From Liberia to the Ravens: How Gus Edwards’ journey came full circle - Jamison Hensley
“He deserves a lot more credit than he gets,” tight end Mark Andrews said at the end of last season. “He’s the heart and the soul of our team with everything he does, the way he runs the ball. He breaks tackles left and right. He’s a beast.”
“That’s one person, for sure, when you’re in the hole with [him], you’ve got to brace yourself and get ready, because Gus is ‘Gus the Bus’ for a reason,” Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen said. “He earned that money.”
A restricted free agent, Edwards could have tested the market after the season. Instead, he struck a deal with Baltimore that places him among the top 20 highest-paid backs in the league in average per year.
Staying at a place that feels like home, especially with the path Edwards has taken, means a lot to him.
“I feel like I have unfinished business here,” Edwards said. “I’m comfortable here, I’m happy here and it works for me. In one way or another, I was hoping to stay. I’m just blessed.”
Ravens LB Patrick Queen strives to become a complete player with a full season of camps - Mike Preston
There was plenty to like about him last season. Forty of his 106 tackles were assisted, which means he pursued well. Queen had one interception, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, including a 53-yard return for a touchdown. He might have been a better pass rusher than some expected, finishing with three sacks. Speed was a big part of his game, being able to run sideline to sideline.
But Queen also had two liabilities. One was his inability to cover tight ends and running backs in the flats or on crossing routes. There were times when he was beaten physically and others when he was totally lost in space. And it just wasn’t Queen. Second-year weakside linebacker Malik Harrison struggled as well.
“You see it in the passing game, the pass skeletons [and] the half-line-type things that we do that are teaching periods [and] repetition periods,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of the current OTA practices, which weren’t allowed last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “Those are immensely valuable, especially at a position like inside backer where you’re in the middle of everything and things are always moving fast around you, and you have to make split-second type of reaction-type decisions. So, it’s been great for him. It’s been great for Malik, all of our guys.”
At 45.3 percent, no team had a higher blitz rate than the Ravens in 2020 (per Next Gen Stats), and that won’t change in 2021 under coordinator Wink Martindale. But the cast of edge rushers will shift, with Matt Judon (six sacks in 2020) and Yannick Ngakoue (three sacks in nine games with the Ravens last season) signing with the Patriots and Raiders, respectively. Jaylon Ferguson and Tyus Bowser return, but neither player currently scares opposing offensive coordinators. The ideal scenario would be for first-round pick Odafe Oweh and fifth-rounder Daelin Hayes to prove quick learners. It would not surprise me to see Baltimore add a veteran (someone like Justin Houston) at some point.
How do the Ravens diversify their offense?
Baltimore’s pivot toward its current system was brilliant. At a time when NFL rosters were populated by smaller, faster bodies, the Ravens forced opponents into their base defense and thumped them to death with heavier personnel. That advantage may be shrinking. The AFC North has matched toughness with toughness. The Browns and Steelers, in particular, are better suited to stop the Ravens than ever before. There were eight off-ball linebackers taken in the top 100 this year, following nine taken in 2020. Teams are realizing their vulnerabilities and are beefing up to stop not only Baltimore, but other downhill running teams like Tennessee, Green Bay and Tampa Bay, which rode the basic “duo” play and their hefty offensive line to a Super Bowl title.
Under-the-radar players who could be 2021 stars for each AFC team: Marquise Brown among potential breakouts - Tyler Sullivan
If you’re looking for a breakout player on Baltimore’s roster, the most common name you’ll hear will probably be second-year running back J.K. Dobbins, especially after the release of Mark Ingram this offseason and his strong rookie campaign. While Dobbins certainly appears poised for a stellar second season in the league, Marquise Brown may be getting slept on a bit. The Ravens receiver had a very strong end to his 2020 season, averaging over four catches for 56 yards and a touchdown in his final six regular-season contests. In the playoffs, Brown also seemed to take another leap in his development, catching 11 of his 16 targets over two contests for 196 yards. Over that eight-game run to finish his season, Lamar Jackson looked Brown’s way more than seven times per-game, which is particularly noteworthy.
If that continues, Brown could be on the verge of a career year as he enters his third-season in the NFL. It also doesn’t hurt that the Ravens added Sammy Watkins and rookie Rashod Bateman to the receiver unit to take some coverage off Brown.