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Jackson impresses through the air
It wasn’t long until Jackson’s 2nd season became a breakout.
In Week 1, he torched the Dolphins for 324 yards, 5 TDs and 0 turnovers. He went on to exceed that fantasy point total (33.6) twice over the next 14 games. (Jackson rested for Week 17.)
He elevated his play despite an unproven receiving corps. Mark Andrews enjoyed a solid rookie year in 2018, but a true 2019 breakout (64-852-10) was tough to forecast. Rookie WR Marquise Brown missed significant offseason and in-season practice time due to a Lisfranc (foot) injury. #2 TE Hayden Hurst finished 3rd on the team in receiving with just 349 yards.
Yet Jackson made enormous strides as a passer. He ranked top-12 league-wide in yards per attempt (7.8) and completion rate (66.1%). Quite the jump from 2018's 7.1 yards per attempt and 58.2% completion rate.
The 23-year-old finished 5th in Pro Football Focus’ passing grades, behind only Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees and Kirk Cousins.
Jackson’s 36 passing TDs led the NFL. And that was despite ranking near the bottom of the league in attempts. In fact, his 9.0% TD rate tied for 3rd best since 2000 behind Deshaun Watson (2017) and Peyton Manning (2004).
So, yes, it’s reasonable to expect a drop-off in passing scores. But of course, Jackson will be buoyed by top-shelf rushing production.
Jackson dominates on the ground
While passing production was key, Jackson finished as the overall QB1 — with top-12 finishes in all but 1 outing — because of elite rushing stats.
His 1,206 yards broke Michael Vick’s 2006 record for most rushing yards by a QB. Going back to 1970, only 2 other QBs (Bobby Douglass and Randall Cunningham) have even topped 900 rushing yards.
Jackson reached 100 yards 5 times and dipped under 40 yards just once all year.
The question now is this: What will Jackson do as an encore?
Let’s start with the QB's words from an April interview.
"I doubt if I'm going to be carrying the ball a lot going on in the future," Jackson said, via the Ravens’ official site. "We've got dynamic running backs. We're going to have even more receivers. We've got Hollywood, Mark Andrews, Nick (Boyle), Willie Snead, Miles (Boykin). We're going to be pretty good. I don't think I'll be running a lot."
It’s an interesting comment, but let’s be real. Baltimore went 14-2 and won their final 12 games of 2019. So why would OC Greg Roman — a long-time run heavy play-caller — run Jackson “a lot” less?
Our current projections shave about 2 attempts per game off his 2019 total. That’s enough to keep him off a record-setting pace; not enough to suppress his overall QB1 upside.
Jackson’s passing weapons are intriguing, although we’re waiting on breakout years from Marquise Brown and/or Miles Boykin. If healthy, Brown can be a lid-lifting deep threat. Boykin didn’t see the field much as a rookie but has the size (6’4, 220) and athleticism to produce a year 2 jump.
We saw more youth enter the mix with RB J.K. Dobbins and WR Devin Duvernay arriving in the draft. Dobbins is explosive with the ball in his hands, while Duvernay brings a vertical element from the slot.
Hayden Hurst departed via trade, but the team is set at TE with Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle. Keep an eye on the right guard spot, as long-time starter Marshal Yanda opted for retirement. The Ravens have an incumbent candidate in Ben Powers, plus a pair of interior OLs arriving via the draft (Michigan’s Ben Bredeson and Mississippi State’s Tyre Phillips).
Draft Sharks Bottom Line:
It wouldn’t be shocking to see Jackson post a repeat of his breakout 2019. Key pieces return, both on the coaching staff (HC, OC, QB coach) and on the field. A lot will ride on the maturation of Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin.
Even if their growth is stagnant, Jackson’s a strong bet to remain a high-end QB1. Perhaps the league improves a bit against the Ravens’ attack. But this is a scheme based on heavy zone-reads and play-action passes, one that should keep defenses guessing and passing lanes wide.
The drawback here is Jackson’s Round 2/3 ADP. With attractive QB options available 7+ rounds later, we’ll safely pass at that price tag.