The pressure is on Lamar Jackson. Not only because the star quarterback has missed time in back-to-back seasons due to late-year injuries, but because the Ravens finally paid him the big bucks this offseason, committing $260 million to the former MVP through 2027. With Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow and Josh Allen commanding headlines as the faces of the AFC, it's time for Baltimore's man to prove he can finally make a deep playoff run as "the guy."
There's an added layer of uncertainty as Jackson attempts to live up to his lucrative deal, however. And it's the fact he'll be playing in an entirely new offense for the first time in his NFL career.
How, exactly, will Baltimore's attack look different now that Todd Monken is in charge, replacing Greg Roman as the Ravens' offensive coordinator? Here's a rundown, plus a look at why the changes should benefit the quarterback, who already:
Less running, more throwing
This is easily the biggest change, considering Jackson has almost literally made his living on the ground. Yes, he threw 36 touchdowns in his 2019 MVP campaign, but the QB's biggest asset to this point has been his legs, as evidenced by two 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Jackson, for what it's worth, has always downplayed his dependence on the run, but now, he says he'll "absolutely"under Monken, even going so far as to claim "running can only take you so far."
More control at the line
Jackson recently said that Monken has "basically just given us the keys to the offense," and coach John Harbaugh has echoed as much, telling reporters the Ravens haven't utilized QB audibles with Jackson "to this degree." Some Jackson skeptics might be concerned at this, considering his lack of experience "controlling" play calls, but he's statistically had success the few times he's operated a no-huddle approach, going 55 of 78 as a passer on plays in that setup.
Added downfield targets
Jackson highlighted "being able to throw the ball down the field" as a key change, attributing part of that to Monken's style and part of it to a reshaped receiving corps. No matter what you make of the Ravens' additions out wide, there's no denying their depth chart is more talented than in years past. In addition to first-round rookie Zay Flowers, Jackson now has former Pro Bowler Odell Beckham Jr. and veteran reserve Nelson Agholor to go along with holdovers Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay. Of course, he still also has his favorite target around: Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews.
How this should help Jackson
It may be overblown that mobile QBs are more prone to injury, especially after Jackson's premature 2022 exit came after a hit suffered in the pocket. Jackson, in particular, is also less of a physical ball-carrier like Josh Allen or Jalen Hurts, and more of a slippery contact-averse scrambler. But if he's serious about evening out his own run-pass ratio, he's at least theoretically less likely to absorb additional contact, and thus more likely to survive a full season.
It remains to be seen just how much control Jackson will actually have at the line of scrimmage on game day, but if you're using Week 2 of the 2022 season as an indication of what an audible-heavier script can do for him, well, there's plenty of reason to get hyped; that was when Jackson aired it out and totaled well over 400 yards in an explosive shootout with the Dolphins. At the end of the day, you'd probably rather have your QB capable of checking in and out of plays than not. And when you factor in Jackson's inherent athleticism, which often enables him to clean up or extend broken plays, the risk isn't necessarily as high, either.
By far the biggest reason to believe in a step forward for Jackson is the supporting cast. Coaches and schemes can do wonders, but oftentimes, it just comes down to talent. Do you have enough weapons at your disposal? That's still a question in Baltimore, with Flowers yet to take any NFL snaps and Beckham coming off serious injuries. But if at least one of their key additions at receiver pans out, Jackson should indeed be able to throw downfield with more confidence. And maybe, just maybe, push those other AFC gunslingers when the games really matter.