The Baltimore Ravens anticipated their 2021 draft class dealt to play integral roles as rookies but had no idea that they would have to lean on the talented yet very inexperienced group so early. Between injuries and another COVID-19 outbreak, many of the first-year players for the Ravens were thrust into starting or at least heavy rotational roles right away.
The rookie class reflected the team as a whole with the way it was hit hard by the injury bug as well which led to some incomplete grades and some others to be graded on a curve considering the circumstances. There was only one rookie out of the seven that made the final 53-man roster that didn’t miss a game all year due to injury.
Here is a breakdown of how each member of the group fared in their inaugural seasons in the league:
WR Rashod Bateman
The Ravens selected the former Minnesota Golden Gopher with the first of their two picks in round one at No. 27 overall with the expectation that he would be an immediate contributor as a do-it-all receiver. A groin injury that he suffered early in training camp and required surgery delayed his debut by five games but once he arrived on the scene, he shined bright when given the opportunity. From the jump, he showed that he had a knack for moving the chains as a first-down machine and gaining almost instantaneous separation off the line of scrimmage with his release as well as at the top of his route stems.
In 12 games that included four starts, Bateman finished third on the team targets (68), receptions (46), and receiving yards (515) but only scored one touchdown to no fault of his own. He was also proficient as a downfield blocker in the run game, particularly on designed quarterback runs and scrambles. The rookie was on the field for over 80 percent of the Ravens’ total offensive snaps in each of the last four games. He will likely see a similar snap count percentage in year two as more targets are expected to come his way. Once Lamar Jackson recovers from his ankle injury, the two will have an entire offseason to build better chemistry and could be a dynamic tandem as soon as 2022.
RASHOD BATEMAN ON FOURTH DOWN pic.twitter.com/O4AqR6bYSl— PFF BAL Ravens (@PFF_Ravens) December 12, 2021
RASHOD BATEMAN FIRST CAREER TOUCHDOWN pic.twitter.com/1pNjnIr7Ym— PFF BAL Ravens (@PFF_Ravens) December 26, 2021
OLB Odafe Oweh
The Ravens broke away from their traditional tendency of valuing production over potential when they selected the former Penn State Nittany Lion with the second of their two first-round picks at No. 31 overall. Even though he didn’t record a sack in his final collegiate season and totaled just seven in 20 career games, Oweh’s elite athletic traits enticed the team enough to take him so high. After a somewhat quiet training camp and preseason, he hit the ground running once the regular season started. He made one clutch impact play after another and recorded three sacks in his first five career games.
Oweh would only record two more sacks in the next 10 games he appeared in before a foot injury made him miss the final two of the season. However, the first-year edge defender still generated consistent and expedient pressure along with displays of formidable strength against the run. In 15 games, he finished second on the team in sacks with five, tied for the second-most quarterback hits with 15, and recorded 33 total tackles including six for a loss. It didn’t take long for opposing offenses to start noticing and game-planning for ways to neutralize or at least slow him down but his play and effort never dipped even if his stats didn’t reflect it.
With Tyus Bowser returning from a torn Achilles tendon he suffered in the season finale and the uncertainty surrounding a potential return for veteran Justin Houston, much of the onus to provide a potent pass rush and constant disruption off the edge will fall on the shoulders of the rising sophomore early on in the 2022 season. He will need to step his game up even more in year two which he will likely do with a year of experience now under his belt and considering that the biggest jump most players make in their career is from their rookie year to their second.
ODAFE OWEH WELCOME TO THE LEAGUE!— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) September 20, 2021
NOW ON NBC! pic.twitter.com/6hDbrKClBX
OG Ben Cleveland
The Ravens added a mountain of a man to their talented interior offensive line depth chart when they selected the former Georgia Bulldog with the first of their two picks in the third round at No. 94 overall. After sitting out the season opener, he was rotating with Ben Powers at the starting left guard spot for the next three games before a knee injury he suffered in Week 5 landed him on injured reserve for five weeks.
