The Baltimore Ravens are known for being one of the better draft and develop franchises in the NFL since they entered it just over 20 years ago. In that period they’ve produced a few Hall of Famers, a few more pretty likely ones, and many other players who've gone on to long and successful careers.
Admittedly, that reputation hasn’t been as strong in more recent years for whatever reason, as soon to be GM emeritus Ozzie Newsome had an uncharacteristic amount of slip ups since about the turn of the last decade. Luckily for him, this season may be proving he still had it all along though, as his 2018 rookie class is looking to be one of the better in the league, and maybe his best in years.
There are a few players who have already worked their way into the starting lineup, another couple that are among the teams’ regular rotation, and even more beyond them that the front office has to be excited about moving forward into 2019.
So if we were to look deeper into this crop of talent and had to pick one as the top rising star among them, who would it be? The most obvious answer (as always with football) is likely to be behind center.
Lamar Jackson hasn’t been perfect by any means and there are still facets of his game that need a good amount of work; having said that, he’s 4-1 this season, has shown incredible playmaking ability, and breathed life into what was a faltering offense.
Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff once said that until you find your quarterback, the search for him consumes you. Newsome found one in Joe Flacco many years ago, and with the right pieces continuing to fall into place, he may have found another one in number 8.
Another couple of options to consider would be a few guys in place around Jackson. Orlando Brown Jr. is more than just a nice feel good story at this point, as he’s taken hold of the right tackle position after starting the year on the bench.
He’s helped clear the way for Gus Edwards, who came out of nowhere as an undrafted guy to become a key cog in Baltimore’s old school run first offense led by Jackson. If not already in line to be the starter next season, Edwards has at least guaranteed a spot in the 2019 rotation which isn’t something anyone would’ve expected even a little over a month ago.
While those three guys are among the top options, Bleacher Report’s Maurice Moton has his own opinion in a recent article in which he picked a top building block for each team.
His selection? Tight end Mark Andrews:
In April, the Baltimore Ravens double-dipped at tight end, selecting Hayden Hurst in the first round and Mark Andrews in the third as part of a revamped aerial attack. Hurst underwent surgery to address a foot injury, which sidelined him for the first four weeks of the season. The South Carolina product scored a touchdown in Week 8 but doesn’t have the volume or consistency that suggests he’s a building block. Andrews hasn’t stood out as a go-to option with quarterback Lamar Jackson under center, but he’s able to run down the seam as a safety blanket in the passing game. The Oklahoma product can flash as a viable red-zone option once the rookie signal-caller settles in the pocket. The former Sooner secured two touchdown receptions with Joe Flacco at the helm. It’s too early to call Hurst a bust, but Andrews’ availability gave him the edge as the tight end to value while the offense develops in the coming seasons. He’s hauled in 28 passes for 415 yards with a 65.1 percent catch rate. He seems like an underrated pass-catching tight end who could produce big numbers with more targets.
There are a couple of well made points here, and from a production standpoint Andrews is right in the conversation among the top options of guys to build around moving forward. While it is indeed too early to give up on Hurst, it’s hard to call his rookie season anything other than disappointing so far, which makes you wonder where Baltimore would be at that position if they hadn’t doubled down on it by grabbing Andrews in the third.
The former Oklahoma Sooner is a great choice here, but I still ultimately disagree. My pick would be Jackson for some relatively obvious reasons.
The main one would be that he’s not only shown promise but he’s done so at the most important position in maybe all of sports. As I alluded to earlier, he’ll need to put a lot of work in when the offseason rolls around (including potentially bulking up a bit), and he’s not sure thing just yet.
With all the qualifiers out of the way though, the potential he’s shown along with the way his coaches and teammates talk about him speaks volumes. While Andrews is certainly a good choice, a possible franchise quarterback is worth it’s weight in gold this day and age.
This is an argument that could be made about a few young Ravens which is ultimately a good problem to have. Regardless of how the season ends for Baltimore, that’s a win in and of itself.