AFC North projected starters: Ravens loaded; Browns’ O-line key - Gregg Rosenthal
QB: Lamar Jackson
RB: J.K. Dobbins
WR: Marquise Brown
WR: Willie Snead
TE: Mark Andrews
TE: Nick Boyle
LT: Ronnie Stanley
LG: Bradley Bozeman
C: Matt Skura
RG: D.J. Fluker
RT: Orlando Brown Jr.
DE: Calais Campbell
DT: Brandon Williams
DT: Derek Wolfe
OLB: Matt Judon
ILB: Patrick Queen
OLB: Jaylon Ferguson
CB: Marlon Humphrey
CB: Marcus Peters
CB: Tavon Young
S: Earl Thomas
S: Chuck Clark
— Perhaps this is an optimistic projection for J.K. Dobbins, a second-round pick who won’t get a normal offseason to practice the Ravens’ voluminous playbook. But Dobbins’ overall skill, better than average in every area, can eventually make veteran Mark Ingram the 1B option here.
— The Ravens didn’t draft an outside receiver, so second-year pro Miles Boykin could be a nominal “starter.” I still would expect blocking tight end Nick Boyle to play more than him, because the Ravens are in two-tight end sets so much.
— Sixth-year pro Willie Snead has maxed out his potential throughout his career, but he probably will see a diminished role this season. Rookie third-round pick Devin Duvernay could add a speedier element to the slot.
— Don’t sleep on the Ravens’ tackle combination. If Lamar Jackson is the engine to the Ravens offense, the tackles are the gas. Having an MVP QB on a rookie contract is amazing, but it’s outrageous to have perhaps the league’s best tackle duo (Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr.) and an MVP all on their first deals. That should be impossible, and the entire group will get more expensive soon.
— If I was going to nitpick this defense, the edge rushers still aren’t quite up to the usual standards. Matt Judon is a smart, high-effort player, and Jaylon Ferguson improved as a rookie last year, but neither are true game-breakers. The Ravens’ secondary, however, can make the pass rush look a lot better.
— You know it’s a good secondary when Jimmy Smith is the No. 4 cornerback. How slot corner Tavon Young recovers from neck surgery to correct an injury that cost him the 2019 season is this group’s biggest question mark. Chuck Clark and Thomas were feeding off each other at safety by the end of the year.
Schematic oddities of the 2019 NFL season - Ben Linsey
BALTIMORE RAVENS — PISTOL FORMATION
There are outliers, and there is the Ravens’ usage of the pistol formation. During the 2019 regular season, Baltimore ran 569 offensive plays out of pistol. The next closest offense was the Arizona Cardinals at 62. That is more than 500 plays ahead of second place — a number so large that the NFL average sits between the fifth- and sixth-place teams in pistol usage.
It doesn’t take a detective to find out that Lamar Jackson is the root cause of the one-of-a-kind scheme. Louisville ranked third in the FBS in plays out of pistol across the 2016 and 2017 seasons. It’s what Jackson is comfortable with and where he excelled before coming to the NFL. Rather than forcing him into a role that doesn’t best suit his talents, the Ravens molded an offense around him.
Whereas the rest of the NFL is running nearly all of their read-option out of shotgun, the Ravens are doing so primarily out of pistol, giving the running back time to build up speed heading into the line of scrimmage. With the kind of outside threat Jackson poses on the keep, it makes sense that Baltimore would want its running backs getting downhill quickly to capitalize on any hesitance from defenders with an eye on the reigning MVP. That strategy worked. Baltimore averaged 6.9 yards per play on 170 read-option runs out of pistol in 2019.
It’s not complicated football for the running backs — they simply hit the hole. That’s part of what makes the Ravens’ running game so effective.
Fallout From Not Drafting an Outside Linebacker - John Eisenberg
The Ravens drafted much too late in the first-round to grab a no-doubt difference-making edge performer such as Chase Young. Then, even though several highly-rated outside linebackers were available when they picked later, especially in the second and third rounds, they saw more value in players at other positions.
Regardless of why it happened, though, what matters going forward is it did happen. What does it mean? What is the fallout from the Ravens not drafting an outside linebacker in 2020?
One thing, no question, is the position likely will rank among their top priorities in next year’s draft. For now, they’ve assembled a solid group through free agency and prior drafts, but only one player in that group, Jaylon Ferguson, is under contract beyond 2020.
Eric DeCosta is Bullish on Ravens Receivers - Clifton Brown
“I love Willie Snead and Hollywood Brown,” DeCosta said. “And we drafted Miles Boykin last year. And I think that Chris Moore is one of the best special teams wide receivers in the league. We drafted Devin Duvernay this year, James Proche. We’ve got Jaleel Scott on the team. We’ve also got all these tight ends.
“So we think if you look at our team over the last two, three years, we’ve done a lot to address skill positions: targets for Lamar, guys that can make plays. We feel really, really good about that. We love the mix of personalities and players and the upside and leadership that we’ve got. And I think Lamar’s got a great chemistry with those guys as well. We think our younger guys are going to continue to make a jump.”
“Very, very excited about Miles,” DeCosta said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “He made some big plays for us throughout the course of the year. We expect him to improve quite a bit with an offseason. He’s a big and strong and fast and physical guy. Great attitude. The second year for most receivers is critical and we think he’ll make a big jump.”