John Harbaugh says Lamar Jackson's next step is hitting deep passes

·3-min read

Lamar Jackson blew the doors off every expectations for him last season, resulting in a 14-2 record for the Baltimore Ravens and unanimous MVP honors. Of course, that year also ended in disappointment.

As next season approaches, Ravens coach John Harbaugh has one idea for what the 23-year-old Jackson can do for a follow-up performance.

While talking with reporters on Thursday, Harbaugh said the next step for the Ravens offense is punishing one-on-one matchups downfield.

From ESPN’s Jamison Hensley:

"Those corners are going to be one-on-one and those safeties are going to be one-on-one against receivers, especially on some downfield throws, and we got to make them pay for it. We absolutely have to make them pay," Harbaugh said. "The ability to make them pay for tilting their defense toward stopping our run game with a really, really efficient passing game. I do believe that's the next step of this offense. I really do believe Lamar is going to take the next step."

Improving his passing has been a common refrain for how Jackson can improve, but those often ignore that while Jackson was indeed transcendent as a runner last year, he was actually one of its most efficient passers as well.

That included man coverage, against which Jackson led the NFL in Expected Points Added per dropback according to The Athletic’s Sheil Kapadia. He was also tops in the league passing from the pocket.

The Ravens ranked first in the NFL in passing efficiency last season with Jackson posting 3,127 passing yards and a league-leading 36 touchdown passes against just six interceptions. Jackson’s passing volume was lower than many top quarterbacks, but the Ravens also had a record-setting rushing offense and spent much of the season playing with a lead.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson throws a pass against the New York Jets during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
If Lamar Jackson is hitting deep passes next year, the NFL is in trouble. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

That’s not to say Harbaugh is wrong, though. If there was an area where Jackson most needed to improve as a passer last year, it was probably those downfield throws. Jackson ranked 23rd in the league in deep ball completion percentage last year.

For that, Jackson will likely have plenty of help in Year 3. Marquise Brown was Jackson’s top downfield target as a rookie, and could be primed for a breakout season now that he’s no longer dealing with the effects of a Lisfranc injury. Athletic receiver Miles Boykin could take a bigger role in the offense after a 198-yard rookie year. The Ravens also drafted Texas wide receiver Devin Duvernay, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds, in the third round of the NFL draft.

Speed like that and an improved deep ball from Jackson would probably help the Ravens avoid repeating what happened against the Tennessee Titans in the playoffs last year. We’ll just have to see if Jackson has another big improvement in him.

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