Can Lamar Jackson pick up where he left off last season?
Few quarterbacks have had a rookie season as unique as Lamar Jackson. In his first start, the former Heisman Trophy winner ran for 117 yards, at the time the second most by a rookie quarterback since 1970 (Josh Allen topped it two weeks later). It took only another six starts for him to break the single-season NFL record for rushing attempts by a quarterback (147). The Ravens’ approach was novel — no team came close to running the ball as often as they did over the second half of the season — but effective enough. They dominated time of possession with methodical drives, often befuddling defenses with a mix of zone-read and run-pass-option plays.
The offense will look different in 2019. Coach John Harbaugh promoted Greg Roman, the architect of the team’s running game, to offensive coordinator, replacing Marty Mornhinweg. Roman has pledged more balance, but his overhaul will likely keep in place many of Jackson’s pet plays. The Ravens do not mind being different. Even as modern offenses increasingly rely on their passing attacks, expect the Ravens to keep grinding away on the ground.
Defenses will have the offseason to figure out how to bottle up the Ravens’ backfield, but it won’t be easy. Much like Alex Collins in 2017, running back Gus Edwards emerged from the anonymity of the team’s practice squad to become one of the offense’s most reliable performers. A physical downhill runner, he’ll compete for the starting job with free-agent acquisition Mark Ingram, a dangerous receiving threat and highly respected leader. Rookie Justice Hill could also give the Ravens a big-play threat in the open field.
The team’s often-overlooked offensive line could take another big step forward. Only five teams allowed fewer sacks last season, though the Ravens’ move away from a pass-first approach certainly helped. Bookend tackles Ronnie Stanley, a Pro Bowl alternate in 2018, and Orlando Brown Jr. give the Ravens one of the NFL’s best young pairings, and All-Pro Marshal Yanda remains among the league’s best right guards. The Ravens could continue to have problems inside, but coaches remain confident in center Matt Skura and left guard James Hurst. Nick Boyle, a hybrid tight end-fullback, is also an asset in the team’s blocking schemes.
If the Ravens have passing problems, it likely won’t be because of their other tight ends. Mark Andrews had a standout rookie season, and hopes remain high for 2018 first-round pick Hayden Hurst, who struggled to recover from a preseason stress fracture in his foot. Wide receiver is another matter. Willie Snead IV is a productive slot receiver, but Chris Moore and free-agent pickup Seth Roberts project only as complementary pieces. Rookies Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin will face pressure to replace the production of departed starters John Brown and Michael Crabtree. The offense’s success could hinge on their development and Jackson’s evolution into a more fundamentally sound passer.