In the NFL, there is no perfect roster. There are strengths and weaknesses among each team. PFF’s Ben Linsey recently released roster rankings for all 32 teams in the NFL and identified their strengths, weaknesses and an X factor among each squad. For the Baltimore Ravens, it’s much of what the fanbase already knows. Linsey assessed the Ravens’ secondary as their biggest strength.
“There aren’t many cornerbacks in the league who can seamlessly transition from an outside role to the slot and provide high-level play at both spots,” Linsey wrote. “Marlon Humphrey has done that better than anyone in recent years, spending more time inside due to a string of Tavon Young injuries. Humphrey is the only cornerback in the league with a PFF coverage grade of at least 80.0 both in the slot and out wide since 2017.”
The Ravens’ secondary is arguably the best in the NFL, and that was before Young’s expected return. The tandem of Humphrey and CB Marcus Peters offers the team a lockdown cornerback with a knack for forcing fumbles on one end and a gambling-man on the opposite end who more often than not comes up with a takeaway. Match that with Young, a player with sky-high potential and a depth chart carrying arguably two more starting cornerbacks, CB Anthony Averett and CB Jimmy Smith, and you boast the best secondary in the league.
Unfortunately, the top-tier secondary is being paired with a bit of a concern at edge rush, according to Linsey, as he places the pass rush as their biggest weakness.
“It’s not difficult to see the reasoning behind Baltimore’s decision to let Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue walk in free agency,” Linsey wrote. “Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale does as good of a job as anyone at scheming up pressure with the blitz, reducing the need for elite edge rushers. But those departures do leave the Ravens thin at outside linebacker entering this season. Since Tyus Bowser was drafted in 2017, neither he nor Pernell McPhee have recorded 40 pressures in a season. Those are now Baltimore’s two projected starters.”
As DE Calais Campbell mentioned during minicamp, the Ravens will need these younger players along the edge to step up.
“Our outside rush is where we lost [the most guys] the most, and I see some of our young guys who can really move, and they’re really just super gifted,” Campbell said. “And so, now it comes down to hust getting them prepared, getting them ready, helping them develop as quickly as possible, because we’re going to have to depend on them. This is one of those teams where we’re going to have to depend on some young guys to step up and make some plays for us. But I think we’ve got a really good group of young [players] who are going to be able to develop and become really good football players in this league.”
It’s a bit concerning to be clinging onto hope that the Ravens will need the young players to flourish in order to be successful. Tyus Bowser’s been looked to as the starting edge rusher and it’s being stated he’s expected to step up. He’s been called upon to step up for at least two seasons, as I published an article back in August 2019 about former Ravens defensive line coach Joe Cullen calling on Bowser to step up during training camp in 2019. Cullen was asked if there was a “ticking clock” on Bowser and former OLB Tim Williams.
“You gotta do it right now,” Cullen said. “The clock has ticked, and it’s ready to explode, so you gotta do it in these games.”
Tyus has since then stepped up. In 2019 he accumulated 5.0 sacks, three tackles for loss and 10 QB hits. In 2020, though he was heavily relied upon in coverage due to his significant improvements in that particular area, he still totaled 2.0 sacks, four tackles for loss and 14 QB hits. According to Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox, Bowser is the Ravens’ best-kept secret heading into the 2021 season.
“In 2020, Bowser finished the season with 34 total tackles, two sacks, five passes defended and three interceptions,” Knox wrote. “He allowed an opposing quarterback rating of just 42.2.”
As for the 2021 X factor, Linsey places his bet on 2020 first-round pick WR Rashod Bateman.
“Rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman isn’t listed above with the projected starters because of how often both Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle figure to be on the field, but he should factor heavily into the Ravens’ offense,” Linsey wrote. “Bateman showed that he could win from primarily wide alignments (2019) and in the slot (2020) by earning grades north of 80.0 in each of the last two seasons at Minnesota. Bateman joined DeVonta Smith and new teammate Tylan Wallace as the only wide receivers in this draft class to average over 3.0 yards per route run in both 2019 and 2020.”
I believe both first-round rookies will be X factors for the 2021 season. Both Bateman and OLB Odafe Oweh shoulder expectations as the franchise looks to push for a championship bid in 2021. The “easiest way” for the Ravens to do so is having two standout rookies at premium positions perform among the league’s best. If Bateman and Oweh come in and produce early and often, the Ravens’ chances at winning the division, or the first seed in the 2021 playoffs, increase astronomically.