Many players within a youthful Ravens roster will have opportunities to become starters this upcoming season. The reliance on production by rookies and second year players will inevitably lead to certain players breaking out and becoming essential to the success of what is shaping to become another playoff season.
Here are a number of breakout-season candidates who I feel will take the next step as pro football players:
WR Marquise Brown
2019 stats: 46 receptions, 584 yards, 7 touchdowns, 12.7 YPR
One of the more obvious breakout player candidates is Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. During the offseason, Brown has taken all proper steps to ensure the healing of his foot, which at times severely hindered his ability to play at a high level last season. Despite the lisfranc foot injury that he dealt with the entire season, Brown still managed to put together a very impressive rookie season.
Brown’s on-field presence completely altered how defenses schemed against the Baltimore offense. Brown’s speed, which is his most dangerous trait, added a completely new element to the Ravens offense. Brown’s superb playoff performance against the Tennessee Titans showed an increase rapport between he and Lamar Jackson (especially with the high ankle injury of Mark Andrews).
Now, with a full offseason to heal his foot, Brown has taken the necessary steps to get his body into NFL shape. Last season, Brown played at a measly 157 pounds. Brown now looks significantly more muscular and ready to absorb big hits, which he repeatedly avoided last season by throwing himself to the turf. Additionally, Brown has been posting videos on Instagram to show his improved footwork, foot speed, and hands. By being 100% healthy, expectations for Brown are very high. If you thought Hollywood was good in his rookie year, just wait.
WR Miles Boykin
2019 stats: 13 receptions, 198 yards, 3 touchdowns, 15.2 YPR
Miles Boykin undoubtedly has the first crack at the Z-receiver spot. With no veteran free agent additions to complement this year’s draft class, full faith is in Boykin to solidify himself as Brown’s sidekick. Although Boykin was a ghost at times last season, he put together a few highlight plays. What first comes to mind is the deep ball he caught from Lamar Jackson in the first quarter against the Seattle Seahawks. Not only will Boykin have a chance to fulfill his potential as a pass-catcher, but he’ll also improve his blocking, which was an area of promise for him.
With a year of NFL experience under his belt, the improvement of his already steady hands, greater quickness of his footwork, and crisper route running, Boykin is in the drivers seat to cement himself as a solid No. 2 receiver.
EDGE Jaylon Ferguson
2019 stats: 20 solo tackles, 11 assisted, 2.5 sacks, 6 TFL, 9 QB hits
After a slow start to his rookie season, Jaylon Ferguson really began to flashed his sheer power as a pass-rusher. After the injury of Pernell McPhee, Ferguson earned more playing time and showed great promise. More consistent play as well as a diversification of pass-rush moves (since Ferguson exclusively stuck to his bread n’ butter bull rush) will be needed from Ferguson to have a breakout season.
Nonetheless, sharing snaps with the likes of Derek Wolfe and Justin Madubuike will allow for Ferguson to take advantage of tired offensive linemen. Needless to say, inevitably getting a few pointers from Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe will only help Ferguson’s development.
RB J.K. Dobbins
2019 stats at Ohio State: 301 carries, 2003 yards, 6.7 YPC, 21 TDs, 23 receptions, 247 yards, 2 TDs
The addition of J.K. Dobbins in the second round of this year’s NFL Draft may have been the most prudent of Eric DeCosta’s draft picks. It is clear that Dobbins was drafted to be Mark Ingram’s successor. Dobbins’ fit within the offense with his downhill running tendencies makes him a candidate to immediately succeed in the NFL. Although Ingram is undoubtedly the starter to begin next season, I wouldn't be surprised if Dobbins supplants Gus Edwards as the No. 2 running back, and eventually Ingram for the top spot.
I expect the Ravens to bring Dobbins along strategically and patiently. His share of carries will increase as the season continues. With Ingram being on the wrong side of 30 in addition to his inability to finish last season strong due to injury, it is imperative that Dobbins will see the field to increase the longevity of Ingram’s season. That being said, I wouldn't be surprised if Dobbins’ strong play earns him the starting job by midseason.
DT Daylon Mack
2019 stats: Was a healthy scratch most of the season until he was put on injured reserve in Week 10
The Ravens brought back Justin Ellis and did not sign any free agent nose guards. As of now, the spot once occupied by Michael Pierce is up for grabs, and I feel that Daylon Mack may be the guy to solidify himself as the backup to Brandon Williams.
Mack flashed at times during the preseason but failed to make any lasting regular season impacts. However, this season could be his time to establish himself as a notable rotating nose guard.
ILB Malik Harrison
2019 stats at Ohio State: 49 solo tackles, 26 assisted, 16.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 4 PDs, 2 FRs
While at Ohio State, Malik Harrison was an absolute thumper at the middle linebacker spot. His 16.5 TFL shows his ability as a blitzer and a gap shooter. The third-round draft pick has an opportunity to take the linebacker job once occupied by Patrick Onwuasor, and I see him is the perfect replacement. Harrison's superb run defense and hard hitting will be exactly what the Ravens need in the middle of their defense.
Harrison’s less-than-desirable coverage abilities will be masked as Patrick Queen will be the main coverage linebacker. As a result, Harrison can stick to his strengths while developing other areas. I was a big fan of the Harrison draft pick, and I expect him to make a serious immediate impact in the weak-side linebacker spot.
Who, besides Marquise Brown, will have the best season?
This poll is closed
A. Miles Boykin
B. Jaylon Ferguson
C. J.K. Dobbins
D. Daylon Mack
E. Malik Harrison