Even though the official midseason mark for the expanded 2021 regular season in Week 9 and the Baltimore Ravens are coming off a Week 8 bye, there’s enough film on most of their 2021 rookie class to make a proper assessment of the progress they’ve made through the team’s first seven games. While injuries have hindered the availability of several of their first-year players, the Ravens have gotten some good contributions from their rookies in all three phases of the game.
WR Rashod Bateman
The first-round rookie out of Minnesota had his debut delayed by a groin injury he suffered early on in training camp that cost him the entire preseason and the first five games of the regular season. However, in his first two career games, Bateman has shown exactly why the Ravens and their fans were so excited that he fell to them at No. 27 overall and gave glimpses of what is yet to come.
While the Ravens had planned to ease Bateman into action, the absence of veteran Sammy Watkins due to a hamstring injury resulted in him assuming a larger role than originally anticipated. He played over 60 percent of the Ravens’ offensive snaps in both games and recorded seven receptions on 12 targets for 109 yards.
Bateman has been a first-down machine whenever he’s gotten the ball as all of his catches extended drives with a new set of downs for the offense. His ability to run crisp routes, gain separation at the top of the stem and pick up yards after catch are already at a veteran savvy level.
Rashod Bateman averaged 26.7 yards per catch yesterday with three going for 80 total yards. All seven of his first NFL catches have picked up first downs. pic.twitter.com/ZAEWq2DCq3— Sarah Ellison (@sgellison) October 25, 2021
OLB Odafe Oweh
The first-round rookie out of Penn State got off to an incredibly hot start as a consistent backfield disruptor in both the passing and running game. Oweh not only squashed all preconceived notions that called his pass-rushing ability into question after not recording a sack in his final collegiate season, he utterly dispelled them and currently leads the team in the superficial statistical category through seven games with three.
He has already emerged as an every-down defender, having not played less than 60 percent of the Ravens’ total defensive snaps since the season opener. Oweh has also recorded a pair of forced fumbles, three tackles for loss, eight quarterback hits, and his 24 pressures per Pro Football Focus were first among all rookies through the first seven weeks of the season.
ODAFE OWEH WELCOME TO THE LEAGUE!— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) September 20, 2021
NOW ON NBC! pic.twitter.com/6hDbrKClBX
His instincts and ability to use his speed to fire off the snap and bend around the edge have led to instantaneous pressures at times and allowed him to chase down plays quickly from the backside. Like Bateman, he has already shown refinement in his game that is beyond his years and could potentially develop into the next great Ravens edge defender.
Odafe Oweh had the WICKED snap anticipation on this sack.— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) October 13, 2021
PERFECTLY timed it. Snap anticipation is what leads to probably 40% of NFL sacks (or whatever % JJ Watt said)
Not lookin like a rookie! pic.twitter.com/3TIE7NqbZv
OG Ben Cleveland
The third-round rookie out of Georgia dealt with a concussion that limited him to just one preseason game and he’s missed the Ravens’ last two regular-season games after a non-season ending knee injury suffered in Week 5 landed him on injured reserve. However, prior to going down, Cleveland was rotating with third-year pro Ben Powers at left guard. Even though he didn’t start any of the four games he appeared in after sitting out the season opener, Cleveland’s percentage of offensive snaps played was increasing each week.
He uses his size to his advantage in both run and pass blocking and, was better in pass protection than both Powers and Tyre Phillips, who was the starting left guard in Week 1 but will be playing right tackle until further notice while Patrick Mekari is healing from a high ankle sprain. While Cleveland won’t just be handed the starting job whenever he returns from his injury, he’ll likely have the opportunity to work back in and earn more snaps in a rotational role again.
Finally got to see Ben Cleveland put all 350 on someone. (Nice ACE by the C/RG too) pic.twitter.com/K5mWZN3MUc— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) September 28, 2021
DB Brandon Stephens
The third-round rookie out of SMU played a lot during the first seven games as a result of injuries in the secondary and has had an up and down start to his rookie season. He even made his first two career starts when free safety DeShon Elliott was out with a quad injury. Stephens appears to be best utilized in a limited role as a third safety and has played better near the line of scrimmage than in coverage thus far.
Brandon Stephens runs the alley while Tyus Bowser takes on the puller and pursues Taylor’s inside hip. Solid rep in space!— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) October 12, 2021
Queen in the cut back lane. pic.twitter.com/da6I7KUsYi
Stephens has recorded 29 total tackles including 17 solos and one for loss and a quarterback hit on a blitz off the edge. He has made some nice special teams plays as well on punt and kickoff coverage.
Brandon Stephens with that form tackle on kick off pic.twitter.com/sRmM35CN9J— michael crawford (@abukari) October 20, 2021
While he is far from the only Ravens second and third level defender to struggle with tackling in the open field through the first seven games of the season, he has had some pretty bad whiffs where he didn’t break down, got turned around, and failed at diving at the ankles of pass-catchers and ball carriers with a full head of steam. However, he has also made some touchdown-saving tackles that gave the Ravens’ defense multiple opportunities at making some goal-line stands with the most notable coming in the season-opening overtime thriller.
WR Tylan Wallace
The fourth-round rookie out of Oklahoma State has been active for all seven of the Ravens’ games to start the season and has yet to record his first career catch in the regular season. While he has only been on the field for just nine total offensive snaps over that span without even so much as a single target thrown his way, Wallace has consistently made his presence felt on special teams where he’s played nearly 70 percent of the total snaps with 132. He has been an excellent gunner on both kickoff and punt coverage with six total tackles including a pair of solos.
Tylan Wallace at gunner (up top) pic.twitter.com/kf4AzTdYkc— michael crawford (@abukari) October 6, 2021
OLB Daelin Hayes
The fifth-round rookie out of Notre Dame was one of the brightest standouts in the preseason but has played the fewest snaps and appeared in the least amount of games in the regular season due to a knee injury suffered in the first quarter of the team’s Week 3 win over the Detroit Lions. Hayes was inactive for the first two games of the season and made his debut in his hometown before going down after just four defensive snaps.
While the sample size was extremely small, how he was utilized to start that game was very tantalizing. His ability to drop into coverage, blitz, and come off the edge resembles that of veteran starting SAM outside linebacker Tyus Bowser. Hopefully, he can continue to develop his versatile skill set whenever he gets cleared to return as his injury wasn’t deemed season-ending either.
This is why people don’t understand the greatness of Wink Martindale and his “positionless” defense.— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) October 8, 2021
Also,,, I REALLY hope Daelin Hayes can get healthy. He’s a UNIT with size and actual coverage ability similar to Bowser. https://t.co/4K30XPCQoC
DB Ar’Darius Washington
The undrafted rookie free agent out of TCU has only been active for two games and saw just one snap on defense in both. Washington has primarily played on special teams when he’s been active recording just one assisted tackle in 12 snaps covering kicks and punts. Unless another injury were to occur in the backend—knock on wood—he likely won’t dress for games regularly or see the field much down the stretch.