Over three dominant months late last year, the Ravens showed they had one of the NFL’s most complete teams. Over free agency and this weekend’s NFL draft, they showed it could still get better.
With a widely lauded 10-player draft class set to join an impressive and balanced roster in Baltimore, the Ravens haven’t hurt their case for consideration as offseason winners. The Kansas City Chiefs are still Super Bowl favorites, but the Ravens aren’t far behind.
Where have they improved? It’s easier to point to where they haven’t. Here’s how each Ravens position has fared this offseason, from quarterback to specialists. The projected starters and backups are listed alphabetically, as are members of last season’s practice squad. The evaluations also do not account for undrafted free agents or inside linebacker Jake Ryan, as the team has yet to announce those signings.
Starter: Lamar Jackson
Backups: Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley
Verdict: Unchanged. Jackson’s coming off one of the greatest seasons for a quarterback in NFL history: 43 total touchdowns, No. 1 in QBR, first player to reach 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards. By his own admission, there’s also much he can improve, from out-breaking passes to deep throws.
But league-breaking greatness is hard work. Not every production is going to be memorable. In both Hollywood and the NFL, blockbuster sequels tend to fall short. The last decade’s Most Valuable Player-winning quarterbacks didn’t all of a sudden stop being elite; they just became a little less (or a lot less) great the year after. There’s the punch, and then there’s the counterpunch.
Patrick Mahomes followed a 50-touchdown 2018 with an injury and 26 scores in 2019. Tom Brady threw a couple more interceptions and a couple fewer touchdowns in 2018. Matt Ryan’s quarterback rating fell over 25 points in 2017. Cam Newton’s passing and rushing totals slipped, and his scoring production dropped like a stone, in 2016. Peyton Manning was the last player to repeat as MVP. That was over a decade ago.
Starter: Mark Ingram II
Backups: J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
Verdict: Upgrade. The abstract argument over whether the Ravens got enough value with their second-round pick shouldn’t diminish Dobbins’ very real talent. The team already had two of the NFL’s most efficient running backs, according to Football Outsiders. Now it’s added what coach John Harbaugh said Saturday was “probably our top-rated running back” in the draft.
If Ingram starts to show wear and tear after a Pro Bowl season — he crossed 1,500 career carries in 2019, fifth most among active running backs — Dobbins projects as an equally capable three-down option. He’s a talented runner, sure-handed receiver and willing blocker. His experience in Ohio State’s shotgun formations should ease his transition to the Ravens’ pistol looks, too.
Edwards, meanwhile, is a short-yardage weapon whose north-south running style perfectly complements Jackson’s. And Hill showed flashes of his versatility late last season, with eight catches on 11 targets for 68 yards over the Ravens’ final three games (postseason included).
Starters: Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Patrick Ricard
Practice squad: Charles Scarff
Verdict: Downgrade. In trading away Hayden Hurst last month, the Ravens lost one of the NFL’s better all-around tight ends, someone who, if not for Andrews, might already be considered a top-10 player at the position. In the draft, the team focused on upgrading its talent at skill positions elsewhere.
At tight end, that leaves Andrews and Boyle, a pretty perfect pairing. Scarff impressed as an undrafted free agent last training camp. At fullback, meanwhile, Ricard is an ideal complement. But losing one head of a three-headed monster makes the beast a little less scary. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman used at least two tight ends on about 41% of the Ravens’ plays last season, according to Sharp Football Stats, among the NFL’s highest rates.
Unless the Ravens commit to playing Andrews significantly more — he made the Pro Bowl despite appearing in just 41.4% of their offensive snaps in 2019, well below Boyle’s 69.6% mark — their reliance on heavy formations will likely drop off some. And so will the group’s overall production.
Starters: Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, Willie Snead IV
Backups: Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay, Chris Moore, James Proche, Jaleel Scott, De’Anthony Thomas
Practice squad: Sean Modster, Antoine Wesley
Verdict: Upgrade. With their youth at the position here next to the always steady Snead, it was fair to expect significant progress even before the draft. Brown tied the Ravens’ rookie record for receiving touchdowns and had offseason surgery to remove the screw from his Lisfranc (foot) operation. Harbaugh said Saturday that Boykin and Scott are working “extremely hard” this offseason, and was confident in their development as outside receivers.
Then the Ravens added Duvernay and Proche, two receivers whose skill sets should translate well. Both thrived in the slot last season, where Snead, Brown and even Andrews were most dangerous in 2019, but Harbaugh said the team’s receiver designations are not rigid.
“All the guys on offense do a great job of teaching the guys all the different spots (and) all the different routes,” he said Saturday. “And we like to move guys around. So really, I don’t think we really have a ‘slot’ player or an ‘outside’ player. You’ll see those guys play in all the different spots in different times. And then, we try to put them in position to do the things that they do well.”
Starters: Orlando Brown Jr., Ronnie Stanley
Backups: Tyre Phillips, Andre Smith
Verdict: Unchanged. The Ravens have maybe the NFL’s best pair of bookend tackles, one a first-team All-Pro and the other a second-year Pro Bowl player.
The release of James Hurst does leave them without an experienced swing tackle. Phillips, a third-round pick, started at left tackle last season for Mississippi State and could back up Stanley and Brown, even if his future might ultimately be inside. Smith is 33 and will need to show he deserves a spot on the 53-man roster.
Interior offensive line
Starters: Bradley Bozeman, Ben Powers, Matt Skura
Backups: Ben Bredeson, Patrick Mekari, Tyre Phillips
Practice squad: Will Holden, R.J. Prince
Verdict: Downgrade. Another offseason, another impending competition for a starting guard spot — and maybe at center, too. Bozeman, who emerged as the Ravens’ top option at left guard last preseason, is now maybe the only sure thing inside. Center Matt Skura is recovering from a serious knee injury that cut short a strong season, while longtime right guard Marshal Yanda is enjoying retirement.
