This week, I'm going to check with 2018 NFL draft quarterbacks for progress reports for the first two seasons. Five quarterbacks were called up in the first round of that year, and I'm going to take a detailed look at Lamar Jackson (Tuesday), Josh Allen (Wednesday), Baker Mayfield (Thursday) and Sam Darnold (Friday). Excuse me, Josh Rosen; I will come to you another time.
Let's start with the guy who made it to the top of the class. Jackson only joined the starting lineup in 2018 after Joe Flacco was hurt but he instantly transformed the crows. They went 6-1 after he took charge and set up their new defender for a 10-6 record and AFC North title. After they disappointed home playoff loss to the ChargersHowever, there were suggestions that the league might have discovered Jackson and Baltimore's offensive attack.
Well, all Jackson did in his first year as a full-time starter was taking the Ravens to the best football record and win the league MVP. Obviously, there is a lot to like about one of the most exciting players in the league after two years, but let's see how and why he emerged as one of the most productive players in all of football. I will also address why he struggled in the postseason and whether other teams will be able to understand what Tennessee did to slow Jackson in their second consecutive playoff loss at home.
Jackson's 2019 under review
When that class of quarterback arrived, I wrote a two-part series detailing how difficult it is to assess quarterbacks and why there was little reason to trust the league to get it right this time. I also mentioned that, regardless of who each team drew up, the most important thing for any QB perspective may depend on what the organization does to adjust to the new caller.
Enter Lamar Jackson. Twenty-eight different NFL organizations took the opportunity to elect the winner of the Heisman Trophy, including the Ravens themselves, who signed a tight contract. Hayden Hurst at number 25, before going up to grab Jackson with the final choice of the first round. Four quarterbacks were chosen before the Louisville interlocutor, who was the subject of conversations before the draft suggesting that he would increase his chances of success as a professional. in moving to the wide receiver. For whatever happens from now on, Jackson was the league's MVP in his first full season as a starter. Most of the league has clearly lost its assessment of its professional potential.
Jackson was always been a more promising quarterback prospect than detractors have suggested, but the biggest thing the skeptics missed was that they underestimated the will of the organization that recruited him. Baltimore shaped his offense around his talents. Paid a prize for players like tight end Nick Boyle and running back Mark Ingram, the two movements I didn't like at the time before they made clear sense on the pitch.
Most crucially, the Ravens took Jackson out of the offense he carried out in Louisville. In college, he was a pocket passer in a professional attack, first to pass, who happened to be the most productive runner in football. As a professional, John Harbaugh's team took him on an offense that emphasizes his unique skills as a runner while using this threat to create plays in the game that passes. Jackson said his performance against dolphins in week 1 of last season it wasn't bad for a run back. Unlike the other quarterbacks in his draft class, it is already clear that he is a great quarterback.
After hiring Greg Roman as an offensive assistant in 2017 and promoting him as an offensive coordinator before the 2019 season, the Ravens inserted Jackson into a modernized version of the same attack Colin Kaepernick ran in San Francisco and Tyrod Taylor used in Buffalo. The results were spectacular. Jackson finished third in the league last season in the passer rank and fourth in net yards adjusted by attempt. He didn't throw the ball a ton, as he finished with 401 attempts in 15 games, but he was an incredibly efficient passer.
That in itself would be excellent, but Jackson was simultaneously an incredible runner, accumulating 1,206 rushed yards, averaging almost 7 yards per transport. He recorded the highest first drop rate (39.8%) for any player with at least 150 loads since 2001, which is where ESPN data ends. He produced more points expected as a runner than any race in the league. You don't need me to tell you that he was great, which is why it will be more about how and why Jackson and the Ravens made it happen.
Roman incorporated some of the same concepts he performed with Kaepernick and Taylor on his previous stops for Jackson, but there is more movement in this offense than in those other attacks. It is possible that Roman learned this from the Rams, who used heavy doses of jet motion in their zone attack to create opportunities for Todd Gurley. The Ravens movement helps to create opportunities for blocking and forces opposing defenses in tough races fits quickly. The Rams do not have a threat of running in the quarterback, but when Baltimore combines these heavy doses of movement with Jackson, the offense gains a numerical advantage in the racing game. When you have more blockers and possible runners than defenders on one side of the field, the result is typically a great move.
Going one step further, the threat from Jackson, Ingram and the rest of this racing game also determines how opposing defenses try to stop the Ravens' game. Up front, in addition to defenses being defeated by a physical attack, the possibility of Jackson escaping from his pocket for easy yards makes leading defenders honor their commitments. This prevents them from cheating on approval opportunities, which helps to maintain pressure from the quarterback.
