2022 NFL secondary rankings: Baltimore Ravens, Tampa Bay Buccaneers take top spots - Michael Renner
TIER 1: WHERE DO OFFENSES EVEN ATTACK?
CB: Marcus Peters
CB: Marlon Humphrey
NCB: Kyle Fuller
S: Chuck Clark
There are a lot of complete secondaries around the NFL, making the Tier 1 rankings a toss-up in a number of ways. The Ravens simultaneously have some of the most question marks heading into 2022 from a health perspective while also possessing the highest-end elite potential. Four of their five starters have earned top-10 grades at their respective positions at some point over the past four seasons. And this list doesn’t even include rookie first-rounder Kyle Hamilton, who will undoubtedly factor in heavily.
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Marcus Peters, CB Ravens
Of all the injuries the Ravens suffered last season, losing Peters to an ACL tear in training camp may have been the most significant. Baltimore missed his playmaking in the secondary, as the team finished with just nine interceptions in 2021. But more than that, his absence made former defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale’s aggressive brand of man coverage a lot harder to play.
This offseason, Martindale left to take the Giants DC job, and he was replaced by his former assistant and 2021 Michigan DC Mike Macdonald. Macdonald won’t be nearly as blitz-happy as his predecessor—in Ann Arbor, he preferred to show heavy blitz looks before the snap and then drop into more sound coverages after it. But he’ll still want to play a lot of man coverage, and he’ll need Peters to be at his best for the Ravens to do so at a high level. Without him last season, Baltimore finished 22nd in EPA per play allowed when in man coverage, per Sports Info Solutions. With Peters and Marlon Humphrey both on the field in 2020, the defense ranked eighth in the same metric.
Peters’s return will not only make Macdonald’s life a lot easier, but it should also have the same effect on Humphrey, the superstar of the secondary. Without another reliable corner across from him, the Ravens had to move Humphrey around a lot in 2021, which coincided with his worst season as a starter. Now that Peters is back, he should have a more consistent role.
After drafting do-it-all safety Kyle Hamilton in April and adding center-field safety Marcus Williams in free agency, the Ravens should have the best secondary in the NFL—if Peters rebounds to his pre-injury form, that is. And if a healthier offense, led by a sneaky MVP candidate in Lamar Jackson, bounces back, Baltimore will be a legit threat to Kansas City and Buffalo at the top of the conference.
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Running backs (4)
In: J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Mike Davis, Tyler Badie
Right in the mix: Justice Hill
Long shots: Nate McCrary, Ricky Person
This will come down to the health of Dobbins and Edwards. If one or both aren’t ready for Week 1, there won’t really be a tough decision to make. Even if both are healthy enough to start the season, it’s a good bet that the Ravens, still scarred from being wiped out at the position last season, will want to keep four running backs. The wild card is Hill. He’s busted his butt to get back from an Achilles tear in less than 10 months. He’s also a solid special teams player. He could beat out Davis or Badie for a reserve spot or find himself as a contingency plan for Dobbins or Edwards.
Wide receivers (5)
In: Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay, James Proche, Tylan Wallace, Jaylon Moore
Right in the mix: Binjimen Victor, Devon Williams
Long shots: Raleigh Webb, Makai Polk, Slade Bolden, Shemar Bridges, Trevon Clark
It seems unlikely that the Ravens keep just four receivers, but given their needs elsewhere and how some of the reserve candidates performed in the workouts, it can’t be ruled out. The Ravens are most likely going to keep four tight ends and they’ll provide plenty of pass-catching help. The more likely scenario is the Ravens adding a veteran receiver over the next month and he’ll join Bateman, Duvernay, Proche and Wallace. But for now, Moore, who has spent the last two years on the practice squad and has flashed in training camp, gets the nod as the fifth receiver. The reality is that Moore and the other younger receivers are going to have to start stringing together some quality practices to enter the mix.
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Bateman rode those skills to a successful—albeit shortened—season. Despite playing in just 12 games and starting four of them, he was third on the team with his 46 receptions, 515 receiving yards and eight “big” plays—ones that went for 20 yards or more. Extrapolating his numbers over a full, 17-game season, Bateman projected to finish with 730 yards. He more than likely would have scored more than one touchdown within a larger sample size as well.
The answer is probably going to be a bit of a disappointing one for Bateman. His role will most likely look similar to the one Brown fulfilled while he was in Baltimore. He’ll see a lot of short passes within 10 yards and will have to do what he can to create extra yards after the catch. The running backs and tight end rooms are so crowded that Bateman will likely lose targets with more competition for them. Taking into account the offense’s focus shifting away from the passing game, Bateman could get even fewer looks with more run plays.
For the Ravens’ second-year receiver, a promotion to the No. 1 receiver spot might not come with all that much extra production. We’ll see how well Baltimore utilizes the skill set of their talented receiver in 2022, but the offseason moves from them so far suggest Bateman won’t get to show off all he has to offer in their offense.
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Drafted: Round 1, No. 25 overall
Losing Bradley Bozeman in free agency left a big void at center, so the Linderbaum pick was a no-brainer after the Ravens traded down from No. 23 to No. 25 and the former Hawkeye was still available. Though he’s not the biggest pivot, his intelligence, athleticism and toughness make him a natural Day 1 starter.