Lamar Jackson is coming off his worst full season as an NFL starter. After two strong seasons in which he led the Baltimore Ravens to the playoffs, Jackson battled with inconsistency in his first 11 starts before sustaining an ankle injury in his 12th and final start of the season. Jackson missed the final four games due to injury, the first time he had missed time with an injury in his NFL career.
The timing of the injury was unfortunate for both Jackson and the Ravens. For Jackson, his season was over after the worst stretch of his NFL career. For the Ravens, they continued a losing streak that eventually reached six games. With a healthy Jackson, the Ravens likely squeeze out an extra win or two and make the playoffs. However, without a healthy Jackson, Tyler Huntley and Josh Johnson could not lead the Ravens to victories.
Entering 2022, both Jackson and the Ravens are at a crossroads. There are ongoing contract negotiations, but today, let’s look at the expected on-field production.
Lamar Jackson 2022 Projections
Fantasy Pros projects Jackson to record 3,686 passing yards, 25 passing touchdowns, and 14 interceptions to go along with 937 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns.
Extrapolated over 17 games, Jackson’s first 11 starts would have resulted in 4,428 passing yards, 25 passing touchdowns, 20 interceptions with 1,178 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns.
Jackson will likely split the difference between his 2021 extrapolated stats and his 2022 projections. He could finish around 4,000 passing yards, 25 passing touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 1,000 rushing yards, and five rushing touchdowns.
The Eye Test
Stats are wonderful, but Jackson had an inconsistent record in 2021. On one hand, he had the best three-game stretch of his career from Week 3 to Week 5. Jackson posted 1,045 passing yards and six touchdowns, but the underlying film was elite. He had 11 big-time throws to just two turnover-worthy plays. He posted a 91.9 passing grade.
On the other hand, Jackson also had the worst three-game stretch of his career. In Weeks 10, 12, and 13, Jackson fired six interceptions to just three touchdowns. He had a 34.8 passing grade with eight turnover-worthy plays to go with just two big-time throws.
In the other six games, Jackson was decidedly mediocre. He earned a passing grade between 58.6 and 69.6 in all six games, and he had a disappointing ratio of big-time throws to turnover-worthy plays.
Going under the Hood
Many of Jackson’s struggles can be attributed to his lackluster performance against the blitz. Jackson has been steady when not blitzed in his three seasons as a starter, but his performance against the blitz has steadily declined.
In 2019, Jackson posted a stellar 86.1 passing grade when blitzed, recording a ridiculous 24-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio and only one turnover-worthy play. In 2020, his grade slipped to 63.4, and he had more turnover-worthy plays than big-time throws.
In 2021, Jackson took another step backward, earning a 50.5 passing grade against the blitz. He threw five of his 13 interceptions against the blitz, and he had a poor 78.0 passer rating.
Performance both against the blitz and under pressure can be volatile. Even the best quarterbacks in the league rarely maintain high-level grades year over year against the blitz. The likes of Kirk Cousins, Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers, and Matthew Stafford have had an uncharacteristically low seasonal grade against the blitz since 2019.
What Changes in 2022
Even if the scheme does not change at all, there will be some wholesale personnel changes that should help Jackson. While they are all currently on the physically unable to perform list (PUP), Ronnie Stanley, J.K. Dobbins, and Gus Edwards are expected to play major roles in the 2022 offense.
Stanley has always been a better pass protector than a run blocker, but he is generally above-average as a run blocker. Edwards and Dobbins are two of the most efficient rushers in the NFL. Both of them averaged more than 5.0 yards per carry in 2020 and earned an 81.0 or better rushing grade.
While the Ravens were in the top five in both rushing yards and yards per rush in 2021, they lacked the same explosiveness they had in 2019 and 2020. When the running game is working, teams are often less likely to send full-out blitzes so that their defenders can maintain run gaps. Baltimore had many situations in which they were forced to throw the football, letting other teams tee off and blitz.
Particularly in the game against the Miami Dolphins, the Ravens were unable to adapt to the blitz. They had many failed hot routes, and Jackson had little to no hope on most dropbacks. The Ravens did not have a 20-yard run on the night. Devonta Freeman and Le’Veon Bell combined to average less than 3.0 yards per carry. The Ravens had 14 third downs, converting just two of them.
Of those third downs, just two were fewer than five yards. The Ravens had seven 3rd & 10s and two 3rd & 15s. Without any rushing threat or screen-pass threat, the Dolphins could send all-out blitz after all-out blitz. Jackson and offensive coordinator Greg Roman were unable to find any answers, and the Ravens lost the game.
Having an improved rushing game will help, but Roman and the rest of the Ravens’ coaches have had seven months to develop blitz-beaters.
When not blitzed, Jackson was largely the same quarterback he was in 2019 and 2020. Similarly, his “kept clean” grade was within a point of his 2020 grade. The Ravens are returning pieces that should help the offense as a whole prepare for the blitz. Similarly, moves along the offensive line could help Jackson get back to 2019 when he was kept clean on 69.1% of dropbacks. That number was 63.0% in each of the last two seasons.
Solving the issue could be the difference between another underwhelming season in Baltimore and the franchise’s third Super Bowl.
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