1. Baltimore Ravens
General manager Eric DeCosta has assembled the best roster in the NFL, bar none. Last season, the Ravens led the league in scoring and finished third in scoring defense. Both units are positioned to dominate once again in 2020.
On offense, it obviously starts with Lamar Jackson. The former Heisman Trophy winner and reigning NFL MVP took a massive leap forward in his second pro season, leading the league with 36 touchdown passes and shattering Michael Vick’s QB record with 1,206 rushing yards. Scary thought: He’s only going to get better, with a talented, young supporting cast he can continue to grow alongside. Second-round pick J.K. Dobbins, with his talent, toughness, work ethic and pedigree, was put on Earth to run the football for the Ravens. With Dobbins joining a backfield that already featured Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill, Baltimore has every possible skill set you could want from the running back position. Meanwhile, second-year wideout Hollywood Brown can fly, making him a big-play threat on every snap. And tight end Mark Andrews is fresh off a breakout season that ended in the Pro Bowl, thanks to 852 yards and 10 touchdowns. Marshal Yanda’s retirement is a hit to the offensive line, no doubt, but the Ravens boast one of the NFL’s top tackle tandems in 26-year-old Ronnie Stanley and 24-year-old Orlando Brown Jr.
Defensively, Baltimore remains absolutely stacked in the back end, with first-team All-Pro CB Marlon Humphrey fronting one of the league’s most talented secondaries. On the second level, the Ravens snagged first-round pick Patrick Queen, whose athletic game is perfect for the modern NFL. And up front, DeCosta traded for Calais Campbell and added Derek Wolfe in free agency, giving the D-line a pair of experienced, versatile veterans with great leadership skills. Did I mention that Campbell’s been a Pro Bowler in five of the past six seasons?
No NFL team is perfect, but DeCosta’s fine work — in free agency and the draft — has produced a roster with the fewest blemishes in the league today.
The Ravens weren’t lacking in the running back department in 2019, and things only got more crowded after they used a second-round pick on Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins. Some of the “pros” for Dobbins in the 2020 PFF Draft Guide included ideal size and burst for an NFL back in conjunction with a one-cut, north-south running style that should fit well in the Ravens’ offense. Obviously, his production at Ohio State speaks for itself. He can carry the load if asked to do so, but he likely won’t be a true lead back given the other running backs Baltimore has at its disposal.
Mark Ingram isn’t the flashiest of options, but the guy can run the ball. His 75.5 rushing grade in his first season with the Ravens ranked 16th among 45 running backs with 100 or more carries. Going back a few more years highlights one of Ingram’s biggest strengths as a runner: He rarely takes negative plays. Since 2016, no running back has had a lower percentage of their carries go for no gain or a loss than Ingram (14%).
With Lamar Jackson freezing defenders on all the read options that Baltimore runs, you want a running back who hits the hole and takes advantage of that hesitation. Ingram fills that need.
That brings us to the two options who likely fall behind Dobbins and Ingram. If we’re talking about production, Gus Edwards is getting a raw deal coming in third or lower on any depth chart. Over the past two years, his 83.6 rushing grade ranks 13th among running backs, and no player at the position has had a higher percentage of their runs go for first downs or touchdowns than Edwards (31%). Hill, meanwhile, had just 58 rushing attempts in 2019, but it was only a year ago that the Ravens spent a fourth-round pick on the Oklahoma State product.
The verdict: There is no true starter with Ingram and Dobbins splitting the majority of the work
Training Camp Breakdown: Running Backs - Clifton Brown
Under the Radar
Hill’s longest run was 18 yards last season, but he has the speed to make more explosive plays both as a runner and a receiver out of the backfield. Players often make their biggest improvement between Year 1 and Year 2. If Hill enjoys a strong training camp, Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman may look for more opportunities to get Hill the ball in space. Head Coach John Harbaugh said he expects Hill to make a “big jump.” Rechsteiner is an interesting prospect out of Kennesaw State who is the son of former pro wrestler Rick Steiner. The undrafted rookie showed that physicality in his running in college, where he was also a mauling fullback.
NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year candidates: Chase Young in front - Lance Zierlein
2) Patrick Queen, LB, Baltimore Ravens
While just two DROY winners over the last 10 seasons were off-ball linebackers, both players (Darius Leonard and Luke Kuechly) played fast and offered coverage versatility on third downs. Queen is not only fast in a straight line, but his scrape explosiveness is extremely impressive and he can cover both tight ends and running backs down the field. He plays with an alpha mentality and should stack plenty of tackles for a proven defense in Year 1.
“I’m basically just listening to the updates from the team, from the [players association], from the league and, I want to play ball, but I think it needs to be in a safe, effective and efficient way,” Ingram said on NFL Total Access. “I know there’s standards and protocols and guidelines and all that to make sure everybody’s healthy and safe. And we’re doing everything to make sure nobody’s at risk. I’m hopeful that we’ll be playing.”
Training camp is set to start on July 28, with safety protocols set in place that are meant to keep cases from spiking among teams.
“I’m doing everything I can to make sure I’m preparing myself to have the best season I can,” Ingram said. “Even with everything going on, I’m just trying to stay healthy, trying to stay safe, trying to stay away from people, but most importantly not letting it hinder my work or my preparation for the season.”