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Meet the other tight end in the Ravens' offense: Nick Boyle

Meet the other tight end in the Ravens' offense: Nick Boyle

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Nick Boyle dove for the end zone, ball gripped tightly in both hands beyond the reach of Patriots safety Devin McCourty when he landed in the newly-painted black end zone at M&T Bank Stadium. 

Boyle stood up and had no time to react before Ronnie Stanley mobbed him in celebration. Willie Snead came next, then Hayden Hurst. Eventually, everyone got their celebrations in with Boyle. 

On the the fifth-year pro's 2,128 career offensive snap, he found the end zone for the first time in the NFL. 

“It was cool to see how many people were watching the game and rooting for me,” Boyle said of his touchdown. “It’s a good feeling. Like I said before, it’s good when my teammates celebrate with me, and then I see all my family members, friends back home all watching and still supporting me.”

But the aspect of his game that isn’t celebrated with as much fervor is his blocking at the line of scrimmage. It’s also his best attribute as a tight end.

His role on the Ravens isn’t as a pass-catcher, especially considering that 2018 first-round pick Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews are also on the depth chart at tight end. Andrews currently leads the Ravens in targets with 58. 

Boyle is fourth on the Ravens in targets, ahead of Hurst, but just never was able to find the end zone. A large reason for that is that the Ravens need him blocking near the end zone on running plays.

“I always kid him all the time (that) he’s a glorified guard just playing tight end,” offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris said. “He is a good football player, and tough and physical and dependable.”

Boyle’s role on the Ravens through his time in Baltimore has been that of a traditional tight end, in that he’s mostly relied on for his blocking. That means that Boyle is in somewhat of a unique spot for one of the league’s most unique offenses. 

While most tight ends in today’s NFL are counted on to be receiving threats, or at least multi-faceted, Boyle is relied on for his blocking first and foremost. 

“When I first came in the league in 2006, every team had a Nick Boyle,” defensive line coach Joe Cullen said. “It just seems like they're a rare breed now. Because of college football, everything is wide receiver-ish — the gun and the read option and the RPO game.”

Boyle’s ability as a blocker on the edge of the line of scrimmage mirrors what D’Alessandris says about him, in that Boyle gives the Ravens more options than other teams in the running game. 

The Ravens lead the NFL in rushing with 204.9 yards per game, more than 30 yards ahead of the next closest team. 

“Nick affords us the ability to run certain plays that you probably wouldn't run with other different types of tight ends,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “I think he's an ascending player. I think he's getting better every year, and he definitely gives us a chance to leverage the defense a little bit at times, just because of his skillset.”

With Boyle’s skillset, the Ravens are able to put all three tight ends on the field throughout the game and provide a variety of options for the offense. 

And as Sunday proved, Boyle can find the end zone, too.

“I think we all do things so well,” Hurst said. “Nick might be the best blocking tight end in the NFL, just what he does, it’s totally unique. Mark does his thing, I think we all compliment each other really well.”

But while Boyle’s blocking ability isn’t the sexiest topic to discuss, even though its his best ability, his receiving prowess isn’t discussed enough. 

Boyle’s high school team in New Jersey ran the triple option, which means he said he caught about seven passes in high school. At Delaware, the coaches realized his blocking abilities, too, and used him as a predominantly as a blocker. 

“I think that’s one of the things that makes Nick the player he is, his willingness to be a blocker,” said Trent Hurley, Boyle’s former quarterback at Delaware. “At the end of the day, not everyone wants to be a blocking tight end, so to speak.”

Hurley recalled Boyle’s attributes as a blocker and their friendship in school well, but could recite the last touchdown pass he ever threw Nick Boyle like it happened yesterday. 

Until Boyle’s touchdown on Sunday, he hadn’t scored since Nov. 22, 2014, when Delaware faced Villanova. Hurley, who left school the same year as Boyle, was the last quarterback to throw Boyle a touchdown pass until Lamar Jackson did against the Patriots.

“That pass was a middle screen to Nick,” Hurley explained. “We did an orbit motion with the wide receiver and I faked the orbit motion to the receiver behind me. Nick kind of went over to the right a little bit, let the linemen clear and came over to the middle of the field to his left. It was like a 10-yard completion.”

