Does Lamar Jackson Need to Vary His Targets Amongst the Baltimore Ravens Receivers?

Since stepping into the league in 2018, Lamar Jackson has become one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He has won two division titles and is the youngest player to win a unanimous NFL MVP. His legs and ability to scramble from the pocket are what make him so unique but Jackson still excels as a passer of the football. The Ravens quarterback has the highest passing touchdown percentage of all time and is ranked fifth in each passer rating and passing touchdowns over the past two seasons. Yet, while Jackson has a lot of success throwing the ball, he plays favorites. Over the past two seasons, his two favorite targets have been to Baltimore Ravens Receivers Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews. They have amassed significantly more targets and catches than any other Ravens pass-catcher and will be integral parts of the Ravens offense again in 2021.

This year, Eric DeCosta and Ravens brass has made a huge effort to find Jackson more targets. The Ravens added former Kansas City Chief and fourth-overall pick wide receiver Sammy Watkins in free agency and added two receivers through the draft in first-round pick Rashod Bateman and fourth-round pick Tylan Wallace. It was the third consecutive year DeCosta drafted multiple wide receivers. Baltimore also acquired tight end, Josh Oliver, from the Jacksonville Jaguars via trade.

If Jackson wants to spread the ball around his offense, he now has a multitude of new receivers to choose from.

Does Jackson Need to Vary His Targets Amongst the Baltimore Ravens Receivers?

Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown

While Jackson is under center, the combination of the tight end Mark Andrews and wide receiver Marquise Brown has been heavily relied upon. Andrews and Brown have finished as the top-two pass catchers on the Ravens in the past two seasons. Since 2019, the duo has caught a total of 226 balls between them — good for 41 percent of the Ravens total receptions. They also finished as the top-two in targets in 2019 and 2020. Andrews and Brown were targetted on 42 percent of passes in the Ravens offense for a total of 357 combined times over the past two seasons. Both have eclipsed 100 receptions since 2019.

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Over that time span, Willie Snead registered the third-most receptions on the Ravens with 64. He saw 92 fewer targets than Andrews and 77 fewer targets than Brown. Snead signed a new contract with the Las Vegas Raiders this past off-season. Miles Boykin, who has played the most games amongst Ravens wide receivers over the past two seasons, has totaled just 32 receptions on 55 targets since 2019.

More of the same is destined to happen in 2021 as well. While DeCosta has made several additions through free agency and the draft, Watkins and blocking tight end Nick Boyle are the only two players on the team with more than 60 career targets. Another player is unlikely to replace Andrews or Brown, but the majority of Ravens receivers will get a good shot at becoming an impactful third-option next season.

Tight End Army of 2019

Jackson’s most successful season in the NFL was 2019. He won an unanimous MVP, a career-high 14 games, led the NFL with 36 touchdown passes, and finished with a passer rating of 113.3. Jackson also finished with a career-high in completion percentage (66.1 percent) thanks to the tight end army he had at his disposal.

Both Boyle and Hayden Hurst along with Jackson’s favorite target Mark Andrews were perhaps the most integral part of Baltimore’s passing attack in 2019. Andrews led the team in targets, receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. Boyle finished the season with 31 receptions for 321 yards while Hurst added 30 receptions for 349 yards. Both tight ends caught two touchdowns each. The Ravens’ tight ends combined for a total of 125 receptions on 180 targets in 2019. The Philadelphia Eagles were the only team with more completions to tight ends.

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2020 was a very different story. After Hurst was traded to the Atlanta Falcons during the off-season, the Ravens went into the season with just Andrews and Boyle on the depth chart. Baltimore got even shallower at tight end when Boyle suffered a severe knee injury Week 10 against the New England Patriots. Luke Wilson’s single catch was the only tight end reception outside of Andrews for the remainder of the season.

Going into 2021, the Ravens have a number of options at tight end. One player will likely try and fill in the space that Hurst vacated. Josh Oliver currently looks like the front runner for the third tight end spot after Eli Wolf was waived and Jacob Breeland was placed on the non-football injury list. Eric Tomlinson and Tony Poljan should challenge Oliver for the job.

Comparing Jackson to other high-level quarterbacks

Jackson’s favorite Baltimore Raves receivers are undoubtedly Andrews and Brown. However, other elite quarterbacks also pick favorites. The top-three vote-getters in the MVP race in 2020, Aaron Rodgers, Josh Allen, and Patrick Mahomes, all had similar target shares amongst their top-two pass catchers.

Allen’s top-two targets had a target share of nearly 46 percent. Wide receivers Steffon Diggs and Cole Beasley combined for 209 receptions on 273 targets. Diggs was the most targeted player in the NFL last season and led the league in receiving yards. Dawson Knox was the Bills most targeted tight end with 24 catches on 44 targets.

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Rodgers’ top-two targets had a target share of roughly 40 percent during his MVP campaign. Wide receivers Devante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling amassed 148 receptions on 212 targets. The gap between Adams and Valdes Scantling was vast (a 86 target difference). Yet, the gap between the Packers second-leading receiver and the third-leading receiver was just four total targets. Tight end Robert Tonyan, the Packers third most targeted player, also caught 19 more passes than Valdes-Scantling.

Mahomes probably has the receiving corps that most closely resembled Jackson’s. Tight end Travis Kelce and deep-threat wide receiver Tyreek Hill caught 192 on 280 total targets. The two yielded a target share of 44 percent in the Chiefs offense. Kelce and Hill were both targetted 135 times or more. The Chiefs third leading receiving, Mecole Hardman, saw just 62 targets in 2020.

Expanding target share amongst Baltimore Ravens Receivers is not necessary

DeCosta set out on a mission this off-season to find Jackson more options in the passing game. He added three wide receivers in Watkins, Bateman, and Wallace and another pass-catching tight end in Oliver. However, Jackson may not spread the ball out as much as he is projected to do. That is not a bad thing. He has already developed great chemistry with Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown and should continue to utilize his favorite targets in 2021. Next season is a big year for the Ravens. Yet, Jackson should not be expected to divide a litany of targets amongst his new teammates. The Baltimore Ravens new receivers should all serve specific roles rather than completely change the offense.

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