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Ravens heighten QB hype, bringing in Lamar Jackson for pre-draft visit – NFL Nation

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens are bringing in Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson for a pre-draft visit, according to The MMQB.

This will undoubtedly increase speculation that Baltimore is considering drafting a quarterback in the first round. The key question is: Are the Ravens really interested in Jackson or do they simply want others teams to think they are?

It’s not out of the question that Baltimore takes a quarterback with its top pick. Joe Flacco has struggled since winning the Super Bowl five years ago, and the Ravens can create $18.5 million in cap space in 2019 by designating him as a post-June 1 cut.

The Ravens’ front office has done nothing to quiet the hype that Baltimore will take a quarterback in the first round for the first time in a decade. Assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said the team would pick a quarterback if there’s one “really too good to pass up,” and general manager Ozzie Newsome hinted the Ravens could “surprise” in the first round.

If Baltimore believes Flacco could be gone after this season, it makes sense to take a quarterback now, giving him a year to watch and learn. And, if the Ravens are eyeing a quarterback with the No. 16 overall pick, Jackson is the best bet among the top five quarterbacks to slide to the middle of the first round.

“Lamar, obviously, set the college landscape on fire his freshman year,” Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. “He’s just a dynamic athlete, unbelievable speed when he gets out in the open as a runner, but he’s got a really strong arm, with the ability to drive the ball into tight windows. He’s the type of guy you can build around.”

The Ravens’ visit with the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner could just be gamesmanship. If Baltimore isn’t interested in drafting a quarterback in the first round, it would be in the Ravens’ best interest to make other teams believe they are.

The more quarterbacks are taken in the top half of the first round — and four of them (Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield) are virtual locks — the more it pushes highly rated (non-quarterback) prospects to No. 16. Showing interest in Jackson could prod a team wanting a young quarterback like the Los Angeles Chargers (No. 17), New England Patriots (No. 23, New Orleans Saints (No. 27) or Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 29) to jump in front of Baltimore.

Drafting a quarterback in the first round would go against Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti’s comments in February. Asked if it was time to start looking at life without Flacco, Bisciotti said, “We’ve got bigger fish to fry.”

At Wednesday’s pre-draft news conference, Newsome said the Ravens haven’t paid more attention to this year’s quarterback class than previous ones.

“I think the quality of the number of guys maybe more than which allows us to make sure we do our homework,” Newsome said.

Jackson is a unique talent, becoming the the only player in FBS history to rush for at least 1,500 yards and pass for at least 3,500 yards in a season. And Jackson accomplished this feat twice (in 2016 and 2017).

He went 22-11 as a starting quarterback at Louisville and was a touchdown machine. He reached the end zone 119 times (a school record), running for 50 and throwing for 69.

The biggest concern is his accuracy. He completed 57 percent of his throws for his career.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. described Jackson as an “in the area” thrower.

“He’s got to improve his accuracy. That’s a fact,” Kiper said. “That 57 percent, you haven’t seen any improvement off of that. The combine, he was still all over the place with those throws, so that’s where you know he’s going to need some time and some work.”



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Drew Brees laughs off talk of decline, says out-of-sync Saints ‘not even close’ to full capability

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Drew Brees chuckled when asked about the growing narrative that he might be showing signs of decline to start his 20th NFL season.

“Well, my job is to execute the offense. … My job’s not to have the most air yards or throw the ball down the field most or anything like that,” the New Orleans Saints quarterback said after his team flopped in several areas during a 34-24 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday night.

“I think I’ve always evaluated myself on being a great decision-maker. And so at the end of the day, I’ll throw the ball to the open guy, move the ball down the field, score points, help us win football games. So that’s my job,” Brees said. “My job’s to help us win. My job’s to help put everyone around me in the best position to succeed.”

However, the numbers do show a noteworthy trend. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Brees’ average of 4.82 air yards on his passes this season are the lowest of any quarterback through two games since Brett Favre in 2009.

And as ESPN analysts Louis Riddick and Brian Griese pointed out after Monday’s loss, Brees has looked less comfortable in the pocket and hasn’t been as “surgical” as usual on those short and intermediate throws. Brees, 41, has completed just 44 of 68 passes this season (64.7%) after topping 74% in each of the past two seasons (the two most accurate seasons in NFL history).

He completed 26 of 38 for 312 yards, one touchdown and one interception Monday night. His first interception of the season was a costly one just before halftime — turning a potential scoring drive into a game-tying field goal for the Raiders.

“Are we totally in sync right now? No we’re not. We’re not even close to where we are capable of. Not even close,” said Brees — who was also missing his security blanket in receiver Michael Thomas, who missed his first game in four years because of an ankle injury. “We did some good things — early on — but it just wasn’t enough for the few opportunities that we had.”

The Saints (1-1) will have to try to get back in sync on a short week before hosting the Green Bay Packers (2-0) on Sunday Night Football.

To be fair, the deep ball has not been a big part of Brees’ arsenal in recent years — and he has still managed the two best passer ratings of his career over the past two seasons while the Saints have posted back-to-back 13-3 records.

And there are plenty of reasons why he and the Saints’ offense might be a little off to start this season — including the abbreviated offseason and the ankle injury that Thomas suffered in the final minutes of New Orleans’ Week 1 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Brees and new Saints receiver Emmanuel Sanders have yet to get in sync consistently, with Sanders catching just one pass for 18 yards on three targets Monday.

