Despite the additions, Seth Walder, of ESPN, predicts the Ravens will still have some struggles in pass protection. He ranked Baltimore 14th in his projection of the NFL’s best and worst pass-projecting offensive lines.
“It’s shocking to see Baltimore so low on this list,” Walder wrote. “And make no mistake, this has nothing to do with Stanley, who not only finished fourth in [pass block win rate] in 2019 but was leading the category through Week 8 when he was injured last season. It’s the three newcomers who drag down this unit. Particularly Villanueva, who looks like a significant downgrade from Orlando Brown Jr. in pass protection (though Villanueva did have a slightly higher run block win rate than Brown last season).”
The Ravens players are more confident in the offensive line than Walder.
“The offensive line for the Ravens, the way that they’re coached, and the attitude that they have has been something that has been respected in the AFC North ever since I’ve been playing in the NFL,” Villanueva said. “I know that [former Steelers offensive line and current Broncos offensive line] Coach [Mike] Munchak had a lot of admiration for the way that they ran zone schemes. So, if anything, I feel a bigger responsibility to make sure that what you’re saying, this new revamped offensive line, is something that can come to fruition.”
Offensive Line Rankings & Fantasy Impact - Mike Tagliere
2. Baltimore Ravens It’s tough to put the Ravens at No. 1 considering the departure of Orlando Brown, who was a massive presence for them. But with Ronnie Staley at left tackle, they weren’t going to play Brown there. They replaced him at right tackle with Alexander Villanueva who’s played his entire career at left tackle, so the transition may be more than most realize. Still, even without Staley for more than half the season, this offensive line created a league-leading 2.01 yards before contact for their running backs. They also added Kevin Zeitler in free agency, who’ll give the interior of the line a nice boost.
Player to watch who isn’t listed: WR Rashod Bateman
Expect plenty of heavy personnel groupings again in Baltimore next season, limiting the playing time for what has suddenly become a crowded receiving corps. Bateman is listed behind both Brown and Watkins here, but he could very well end up as the No. 1 wide receiver on a roster that has no clear incumbent. Bateman showed he could win both in the slot and out wide while at Minnesota, earning 80.0-plus PFF grades in each role over the past two seasons.
PFF’s fantasy projections currently project Brown for 82 targets, Bateman for 72 targets and Watkins for 72 targets next season.
According to Sports Info Solutions, Baltimore led the league with 15 forced quarterback fumbles and 12 batted passes last season. Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue are gone, but I’m just not as worked up as most about Wink Martindale’s ability to maximize the sum of a revamped pass rush.
After running the dime 44% of the time in 2019, Baltimore’s defense used six defensive backs on just 16% of its snaps last year, according to Football Outsiders. Using a timeshare of Jimmy Smith and rookie Brandon Stephens for that role is enticing, but that depends on Tavon Young’s health.
Quality defensive linemen age pretty well, but Calais Campbell is coming off his lowest sack total since his rookie year and missed nearly as many games (four) last year as he did in his first 12 seasons combined (six). How his age-35 contract season plays out should be interesting.
Cornerback Tavon Young
After his second straight season-ending injury — and third in five NFL seasons — the narrative around Young’s career is fraught with caveats: He’s a playmaking slot cornerback, but can he be trusted to stay healthy? Even if he looks great in camp, how long until his knees or something else give him trouble?
All Young can do is focus on the rehabilitation that had him back on the field for individual workouts at the Ravens’ mandatory minicamp in June. Because if Young finds his way to the injured reserve for a third straight season, after a neck injury in 2019 and an ACL tear in 2020, he won’t be in the team’s plans for long. The Ravens would take on just $3.3 million in dead money if they released him after this season; the lucrative contract extension he signed in 2019 only runs through 2022.
But general manager Eric DeCosta made him the NFL’s highest-paid nickelback for a reason. Young has shown the fearlessness to mix it up with tight ends, the savvy to blitz from the slot, the lateral quickness to cover middle-of-the-field routes and the speed to track big-play threats. If he looks like he did last August and September, he’ll be tough to unseat inside, even with the Ravens’ depth at the position.