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As injuries mount around the league, the Ravens are getting healthy at the right time

While other top contenders are losing key pieces, the Ravens are getting some of theirs back in time for the second half stretch.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

No team was hit harder and earlier with the injury bug at start of the 2021 regular season than the Baltimore Ravens. Even after it got underway, the ravaging didn’t stop. Despite losing several stars, starters, and key rotational pieces on both sides of the ball, the Ravens went 5-2 through the first seven weeks of the season. They emerged from their Week 8 bye sitting alone on top of the AFC North division standings.

While it seemed like the Ravens were the only team dealing with season-ending and short-term injuries a couple of months ago, the war of attrition is beginning to catch up with the rest of the league. This has been especially true for some of the projected playoff teams and top title contenders as of late.

Just this past week alone saw the Tennessee Titans, who currently sit atop the AFC playoff rankings, lose All-Pro running back Derrick Henry for the remainder of the season. Not only was he the league’s leading rusher by a mile through eight weeks, but he is also the most important player to their success. Without him, Tennessee’s offense might struggle to consistently find balance.

In New Orleans, Saints’ starting quarterback Jamies Winston is out for the year with torn ACL. Arizona Cardinals quarterback and MVP candidate, Kyler Murray, is dealing with an ankle injury that might keep him out for some time. There’s also the Cleveland Browns, who were the preseason favorite to win the division and challenge for the Super Bowl, but injuries to quarterback Baker Mayfield among others have certainly dampened many of their once lofty expectations.

While injuries have begun to pile up elsewhere, the Ravens have actually been getting healthy. They are on the verge of having some of their players that have missed time due to non-season-ending injuries back in the fold. Over the past few weeks, they’ve had veterans Sammy Watkins, Derek Wolfe, and Nick Boyle resume practicing and second-year pro Chris Westry was recently cleared to practice, too.

Watkins is the veteran leader of the Ravens’ young wide receiver core, Wolfe will hopefully help bring greater consistency and toughness to the defensive front seven, and Westry is a valuable depth piece at outside corner. Boyle’s return has been long-awaited and highly anticipated by coaches and players alike for how his presence can elevate the offense — both as a blocker and underrated pass catcher.

“Nick, obviously, has been a really good player for us,” Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman said. “It was a big loss for us last year, but he’s been really working to get back. I mean, Nick is a guy with a unique skillset that keeps getting better. We’re just going to have to bring him into the fold gradually and get him to where he’s feeling really comfortable out there so he can be Nick Boyle. That’s really the focus today with him, but he’s sneaky-good in the passing game, too. He’s a pretty complete player. We’re looking forward to him getting healthy again.”

“Oh, man, very excited,” said quarterback Lamar Jackson. “He brings a lot to the table for us – catching the ball, blocking. He’s doing it all for us. And he’s got a little, funny personality, too, so we missed that, too. We’re glad we got him back, though – for sure.”

All-Pro cornerstones Marcus Peters and Ronnie Stanley, starting running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, and inside linebacker L.J. Fort won’t be making any triumphant returns this year. However, the Ravens still have reinforcements on the way. This makes the fact that they decided not to make a move at the midseason trade deadline totally understandable considering their lack of cap space.