Wed Nov 13 4:24pm ET
By DAVID GINSBURG
AP Sports Writer
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) celebrates his touchdown during the second half of NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Frank Victores)
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, center, laughs on the sidelines during the second half of NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson passes during the second half of NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) runs the ball for a touchdown against Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap (96) during the second half of NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Frank Victores)
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) There are times when Lamar Jackson displays the style and exuberance of a youngster playing football on the street with friends.
Seemingly unaffected by the responsibility of being an NFL starting quarterback, Jackson relishes the opportunity to run, pass and match wits with opposing defenses. And when he's all done, the Baltimore Ravens star just might flip on a pair of sunglasses and pose on the sideline with his teammates.
Such was the case last Sunday, when the versatile Jackson achieved a perfect quarterback rating and peeled off a can't-top-this 47-yard touchdown run in a 49-13 rout of the Cincinnati Bengals.
For a new generation of NFL quarterbacks, staying in the pocket is merely an option.
''It's pretty cool,'' Jackson said Wednesday. ''We're just doing our thing: playing ball, having fun, doing what all of us did when we were just little kids.''
With Jackson as the driving force, the Ravens (7-2) have won five straight and established themselves as a Super Bowl contender. Now in his second season, the former Louisville standout is 13-3 as a starter and the focal point of a team that leads the league in scoring, rushing and with a 76.9% conversion rate on fourth down.
Jackson is the only player in NFL history to amass 2,000 yards passing and 700 yards rushing through a season's first nine games. In the high-stakes world of pro football, Jackson is keeping it low key.
''Obviously, Lamar is our leader. We follow him,'' tight end Mark Andrews said. ''He's done a great job of staying humble. With all the spotlight and the buzz and people kind of catching on to the type of player he can be, he's done a great job of staying true to himself and playing for his teammates.''
Jackson stepped out of character against the Bengals, grabbing a pair of sunglasses from head athletic trainer Ron Medlin and hamming it up in a hilarious photo with teammates Marlon Humphrey, Ron Stanley, Mark Ingram and Marquise Brown.
''When you're winning and guys are making plays, it's just contagious, the happiness, the joy,'' Ingram said. ''We all love playing football, we love winning and we love watching our teammates making plays. I don't know how we got those glasses on, but this team is a special group.''
And, to be sure, Jackson is a unique quarterback. His second perfect quarterback rating of the season (15 for 17, 223 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs) was impressive, but that 47-yard frolic through the Cincinnati defense might be the play that all past and future quarterback runs will be measured against.
Ingram was right there when it happened, and he's watched it so many times on film that he can describe the action from memory.
''It was crazy,'' Ingram said. ''He made the right read, got away from (defensive end) Carlos Dunlap, hit the safety, dead-legged him, three guys pursuing, he spun inside of them and then the acceleration just to get to the end zone. Yeah, you've got to go into the archives to see something better than that. It was wild.''
That was the Lamar Jackson that won the Heisman Trophy in 2016 and the one his mom appreciated from an early age.
''She just said I'm finally playing how I used to play,'' Jackson said.
Truth is, Jackson's improvement from his rookie year can be attributed to his prowess at passing. If a team dares to stack the line to make him throw, Jackson will gladly accept the invitation and make the defense pay.
''That's where hard work comes in. That's where dedication is,'' he said.
Jackson is the toast of Baltimore these days. The fans swarm him at shopping malls, fast-food joints, anywhere he might happen to be.
''Baltimore loves the players and we appreciate it. We love them back,'' Jackson said. ''So it's all good.''
Until it isn't.
''Football starts with the quarterback,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ''That's what he signed up for. That team has Lamar's back. But just as quickly as (the fans) pat you on the back, they're going to slice your Achilles just like that.''
Unless, of course, Jackson continues to improve. He is, after all, only 22 years old.
''He's just a special talent. Never complacent,'' Ingram said. ''He's only going to get better.''
