Few quarterbacks are asked to do as much as Lamar Jackson. In his two full seasons as the Baltimore Ravens’ starting quarterback, Jackson has accounted for 65.6% of the offense’s yards and 69.7% of their touchdowns.
How much can the Ravens’ offense rely on Lamar Jackson?
That’s unsustainable for anyone, but particularly a player who — while not tiny at 6’2″, 212 — isn’t exactly built to take 20 or so hits a game. That is why the Ravens were determined to get him help through the NFL Draft and free agency this offseason.
And yet, with Baltimore’s season set to begin in just 11 days, Jackson’s usage in 2021 — at least to start — will probably look a lot like it did in 2019 and 2020.
The Ravens simply don’t have many other good options.
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J.K. Dobbins’ season-ending injury the first hiccup this preseason
J.K. Dobbins’ season-ending ACL injury was a killer. Dobbins, who got hurt in the Ravens’ final preseason game, was in line for a quantum leap forward after scoring 9 rushing touchdowns and averaging 6 yards as a rookie.
“Our hearts go out to him. It’s very challenging because he worked so hard,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said this week. “He was so prepared, and he was so ready to go this year, so excited to go, and such a big part of our plans. Like any injury, which happens and will happen throughout the course of the NFL with different teams, you just have to approach it and overcome it. It’s adversity, and we’ll have to deal with it, and we will.”
“We have the players to do it. We have the team to do it. Our guys are excited today, again, to practice. And I have full confidence in the rest of the running backs that are here to pick up the load and to do a great job for us. So that’s where we’re at with that.”
Ravens’ offense rolling with Gus Edwards as lead back
Harbaugh meant what he said. The Ravens didn’t swing a trade for a running back or claim one off of waivers this week. For now, they’re planning to roll with Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, and Ty’Son Williams.
The truth is, there is a very real drop-off from Dobbins to this group. Dobbins was more efficient than Edwards last year, getting to the line of scrimmage nearly a quarter of a second faster than Edwards, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
To put it another way, we can expect the Ravens’ explosive plays on the ground this fall to nearly exclusively come from Jackson. That would almost be tolerable if the Ravens’ deep group of receivers were at full strength. It is not.
Injuries to Bateman, Boykin will set offense back early in 2021
On Wednesday [Septmeber 1], the Ravens placed first-round pick Rashod Bateman and Miles Boykin on injured reserve, meaning they’re both out for at least three weeks. Bateman’s absence, in particular, is a disappointment for the organization, as he had been outstanding in camp.
That leaves Jackson with three main targets on the outside — Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins, and James Proche II.
Brown will remain the team’s deep threat after accounting for 39.3% of the team’s air targets in 2020. Watkins, signed as a free agent in the offseason, is a serviceable No. 2. But he hasn’t had 60 or more catches in a season since 2015.
So that means Proche really needs to carry what he’s shown in training camp practices over to games. Proche had just 1 catch in 2020, but he had 7 for 66 yards and a touchdown in the 2021 preseason.
There is some good news for Jackson. Tight end Mark Andrews and his career 13.5 yards-per-reception average are back. He’ll surely see a ton of targets early as the Ravens wait for Proche to develop and Bateman to get healthy.
But as a whole, it’s hard to see how the Ravens have a better group of skill position players to start the 2021 season than they did to open 2020. Furthermore, it’s even harder to see how Jackson will have to carry any less of a load now than he did then.