By: Lucas Kochevar
The league descended upon Phoenix once again, but this time they're in town for the annual league meetings. This is the spot where all the coaches, general managers and owners come together and essentially give a status report. The owners are the main attraction as they go to figure out what new rules to implement for the fans to hate. It's crazy to think pass interference was actually a reviewable thing a couple years ago. It's also a great time for fans to pick up on news nuggets for their team. The biggest nugget that happened on one of the first days was more like a gold mine for reporters to start their day harassing Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. Lamar Jackson has remained silent for awhile since free agency started, but he decided it was time for the NFL world to know publicly that he requested a trade from the Ravens back on March 2. It's fairly obvious this is the main topic for this volume of LK League Notes, but I also want to drop my running back rankings prior to the draft.
Lamar Jackson's Best Fits
Lamar Jackson is good. I'll be the brave person in the room to say it. I think the 26-year old former MVP is pretty good at football. I can understand the argument against Jackson. He doesn't light the world on fire as a consistent passer and injuries are a concern. First of all, the accuracy isn't excellent and there has been a slight dip since his MVP year, but he's been in an offense that doesn't prioritize passing in a way that makes his life easier. Wide receivers have been vocal about the organization doing a poor job putting them in the best position to succeed and I think Jackson suffers because of this. I think it's clear that he's had flaws these past couple seasons, but they aren't to a level that's unfixable. His injuries are the other issue and I think it's hard to hold against him since 80% of the time, injuries are freak accidents. Even then, Jackson has started at least 12 games every season beside his rookie year, where he was still behind Joe Flacco.
When he does play, he wins. He's compiled an impressive 45-16 record since he's been in the league and Jackson is the headline in a vast majority of those wins. He's a highlight factory who lights up the field with his dual threat abilities. He's up there already as one of the most dangerous running quarterbacks ever. He's a quarterback that can raise your team's ceiling and there are teams that need to reconsider their quarterback situation and give the Ravens a call.
Before I address any of these teams, I should note that all three of these teams have publicly denied interest in Lamar. I personally think these guys make the most sense at this current time. The Falcons have to be at the top of this list. Although they have spent a decent number of their cap space, the Falcons could work around it to fit Lamar in and outside of the money, the fit makes sense. Arthur Smith came in his first year with Matt Ryan and nothing truly clicked. There was a flaw in Smith's offense and Ryan, because Ryan at this point wasn't able to move nearly as much as Smith required. In his second season at the helm, Ryan was traded and Mariota came in. The stylistic difference was massive from the two quarterbacks, but the offense was producing a more cohesive plan. The plan was to avoid passing the ball with Mariota at all cost and they were winning games. It was not because of Mariota, but in spite of him. Even if you support Desmond Ridder from his limited sample size, it's hard to justify the gamble of a very unproven player when Jackson is right there.
I provide this background because you can get the better mobility of Mariota and a much better passer than him with Jackson. Where Lamar was the focal point in running the ball on certain plays in Baltimore, Smith's offense gives more flexibility with making the decision to run the ball or pass. The typical Run-Pass-Option offense isn't what Smith is running per se, but the way he can scheme an offense to build upon the run game to set up the play action game is admirable. The execution hasn't been the most crisp, partly due to him and the talent he's given. I do think this year is the biggest make or break year because they've finally had the cap space and can truly shape the roster with talent they want. Jackson could be the cherry on top. He would come into an offense that helps him and would have weapons around him that could be better than anything he's worked with in Baltimore. On top of that, the city would undoubtedly support the team and he would fill the Michael Vick-sized hole in people's hearts. It's a fit that truly makes too much sense.
This team is in one of the trickiest positions I've seen in quite sometime. They were on the verge of the playoffs just two seasons ago, but one Carson Wentz misstep and whatever last year was has ruined them. The Colts are in a precarious position at this point in the offseason because they haven't made any big tweaks to their roster and largely look like they're running back the majority of the team. The one piece missing is unfortunately the hardest one to find, quarterback. They seem destined to draft whoever falls to them on draft night, you can read about those guys here. They signed Gardner Minshew to bridge the gap, as well. I've failed to mention the fact that they hired a new head coach with Shane Steichen. The former Eagles offensive coordinator comes over to try and right the ship. Still, he has the tall task of trying to find a quarterback for the next decade in Indianapolis.
Instead of gambling on the tools of Anthony Richardson or some other player, why not go after the best talent on the market? A proven commodity that can also go to a team that can utilize him properly. As I mentioned, Steichen was the former Eagles OC and worked with Jalen Hurts to form a lethal offense. With Lamar, he can quickly go back to running the same style of offense that can explode on the field behind running the ball. Once again, Lamar would go to a team that has better weapons than anything he saw in Baltimore. Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman Jr. would take pressure off Lamar to do it all and this big three could be one of the best in the league. I think it's unlikely due to Jim Irsay's comments, but the potential of this just seems like a dream for a team in a winnable division.