On the roof, teams cannot count on defending the race against the Ravens with a seven-man box, forcing them to push one of their safety pieces and preventing them from throwing many covers from two depths. Defenders also do not want to play man-to-man cover and assign a defender to try to explain Jackson, because if the defender defeats this man as a fighter, there will be no one left to help. Usually, he is seeing cover 1 or, more often, cover 3.
Naturally, the Baltimore pass game is built around the Cover 3 attack. His most common concepts of deep passes were the two from Cover 3-batters. One was the bottom, with a wide receiver executing a displacement route and one of the tight ends working in the field and making an exit in the space unoccupied by that displacement route. The other was all verts, with Ravens sending up to five receivers on straight vertical routes to reduce coverage of the zone.
Jackson was a good passer of the field in Louisville and he excelled at these shots in 2019. He scored 117.9 when he played deep in 2019, the fourth best mark in the league. The Ravens emphasized adding speed during the 2019 off-season, adding wide receivers Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin and Seth Roberts, but Brown struggled to stay healthy during his debut season after a two-touchdown debut. If Brown steps forward and stays on the pitch in 2020, Jackson could be even more of a threat as a deep passer.
Another element of Jackson's college game that has extended to professionals is his ability to separate teams when he has an empty backfield. Only three teams were empty more often than the Ravens did last season, and Jackson used the space to dominate. He rated the best passers in the league (123.8) and QBR (92.2) in empty sets and then got an average of 11.1 yards per transport when he decided to keep the ball.
Patrick Mahomes, Terrell Owens and other athletes on the cover of Madden send their congratulations to Lamar Jackson for being the cover of this year's edition.
Accuracy was my biggest concern for Jackson leaving college due to his background, but that was not a problem in 2019. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he was expected to complete 65.6% of his passes. Instead, he was able to complete 66.1% of his bids. Only 17.4% of their bids were determined to be off target, which is in line with the league average of 17.7%. After weighing its air yards, ESPN Stats & Info obtained Jackson's adjusted completion percentage of 71.8%, ranked 10th in the league. If that will be the weakest part of the game, it is a great sign for the 23-year-old's future.
In fact, we don't talk enough about Jackson's intelligence. His decision-making is generally excellent, especially for a quarterback so early in his career. He only launched interceptions on 1.6% of his passes; the only player to have a lower interception rate while playing more passes than Jackson in the first two seasons of NFL history is Nick Foles, who had a season of 27 TD and two INTs in 2013. Jackson is clearly comfortable working on his progression in his pocket and does not panic under pressure. Some athletic interlocutors rely on their ability to escape pressure with their feet to the point of becoming a debilitating crutch for their development; Jackson is not one of them.
For a defender who runs as often as Jackson, he also did an excellent job of avoiding big hits. When I checked in to Jackson last October, I found out that he was only knocked down by an opposing player in about half of his hurried attempts. He almost never slips, but he is amazing at going out of bounds and often gives up before taking the risk of getting shot in the middle of the field. This is a skill, especially in light of how Andrew Luck and current backup of the Ravens Robert Griffin had their careers changed by receiving so many great successes at the beginning of their careers.
The Ravens took Jackson's skills and armed them in the context of the crime. As one of the league's most analytical-friendly organizations, Harbaugh & Co. was already comfortable making the fourth and short in areas of the field where other teams were not. Using Jackson as part of the devastating racing game forces defenders to stop the race on an extra descent, which can make all the difference. Baltimore was 8-by-9 in fourth place, 2 yards or less less last season, producing more than half a win on ESPN's expected win model in the process.
Was Jackson's MVP season a flash in the pan?
Defenders who can cope face arguments that their success will be fleeting, due to the shorter high-profile careers of players like Griffin and Kaepernick. These comparisons are not realistic or fair, as Griffin suffered a severe knee injury at the end of his first season and Kaepernick was essentially kicked out of the league as a result of his fight against systemic racism, but they exist.
To begin with, Jackson has already overcome the first of these arguments, as some thought the Chargers discovered the Ravens' offense when they forced the rookie into a grim performance during his victory in the round of wild cards from 23 to 17 during the 2018 postseason. This defensive model was clearly not sustainable – Jackson responded 14-2 and won the league MVP.
The Chargers were forced by injuries to use defensive defenders as defenders, which served as a good counter for Jackson's speed, but Baltimore's moves during the off-season – that is, the addition of Ingram – prevented the teams from running out with speed to prevent a force run. games. Crows were also caught caught played with their divisions and offensive line formations, problems that were alleviated with more practice time in a scheme that they actually adopted in the middle of the 2018 season.
