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It all starts with the best-laid plans. Mark Andrews entered 2020 as the consensus No. 4 tight end in pre-draft rankings. He was in a prime position to crack the elite tier after finishing 2019 in a tie with Darren Waller as TE5 at 13.8 PPR points per game. But even the best-laid plans can’t account for the unexpected.
What Went Wrong?
Following a breakout in 2019 that saw Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson break fantasy records, the community as a whole was ready to buy in. The team added J.K. Dobbins in the second round of the NFL Draft and looked to have a full complement of weapons. The pieces were in place for the offense to improve on its already great 2019. But those improvements didn't happen. The good news is we have a clear idea of what went wrong.
Offensive line play is difficult to value in fantasy football analysis. It isn't straightforward, and the focus is reading the tea leaves of depth charts at the fantasy positions. On March 10th, cornerstone guard Marshall Yanda announced his retirement after a Hall-of-Fame-caliber career. Yanda’s replacement, Ben Powers, struggled -- ProFootballFocus rated him as the 54th guard among qualifiers. For a unit that functions in tandem more than any position, replacing a Hall of Fame-caliber talent with a bottom-of-the-league talent ripples throughout the entire offense. The result clearly impacted Jackson and, by extension, his targets.
Across the board, the pressure statistics on Jackson increased, as evidenced below from Pro Football Reference:
The picture is clear. He had less time to throw and was hit more often. Unfortunately, the Ravens offense struggled for most of the season, attempting the same amount of passes (27 per game) with lowered efficiency across the board.
Mark Andrews may have been the single most disappointing player in fantasy football for the first half of the season. The Ravens needed Andrews to stay in to pass block more often, and opposing defenses were able to frequently double-team Andrews on pass routes because they didn't need to commit as many pass rushers to rattle Jackson. As a result, Andrews lost a target per game (versus 2019), and his yards nearly halved.
The primary reason was predictability. The Ravens utilized heavy packages more than any team in the league due to their ability to run the ball combined with featuring one of the best blocking tight ends in Nick Boyle and one of the best fullbacks in Patrick Ricard. This frequently led to plays where only two receivers -- Andrews and Marquise Brown -- ran routes.
The 2019 Ravens took the league by storm with these packages due to Jackson’s rush ability. With defenses committing blitzes and spies to stop Jackson, Andrews could operate in a soft middle. In 2020, with Yanda removed and a stated intention to cut down on Jackson’s rushing to preserve health, defenses could effectively pressure while focusing coverage on the primary targets.
Necessity is the mother of innovation. Boyle suffered a season-ending injury in Week 9. Then, the team had a COVID-19 outbreak, which cost both Andrews and Jackson Week 12 against the Steelers. That loss saw the Ravens fall to 6-5 and playoff hopes dim. Something needed to change.
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