Lamar Jackson: How Ravens can continue to build around him
As the first wave of NFL free agency passes, the Ravens find themselves in a position where their biggest moves were the ones they didn’t make. How does the team best equip Lamar Jackson for success going forward?
After making early headlines on the first morning of legal tampering by signing Kevin Zeitler, the Ravens allowed numerous key free agents to sign elsewhere in the following days. Other than signing Sammy Watkins, the team made no new acquisitions of any immediate notability in the process. They did re-sign Tyus Bowser and Derek Wolfe.
Despite the addition of Watkins at wide receiver, there are still potential moves the Ravens can make that will set up Lamar Jackson to have a superb 2021. Hope is far from lost on the team’s offense making improvements this season, so let’s take a look at some of the possibilities.
Trade for Zach Ertz
The Ravens recently restructured the deals of Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams to free up close to $5 million in cap space. The extra cash they brought in from those restructures, along with the lack of credible options at wide receiver available, could make a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles much more interesting to the front office than it was last week.
The history of trade interest has already been well documented, and NFL Network’s Mike Silver recently reported that multiple teams were interested in trading for Ertz.
While no deal was made at the time, perhaps a combination of Philadelphia having to lower their asking price and the Ravens needing another pass-catching option could translate to a deal being made. Before last season Ertz was a model of consistency at the tight end position, and Jackson in two tight end sets featuring him and Mark Andrews would give defensive coordinators nightmares.
Continue bolstering the offensive line
Bringing in Kevin Zeitler was a tremendous start for the Ravens in returning their offensive line to form, but more moves will be needed if they want to ensure we don’t have a repeat of Buffalo for Jackson in 2021. With the impending exit of Orlando Brown via trade or next season’s free agency also looming, this issue is paramount.
There are still some veteran names on the market at offensive tackle, most notably former Raven Rick Wagner and Alejandro Villanueva. Both are likely on the tail ends of their career and would like to play with a winner, especially one that runs the ball. While some may view Baltimore as a less than ideal situation for wide receivers, the exact opposite is the case when it comes to offensive linemen.
There are also plenty of names available in the draft on the interior, players like Wyatt Davis and Creed Humphrey are already becoming favorites of the Ravens Flock on social media. Both would be incredible fits to this team, from a production standpoint as well as their tough, grinder reputations.
Utilize running backs in the passing game
Last season the Ravens targeted their running backs in the passing game 62 times, the second-fewest in the league only to Derrick Henry and the Titans. Utilizing J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards in the passing game more frequently, and perhaps even drafting a late-round receiving back if Justice Hill isn’t the answer, would benefit Lamar Jackson greatly in 2021.
More screens out of the backfield would not only take the heat off Lamar in games against teams who consistently blitz corners and safeties, but would also add a total new dimension to the misdirection play-action game.
If a team is already selling out to stop the run, and then has to freeze momentarily due to the threat of the screen, that only gives Jackson even more time to hit a receiver downfield in one-on-one coverage.
Draft smart at wide receiver
The Ravens took their shots on JuJu Smith-Schuster and T.Y. Hilton this week, and unfortunately neither panned out how the team hoped. With that said, we’ve heard time and time again at how talented this wide receiver draft class is, there are plenty of options available that could be a true number one wide receiver for Jackson.
“Draft smart” may seem like a pretty redundant statement, but when you look at the Ravens’ history of drafting at this position, they certainly have a type. Marquise Brown, Breshad Perriman, Torrey Smith, all had the same types of scouting reports coming out of college. Phrases like “explosive, but needs polish” and “legit deep threat” seem to come along with most notable players the Ravens select at receiver.
Complete players like Rashod Bateman and Terrace Marshall Jr should be the ones highest on the Ravens draft board this year, if we’re talking realistic options given where they select in the draft. Both are great route runners who can grab the ball out of thin air and beat man coverage on a regular basis, something the Ravens receiving core has sorely needed.
Acquiring one of these two may still require moving up a few picks on draft day, but it just may be worth it if the reward is a legit number one for Lamar Jackson over at least the next four years.