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3 sneaky potential X-factors for the Ravens in 2022

Under-the-radar players who could make a bigger-than-expected impact this season

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Ravens’ best and biggest-named players are well established heading into 2022. The likes of Lamar Jackson, Mark Andrews, Ronnie Stanley and Marlon Humphrey, among others, are the key names in the Ravens’ core group.

The contributions from lesser-known or more unheralded players, though, can often be driving forces to team success. With this idea in mind, let’s brainstorm a few Ravens that fit this description, who could wind up making a more significant impact than many may expect next season.

WR Tylan Wallace

As the roster currently stands, the Ravens will be relying on a number of young wideouts to lead their receiving core this season. Chief among them is 2021 first-round pick Rashod Bateman, followed by Devin Duvernay and James Proche, as the projected depth chart currently stands. 2021 fourth-round pick Tylan Wallace will also be in mix.

In flashes, we’ve seen the abilities of Bateman, Duvernay and Proche on display. It’s Wallace, though, who is the biggest unknown of the group. The Oklahoma State product played only 84 offensive snaps in his rookie season despite being active for all 17 games. He was primarily a special teams contributor; he played 258 total snaps and returned two kickoffs.

By virtue of Marquise Brown and Sammy Watkins no longer being on the roster, Wallace will be higher on the depth chart in 2022, with a greater opportunity for playing time. He may end up being one of the most important wide receivers on the roster, in large part due to his skill set.

In college, Wallace was a true outside receiver who stretched the field and made contested catches. His athleticism and ball skills help compensate for a 5-foot-11 frame, which doesn’t fit the profile of a prototypical “big-bodied X” wideout. However, he may be the purest field-stretching threat the Ravens have in the receiver room right now.

OLB Daelin Hayes

Like Wallace, Daelin Hayes did not make an impact last season. His rookie campaign was limited to just four total snaps after a Week 3 injury sidelined him for the remainder of the year. It was especially unfortunate given Hayes’ promising performance in training camp and preseason.

After essentially a redshirt first year, Hayes has a chance to make a carve out a legit role for himself in 2022. Given the question marks the Ravens have at the outside linebacker position, the Ravens may need him to take on consistent defensive snaps. Also, like Wallace, Hayes’ specific skill set could prove to be important.

Hayes’ coverage abilities for an edge rusher were a calling card coming out of Notre Dame last draft cycle. In drafting him, the hope was that he’d be a good fit behind Tyus Bowser, who the Ravens have always dropped into coverage often because of his high-end skills in that department.

With Bowser recovering from a torn achilles injury this offseason, Hayes should get plenty of run this offseason at the SAM linebacker spot. The Ravens may ease Bowser’s snaps early on in the season, or it’s possible Bowser could not necessarily be ready to play Week 1. In either scenario, Hayes might see the field a decent bit.

G Ben Cleveland

Another rising sophomore who could be an X-factor for the Ravens next year is Ben Cleveland, who the team drafted in the 2021 third round. Cleveland saw the field much more than either Hayes or Wallace last season. He started four games and played a total of 367 offensive snaps.

Cleveland was expected to establish himself as a plug-and-play starter at left guard as a rookie. This didn’t exactly come to fruition, although he was limited late in the offseason by injury. Cleveland flashed at times on the field but also showed there’s legitimate room for improvement in his technique and consistency.

Physically, Cleveland fits the profile as a Ravens’ starter more so than Tyre Phillips or Ben Powers, the other likely primary candidates for the starting right guard spot in 2022. However, both of the latter probably have a slight advantage over Cleveland as currently stands, by virtue of experience.

Cleveland, though, will have every chance this offseason to win a starting role. If he can make a second-year jump and emerge as a quality, consistent run and pass blocker, that could be the difference between the Ravens having a good offensive line versus a great one.