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NFL Player Profile

Can Marquise Brown boom in a run-first attack?

by Ian Hartitz
Updated On: May 11, 2020, 10:58 am ET

We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2020 season; this is part of that series.

The 2019 Ravens racked up 596 rush attempts on their way to averaging a robust 33.2 points per game. Their team-wide average of 5.53 yards per carry was the highest single-season mark of the last 50 years. Each of Lamar Jackson (No. 1), Gus Edwards (No. 3) and Mark Ingram (No. 7) ranked highly in yards per carry among 47 players with at least 100 rush attempts. This is life with a threat like Jackson under center; only the Cardinals averaged more yards before contact per rush.

And yet, the passing game was also incredibly efficient, as Jackson found himself near the top of the leaderboard in most metrics through the air (per Pro Football Reference and Pro Football Focus):

  • TD rate: 9% (No. 1 among 32 QBs that started at least 8 games in 2019)
  • Completion rate: 66.1% (No. 9)
  • Interception rate: 1.5% (No. 10)
  • QB Rating: 113.3 (No. 3)
  • Yards per attempt: 7.8 (No. 12)
  • Adjusted yards per attempt: 8.92 (No. 4)
  • QB Rating on deep passes: 111.9 (No. 6)
  • QB Rating under pressure: 97.7 (No. 3)
  • QB Rating when kept clean: 118.5 (No. 4)

Do Jackson's passing stats fluctuate because of how much attention defenses are forced to pay to his rushing ability? Sure, but it's not like that massive problem is going away anytime soon. Defenses have had an entire offseason to watch film and try to figure out how to slow down this attack, but even a modest decline in efficiency across the board would still leave the Ravens as an extremely good offense.

One of the main questions entering the 2020 season is whether or not Jackson will manage to enable No. 1 WR Marquise Brown to more prolific production. We saw flashes of "Hollywood" looking like the next DeSean Jackson in 2019, although injuries and lack of consistent opportunity would ultimately lead to mostly boom-or-bust performances from the rookie.

What follows is a breakdown on what to expect from Brown and the Ravens' passing game in 2020.

Speed kills, and Brown has plenty of it

Brown reached 20.33 miles per hour on an 83-yard score in Week 1 of 2019. This was despite playing at less than 100% with a screw in his foot. The artist known as Hollywood allegedly clocked a 4.3-second 40-yard dash before his final season at Oklahoma.

The exact measure of how fast Brown is doesn't really matter. We already have a number of examples of him blowing past corners and would-be tacklers alike.

Per PlayerProfiler, Brown turned in top-10 marks in both fantasy points per target (No. 8) and average cushion (No. 4). This reflects what we saw on the field ... for parts of the season. Overall, Brown was largely the epitome of a boom-or-bust field-stretching WR in 2019:

  • Week 1: 4 receptions-147 yards-2 TD (5 targets), PPR WR5
  • Week 2: 8-86-0 (13), WR22
  • Week 3: 2-49-0 (9), WR65
  • Week 4: 4-22-0 (7), WR60
  • Week 5: 3-22-1 (5), WR32
  • Week 9: 3-48-0 (4), WR49
  • Week 10: 4-80-1 (4), WR14
  • Week 11: 2-23-0 (4), WR72
  • Week 12: 5-42-2 (7), WR9
  • Week 13: 1-1-0 (2), WR108
  • Week 14: 3-(-)2-0 (3), WR91
  • Week 15: 4-45-1 (4), WR30
  • Week 16: 1-6-0 (2), WR99
  • Week 17: 2-15-0 (2), WR82
  • Divisional Round: 7-126-0 (11)

To summarize: Brown had as many weeks as a top-32 WR (6) as he did outside of the top-64 options (6).

The good news is that Brown has now had an entire offseason to both get healthy and further integrate himself into the offense. He again appears to be the team's undisputed No. 1 WR entering next season.