One thing that came up, however, is the idea that the teams would do better against the Ravens after seeing Jackson and that attack for the second time. Indeed, the Chargers lost 22-10 and allowed Jackson & Co. to run 159 yards during the 2018 regular season, but did much better in a second round during the playoffs. Is there any evidence that defenses discover Jackson and that offense with more repetition?
I am skeptical. For the record of victories and defeats, you will be able to defend, given that Jackson is 16-2 when playing for the first time in the opposing defense and 3-3 in his resellers, but the attack is not the problem. Baltimore averaged 30 points per game in Jackson's first game against opponents and 29 points per game in rematch.
The evidence that teams are able to discover it seems mixed; for every game like losing a wild card to the Chargers, there's an example like the Browns, who faced Jackson in a 2018 loss and then kept the Ravens at 25 points in one 40-25 win in week 4 of last season. In his third and final match against the Browns, whatever Cleveland's knowledge of Jackson did not help, as he made 20 of 31 passes for 238 yards and three points by adding 103 yards on the ground. Victory 31-15 last December. We don't have enough evidence to prove that this is a significant problem, and if you want to think about the past, you can ask Packers fans what Kaepernick played several games against Green Bay. Ten of Baltimore's 16 games in 2020 are against teams that have already faced Jackson, so we'll have more information on whether that matters.
What about the teams that advance and make Jackson one-dimensional? Is he exposed as a passerby when the Ravens stay behind and are forced to play? You could argue that it happened in the two playoff losses, although I have more to say about this Titans game in a minute. Does it make sense that defenders lose some effectiveness when they are forced to pass, but is this confirmed by evidence?
It is true that Jackson played worse when he knocked out, but there is no significant difference. According to the divisions of the regular season in Pro Football Reference, he posted a rating of 108.6 on passers when his team led, dropping to 101.0 at the end. If we include losses in the playoffs, Jackson's passer-by rating drops to 91.6 when the Ravens are behind, which is the 17th best football score since early 2018. It is ahead of players like Tom Brady (89.8), Philip Rivers (89.7) and Jared Goff (87.5), so it's not terrible.
This was not an issue for other running quarterbacks. Kaepernick, for example, had a passer score of 92.5 when the 49ers were in the lead and only dropped to 86.0 when they were behind. The PFR only had these divisions until 1994, but we can also find defenders from the past who had much more significant dropouts. In the last five years of his career with a dominant team of 49 players, Steve YoungThe rating of passers fell from 113.7, leading to 93.2 when the Niners were behind.
During a much more significant part of his career, Brett Favre would be the final example. As of 1994, the legendary Packers quarterback achieved a score of 112.1, while his team led. Once Favre fell behind, his passer rank dropped to 72.0, a difference of more than 40 points! If Favre could make this work and still have a career in the Hall of Fame, Jackson should be fine.
In an obvious passing situation like the third and long, Jackson has also been doing well. He posted a passer rating of 82.6 on the third down, with 8 or more yards, which is just above the league average of 82.0. When you use the QBR, which influences your ability to shuffle in these situations, Jackson's 36.6 QBR in the third and long is the seventh best brand in football since the beginning of 2018.
Can teams copy the Titans' playoff formula?
Since Jackson took over as the starter in Week 11 of 2018, no team has won more games in the regular season (19) or averaged more points per game (30.7) than Baltimore. During that period, he ranks third in the QBR at 70.2. Your two-year regular season resume is primitive.
In the playoffs, the Jackson Ravens are 0-2. Your CBR is 20.7. They lost two playoff games at home as favorites, after losing only one of those games in the franchise's history before it arrived. I don't particularly believe in the idea that there is anything different about playoff football, but they laid two eggs in Jackson's two postseason matches. I talked about the Chargers game and how the teams weren't able to emulate their 2018 plan earlier, but will the teams be able to copy the Titans' formula by defeating the Ravens?
Yes and no. There are elements of what the Titans did that you will see teams try to be part of their toolbox against Baltimore, but there were also parts of that game that were completely unsustainable. I mentioned the Ravens' dominance in fourth place at the beginning of the play; they went 0 to 4 against the Titans, including a pair of quarter races and 1 stacked. Baltimore scored a touchdown in four trips to the red zone, while the Titans went 3 to 3, making it third and goal each time. After playing 10 passes throughout the season, the Ravens' recipients played four passes from Jackson in one night. They had six units of 55 yards or more and produced only 13 points.
