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Ravens News 7/28: Pivotal Season and more

Jacksonville Jaguars v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

Five Storylines As Ravens Begin Training Camp - Clifton Brown

How many rookies will earn playing time?

Bateman has looked the part of a first-round pick and Cleveland could start, but how many rookies will carve out important roles right away? First-round pick Odafe Oweh (31st overall) has intriguing potential as one of the top athletes in this year’s draft. Oweh isn’t just a pass-rusher. He has the quickness to create havoc as a run defender who can penetrate into the backfield, and the has he versatility to drop into pass coverage. If Oweh learns quickly, he could give Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale multiple ways to use him.

The Ravens drafted fullback/tight Ben Mason (fifth round) because he was a bruising blocker at Michigan, but he must prove his value as a second fullback or third tight end. Defensive backs Brandon Stephens and Shaun Wade will be trying to carve their niche in a deep secondary, and rookie linebacker Daelin Hayes had strong minicamp practices. Meanwhile, there’s always an undrafted rookie or two who makes a bid to make the 53-man roster, and safety Ar’Darius Washington could be that guy.

Predicting the Ravens’ 53-man roster: Who’s the backup QB? Will they carry 6 or 7 WRs? - Jeff Zrebiec

Tight end/fullback (4)

In: Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Josh Oliver, Patrick Ricard (fullback)

Out: Eric Tomlinson, Jake Breeland, Eli Wolf, Tony Poljan, Ben Mason

Toughest decision: Not finding a spot for Mason, the rookie fifth-round pick.

Bottom line: The Ravens could go in several directions here. They could use Mason as the No. 3 tight end behind Andrews and Boyle. They could carry Mason as a backup fullback/core special-teamer behind Ricard like they did with Kyle Juszczyk in his rookie year. They could try to pass Mason through waivers and hope a league that has largely gone away from fullbacks ignores him and he returns to their practice squad. It’s just tough to see them finding room for two fullbacks and three natural tight ends and they need their No. 3 tight end to contribute in the passing game. Oliver is a better bet to do that than Mason.

2021 NFL season: Projecting the most improved player on each AFC team - Cynthia Frelund

Baltimore Ravens

Chuck Clark

Safety · Age 26

I considered including Clark in my list of the AFC’s most underappreciated players earlier this offseason, but I saved him for this article, because his trajectory has been upward since he entered the league as a sixth-rounder in 2017. Clark’s 10 QB pressures in 2020 ranked third among defensive backs in the NFL, per Next Gen Stats, and my computer vision shows that his change-of-direction speed eroded the second-least among safeties from the first quarter through the fourth (my proxy for fatigue).

It’s time for Lamar Jackson to prove he can lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl - Mike Preston

Jackson has a lot of the right intangibles. His ego is in check and he is tough, accountable, a self-motivator and extremely athletic.

But can he throw accurately and consistently outside the numbers? Nope, not yet.

The Ravens had the best running and worst passing offenses in the NFL last season, and they have failed in the postseason because teams crowd the line of scrimmage to stop the run. And then they either play zone or at least fake it to take away Jackson’s big play ability in the running game as well as shut down the middle of the field. The objective is to make Jackson throw to the outside, which he hasn’t been able to do consistently.

The Ravens did a good job of finding receivers for him in the off season. They preferred to have Indianapolis’ T.Y. Hilton or Pittsburgh’s JuJu Smith-Schuster over Watkins, but Watkins’ addition was still an upgrade for the Ravens. With Watkins, Marquise Brown and Bateman in the mix along with tight end Mark Andrews, the team has a lot of options as far as moving players around, which could create mismatches — especially with their speed.

But, even if these receivers can bail Jackson out with a couple of clutch catches and the offensive line can pass block better than a year ago, that’s not enough to push this team deep into the playoffs. Even with a more sophisticated scheme, the bottom line is that Jackson still has to throw better.

Ravens Enter a Pivotal Year with Optimism - Warren Sharp

An incredible 12 of the Ravens’ 16 regular season games in 2020 were played against defenses that ranked below average. Baltimore played nine games against bottom-10 defenses last year.

And instead of ranking first nearly across the board in offensive efficiency, everything dropped. Overall efficiency dropped from first to 20th. Early Down Success Rate (EDSR) dropped from first to 22nd.

The red flag for the Ravens offense was they could have been even worse in 2020 but they performed extremely well in high-leverage situations. Baltimore, led by Lamar Jackson’s legs and a strong run game, ranked fourth in red zone efficiency and fourth in third down efficiency. So despite dropping to below average marks in most other elements of offensive efficiency, being great on high-leverage plays allowed the Ravens to still win games.

Defenses took away Lamar, left the Ravens RBs to put up well above average numbers, but refused to let Lamar beat them on the ground in personnel groupings that didn’t scream pass play.

One way to combat defenses that are focusing substantial attention to the quarterback on the ground in non-11 personnel sets is to increase the pass rate on these plays, when defenses may be spying Lamar. Last year the Ravens were 67% run when not in 11 personnel, which was the most run-heavy in the NFL.

Very soon, Baltimore will have to pay Lamar Jackson. And while I expect him to sign a long-term deal which provides several team-friendly cap years to start, it’s going to be a big change from a roster building perspective. That pending shift makes 2021 a more important year to make a Super Bowl run.