When he returned to the active roster, Cleveland served as an emergency backup for the next four games where he only saw the field on special teams for PAT and field goal attempts. He got his first chance to be a full-time starter when Powers suffered a foot injury that sidelined him for the final four games of the season. The rookie had a solid season overall that saw him have his fair share of struggles as well as highlight blocks and performances in both pass protection and run blocking. He will benefit from a full offseason program and likely be expected to be starting left guard heading into the 2022 season although the Ravens will still make him battle for it in training camp with Powers and others.
Ben Cleveland looks for work…— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) September 28, 2021
Looks for work…
Looks for work…
Finally got to see Ben Cleveland put all 350 on someone. (Nice ACE by the C/RG too) pic.twitter.com/K5mWZN3MUc— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) September 28, 2021
DB Brandon Stephens
The Ravens took some analysts by surprise when they selected the former SMU Mustang with the second of their two picks in the third round at No. 104 overall but by the end of the season, he played more snaps and made more starts than any other rookie on the team. Injuries forced the converted college running back turned corner into the starting free safety when DeShon Elliott missed two of the first five games before landing in injured reserve after suffering a season-ending injury in Week 9.
Stephens wound up being the Ravens starting free safety for the vast majority of the season and showed many signs of positive progression as the year went along in what was essentially a trial by fire. He flashed more and more with each experience and learned from costly mistakes on the fly. After allowing big plays through the air with regularity to start the season, Stephens was a part of the reason the defense cut back on allowing such plays as often down the stretch. Even though he didn’t force any turnovers, the rookie defensive back was always around the ball and even made some plays on it to force incompletions.
He appeared in all 17 games, making 11 starts and playing 68 percent of the total defensive snaps in 2021. Stephens finished third on the team in total tackles with 78 including one for a loss and recorded a quarterback hit and four pass deflections. The Ravens might look to add a true ball hawk who is more of a natural at the position this offseason so while his roster spot is certainly not in jeopardy heading into year two, there’s no guarantee that Stephens will be the starter in 2022. At worst, he’d be a diverse matchup chess piece that can line up over tight ends and bigger receivers as a key role player.
Stellar rep by rookie Brandon Stephens.— JetPack Galileo (@JetPackGalileo) November 12, 2021
Ultra smooth transition off the tight end and onto Thielen. Spins into position, then locates the ball and gets a hand on for the last second disruption. play pic.twitter.com/zl6WCJEeRB
WR Tylan Wallace
The Ravens got what was viewed as an absolute steal at the time when they selected the former Oklahoma State Cowboy in the fourth round at No. 131 overall. He was the only receiver to play in all 17 games and while he finished with just two catches for 23 yards, Wallace was a staple, strong force on special teams. He established himself as one of the best gunners in the league with his outstanding play on kick and punt coverage.
Wallace finished with nine total tackles on special teams including four solos and even when he did start getting more playing time on offense, the rookie wasn’t getting targeted much despite getting wide open at times. Hopefully, he can get more involved in the offense in year two as he builds a better rapport with Jackson this offseason and in training camp.
OLB Daelin Hayes
The Ravens double-dipped at edge defender when they used one of their three selections in the fifth round on the former member of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. A knee injury he suffered in Week 3 limited him to just one regular season game but prior to that setback, Hayes was one of the brightest standouts in training camp and the preseason.
He appeared poised for a significant amount of playing time on defense before being surprisingly inactive for the first two games of the season. Hayes did show some of the same promising flashes that he displayed in the preseason before his NFL debut was cut short after just four defensive snaps. With Bowser on the mend, the rising sophomore will likely be getting the lions’ share of the first-team reps both in practice and game reps until the veteran is fully recovered.
Such a beautiful dip move here by Daelin Hayes to get to the quarterback pic.twitter.com/oDzfghPB7q— Kevin Oestreicher (@koestreicher34) August 16, 2021
DB Ar’Darius Washington
The Ravens convinced one of the most coveted undrafted free agents to sign with them and after standing out both in training camp and the the preseason, the former TCU Horned Frog made the final 53-man roster. He was only active for three games and was mainly limited to special teams in each contest, logging a total of just seven defensive snaps before being placed on injured serve on Nov. 27 with a broken foot. Washington showed the same nose for the ball that he had in college in the preseason and made plays. He possesses the positional versatility to play both safety and slot corner which will make him a valued member of the secondary if he can continue to develop.