With the 2019 season in the rear view mirror for the and free agency just around the corner, the offseason is officially in full swing for the Ravens. In addition to looking at potential free agents and draft targets, we can project what the future holds for players already on the roster.
This past year was comprised of numerous Ravens emerging as Pro Bowl and All-Pro caliber talents. From Lamar Jackson, Mark Andrews, Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr., the list goes on and on.
Looking ahead to next season, could we see a similar development play out? It’s certainly in the cards, as there’s more than a few returning youngsters budding with breakout potential.
The most obvious candidate here is Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, the team’s first-round draft selection from this past season. Brown’s rookie year was solid yet unspectacular, although he was clearly limited by health throughout the year. On top of nursing his lisfranc injury from the end of his collegiate career, which forced him to rehab for the majority of the offseason, Brown was nicked by an ankle injury in the middle of the year and towards the last game or so, too.
Still, despite being clearly less than 100%, Brown flashed an array of skills and athletic ability at different points in the season - enough to suggest he could blossom into a star next year. Brown began his rookie campaign with a bang, catching 12 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns in Weeks 1 and 2.
From there it was up-and-down, but a sprinkle of impressive catches and here there routinely reminded us of his capabilities. He ended the year on a particular high note, reeling in seven receptions for 123 yards in the Divisional Round of the postseason, highlighted by a spectacular one-handed grab in traffic.
With a full offseason to work, train and perfect his craft rather than rehab and recover, a major leap could be in store for “Hollywood” next year. He has a great connection with Lamar Jackson and all the tools to establish himself as a bonafide No. 1 receiver.
Sticking with the same position, Miles Boykin’s rookie season was far less impactful than that of Brown, although there’s reason to be optimistic nonetheless.
Boykin looked the part of a No. 1 receiver for much of the offseason, consistently making impressive plays throughout rookie minicamp, OTA’s and training camp. However, the hype train left the station when the regular season rolled around and we were reminded that Boykin still has some work to do.
He finished the season with a measly 13 catches and 198 receiving yards, although three of those receptions resulted in touchdowns. His target total on the year (22) is reflective of his role, which was primarily a downfield blocker. Boykin’s number simply was called very often in the passing game although when it was, he flashed the same tools that enticed the Ravens to trade up in the draft to select him.
In addition to hauling in three touchdown receptions, Boykin caught an impressive 50-yard bomb from Jackson against the Seahawks. Coming out of Notre Dame, his calling cards were big-play ability, potential as a red zone threat and blocking prowess. This remains true.
Boykin possesses a unique combination of size, speed and catch radius. If he can become more consistent and establish himself as a more of a stalwart in the team’s passing attack, Boykin could blow his rookie year numbers out of the water in 2020.
Drafted just four picks before Boykin in last year’s draft, Jaylon Ferguson is fresh off a rookie campaign in which he wound up starting nine games and played 51% of defensive snaps.
Ferguson was a healthy scratch in Week 1 and Week 2 but a season-ending injury to Pernell McPhee opened the door for the “Sack Daddy” to step into a larger role, which he ultimately did. Ferguson was up-and-down at times but largely proved be a strong tackler and capable pass-rusher when asked, which should inspire confidence moving forward.
The FBS’ all-time leader in sacks, Ferguson finished the year with just 2.5 of them. However, he found other ways to be disruptive, recording 13 pressures, six QB knockdowns, nine QB hits and six TFL. It was quietly a solid all-around first-year campaign, especially considering Ferguson was thrown into the fire early.
Ferguson’s lack of athleticism was evident at times, as he often looked sluggish and overmatched when attempting to set the edge. Furthermore, bull-rushing remains his primary attack method when pressuring the quarterback. As you would expect, then, becoming more agile and strengthening his skill set are clear priorities.
If he can do these things, Ferguson could build upon his rookie season in a big way.
As someone who’s been riding the DeShon Elliott hype train for two years now, it was a shame to see him suffer yet season-ending injury in 2019. Just a year after a broken forearm ended his rookie year before it even began, Elliott managed to play only six games this past season before going down with a knee injury.
Elliott had played only 40 defensive snaps prior to going on the shelf but the fact of the matter remains - injuries have essentially wiped out his first two NFL seasons. It’s unfortunate for a player with apparent talent and natural athletic ability.
However, for those reasons and a potential boost in usage rate, it’s too early to jump ship just yet on the “The Joker”. Entering what his essentially another rookie campaign means Elliott has another chance to start fresh and finally establish himself as an impact contributor in the defensive backfield, health-permitting of course.
Elliott was buried on the depth chart to begin the season behind a stacked safety trio of Earl Thomas III, Tony Jefferson and Chuck Clark. Thomas and Clark are entrenched as the starters next year but with Jefferson no longer in the fold after being released, there’s an avenue for Elliott to see some legit playing time - especially when also considering the uncertain futures of Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr.
No, Elliott is not a cornerback, but the “position” label means very little in “Wink” Martindale’s secondary. As we saw throughout the year, Carr saw playing time at safety, Marlon Humphrey played in the slot towards the end of the season and Clark practically rotated in as a linebacker on more than one occasion.
Martindale could do the same with Elliott, who possesses a versatile skill set of range, ball skills and tackling ability. Here’s hoping this is the year that everything falls into place for the former Texas Longhorn.
The oldest player on this list at 24 years of age, you could very well argue that Tyus Bowser’s breakout season just happened. While his third season did in fact represent a step forward, the best may be yet to come for Bowser.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a Ravens’ pass-rusher, entering his fourth season and a contract year, earns himself a nice payday with a career-best campaign. Pernell McPhee, Za’Darius Smith, Matthew Judon and . . . Tyus Bowser? Maybe so.
Bowser has been one of the best athletes on the roster since getting drafted in 2016 but finally harnessed his physical traits and turned them into on-field production this past season. Bowser’s versatility prevented him from being used as pure pass-rusher but when asked with pressuring the quarterback, he flashed.
Totaling 84 blitzes on the year, Bowser posted five sacks, 14 pressures, and 10 QB hits, while also forcing a fumble and recovering another for a touchdown against the Bengals in Week 9. Bowser’s play seemingly picked up as the year progressed, too, and he was graded out with a 70.4 overall mark for the season from PFF.
With that being said, though, Bowser’s game is still fairly raw in the sense that it feels like he possesses a lot of untapped potential - even heading into his fourth year. Don’t be surprised if he takes another step forward in 2020.
This one may come as a bit of a surprise and is the biggest longshot out of all the names on the list. However, after essentially redshirting the entirety of his rookie season, there’s no place to go but up for sixth-round pick Daylon Mack.
Mack was seen as a developmental player when the Ravens drafted him and there was simply no path to playing time for him in 2019. However, if UFA Michael Pierce is not retained by the team, it’s reasonable to assume that Mack will have a good shot to carve out a role next season - regardless of who the team signs and/or drafts.
Mack is a physical specimen and could potentially provide some interior pass-rush that the team desperately needs after lacking consistency in that area for quite some time. He’s a name to keep an eye on heading into the summer.