There’s little ambiguity about what the Ravens tried to do around quarterback Lamar Jackson this offseason.
In signing veteran right tackle Morgan Moses and using a first-round pick on center Tyler Linderbaum, the Ravens prioritized rebuilding an offensive line that struggled throughout 2021. Even with the expectation that running backs JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards will return from injury and make strong contributions this year, the Ravens signed veteran Mike Davis and drafted Tyler Badie. And they gave standout tight end Mark Andrews some help with the selections of Charlie Kolar and Isaiah Likely.
Although team officials may not admit it, the roster fortifications point to the Ravens trying to recapture their offensive recipe from 2019, when Jackson was at his best and most dangerous while armed with a dynamic running game and a versatile tight end group — and was protected by a strong offensive line.
On his way to being named just the league’s second unanimous Most Valuable Player, Jackson led the NFL with 36 touchdown passes and finished sixth in the league with 1,206 rushing yards. He was a gift to fantasy football owners everywhere.
Jackson has not been a one-year fantasy wonder. His 19.76 fantasy points per game rank seventh among all quarterbacks dating to 2000. However, he has never been as prolific as he was in 2019.
— NFL (@NFL) July 2, 2022
Ravens officials believe that the first step to Jackson getting back to that level is improved health. The 25-year-old was one of the front-runners for the league MVP award around midseason last year despite the offensive line and backfield being wracked by injuries. However, bouts with forced illness him to miss significant practice time and one game, then a bone bruise in his ankle knocked him out of the Ravens’ final four regular-season games.
As he vowed to do, Jackson took a few weeks off to give his foot more time to heal, then got back to work the day after the Super Bowl. While Jackson stayed away from Baltimore’s workout program and organized team activities, which drew plenty of attention given his contract status, the Ravens were pleased with the work he put in this offseason. Jackson spent extensive time with quarterback guru Adam Dedeaux, who has trained a number of NFL quarterbacks, including Matthew Stafford.
Meanwhile, the Ravens went to work bolstering a roster that plays more to Jackson’s strengths. In 2019, the Ravens had one of the top offensive lines in football, which included three Pro Bowl selections in Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr. and guard Marshal Yanda. Jackson was sacked just 23 times in 15 games.
Last season, Jackson was sacked 38 times in 12 games. Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said that any time he has asked Jackson about what he needs, the quarterback usually mentions improving the offensive line. On paper, the Ravens have done that with two new starters in Moses and Linderbaum joining guard Kevin Zeitler and Stanley, who the team believes will be ready for Week 1 after he missed all but one game last season.
When the Ravens have been at their best offensively in recent seasons, they’ve gouged teams with their run game. And Jackson has been the ringleader. With Dobbins and Edwards out last year and the Ravens relying on aging vets Devonta Freeman and Latavius Murray, Jackson was afforded little space, and his yards per carry dropped to 5.8 yards per attempt, more than a full yard less than his 2019 average. The return of Dobbins and Edwards should open things up for Jackson, and Davis and Badie should diversify the backfield.
Plenty has been said about Jackson’s wide receiving corps, which lacks experience and proven options. The Ravens traded Marquise Brown, Jackson’s closest friend on the team and his favorite target behind Andrews, to the Arizona Cardinals. They didn’t replace him in the draft or sign a coveted free agent, leaving 2021 first-round pick Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay, James Proche and Tylan Wallace as their top four receivers. Instead, the Ravens doubled down at tight end, drafting Kolar and Likely, accomplished pass catchers in college.
The lack of moves at receiver appeared to be a nod toward 2019, when three of the Ravens’ top five pass catchers were tight ends as Jackson worked the middle of the field and spread the ball around. Brown was the Ravens’ most productive receiver, finishing with 46 catches for 584 yards.
He’s not around any longer, and it would be hard to make a case that the Ravens receiving group is better for it. However, the Ravens appear to have gotten better up front, in the backfield and at tight end. Those elements have brought out the best in Jackson before.
— Aaron Reiss of The Athletic contributed to this story.
(Photo: Philip G. Pavely/USA Today)