because the quarterback is the flashpoint of every team, and if he takes a quantum leap, the team will come along with him.

Last year, it was Mahomes largely left in the shadows as Jackson dazzled. Then January — and February — came, and Mahomes rose to the forefront.

Time for Jackson to follow Mahomes’ blueprint.

Power rankings

Top 10 perfect first-round NFL Draft fits 

1. Tua Tagovailoa, QB -> Miami Dolphins
2. Joe Burrow, QB -> Cincinnati Bengals
3. Andrew Thomas, LT -> Arizona Cardinals
4. Ceedee Lamb, WR -> New York Jets
5. Henry Ruggs III, WR -> Las Vegas Raiders
6. Jeffrey Okudah, CB -> Detroit Lions
7. Chase Young, EDGE -> Washington Redskins
8. Denzel Mims, WR -> Minnesota Vikings
9. Justin Jefferson, WR -> Philadelphia Eagles
10. Isaiah Simmons, LB -> New York Giants

Quotable

“I have talked to Logan’s representation there. I would say there’s nothing imminent in the works. We have touched base with Clowney’s representation too, and just … trying to navigate where that one might be.”

– Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson on Jadeveon Clowney’s continued free agency

Clowney remains the top free agent available, and one who must be disappointed at his market. This time last year, Clowney was on the franchise tag and a league source told FanSided he was looking for $20 million per year. Obviously, he and the Texans never made a deal, and he was dealt in the summer to the Seattle Seahawks for a third-round pick.

Now, Clowney is unsigned two weeks into free agency. The Titans would be an ideal landing spot considering the talent around him, but will Clowney finally accept a deal worth far less than his own perceived value?

Clowney’s best bet for a mega deal? Sign a one-year pact, play an injury-free season with great production, and hit the market in 2021 when the salary cap is projected to explode under the new CBA.

Podcast

Random stat

The San Francisco 49ers won the NFC West every year from 1986-97, save for 1996. Somehow, the second-year Carolina Panthers were the party-crashers led by the head coach-quarterback combo of Dom Capers and Kerry Collins.

The Panthers toppled the Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys before falling to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.

As for San Francisco, it was the longest run of consecutive division titles in the Super Bowl era until the current streak of 11 by the New England Patriots.

Info learned this week

1. Winston, Newton remain on the market

It’s likely Jameis Winston and Cam Newton aren’t signed prior to the NFL Draft.

While anything is possible, Winston and Newton might be forced to be without employment for at least the next three weeks. Why? Because front offices will want to go through the draft, see what their quarterback room looks like afterwards, assess their team depth chart and then figure out if signing a veteran signal-caller is the best use of cap space.

Additionally, it’s a bear market for both.

The Los Angeles Chargers make sense considering they have Tyrod Taylor and little else, but they seem likely to draft a quarterback in the first round. Beyond Los Angeles, there’s nowhere for either to start.

In Winston’s case, threw for more than 5,000 yards last year but infamously tossed 30 interceptions. His former team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, made little effort to keep him. His best-case scenario is latching on with a team as a high-priced backup, eventually getting a chance to start and proving his worth on a one-year deal.

As for Newton, he’s coming off a significant right-shoulder surgery and then missed the final 14 games of last year with a foot injury. He’s 31 years old and has been trending downward since being the NFL MVP in 2015. There’s a chance he can bounce back and enjoy more terrific football. There’s an equally real chance he’s toast.

Again, if the price is right perhaps a deal gets done prior to the draft, but smart money says those moves will come when teams have more certainty.

2. Jaguars’ Ngakoue will be next big trade piece

The Jaguars know they need to move edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue before the draft.

Look for a move in the next few weeks, with Jacksonville actively fielding offers. This end stage has long been coming in the relationship, per multiple sources.

The initial discord began last summer when Ngakoue wanted a long-term deal but was rebuffed by the Jaguars’ front office. Ngakoue played the season out despite nagging injuries, but once it concluded, chances of him returning to Jacksonville were close to zero percent.

