Outside the fanbase, the general consensus is that the 2018 Ravens are a notch below the true Super Bowl contenders around the NFL. A three year postseason drought has taken a toll on the formerly well regarded team. Bookmakers have set Baltimore’s win total at eight and offer 18-1 odds of an AFC championship.
Nevertheless, fortunes are constantly rising and falling in the NFL. A confluence of health and player improvement can give the Ravens an opportunity, perhaps an unlikely chance, to win the conference. Of course, it will be a team effort, they will need strong seasons from their top players - Joe Flacco, Ronnie Stanley, Marshal Yanda, Alex Collins, Brandon Williams, C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs, Jimmy Smith and other established veterans.
In order to reach the pinnacle of the sport, the franchise’s third trip to the ultimate showdown on Super Bowl Sunday, six lesser known commodities must also provide valuable contributions.
Orlando Brown Jr.
The team needs the massive rookie to win the starting right tackle job immediately. Orlando tested poorly at the scouting combine, but his accomplishments as an All-American at Oklahoma prove his tremendous potential. Neither James Hurst nor Alex Lewis has fared well when forced to play tackle in the past.
With Brown bookending Stanley, offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris can field five physically imposing maulers from left to right. Yet if the third round selection is unable to secure the gig, and a guard is required to kick outside, the line will lose punch when run blocking and ability when pass blocking. Orlando Brown may be the linchpin to success for the entire offense.
The ascension of Henry makes the trade of Timmy Jernigan more palatable. His three sacks and six quarterback hits after the bye last season demonstrated his ability to penetrate into the backfield. Team captain Suggs named Willie as a player on the verge of a breakout in the spring. And the Ravens defensive line desperately needs another disruptor on the interior. Early in training camp. he is running with the first team at the three-technique spot.
The Ravens have a mix of proven and potentially high caliber edge rushers on the depth chart, but Henry is only consistent pass rushing defensive tackle on the roster. Nothing makes a quarterback more uncomfortable than pressure in his face. Baltimore needs Henry to provide this pressure to prevent coverage vulnerabilities in the middle of the field from being exposed.
Matchup tight ends are in vogue across the league. No defense is flawless, a mismatch tight end is the piece that allows offenses to exploit defensive weakness, wherever it may surface. Hurst, the Ravens first pick in the draft, seemingly fits the bill.
Hayden has prototypical measurables and has displayed absolutely outstanding hands all summer. Furthermore, his run after the catch ability can bring a dimension the offense has sorely missed at the position. Hopefully, Hurst can become a plug-and-play rookie who not only serves as a security blanket for Flacco, but also creates chunk plays downfield.
Bowser’s rookie year was relatively quiet after a breakout Week 2 performance. In that showing against the Browns, he provided glimpses of his immense upside with a sack and an interception. Outside linebackers who can harass the quarterback and also mirror receivers in coverage are blessed with a rare skillset.
In Suggs and Matthew Judon, the starting edge defenders, the Ravens have a pair of two-gappers who combined for 19 sacks a year ago. If Bowser steps up to become the tertiary option, the defense should be able to avoid the late season meltdowns that have plagued them recently. With an increased snap share, Tyus Bowser can use his unique athleticism to make game changing plays while also providing the rest the other pass rushers need to maintain their production during the playoff push.
Smokey immediately walks onto the field as the team’s best deep threat. A career average of 14.5 yards per reception along with timed 4.3 flat speed will pair well with Flacco’s strong arm. Despite his small stature, Brown does his best work on the outside where he finds open space in the flats and down the sideline.
Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead were signed to multi-year contracts and should be valuable acquisitions, but both are more possession style receivers. Brown’s ability to stretch the field is necessary to open up crossing routes and prevent defenses from stacking the box to stop the run. Without him, the offense lacks many players who can threaten defensive backs vertically. Making the explosive Brown a focal point is a key to improving the lackluster passing attack.
Another player who signed a prove-it one year contract. The hulking five-technique has proven to be extremely injury prone throughout his professional career and even during his college days. When available, Urban has performed as the best defensive end on the roster.
It was not a coincidence that the defense dominated their opponents last season before Brent was sidelined with a foot injury. His presence rounds out a front that can apply pressure from all angles. Urban may not rack up the stats, but his ability gives his line mates opportunities to make splash plays. And maybe more importantly, a healthy season would result in the backup defensive lineman serving in their more appropriate rotational roles.