Brees and coach/play caller Sean Payton both described their performances as “awful” in Week 1 as well, despite the 34-23 victory over Tampa Bay.

“Again, I think we just need to be more efficient,” said Brees, who blamed himself for a bad decision on his interception — pointing out that he should have settled for the check-down on that throw instead of rushing it under pressure.

“We called a shot play or two today — and just got the wrong coverage on both of them. So what could’ve been big-play opportunities, what could’ve been throws down the field, unfortunately had to be checked down,” Brees said. “But I think both of those [resulted in completions for about 10 yards]. At the end of the day, our job is to move the ball and score points, however we have to do that.”

As Brees pointed out, the Saints had the ball for just 23 minutes, 42 seconds on a night when their defense also struggled to stop Raiders tight end Darren Waller. And for the second week in a row, New Orleans led the NFL in penalty yardage with 129 yards on 10 accepted flags.

“We didn’t possess the ball enough offensively, and defensively … we couldn’t get off the field,” Payton said.

“We gotta do a better job coaching. I don’t think it’s gonna be a real pleasant film to watch for some of our star players as well.

“We have to be precise with what we’re doing. The last two weeks, I think it’s been average at best offensively. We’re not functioning well enough.”

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Las Vegas Raiders lineman Richie Incognito aggravates Achilles injury, leaves win in first half

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LAS VEGAS — Raiders left guard Richie Incognito, a four-time Pro Bowler, left Las Vegas’ Monday night victory over the New Orleans Saints with an Achilles tendon injury.

Incognito, 37, was listed as limited in practice on Friday and Saturday with the injury. He was replaced by rookie John Simpson in the second quarter. Incognito stood on the sidelines, hands on his hips and a ball cap on his head as he talked with injured and inactive right tackle Trent Brown in the second quarter.

Through just six quarters of the 2020 season, the Raiders had lost Incognito, Brown (calf) and Brown’s replacement, Sam Young (groin), to injury. Denzelle Good, normally a guard, started at right tackle after replacing Young, who had replaced Brown, in Carolina last week.

Short-handed or not, the line has produced. The Raiders amassed 375 total yards in the 34-24 victory over the Saints, and quarterback Derek Carr was not sacked in a performance that included three touchdown passes.

Incognito has been one of general manager Mike Mayock’s best free-agent signings since coming to the Raiders after the 2018 season, a year after Incognito took a one-year retirement.

Incognito, who has had his share of both on- and off-the-field issues, has not been a distraction for the Raiders since signing a “prove-it deal” and then getting a two-year contract extension worth up to $14 million, with more than $6 million guaranteed.

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Saints’ Drew Brees acts his age in off-target loss to Raiders – New Orleans Saints Blog

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Drew Brees looked his age, and the rest of the team followed suit as the New Orleans Saints went bust in Las Vegas on Monday night.

Brees, 41, had his second straight lackluster performance in the Saints’ 34-24 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders, completing 26 of 38 passes for 312 yards, one touchdown pass and his first interception of the season.

Brees has averaged 4.82 air yards on his passes so far this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. That’s his lowest through two games as a member of the Saints, and it’s the lowest by any QB through two games since Brett Favre in 2009.

But he was hardly the only culprit in an ugly loss that put a serious damper on the Saints’ role as a top Super Bowl contender. Their offense couldn’t generate much while star receiver Michael Thomas was sidelined with an ankle injury. Their defense couldn’t stop Raiders tight end Darren Waller (12 receptions, 103 yards) all night. And the team had 10 penalties for 129 yards Monday night, including two costly pass interference penalties and three personal fouls by the defense.

“I don’t think it’s gonna be a real pleasant film to watch — for some of our star players as well,” said Saints coach Sean Payton, who pointed to the struggles from the offense, defense and coaches included.

Now the 1-1 Saints will have to try to get their groove back on a short week before they host the sizzling-hot Green Bay Packers (2-0) on Sunday Night Football next week.

QB breakdown: They were whispers last week, but they turned into shouts on social media under the Monday Night spotlight: Are we seeing the begin of a steep decline in Brees’ 20th NFL season, a la Peyton Manning in his final year with the Denver Broncos?

The jury is still out on that after such a small sample size. Remember, Brees wasn’t throwing the ball downfield much the past two years either, and he still found a way to post the two highest passer ratings of his career and the two highest completion percentages in NFL history.

But Brees is barely taking any shots down the field. And what’s more disturbing is that he is showing uncharacteristic inaccuracy on short and intermediate throws, as well.

Brees looked fine throughout training camp after working with longtime throwing coach Tom House on adding zip to his deep throws this summer. But he’ll be the under the microscope — with defenses shrinking the field on him — until he proves otherwise.

Biggest hole in the game plan: Newly signed Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins looked a step behind for most of Monday night. And while we’re picking on the older players, newly signed Saints receiver Emmanuel Sanders hasn’t found his groove yet with his new team, either. He caught just one pass for 18 yards on three targets with a drop and a penalty.

Silver lining: At least Alvin Kamara looked healthy. The Saints’ running back provided the team’s only real spark with 13 runs for 79 yards, nine catches for 95 yards and two TDs. He has already paid big dividends with four TDs in the first two weeks after signing a five-year contract extension the day before the season opener.

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