So what can the Jaguars fetch for their 24-year-old star? Here’s what I wrote back in January:

Here are the numbers on Dee Ford, Frank Clark and Jadeveon Clowney previous to this season:

  • Clark: 25 years old, 2 missed games, 35 sacks
    Ford: 27 years old, 13 missed games, 30.5 sacks
    Clowney: 25 years old, 18 missed games, 29 sacks

In four years, Ngakoue totaled 37.5 sacks and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2017. Last season, the D.C. native had eight sacks in 15 games.

While Clark and Clowney are significantly better against the run compared to Ngakoue and Ford, the comparisons suggest Ngakoue could bring back a first-round pick. If the Jaguars were to get that, they’d have three first-round choices come April.

This all remains true. If Jacksonville doesn’t get a first-round pick for Ngakoue, it’s bad trade from its perspective.

3. New uniforms will come fast and furious this month

Almost a fourth of the league’s teams will be getting new looks this offseason. Keep an eye out.

On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are unveiling their new look. Later in April, the Los Angeles Chargers, New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons are slated to release new duds before the NFL Draft. The Los Angeles Rams already showed off their new logo, and have uniforms coming as well. Finally, the Indianapolis Colts also have minor updates coming.

As somewhat of a uniform nerd, this is both exciting and borderline unprecedented. There have been years where we’ve had a ton of new looks, but that’s typically been because of the Color Rush or the league’s 75th anniversary in 1994. Having seven teams change their branding is an incredible amount in a single offseason.

4. Tua gets more good news on the medical front

On March 9, former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was told he had medical clearance to have full workouts. Now, he’s gotten the best news. His repaired hip — the broken, dislocated hip from November — has fully healed. He’s full-go heading into the NFL Draft.

Initially, his pro day was scheduled for April 9, although it has been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak. Had he been able to throw, it would have been the biggest spectacle of the draft process with everyone wanting to see how he looks after such a serious injury.

With little more than two weeks until the Bengals go on the clock, Tagovailoa is clearly a candidate to be selected in the top five. His college tape is terrific, the numbers sublime and the character impeccable. The only questions are health, and how much did he benefit from playing on a virtual all-star team?

Obviously, those answers will come in time. What we do know? Tagovailoa has been deemed healthy, and now we get to see which general manager stakes his career on the tantalizing youngster come April 23.

5. NFL Draft will have increasingly unique feel, look after latest memo

The league has told teams they will either draft from their residences or their facilities.

A memo from the Commissioner’s office went out to the 32 clubs stating there are two options the league is considering for the draft. Either they draft from the team facilities or personal residences.

This comes as no surprise considering the state of the country, but it does add a fascination to one of the league’s biggest events. Come April 23, the league will start a three-day process of determining the futures of more than 250 football players, and some teams may be doing so essentially from their living rooms.

History lesson

In 1999, the New Orleans Saints traded their entire draft class to the Redskins for the right to select University of Texas running back Ricky Williams.

New Orleans, convinced Williams could be the start of a good run in the Big Easy, made arguably the most absurd trade in NFL history.

Somehow, the trade ended up badly for both sides. Washington, despite having an entire second draft class, failed to become a perennial power. In fact, the most notable player it drafted with those picks was future Hall of Famer cornerback Champ Bailey, who the Redskins traded in the prime of his career for running back Clinton Portis.

Parting shot

Politics and sports columns don’t mix, until they do.

On Saturday, President Trump met via teleconference with multiple commissioners of sports leagues, including NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Afterwards, reports had the president stating his belief the league would likely be able to play a full season starting at its normal September time.

It’s unclear whether Trump believes this because of medical personnel giving him such a timeline, or if it’s wishful thought.

With the coronavirus becoming more deadly by the hour in the United States, the future course of this pandemic is impossible to know. With the NFL season more than five months away, it is anybody’s guess whether games will be played come the second weekend of September.

Maybe Trump is right. For football fans, that would be welcome news amidst of sea of very unpleasant stories in recent months.

The reality is much like the reaction to COVID-19, sports will largely be determined by state policy. For example, Missouri or Florida might be open to the idea of full stadiums come autumn or even late summer, but what happens if California and New York are not?

It’s one of many, many scenarios and questions.

Ultimately, though, nobody can be sure what happens next, let alone months from now.

We’ll wait.

We’ll see.

We’ll hope for the best.

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