The 2021 NFL season is now just a few months away. Last year’s rookies have been able to enjoy a normal offseason this time around, which could lead to several massive jumps for players in their second season. In this series, I will take a look at the Ravens’ 2020 draft class and what the expectations should be for each player in their sophomore year.
First up is inside linebacker Patrick Queen.
Baltimore selected the one-year starter out of LSU with the No. 27 overall pick in the first round. Queen’s rookie season was quite the rollercoaster ride, full of highs and lows, but the talent is evident and a path exists for Queen to become one of the best linebackers in the NFL if certain areas of his game are fixed.
Queen himself spoke about certain areas in which he needs to improve this offseason. Coverage is the obvious one, where he appeared lost quite frequently last season. Such was expected from a one-year college starter with a lack of a normal offseason to prepare for the jump to the pros. Tackling and shedding blocks is another area that Queen must improve in going forward.
In 2020, Queen played in and started all 16 games of his rookie season. By the season’s end, Queen had recorded 106 total tackles, nine tackles for loss, 10 quarterback hits, three sacks, one interception, two passes defended, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and one defensive touchdown. Despite solid stats, plenty of highlights, and even finishing third in votes for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Queen graded 89th out of 90 qualifying linebackers for PFF with a grade of 29.8.
In an article regarding disappointing first-round rookies, PFF analyst Ben Linsey had the following to say about Queen:
“Looking at where most of his downgrades on the season came, they fall into two categories for the most part. The first consisted of plays where he got caught out of position, either finding himself blocked out of his gap in the run game or losing a receiver in zone coverage.”
According to pro football reference, Queen allowed 75% of passes thrown his way to be completed and allowed three touchdowns in coverage and a passer rating of 104.4 when targeted.
“Once I nail down the route concepts, I feel like my game is going to transcend so much,” Queen said on an episode of The Lounge podcast earlier this offseason. “In college, playing the rover side, you wouldn’t get that many three-man route concepts. You go to the NFL, you’re in the Mike position, you’ve got to be with the nickel all the time. The three-man route concepts are way harder than two-man route concepts. That experience and getting in the film room and learning everything, that’s probably going to be the biggest key.”
“The other area is missed tackles,” Linsey continued. “Queen’s 22 missed tackles this season were tied for the most in the NFL with Houston’s Zach Cunningham. The caveat there is that athletic linebackers such as Queen are always going to put themselves in a position to make more tackles — and attempt more difficult tackles — than lesser athletes. That said, 22 is still too many.”
Queen’s tackling certainly must improve, and a full offseason of training should help in that department.
“With Queen, you’re banking on his play catching up to his athletic ability, a similar situation to what we’ve seen early in Devin White’s career. There is reason to expect things to start to trend in that direction in 2021 after a rough first year,” said Linsey.
So what is fair to expect from the speedy linebacker in his second season? It is probably too much to expect Queen to become a good coverage linebacker in just his second season after struggling immensely in Year 1, but a noticeable improvement is certainly fair to hope for. Cleaning up mental errors as the game slows down will be huge for Queen’s game. Understanding what offenses are doing more often will allow Queen to play more freely and hesitate less which will inevitably lead to him making more plays all over the field.
Don’t expect Queen’s second season to be without its warts, but I do think it is fair to expect a big improvement over his up-and-down first season.