2022 NFL rookie grades, AFC North: Steelers, Ravens find building blocks; mixed bag for Bengals, Browns - Nick Shook
Total picks: 11 · Record: 10-7
Hamilton didn’t start every game at safety, but he fit rather nicely in coordinator Mike Macdonald’s defense, making a notable impact while filling a slot role in the nickel package in the second half of the season. He finished with a strong Pro Football Focus grade of 82.3 on defense, displaying an ability to play effective coverage and provide quality run support while taking the first steps in what could be a long, productive career. Linderbaum was another solid pick, stepping into a starting role immediately and serving as the Ravens’ No. 1 center for his entire rookie season. Both Linderbaum and Hamilton earned Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team selections.
Jones followed a route that was typical of a third-round pick, filling a rotational role and showing occasional flashes of a brighter future — he finished with 24 tackles and one sack. Faalele didn’t see a ton of snaps and thus didn’t have much of a chance to show off his skills or improvement. He’s a project player at this point. Armour-Davis is another developmental player who arrived with an Alabama pedigree but only played in four games before landing on injured reserve near the end of November.
Likely’s 2022 season was a pleasant surprise; the backup tight end finished with the third-most targets of any pass-catcher on Baltimore’s roster, putting up quality numbers (36 catches, 373 yards, three TDs) for a non-starter and shining in place of Mark Andrews when the star wasn’t available.
Todd Monken specializes in optimizing QB play. This is how he could help Lamar Jackson. - Jonas Shaffer
Play-action passes can be a quarterback’s best friend. And for a brief spell under former coordinator Greg Roman, they were. In 2019, when the Ravens led the NFL in both rushing and passing efficiency, they averaged 0.25 EPA per play-action play, according to TruMedia, the NFL’s seventh-best rate.
Over the next three seasons, though, the efficacy of those run fakes waned. Pass protection was an issue at times. So was the Ravens’ impotent downfield passing game. But the high-value throws that Roman had once found for Jackson largely faded away. In 2020, the Ravens ranked 16th in EPA per play-action play. In 2021, they ranked 24th. Last season, the average Ravens play-action call added little to the offense: just 0.03 EPA per play, 25th best in the NFL, both lows under Roman.
At Georgia, Monken leaned heavily on play-action plays, and to great effect. According to TruMedia, 44.1% of Bennett’s early-down passes over the past two seasons used a run fake.
Run fakes were never more important than in Bennett’s standout 2022 season. He finished fifth in the FBS in play-action passing yards (1,874) and sixth in yards per play-action pass attempt (11.6). Only Tennessee and Southern California generated more total EPA than Georgia on play-action plays in 2022.
Monken loves the ground game, but he is a disciple of the “Air Raid” passing system, which was popularized by coaches like Mike Leach and Sonny Dykes. It’s run out of the shotgun formation with four receivers and one running back, but Monken will give opposing teams an assortment of looks, including run-pass options, a major component of the college game.
So, the Ravens will probably stay run-heavy but at least have the plays and the scheme to be more balanced, especially in the postseason.
The Ravens have some issues to resolve. The team hasn’t been able to reach a long-term deal with Jackson, leaving questions about who might be under center in 2023. Monken likes to stretch defenses and throw outside the numbers, but Jackson has difficulty making reads to the outside and hitting deep passes.
But there are a lot of positives about this hire. Monken is used to working with young quarterbacks, and Jackson is only 26. If the Ravens decide to draft Jackson’s replacement, Monken is experienced there, too.
The pressure, though, isn’t just on Monken. The Ravens need to find him some talent as well. How about drafting a top receiver instead of one who was injured his final year in college? Maybe now the Ravens might be able to lure a top free-agent receiver to Baltimore because they are more likely to throw instead of being so run-heavy under Roman.
One underrated 2023 NFL free agent at every position - Gordon McGuinness
WIDE RECEIVER: PARRIS CAMPBELL
2022 Team: Indianapolis Colts
2022 PFF Grade: 60.8
Before the potential wave of releases, this looks to be a very weak free-agent wide receiver class at the top. But for teams in need of a dependable WR3, and perhaps even a WR2 if he can stay healthy, Campbell is an option. He has dropped just six of the 103 catchable passes thrown his way since entering the NFL.
EDGE DEFENDER: JUSTIN HOUSTON
2022 Team: Baltimore Ravens
2022 PFF Grade: 77.1
Justin Houston is 34 years old now, but there’s still a place for him on an NFL roster with a team looking for a rotational pass rusher who can get after the quarterback. Despite his advancing years, he produced PFF pass-rushing grades of 75.0 or better in each of the past two seasons for the Ravens. He has also shown the ability to finish those pressures in his career, with 21.6% of his pressures resulting in a sack.
18. Baltimore Ravens
Last year: No. 18
Total: 38 points
Playoff years: 14 | Final Fours: 2 | Super Bowl losses: 0 | Super Bowl wins: 2
Last decade: 5 points
Average: 1.41 points per season in 27 years of existence
The NFL ruled that all old records for this franchise stay in Cleveland with the Browns, making Baltimore one of the big movers over the past decade. If you wish to sort this on a points-per-year basis, the Ravens would be right behind the top five overall, just behind Green Bay. Instead, their wins at Super Bowl 35 and Super Bowl 47 help them rise above several franchises that existed before World War II.