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Ravens News 1/21: Elite Special Teams and more

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NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

By the Numbers: Ravens’ 2021 Season - Clifton Brown

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Games Baltimore lost by two points or fewer, all during the final six weeks. The Ravens showed great resiliency all season, but losing close games was their undoing. Baltimore tied the 1984 Chiefs, 2000 Chargers, 2002 Jaguars and 2013 Cowboys for most losses by two points or less in NFL history. What else did those hard-luck teams have in common? None of them made the playoffs.

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Games the Ravens played against teams that finished with a winning record. Baltimore’s 2021 schedule was as challenging as it looked on paper when it was released, particularly the final stretch. The Ravens’ last four opponents all made the playoffs — (Packers, Bengals, Rams, Steelers) and three of those teams advanced to the divisional round.

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Lamar Jackson’s regular-season career record as a starter. Jackson turned 25 on Jan. 7 and has more wins before turning that age than any quarterback in league history. Tyler Huntley had strong moments in place of Jackson, but the Ravens were 1-4 in 2021 without their franchise quarterback. Jackson’s continued development and contract status will be talking points during the offseason. But an ankle injury that ended his season on Dec. 12 was a huge turning point that damaged Baltimore’s playoff hopes.

2021 NFL Special Teams Rankings - Rick Gosselin

The Ravens, whose head coach John Harbaugh has a rich history as an NFL special-teams coach, have never short-changed the kicking game. Which is why Baltimore again finished first in the NFL special-teams rankings compiled annually by Rick Gosselin for the last 43 years. The Ravens have finished in the Top 5 in these rankings in eight of the last nine seasons, also winning in 2015.

The league’s 32 teams are ranked in 22 kicking-game categories and assigned points according to their standing – one for best, 32 for worst. The Ravens compiled 241.5 points to finish 30.5 better than the runnerup Indianapolis Colts at 272.

The Ravens, under special teams coach Chris Horton, finished first in five of the 22 categories. They also finished in the Top 5 in four other categories and the Top 10 in five others. Tucker was voted to the AFC Pro Bowl team – one of two Baltimore special-teamers so honored. Devin Duvernay also was selected as the return specialist after leading the NFL in punt returns with his 13.8-yard average.

Ravens rookie report: How all 8 draft picks fared, and what’s in store for next season - Jonas Shaffer

WR Tylan Wallace

Stats: 17 games (one start), two catches on six targets, 23 receiving yards (14 after the catch), nine special teams tackles (four solo), two kick returns (19.5 yards per return), one penalty (illegal shift)

2021 summary: After a knee injury ended his 2019 season at Oklahoma State and interrupted his 2020 campaign, Wallace made it through his rookie year with almost no time on the injury report. (He missed just one practice, in December, while clearing the NFL’s concussion protocol.) The fourth-round pick finished sixth on the team in special teams snaps (58.7% overall), the most for any Ravens rookie or offensive player, and had some ups and downs as a gunner on coordinator Chris Horton’s punt team.

As a receiver, Wallace had to adjust to new territory. After operating almost exclusively as a right-sided outside receiver in college, he started 31 of his 51 routes this season in the slot, according to SIS. His two catches were both impressive: a diving 5-yard grab on an outside-the-numbers throw against the Green Bay Packers in Week 15, and an 18-yard catch-and-run a week later against the Cincinnati Bengals in which he spun out of two tackle attempts.

2022 projection: Wallace has already proved his special teams value. Now he’ll have to continue his growth at wide receiver, where he’ll battle for snaps behind Brown, Bateman and Devin Duvernay, and maybe another. Wallace thrived as a vertical, jump-ball threat at Oklahoma State, but the best slot receivers earn snaps with their route running, soft hands and dependable blocking. If Wallace develops into a trusted target over the middle, he could block James Proche II’s path to more playing time.

Has Ravens C Bradley Bozeman Priced His Way Out Of Baltimore? - Bo Smolka

Bozeman, 27, started every game in 2019 and 2020 at left guard before moving this past season to center, the position he had played collegiately at Alabama. He missed just one game in the past three years.

Pro Football Focus ranked Bozeman No. 11 overall and No. 5 in pass blocking among centers this past year, while ESPN listed Bozeman No. 2 among centers in pass block win rate, which measures whether a lineman can sustain his block for 2.5 seconds or longer.

Ten centers have contracts worth at least $10 million in average annual value, according to spotrac.com, which tracks player salaries. All-Pro Corey Linsley set the market last year with a five-year, $62.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Chargers. Bozeman might not reach that top end, but on the open market, he could find a deal north of $10 million a year.

If Bozeman were to leave, the Ravens could look to super-utility lineman Patrick Mekari at center. Mekari, recently signed to a three-year contract extension, made five starts at center last year before moving to right tackle this season. The Ravens also figure to re-sign exclusive-rights free agent center Trystan Colon, who has started three games in his two NFL seasons.

One free agent each NFL team should pursue in the 2022 offseason - Brad Spielberger

BALTIMORE RAVENS: DI MALIEK COLLINS

2021 Player Grade/Rank: 64.0 (49th)

2021 Team Position Grade/Rank: 67.3 (7th)

This would be four different teams in as many seasons for Collins, and early indications are he’d like to come to an agreement to stay in Houston if possible. However, if the two sides can’t reach common ground, the Ravens should be interested.

Baltimore’s defensive interior enjoyed a strong 2021 campaign, so you may ask why they’d need to address it before other spots. Their two top players in 2021 were Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams, who are both free agents and who will be 36 and 33 years old, respectively, in 2022.

Collins and Ravens 2020 third-rounder Justin Madubuike could be a solid young tandem operating as three- and five-techniques in defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s multiple-front scheme. Collins has generated at least 25 quarterback pressures in five of his first six NFL seasons.