Hurley, who said Boyle was one of, if not the best, football players he’s ever played with, also mentioned he thought Boyle was incredibly undervalued as a receiver. 

Boyle knows his role, though. And he’s OK with it.

“I’m not the fastest dude, so if I want to have a job out here and do something to the best of my ability,” Boyle said with a grin. “And if that ability is blocking, I’m going to put everything in there. I think it’s a good feeling when you demoralize someone out there and you physically impose your will and feel you’re stronger than them. Makes me feel good, at least.”

His touchdown against the Patriots, though, was just a deserved reward for the Ravens’ best blocker not listed as an offensive lineman.

And after 55 games and three quarters, it seemed time that Boyle got into the end zone with the ball in his hands.

“I don’t think anyone has ever been so excited as a whole offense or whole team to see one guy score,” Andrews said. “I had a lot of fun going out there and watching him do that. He works so hard for this team and does so much for us. To be able to see him score a touchdown and get some gratification from that, you can’t beat that.”

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Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen face off at crossroads of past and future of NFL

Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen face off at crossroads of past and future of NFL

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Hayden Hurst had just been picked 25th overall by the Ravens in the 2018 NFL Draft when he left his living room to do some interviews, customary for a team’s top draft choice.

When he returned and looked at his TV, he was teammates with Lamar Jackson.

Hurst, who wasn’t as high-profile of a selection as his future quarterback, knew about Jackson’s story — as every college football player did — before they even became teammates.

“As soon as I saw that I was like, ‘Man that’s so cool,’” Hurst recalled. “You see Lamar in college, the Heisman Trophy winner, the things that he did in college, you’re like, ‘To be on the field with that guy is going to be pretty special.’”

Jackson’s journey to the NFL didn’t end that night, however, as the 2018 NFL Draft gave a special look at the ways that different organizations value quarterbacks, and specifically what characteristics they find valuable when investing in young talent. 

Jackson was selected by the Ravens 32nd overall after he declared for the draft and forewent his senior season.

Earlier in the first round the Bills also traded up to seventh overall, for a quarterback. It was for Wyoming’s Josh Allen.

Allen was, in many ways, the complete opposite from Jackson: He’s 6-foot-5, was a more traditional pocket passer, had played in a pro style offense and has a cannon for an arm.

In the minds of many, Allen fit what a quarterback was supposed to look like, even as a new age of quarterbacks trickled into the league.

Their college careers, however, couldn’t have been more different.

At Louisville, Jackson averaged 346.7 total yards and just over three touchdowns per game as he ran roughshod throughout the country, leading Louisville to as high as the No. 3 ranking the national polls in 2016.

Allen started two full seasons at Wyoming and while he had a promising junior year, his interception totals always were a bit higher than desirable and his completion percentage never eclipsed 57 percent. He was selected to the Mountain West Conference honorable mention team in his senior year.

It was Allen’s physical traits, however, that put him at the top of draft boards. 

Jackson’s skillset, while new and exciting, wasn’t something NFL front offices were used to picking high up in the draft for. Allen, a pocket-passing quarterback with a game-changing arm, was familiar.

“It’s like the guy who has dated the girl for 10 years,” Robert Griffin III said. “Yeah, maybe that’s not the right girl for him, maybe that’s not his soulmate. But he’s comfortable. He’s comfortable with that person, so he stays. A lot of people don’t like change. So some of the scouts and GMs and organizations get used to these certain ways of doing things.”

And as Jackson’s career turned professional, questions persisted about Jackson’s long-term viability in the NFL. Some said he should change positions (which has sparked many a t-shirt from the Ravens players about his “potential” at running back), others questioned just how translatable his stats were to the NFL.

“He was the best player in college football,” Hurst said. “The year he didn’t win the Heisman, his stats were even better than when he did win the Heisman. So it’s crazy how that stuff works. When he was in college, he was the best player in the country. The stuff that he did was just remarkable.”

Most of the NFL, including the Ravens, passed on the opportunity to take Jackson in the first round. In fact, the Ravens traded back twice from 16 to 22, and then from 22 to 25, before selecting Hurst. Finally, they traded up into the first round to select Jackson. 