Notes: The Ravens signed former Denver DT Domata Peko, who will turn 35 later this month and has not played this season. Peko, along with DT Justin Ellis (signed Tuesday), provide Baltimore with options if Michael Pierce (ankle) can't go Sunday against Houston. ... Baltimore released KR Cyrus Jones and placed rookie DT Daylon Mack (knee) on injured reserve.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Kendrick Bourne signed his one-year tender on Monday. Bourne had 30 receptions on 44 targets for 358 yards and a career-high five touchdowns in 16 games (zero starts) for the team in 2019. There is plenty of opportunity for Bourne and others to start in three-receiver sets in 2020 behind Deebo Samuel. With nine touchdowns in his last two seasons with the Niners, the 24-year-old has proven to be a nice red-zone presence for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, but it remains to be seen if he can become a consistent starting option. There will be plenty of competition at the receiver position in San Fran, and they're also likely to address the position in the draft.
Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said that the team has "had internal discussions" about an extension for running back Christian McCaffrey. The stud running back is heading into the final year of his rookie deal, but the Panthers may wait and have him play on the fifth-year team option in 2021 before signing him to a long-term extension. Whether or not McCaffrey is playing with a new deal or not, he should be the No. 1 overall fantasy selection this fall. The 23-year-old former eighth overall pick ran the ball 287 times for a career-high 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns, while also catching 116 passes for 1,005 yards and another four scores.
New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas acknowledged that wide receiver Quincy Enunwa (neck) remains a "big question mark" heading into the 2020 season and beyond. Enunwa played in just one game in 2019 before being shut down for the year, and he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis. He also played in just 1 games in 2018 due to neck and back issues, and it's unknown if he'll ever be 100 percent again, which makes it hard for the Jets to rely on him behind Breshad Perriman and Jamison Crowder. If healthy, the 27-year-old (28 in May) wideout would likely be the team's No. 3 receiver, but he'll have to compete with Josh Doctson and Vyncint Smith and prove he's healthy in training camp.
The Kansas City Chiefs have had contract talks with defensive tackle Chris Jones, but there haven't been any offers up to this point. The Chiefs will also be trying to work out a long-term extension with Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes, but that is unlikely to happen until sometime after the draft. The Chiefs placed the franchise tag on Jones earlier this offseason, but they'll have until July 15 to figure out an extension. The 25-year-old made the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2019, registering nine sacks, 36 tackles (23 solo), eight tackles for loss and 20 QB hits. Jones has become an essential inside presence on KC's defensive line and has 33 sacks in his four seasons in the league.
Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith should see an increased role in the offense in 2020 now that Stefon Diggs is playing for the Bills. When wide receiver Adam Thielen was out for almost two months with an injury last year, Smith caught 36 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns and emerged as a reliable target for quarterback Kirk Cousins. Minnesota's offense also relies heavily on tight ends under coach Gary Kubiak; tight ends have received an average of 23 percent of targets per season in Kubiak's 21 seasons as a head coach or offensive coordinator. Even battling for targets with Kyle Rudolph, Smith could become worth rostering as a TE2 in standard leagues in his second season in the NFL.
Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup had 39 catches for 686 yards and five touchdowns in November and December last season compared to 27 catches, 421 yards and one touchdown in the first two months of the year.
Fantasy Spin: Gallup had more receptions, yards and touchdowns in the final two months of 2019 than he did in his entire rookie season, and he and Amari Cooper suddenly look like one of the better receiver duos heading into 2020. For his part, Gallup should be a WR3 with upside.
Los Angeles Rams TE Tyler Higbee had 43 catches for 522 yards and two touchdowns in the month of December last season compared to 26 catches, 212 yards and one score over the first three months combined.
Fantasy Spin: Jared Goff actually led the NFL in pass attempts last year, and now that Todd Gurley is not in the mix, Higbee's strong finish to 2019 could be a sign of things to come if the Rams continue to embrace a pass-heavy attack. Target him as a TE1 in 2020.
Baltimore Ravens TE Mark Andrews caught 31 passes for 440 yards and five touchdowns at home in 2019 and had 33 receptions for 412 yards and five scores in road contests.
Fantasy Spin: It didn't matter where the Ravens were playing. Andrews was routinely Lamar Jackson's favorite target and the most consistent member of the passing attack in an otherwise run-heavy offense. He's locked in as a TE1 heading into 2020.