There will be ample experimentation. Ravens director of player personnel Joe Hortiz said Saturday that Bredeson, the team’s fourth-round pick, has the potential to play center. Phillips’ experience at guard is limited to Senior Bowl repetitions. Mekari has cross-trained up and down the line. Skura started at guard in 2017, and Bozeman at center for two years at Alabama.
Starters: Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, Derek Wolfe
Backups: Justin Ellis, Daylon Mack, Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington Jr.
Verdict: Upgrade. The departure of defensive tackle Michael Pierce and trade of defensive end Chris Wormley will sting if the Ravens can’t stay healthy, but they knew that risk when they remade their line. On passing downs, Wolfe and Campbell should make the defensive front more versatile and formidable. In run defense, Campbell and Williams are among the NFL’s best at their jobs, and Madubuike was highly rated there at Texas A&M.
Developing depth this offseason will be important, especially with Campbell, Williams and Wolfe all over 30. Mack barely saw the field last season, and Ellis played in just four games. Some draft analysts believe Madubuike will fare better at defensive tackle with a bigger frame. Washington, who Hortiz said will line up over guards and tackles, should have a high floor as a run defender.
Starters: Jaylon Ferguson, Matthew Judon
Backups: Tyus Bowser, Jihad Ward
Practice squad: Aaron Adeoye, Mike Onuoha
Verdict: Upgrade. The Ravens didn’t draft an edge rusher and haven’t signed an outside free agent — re-signing outside linebacker Pernell McPhee still remains an option — but this is another young group with growth potential.
Judon is the leader at outside linebacker, a talented, versatile and savvy player who ranked among the NFL’s top edge rushers in ESPN’s pass-rush win rate for much of last year. Ferguson’s growth over his rookie season impressed coaches, and another year of NFL-level conditioning and instruction should help round out his game.
Bowser had a career-high five sacks in 2019, an only-too-obvious primer for a contract-year breakout. Ward, a versatile midseason acquisition, earned regular praise from Harbaugh and should improve with a full offseason in the system.
Starters: L.J. Fort, Patrick Queen
Backups: Otaro Alaka, Chris Board, Malik Harrison
Verdict: Upgrade. Queen is the only member of the Ravens’ draft class whose rookie-year starting role seems inevitable. He’s not only the youngest but also the most talented linebacker in Baltimore, a sideline-to-sideline playmaker with Patrick Onwuasor’s blitzing potential and safety Chuck Clark’s ability to mirror tight ends and running backs in space.
Fort should remain a steadying presence inside and an asset on special teams. Board will need to show he can take the step forward the Ravens expected from him last season. Alaka spent most of his rookie season on injured reserve after a promising training camp and preseason.
Onwuasor and starter Josh Bynes, who also left in free agency, finished last season with 474 and 393 defensive snaps, respectively. Harrison might have as good a chance as any Raven at taking those. He moves well, weighs nearly 250 pounds — C.J. Mosley’s listed playing weight — and “really looks like an NFL linebacker,” general manager Eric DeCosta said Friday. Given the Ravens’ emphasis on run defense and blitz production, two strengths of Harrison’s, he could challenge for first-team reps immediately.
Starters: Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Tavon Young
Backups: Anthony Averett, Iman Marshall, Jimmy Smith
Practice squad: Terrell Bonds
Verdict: Unchanged. This group could be even stronger than last year’s, but that projection largely depends on Young’s health and performance. Harbaugh said in January that Young, who missed all of last season with a neck injury, was expected to be ready for the team’s offseason training program. If he can live up to the front office’s hopes and emerge as a top-level nickel cornerback — he rated 31st in passer rating allowed in the slot in 2018, according to Pro Football Focus — opponents won’t have much wiggle room.
Humphrey, a natural outside corner, was an All-Pro last season despite playing over half of his snaps in the slot. Peters, another All-Pro, allowed a passer rating of 63.4 in coverage in his 10 games in Baltimore, behind only safety Earl Thomas III’s secondary-best mark, according to Pro-Football-Reference.
Brandon Carr’s schematic versatility was easy to overlook last season, but Smith should be a strong No. 4 cornerback. Averett and Marshall will both have one more year of experience in the system.
Starters: Chuck Clark, Earl Thomas III
Backups: DeShon Elliott, Anthony Levine Sr., Jordan Richards, Geno Stone
Verdict: Unchanged. Clark’s role could change with the arrival of Queen, who can take on some of the in-the-box responsibilities he expertly handled last season. Thomas’ injury history is worrisome, but he should enter 2020 in better shape physically than he did 2019, when he made the Pro Bowl.
Behind them is a solid group of backups and special teams contributors. Levine, Richard and Elliott, when healthy, all regularly appeared in over 60% of the Ravens’ special teams snaps last season. Stone’s ideal fit is uncertain — he lacks top-end speed — but he graded out well as a deep-lying safety at Iowa.
Carr’s part-time contributions here will be missed, though.
Starters: Morgan Cox, Sam Koch, De’Anthony Thomas, Justin Tucker
Backups: Justice Hill, Chris Moore, Nick Moore, James Proche
Verdict: Unchanged. Only a pandemic, it seems, could keep the Ravens’ “Wolfpack” from reuniting for another strong season.
In the Ravens’ return game, Proche should challenge Thomas and Hill for playing time; he averaged 8.3 yards per punt return as a junior at Southern Methodist and 9.6 yards as a senior. Hortiz also praised his ball security, the team’s most important criterion for returners.
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