New England Patriots
This one is much more fun than realistic, but since rapper Meek Mill made the plea to Patriots owner Robert Kraft, maybe it could happen? That likely wouldn't be the reason but Kraft kept the door open saying along the lines if Bill Belichick wanted him, they would get him. It was a very interesting quote from the owner of the team. The Patriots have been aggressively non-committal to Mac Jones as the starter and the Patriots have lacked a certain amount of excitement since Tom Brady's departure. Jones made the playoffs his rookie year, but after a 47-17 beat down, nothing has been positive from him. He started off last season with a poor showing before being out with a back injury. Rookie Bailey Zappe gave the Patriots some juice and when it was time for Jones to comeback on Monday Night Football against the Bears, the fans were not welcoming as they booed him after a terrible interception. From there, the Patriots had a good stretch because of a weak schedule, but it never truly clicked for them.
What better way to juice up your fanbase than to go out and acquire Jackson. The move would be interesting for many reasons. Belichick has never had a quarterback as dynamic or unique as Jackson and he could bring his winning ways over to New England to help them in a very tough division. With the Jets on the verge of acquiring Aaron Rodgers, the Patriots can find themselves in the basement of the AFC East, something that Belichick has never had during his tenure. The fit makes sense for their offense, as well. After firing Matt Patricia as OC, the Patriots brought back old friend Bill O'Brien. It often gets forgotten because of how bad he was a general manager, but O'Brien made the Texans into a multiple time division winner. On top of that, he coached Deshaun Watson and Bryce Young, two quarterbacks that use their legs to help their passing attack. Although the skillsets are different, the styles overlap enough that I think Jackson could fit in. For the first time in the article, the Ravens may have the better skill position group, but the Patriots aren't far off. It seems like a longshot, but I could definitely see the argument for why it could work.
These are just a few spots that I think can work for Jackson, but it certainly doesn't stop there. I think teams like the Packers and Dolphins are wild cards to get in on the Jackson sweepstakes, but who knows if there's any real interest at this point. I'm a fan of his game and I think he brings a game-breaking potential to any team.
Running Back Rankings
The running back class this year has a massive amount of range from speed guys to power guys to pass catchers to balanced guys. Of course, these players will slide in the draft and go much later than they probably should and that's just the modern NFL. The positional value of a running back is at it's lowest point ever. It's harder and harder for running backs to get the big extension because it's so easy to find one in the draft. I still think it's a valuable spot because having a great running back can open up the passing game and vice versa, however, that isn't the reality in today's NFL.
This year I think the margins between the backs is minimal, outside of the top guy. The number one running back on my list is Bijan Robinson and I think it's the unanimous opinion among many people. He's a complete back that can lose defenders with his speed and shrug them off with his power. I love his game and he's a fit for any offense. The second guy is Jahmyr Gibbs and he's drawn many comparisons to Alvin Kamara. I'm not quite sure I see it as I think he's more like Tony Pollard. A high end RB2 that can catch the ball and be a good change of pace from a bell cow back. After that it's more of a drop off, but I think these are guys that can be impactful.
Tyjae Spears is a fun back that can do similar things as Robinson, but is smaller. Achane is a straight-line runner, similar to Tevin Coleman in my eyes. Chase Brown is a balanced back that might be able to steal a starting job in the preseason. Roschon Johnson is a guy that I didn't write a profile about, but he's up there for talented backs in this draft. He's a guy that runs like an 18 wheeler. I think an offense similar to the one the Titans used with Derrick Henry the last couple years would be the best use of his skills. Sean Tucker is the fastest slow-looking player I've seen. I don't know exactly what that means, but it's true in my eyes. It seems like the defenders just slowly start lagging behind him until he eventually scores. Zach Charbonnet is a big body with broad shoulders that is a real bell cow back.
The opposite of Charbonnet, Kenny McIntosh is a pass catching back that has solid speed. As a Georgia student myself, I've seen McIntosh make a big time catch down the field at least once a game. He should be a valuable piece for an NFL team. Israel Abanikanda was a touchdown machine and made the Pittsburgh offense competent. He's an underrated athlete with his speed and is rising up draft boards. Kendre Miller was very solid for TCU and can slip through tackles to break big runs. Tank Bigsby was a big piece for Auburn during his time and he's similar to Charbonnet with carrying the ball over 30 times a game, then he's ready for 30 more.
Evan Hull runs bashfully and has a similar style of acceleration as Sean Tucker does, where he slowly just beats the defender to the outside and breaks off big runs. Mohammed Ibrahim is the most productive running back in Golden Gopher history. Along with Abanikanda, Ibrahim had 20 touchdowns, but an Achilles injury two seasons ago will hurt him. Chris Rodriguez Jr. had some trouble off the field, but when he played, he runs with good power. Eric Gray is similar to Rodriguez Jr., but is a better receiver. Keaton Mitchell and Camerun Peoples were at smaller schools, but were common fixtures in their respective offenses. Zach Evans was a bigtime recruit that never reached his potential but he could reach that in the league. Lastly, Deuce Vaughn is super fun and has great speed, but he's a very small player. Similar to the wide receivers, running backs get pushed down the board due to the abundance of them. There are some hidden gems that'll shine and there are guys that won't be able to make it week one. Make sure to check out the full profiles on five of the guys mentioned above.
Sources: Image via Gary McCullough, AP Photo. Stats found from here