Opposing teams cannot count on this happening every week against the Ravens in 2020, but there are ideas they can take and try to use. An example, how Cody Alexander noted in his detailing of the game, was that the Titans were able to successfully use a hedge concept known as Invert 2 or Inverted Tampa to obtain a numerical advantage.
Invert 2 appeared a lot in the league at the beginning of the season, with limited success. You are probably familiar with the classic Tampa 2 cover coating that Buccaneers used under Tony Dungy, with two sides on the side and two security guards dividing the deep halves of the field. Invert 2 turns those responsibilities on, with cornerbacks taking the two halves deep and security guards becoming defenders. This coverage coverage allowed the Titans to push their security guards into the area and place eight or nine defenders in the area, reducing the advantage of Baltimore's numbers, while maintaining deep defenders for when the Ravens tried to attack the field.
Tennessee also managed to make its defense look like Cape 3 before the snap before moving to Invert 2 after the snap, and although it did not confuse Jackson regularly, the Ravens were not able to consistently take advantage of the weakest points in that roof. The Titans did not use Invert 2 a ton, but were brave enough to use the men's cover more often than most teams against Baltimore. The goal was to flood the area with defenders and take advantage of numbers in the racing game and in the middle of the field for Jackson as a passer.
Titans' security guards played a big role in the victory, and there aren't many teams with the kind of security combination that can do what Kevin Byard and Kenny Vaccaro did. They were viable and significant members of Tennessee's countryside attacks and were able to reliably track Baltimore ball carriers and attack them without much wasted movement. With just a few exceptions, the Titans were not mistaken, leaving a gap discovered, a problem even the Patriots found it when they faced Baltimore during the regular season. Byard and Vaccaro had an interception.
Doug Kezirian, Anita Marks and Joe Fortenbaugh are on top of Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens winning it all this season.
The only other team that had the kind of safety move against the Ravens in 2019 was the Bills, which kept the Ravens at 3.6 yards per transport in one match. Loss from December 24 to 17. Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde he seemed to be in the right place at the right time with every blink of an eye, even though Poyer was caught looking at the backfield in Hayden Hurst's 61-yard touchdown. The Bills' tips did a great job of spilling blocks and breaking free on the edge to force Jackson to give the ball or chase him when he tried to run out.
Buffalo, who has one of the league's most trained defenders, also found a way to try to keep up with the Ravens' movement. Like Paul Alexander noted, the Bills noticed that the Ravens almost always followed the movement at the moment of the snap, running this way; thus, when they pointed to the center, the Bills adjusted their defenders to start counting a run in that direction. Baltimore adjusted to this trend in subsequent weeks, running in the opposite direction, but you could see the teams change their defensive rules or adjust how they handle the movement to try to keep up with Jackson and the Ravens.
All of this helps, but I'm not sure that having versatile physical security and excellent training like Bills and Titans is an easy plug-and-play solution. Unless you can dominate in the red zone, eliminate all fourth division opportunities and dominate the field, your team will probably not be able to emulate the game plan that worked for Tennessee in the playoffs.
Outlook for 2020
If only because it is practically impossible to improve an MVP campaign, history suggests that Jackson will refuse some this season. He played touchdowns in 9% of his passing attempts last season, which was only the third time a player has accomplished this during a full season since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. The other two players are Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers, who only managed to do this once. It is no criticism of Jackson to suggest that a 9% TD rate will be almost impossible to replicate.
Both Jackson and the offense around him were also very healthy. Baltimore's top 14 offensive players have only lost a total of nine games due to injury, five of which belonged to the center Matt Skura. No other player lost more than two games before the Ravens participated in week 17. They were one of the most violent offenses in football in 2017, when they came in 27th. Lost offensive Adjusted Games.
The pieces around Jackson have also changed. Hurst was traded in Atlanta for a choice in the second round, depriving the Ravens of their third tight end and their best substitute at times when attacking weapons Mark Andrews struggle to stay healthy. Most significant was the retirement of the star guard Marshal Yanda, who has reached eight Pro Bowls in his last nine seasons in the championship. The Ravens summoned Take Phillips and Ben Bredeson in the middle rounds and signed D.J. Fluker; Although they are one of the best teams in the league when it comes to the development and development of attackers, it is difficult to imagine them putting Yanda's quality on guard right this season.
With that said, except for serious injuries, Jackson is not going anywhere. He will present the same problems to oppose defenses for years to come, and the Ravens are committed to building their offense around their dizzying array of skills. Asking for another MVP performance in 2020 is probably too much, but he should remain one of the best defenders in football.