Coming off an injury-ravaged 2021 season unlike any other in franchise history, the Baltimore Ravens are poised and primed for a major bounce back in 2022.
While General Manager Eric DeCosta has been praised for having one of the best offseasons of any team in the league, many on the outside looking in still see a few glaring holes remaining on their current roster. However, with their words and actions, the Ravens clearly want to give their in-house options ample opportunity to prove themselves.
The two position groups garnering the most concern and skepticism are wide receiver and outside linebacker. Both depth charts feature young talent that is either ascending in the case of 2021 first-rounders Rashod Bateman and Odafe Oweh, or are unproven in the case of the majority of the other players at the positions.
With Tyus Bowser and David Ojabo recovering from a torn Achilles and following the tragic passing of Jaylon Ferguson, the Ravens are razor-thin at edger defender with training camp a little over a month away.
They signed veterans Vince Biegel and Steven Means but neither are significant additions or locks to make the final roster. Even though they placed a rarely used tender on Justin Houston, as was the case with Melvin Ingram, he could still opt to sign elsewhere.
One player that is almost a complete unknown heading into the 2022 season, but has been arguably the brightest standout of the offseason program is second-year outside linebacker Daelin Hayes. Even though the team has yet to put on pads, the 2021 fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame looked great at OTAs and Mandatory Minicamp practices.
“Daelin is a great example of it, and all those guys, they’re flashing and they’re showing some good things,” Head Coach John Harbaugh. “The next step will be training camp [and] getting to the quarterback, as much as we allow them to, when the pads come on, and then in the games and all that. But he has flashed. He knows the defense, he’s very confident out there right now, and there are a lot of guys like that.”
Following a strong preseason, injuries limited Hayes to just one game and only four defensive snaps as a rookie last year. During Minicamp he made plays as both a pass rusher and in pass coverage, winning serval one-on-one reps for would’ve-been sacks and intercepting a pass from Lamar Jackson on the second day.
If he can continue to build off of the momentum he has amassed and stay healthy, he could carve out a regular rotational role at either outside linebacker spot, especially at SAM. They need a primary backup to Bowser when he’s healthy and possibly a stop-gap starter if the sixth-year veteran isn’t available to start the season.
After trading away Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown, not drafting a wideout for the first time since 2017, and still having yet to sign a notable veteran, the Ravens are sending a clear message to players they’ve already invested in.
“When we don’t draft a wide receiver, what the organization is saying to you is, ‘We brought you here for a reason, and it’s your time,’ Wide Receivers Coach Tee Martin said.
In addition to Bateman, the Ravens will be looking to the likes of Devin Duvernay, James Proche and Tylan Wallace to step up and not only assume a larger role on offense but produce as well. They’ve been a lightning rod for harsh criticism since Brown got shipped off to play in the desert but welcome the chance to silence their doubters.
“We embrace it,” wide receiver Rashod Bateman said. “It’s a challenge, but we’re learning from Lamar [Jackson]. We don’t really care anymore.”
Martin says that the tight-knit group possesses the ‘chip on their shoulder’ mentality and that they are eager “prove that they’re ready for their opportunity”.
“They’ve been here, they know the system, they played, sparingly, in some roles, and now you’re going to look out there and see them on the field more often, getting an opportunity to make more plays for us,” Martin said.
With Brown gone, Bateman is the most productive player at the position that the Ravens have returning. He is expected to take a major leap by many, including himself, in 2022 after churning out a solid rookie campaign following his return from injury. Being the team’s top No. 1 receiver is a role he has desired all along and can’t wait to fulfill.
“That’s the role that I’ve always wanted to be in,” Bateman said, via the Baltimore Sun. “I’m excited to take that role.”
During DeCosta’s tenure as the team’s head front office executive, he hasn’t been afraid to pull the trigger on a trade at or near the midseason trade deadline. He acquired Pro Bowlers Marcus Peters and Yannick Ngakoue in back-to-back years from 2019-2020 and reportedly tried to trade for Xavien Howard last year.
If youngsters at the two positions do not rise to the occasion, it suffices to say that the Ravens won’t just rest on their laurels. Giving lesser-known commodities the chance to become meaningful contributors on their respective sides of the ball has the potential to produce good production at a tremendous value.