Houston Texans WR Will Fuller played in 11 games in 2019, and the team averaged 26.3 points in those contests compared to 19.6 in the five games he missed. Houston had an 8-3 record when Fuller played and went 2-3 without him in the lineup.
Fantasy Spin: Fuller will be asked to be the No. 1 receiver for Houston in 2020 following the trade of DeAndre Hopkins, and while good things tend to happen when he is on the field, he has yet to play a full season. In fact, Fuller has played 11 or fewer games in each of the past three seasons. Fuller will have WR2 upside, but fantasy owners need to make sure to have depth at the receiver position if they choose to take a chance on him.
Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson threw for 14 touchdowns versus only three interceptions in seven home games last season. In eight road outings, he accounted for 12 passing scores versus nine interceptions.
Cleveland Browns RB Nick Chubb averaged 100.4 yards rushing, 0.75 touchdowns and 3.1 catches in eight games while Kareem Hunt served his eight-game suspension to begin last season. After Hunt was activated, Chubb averaged 86.4 yards rushing, 0.25 TDs and 1.4 catches.
Fantasy Spin: Hunt was very successful in his backup running back/slot role over the second half of the season, so it's fair to wonder if new head coach Kevin Stefanski has any designs on changing something that worked so well under the previous regime. Working in Chubb's favor is the likelihood Cleveland will be holding leads more often this season, meaning he could in a position to break off some more long scoring runs against tired defenses late in games. With Hunt around, however, Chubb should be considered a high-end RB2.
Pittsburgh Steelers RB James Conner broke a tackle once only every 23.2 rush attempts last season. In 2018, he broke a tackle once every 10.8 carries.
Baltimore Ravens RB Gus Edwards averaged 2.5 yards per carry before contact and 2.8 yards per carry after contact in 2019, slightly outperforming starter and backfield teammate Mark Ingram (2.4 and 2.6, respectively) in each category.
Miami Dolphins WR DeVante Parker finished third in the league with 939 yards before the catch last season, while his 13 yards before catch per reception was good for sixth among qualified players.
New England Patriots RB Sony Michel averaged 19 carries for 73 yards and scored four touchdowns in three games with Rex Burkhead injured last season. In those same contests, Michel compiled six of his 12 catches for the year. In the 13 games Burkhead was active, Michel averaged 14.6 carries for 53 yards and scored only three times.
Free-agent WR Jaron Brown (Seahawks) likely will not re-sign with the Seattle Seahawks this offseason since the Seahawks signed WR Phillip Dorsett earlier in the offseason.
New York Jets WR Quincy Enunwa (neck) is not considering retirement even though he is recovering from a neck injury. He is scheduled to receive $10.1 million in guaranteed money over the next two seasons.
Fantasy Spin: Enunwa has been limited to 12 games over the last three seasons because of injury and his status for the 2020 season is still uncertain. Fantasy players should keep an eye on his situation, but he should be considered a risky option in all leagues.
San Francisco 49ers running back Matt Breida didn't have much of a role on offense to end last season behind Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman. If Jerick McKinnon is actually healthy in 2020, he gives the 49ers a legitimate route-runner and third-down option out of the backfield. San Fran could be willing to trade Breida's rights for a low-round draft pick. Of all the backs in this crowded backfield, Breida is the most likely to be playing for another team come the start of the season. The 25-year-old from Georgia Southern has been productive with 5.0 yards per carry on 381 career rushing attempts in his three years with the Niners, but he's also consistently battled nagging injuries and is now buried on the depth chart. A move out of this crowded backfield and onto another team with more opportunity would be best for Breida's real-life and fantasy value.
The Seattle Seahawks may only be willing to pay free-agent LB Jadeveon Clowney $13 million to $15 million annually to return, according to 710 ESPN Seattle's John Clayton. Clowney is reportedly seeking a deal which will pay him at least $17 million per year.
Pittsburgh Steelers TE Eric Ebron is one of six tight ends with at least 20 red zone touchdowns over the last five seasons, and he joins a Pittsburgh offense that ranked last in red zone scoring in 2019.
Fantasy Spin: A healthy Ben Roethlisberger under center should also go a long way to helping the Pittsburgh offense, but Ebron addresses a big need. He's a lower-end TE1 candidate, even if he could be a little touchdown dependent.