While the Ravens certainly weren’t the only team interested in Jackson’s skillset, they were the most aggressive. And through nearly two seasons, the move has been a home run.

Jackson is just 63 yards away from breaking Michael Vick’s single season rushing record for a quarterback of 1,039 yards. 

He’s second in the NFL in touchdown passes (25) and is on-pace for 3,376 yards passing, 33 passing touchdowns, seven interceptions and a completion percentage of 66.5 percent. He’s also on-pace for 1,303 yards on the ground with nine touchdowns. 

That would mean he’d end the year with 4,679 total yards, 42 touchdowns and eight turnovers. 

So while Jackson’s season might change perceptions about mobile quarterbacks, there aren’t many athletes that replicate what Jackson does on the field.

“I think it changes a little bit, but at the same time, there’s no one else that’s like Lamar,” Mark Andrews, a 2018 Ravens draft pick, said. “There’s no one that’s going to be able to replicate what he’s being able to do.” 

And the problem with finding a replica Lamar Jackson is simply that they don’t exist.

In a twist, Allen has become an efficient runner in the NFL — not to the extent of Jackson — but has been able to extend plays with his legs more than he did at Wyoming.

Allen has rushed for 35.8 yards per game this year, slightly behind his 52.6 yard pace from last season.

His passing numbers have improved as well, as his completion percentage has broken 60 percent and his touchdown-to-interception ratio has improved to 2:1.

But while Allen, Jackson and the class of 2018 will forever be linked, Jackson doesn’t keep tabs on how his draft counterparts are faring across the league. 

“I’m focused on what we have going on, what we have in front of us,” Jackson said. “I focus on myself and my teammates. I don’t really care about what other people have going on, to be honest.”

So while Jackson downplays the 2018 draft and his impact on the league at-large, the decision to pass on Jackson — for any reason — is one that’s making teams reconsider what they missed. 

And those decisions have left Jackson, whether or not he’ll admit it publicly, motivated to prove people wrong.

“I’m not going to put words in his mouth, but I can only imagine that it would,” Hurst said. “If I was in that situation, I know that it’d fire me up quite a bit. He’s not super vocal about stuff like that, he just goes about his business quietly, but I’m sure it definitely fuels his fire a little bit. Hey, I’m all for it because he’s playing his [expletive] off right now.”

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Lamar Jackson ‘honored’ at the chance to break Michael Vick’s single-season rushing record on Sunday

Lamar Jackson ‘honored’ at the chance to break Michael Vick’s single-season rushing record on Sunday

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Lamar Jackson didn’t grow up watching Michael Vick play football in Atlanta. He was too young. 

That didn't stop Jackson, born when Vick had just finished his sophomore year of high school, from studying Vick's highlight tapes as a kid.

Now, on Sunday in Buffalo, Jackson has the chance to put his name in the record books ahead of his favorite player with the most impressive season a quarterback has ever had on the ground. 

With just 63 yards rushing, Jackson would rank first all-time for rushing yards by a quarterback in a season. The record, as of Thursday, is held by Vick with 1,039 yards rushing. Vick set the record in 2006 with the Falcons.

“It would be an honor,” Jackson said. “Like I said, Michael Vick is my favorite player. For me to do such a thing, it’s incredible. He had that record for a long time, and it will be pretty cool. But I’m focused on the win, regardless.”

Jackson has led the NFL’s most dynamic offense through the first 12 games with a mix of rushing and passing that’s kept defenses on their heels. He ranks ninth in the NFL with 977 yards, which is more than five teams have as a whole.

Currently, Jackson has rushed for 1,672 yards in 28 games in his NFL career, good for 44th all-time. 

Over a 16-game season, he’s on pace for 1,302 yards on the ground, which would shatter Vick’s old record and put Jackson in another stratosphere compared to some of the best mobile quarterbacks the league has ever seen. 

Should he finish with 1,302 yards this year, he’ll be at 1,997 yards through his first two NFL seasons. That would put him 32nd all-time and about 500 yards away from cracking the top 20. 

So as Jackson adds to his place in history in the long term, there’s a significant record to break in the short-term, too.

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