The Ravens didn't exactly add a lot of competition at WR

Baltimore currently boasts the following bodies in their WR room:

  • Brown: He's fast.
  • Miles Boykin: The skilled second-year WR possesses the type of athletic profile that can quickly take a lonely fantasy analyst from six to midnight. Per PlayerProfiler, the 6-foot-4 and 220-pound beast posted elite marks in Speed Score (98th percentile), Burst Score (99th), Agility Score (90th) and Catch Radius (99th). He posted a pedestrian 13-198-3 receiving line as a rookie, but the absence of Seth Roberts should at least open up more of a full-time role in 2020. His best-case scenario appears to be as the No. 3 pass-game option.
  • Willie Snead: The long-time slot WR finished third on the team in targets ... with 46. The Ravens appeared to draft two potential future replacements for him, meaning a reduced role could be on the way sooner rather than later. There was never a ceiling here anyway; Snead cleared 50 receiving yards in just 3-of-17 games last season.
  • Chris Moore: The best season of Moore's career occurred in 2017, when he caught 18-of-38 targets for 248 yards and a trio of scores. He doesn't figure to demand anything more than a complementary backup WR role in 2020.
  • Jaleel Scott: The 2019 fourth-round pick caught 1-of-3 targets for six-scoreless yards as a rookie. Expect Scott to be fighting for a roster spot during training camp. His size (6-foot-5 and 218-pounds) is fairly unique, but don't expect many concentrated efforts to feed him the ball in this TE-heavy offense.
  • De'Anthony Thomas: The long-time Chiefs returner/backup WR figures to compete for return duties with the potential to play a handful of snaps per game on offense as more of a gadget-type player.
  • Devin Duvernay: One key battle to watch throughout training camp will be between the Ravens' third-round pick and Snead. The former Texas slot WR has a fun combination of speed (4.39-second 40-yard dash) and sure hands (only three drops on 128 targets in 2019), but obviously targets and playing time could be tough to come by in the league's most run-heavy offense. Expect Duvernay to be a better real-life asset than fantasy star in 2020.
  • James Proche: 5-foot-11 and 201-pound 2020 sixth-round pick that PlayerProfiler compares to ... Snead.

Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle are locked in as the offense's top-two TEs now that Hayden Hurst is with the Falcons. It's tough to rank Andrews outside of the top-four fantasy TEs ahead of 2020. Jackson fed his trusty No. 1 receiver at least six targets in all but four games last season, and Andrews has demonstrated enough elite ability with both the ball in his hands as well as in contested-catch situations to continue to warrant high-end fantasy appeal. George Kittle was the only high-usage TE to average more yards per route run than Andrews (2.89) managed in 2019. I'd only take Kittle and Travis Kelce before Andrews in fantasy drafts of all shapes and sizes.

Andrews doesn't figure to be fully unseated by Brown anytime soon, but an enhanced and more-efficient role could still lead to plenty of fantasy goodness next season.

2020 could lead to more boom-than-bust for Brown

The rising second-year talent boasts an average draft position in the low-WR30 range at the time of this writing. We saw plenty of upside from Hollywood last season, but the floor was also painfully low.

Brown is a fantastic fantasy selection in best-ball formats that don't force you to have to decipher between his boom-and-bust weeks. Just keep in mind that similar boom-or-bust players like Marvin Jones, Brandin Cooks, Christian Kirk and Will Fuller will likely all be cheaper and in much more pass-happy offenses.

Perhaps Hollywood takes a second-year leap and makes the most out of a near triple-digit target workload. Still, there's reason to believe a scoring regression from the entire passing game is about to happen in Baltimore. Previously only eight QBs had posted a touchdown rate of at least 8% in a season since 2000 before Jackson became the ninth-such player in 2019. They each heavily regressed in the following season:

Jackson could very well improve as an overall passer in 2020 while also posting worse efficiency statistics. It's simply going to be incredibly difficult for him to improve on last season's numbers ... because we have very few examples of players being better than what we saw from the 2019 NFL MVP.

Brown is the Ravens' No. 1 WR, but in reality the No. 2 pass-game option. He finished his rookie season as the PPR WR46. Each of John Brown, Michael Crabtree and Snead were top-33 PPR WRs with Joe Flacco under center in 2018 before falling outside of the top-75 options during the second half of the season.

Hollywood is currently a bit too pricey for my liking, particularly in re-draft formats. Even if we do see him post more boom performances that he achieved in 2019, the nature of his role inside of the league's most run-heavy offense will likely continue to result in plenty of underwhelming performances. Brown's field-stretching ability is incredibly important to the Ravens' offense, and he should be closer to full health in 2020 after having offseason surgery to remove the screw in his foot. It's good to bet on talented players in great offenses, just realize he's probably being drafted near his ceiling as a top-30 WR selection in 2020.

Ian Hartitz

All things NFL. Great day to be great. You can follow Ian on Twitter @Ihartitz.