In an offseason of change for the Ravens, the biggest one is at QB. Lamar Jackson is fully entrenched as the franchise QB, but now what? How do you build around him with the idea of what he is now with the vision of what he could become? And what does it look like between point A and point B? These are all questions that the team brass will work through in Jupiter soon, but since we won’t be privy to those convos, here’s what should be on the docket.
Let’s first look at things tactically. The promotion of Greg Roman means a commitment, at least in the short-term, to being a running team. As the coaching staff is currently constructed, it’s an interesting first decision in Lamar’s development plan. I think a Roman-led offense will have more purpose and flow then Marty’s did but concerns remain. His run game wizardry is unquestioned but his passing games leave all the questions.
Digging into his 2015 offense with the Bills showed at least some reason for hope. They took a healthy amount of shots downfield…despite being in the bottom quarter of the league in many pass metrics, Tyrod Taylor was top five in adjusted yards gained per pass attempt. It’s also a very tight end-friendly offense, utilizing tight ends in tandem to create easy reads for the QB.
More will be required, however.
As he jumps back in the play-calling saddle in 2019, evolution will be key. My personal preference would be to hire a passing game coordinator who can help blend modern passing concepts with his imposing running game. Finding a Shanahan disciple might be a match since he’s managed to create dangerous passing concepts while playing with a traditional fullback and multiple tight end sets. At the very least he should be traveling to study college spread and other innovative offenses and figuring out how to implement those concepts into his system. Better utilizing motion, rub routes, and more stacks (which I did see in his 2015 Bills offense) all would go a long way in accomplishing said evolution.
Shaping the passing game around Lamar’s strengths is another key. He’s shown well on in-breaking routes and seam throws and while those are easier areas for the defense to congest you can scheme around some of that with the tactics I mentioned above. As our own Michael Crawford pointed out, Jackson completed 68% of his passes on first down in 2018. Let’s leverage that in 2019.
Now, what type of players are ideal fits around Jackson? I don’t know if it’s much different for a Lamar Jackson than it is for a Tom Brady. You want players who complement each other and force defenses to account for the entire field. Sure, you could say you want more athletic offensive lineman with Lamar but with more and more teams moving their talented edge rushers inside on passing downs, everyone wants athletic linemen. For as long as the Ravens stay a run-first team, you’d love to have wide receivers who can block, but prioritizing that could lead to sub-optimal talent which in the long run hurts your run game when teams don’t respect your other skill position threats through the air.
The one debate that has credence here is what type of receiver makes more sense with Lamar. Do you prioritize getting the fast separator who gets open quickly, or the big-bodied catch point player who wins in contested situations? The early consensus I’ve seen says to get the contested-catch guy. Lamar completed 58% of his passes this season and many believe he’ll always struggle to be consistently accurate. Getting him player(s) with a larger catch radius gives him more margin for error, especially if his outside-the-hash accuracy remains iffy.
Then there’s the other side. Separators serve a dual purpose: getting open quickly is good for any QB especially one who’s inexperienced w/accuracy issues. There’s also the idea of maximizing his variance. He’s so explosive, the ultimate outside-of-structure player, so I want players to accentuate that. He may never be a highly efficient passer but his ability to extend plays is tough for even the best defenses to account. Not to mention a lid-lifting player makes it tougher for a defense to add an additional defender to the box. It’s all part of what makes the Chiefs offense so difficult to stop. Finding Lamar his Tyreek Hill is a challenging but mouth-watering proposition.
My final answer here is, why not both? But I think I’d probably prioritize the latter a bit more.
Then there’s running back. The Ravens have an effective group of grinders, but lack players who excel in space. Another thing I noticed on that 2015 Bills tape is how effective Roman’s stretch run game was with LeSean McCoy. He also split McCoy out quite a bit and utilized him in a multitude of ways. Whether it be at wide receiver, running back or a hybrid of the two, the Ravens HAVE to acquire multiple players this offseason who can be used in this fashion. It doesn’t have to be a higher profile player like McCoy either. Players like Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James had success in this offense in San Francisco being deployed similarly. Stretch the field horizontally and give Lamar easy throws that have a legitimate chance to gain big yardage.
Ultimately, building around Lamar Jackson is really not that different than any other team trying to build a high functioning offense. The best offenses usually have elements of everything. The delicate part is figuring out what you value then factoring in need, talent pool and finances to create a plan to build the best supporting cast they can for the new face of the franchise.
They never did this in any committed fashion for their last franchise QB. We can both lament that fact and hope they won’t make the same mistake going forward.