The much-anticipated 2019 season is right around the corner, with teams progressing through training camp and preseason match-ups. As such, there is no better time to evaluate and discuss the Cleveland Browns divisional competition, with the Baltimore Ravens on today’s docket. Below we will take a look at what I believe is the strength and weakness of a team seeking to reach the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
Strength: Tight Ends
The Ravens have the best tight end position group in the AFC North (and quite possibly the league), with four of the top five overall Pro Football Focus (“PFF”) grades in the division in 2018:
This uber-talented group is comprised of Hayden Hurst, Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle:
Hurst – The Ravens selected Hurst in the first round (25th overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, he suffered a stress foot fracture in training camp last year that caused him to miss the first four games of his rookie season. The injury seemed to linger throughout the season, as the highly-touted rookie only accumulated 13 receptions on 21 targets for 163 yards and one touchdown on 290 total snaps played. However, he has reportedly added 20 pounds of muscle during the off-season, with the expectation of being a key member of the offense in 2019. Hurst will look to repeat his efficiencies and production at the University of South Carolina, where he had the second-most catchable targets (44) without a drop among all tight ends.
Andrews – The Ravens selected Andrews in the third round (86th overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft, i.e. two rounds after Hurst. Andrews flourished in 2018, generating the following statistics and ranks (PFF):
His playmaking prowess was on full display in the two below film exhibits:
Week 3 vs the Denver Broncos-
Week 16 at the Los Angeles Chargers-
Boyle – The veteran tight end signed a three-year $18 million ($10M guaranteed) contract with the team this off-season. He is most known for his blocking ability, with the fifth-best run-blocking grade and 15th-best pass-blocking grade among all tight ends with a minimum of 250 snaps in 2018, according to PFF. Further, from Weeks 11-17 (quarterback Lamar Jackson’s first start), he led all tight ends with 196 run-blocking snaps. The Ravens figure to be the NFL’s most run-heavy offense in 2019. As such, his abilities will be needed more than ever.
In order for newly-promoted offensive coordinator Greg Roman to maximize the talent at this position group, I predict the Ravens will utilize the 12 (1 RB, 2 TEs and 2 WRs) and 13 (1 RB, 3 TEs and 1 WR) personnel groupings at one of the highest frequencies in the league in 2019. Per Sharp Football, in 2018 the team deployed 12 personnel the fourth-most in the league from weeks 11-17 (25% total plays), with a 60% successful run percentage (third highest) and 4.6 yards per carry. Further, the team utilized 13 personnel the third-most in the league over the same time frame (45 total plays). I expect these figures to be even higher in 2019.
Weakness – Lamar Jackson
The Ravens drafted quarterback Lamar Jackson with 32nd overall pick in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. After veteran quarterback Joe Flacco suffered a hip injury week 9 of the 2018 season vs the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jackson was inserted into a starting role with the squad week 11 (week 10 bye) and tasked with igniting a previously stagnant offense.
Jackson displayed the dynamic running skills, elite explosiveness, and athleticism that were apparent during his sophomore Heisman Trophy campaign with the Louisville Cardinals, where he set ACC records for rushing yards (1,571) and rushing touchdowns (21) by a quarterback. He amassed 562 yards on designed yards and forced 20 missed tackles on 147 rushing attempts during his rookie season, which were both first among quarterbacks. This kind of usage is simply not sustainable given Jackson’s slight frame (6-2, 212 pounds). As such, he must learn to throw the ball at a higher and more accurate clip, which is one of the most essential attributes for a quarterback in today’s NFL.
For some context from a statistical perspective, among 35 qualifiers in 2018 (sourced from PFF), Jackson ranked-
Additionally, Jackson had the 2nd highest uncatchable pass percentage on targets 1-20 yards downfield.
His accuracy struggles are reflected in the below two film exhibits:
Week 12 vs the Oakland Raiders-
Week 14 at the Kansas City Chiefs-
Simply put – Jackson is one of the least accurate quarterbacks in the league, hence why I believe he is the weakness of this team. He will continue to make plays with his legs (which will please fantasy football team owners), but the wear and tear of an NFL season will not allow a perpetual running quarterback to exist without a herculean build. Time will tell just how far he can carry the team.