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Early breakout candidates for the 2019 season

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Which incumbent players could make significant strides this year?

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

After seeing several defensive starters and the team’s leading receiver from last season (John Brown) depart for new teams, the Ravens will need players to step up and produce next year to compensate for their losses.

Losing players to free agency is nothing new for Baltimore, as the Ravens have adopted a “next man up” mentality over the years been successful in developing young players. Doing so next season will be extremely important to the team’s success, regardless of the incoming rookie class.

So, who are some returning players that could make big leaps?

Kenny Young (LB)

With C.J. Mosley signing a record-breaking contract with the New York Jets, there is a void at the linebacker position opposite Patrick Onwuasor. Heading into his sophomore season, Kenny Young appears to be staring down a starting spot after holding more of a rotational role last year. While he struggled with inconsistency like most rookies, Young flashed tremendous ability and upside, particularly during the beginning of the year. He finished with 40 total tackles, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble.

If not for the emergence of Onwuasor as the season progressed, Young may have played a much bigger role. Now, he has a great chance to fill the absence left by Mosley in the middle of the field. Young’s athleticism and coverage skills are likely a big reason why the Ravens felt comfortable in letting Mosley walk in free agency.

Whereas Mosley struggled to defend in the passing game, Young showcased adept coverage ability during his rookie campaign. If he can shore up some issues with intangibles and tackling, Young can easily become an every-down starter and impact player.

Chris Moore (WR)

This will ultimately depend on what the Ravens do in the upcoming NFL Draft. If they select multiple receivers in the early rounds, Moore may once again be more of a special teams player. However, if the Ravens choose to only draft one receiver or wait until the later rounds to address the position, Moore could occupy a starting spot to begin the season. Currently, Moore is one of only two receivers returning this year who caught a pass last season, the other being slot guy Willie Snead IV.

While he only has 44 receptions and 490 receiving yards in three seasons, Moore has made several impressive plays throughout his career that suggest he could produce if targeted more.

Last season, he made a tremendous catch in the preseason against the Rams and snagged a one-handed reception on third down against the Raiders. It’s worth noting that both passes came from Lamar Jackson, not Joe Flacco. Moore, 25, has the ability to make plays downfield, and the Ravens could ask him to play a much larger role next year.

Tim Williams/Tyus Bowser, OLB

These players are lumped together for several reasons: they play the same position, were drafted in the same class (2017) and have yet to make much of an impact in Baltimore. Still, depending on what the Ravens do in the remaining free agency period and the draft, Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser could be tasked with replacing the Ravens two sack leaders from last season: Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith.

Williams is more of a natural pass-rusher, whereas Bowser is more comfortable playing in pass coverage situations. The common denominator is that they both possess the ability to rush opposing quarterbacks. While talented, neither has been able to carve out a role for themselves on the Ravens defense over the past two years. Bowser had 3.5 sacks and an interception his rookie season, but he took a step back in 2018.

Williams was a preseason star last season but only managed to rack up two sacks in the regular season. Their performances to-date haven’t exactly been encouraging, but the Ravens need at least one, preferably both, of them to make strides.

Jordan Lasley/Jaleel Scott (WR)

Despite being selected in the fourth round of last year’s draft, both Jordan Lasley and Jaleel Scott were on the roster bubble heading into the regular season. Scott was placed on injured reserve prior to Week 1, and Lasley managed to beat out Breshad Perriman and Tim White for one of the final receiver spots. However, Lasley did not play a single snap during the regular season. Now, after not playing the entire 2018-19 campaign, both Scott and Lasley are essentially entering an extended rookie campaign.

Given the uncertainty and barren depth at the receiver position, both receivers figure to have a shot to make an impact in the offense. While Scott is a big-play threat and Lasley is able to create yards after the catch, they are unproven commodities at this early stage of their careers.

Their are currently two receiver spots up for grabs at the “X” and “Y” positions. Chris Moore figures to take one, but either Lasley or Scott could earn a starting spot on the opposite side of the field. Betting on either to make a significant leap seems like a risky proposition, but the opportunity and talent is present.

Hayden Hurst (TE)

After being selected 25th overall in 2018, Hayden Hurst suffered a foot injury in the preseason that sidelined him until Week 5. He never seemed to truly find his groove until late, and his overall rookie campaign turned out to be a rather disappointing one. Hurst finished with just 13 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown. Though he did showcase some impressive blocking ability, his highly-touted pass-catching ability left much to be desired.

Hurst enters his sophomore campaign looking to bounce back and prove his first-round selection was warranted. Whether it’s Hurst, Mark Andrews or Nick Boyle that’s listed as the starter, the tight end depth chart remains up for grabs, and Baltimore will still utilize all three tight ends in the offense.

Greg Roman figures to feature two-tight ends sets frequently, meaning Hurst and Andrews will see the field together. Hurst won’t be as much of a focus for opposing defenses, meaning he’ll have plenty of chances to break out. If he can stay healthy and develop a rapport with Lamar Jackson, Hurst is set up nicely for a productive season.