Singular performances and limited sample sizes aren’t always the most accurate indicators of future success, but they do make coming up with bold statements and lofty predictions more fun.
The Baltimore Ravens had their historic preseason win streak come to an end on Monday night in a primetime edition of the Battle of the Beltway. Despite the narrow 29-28 defeat at the hands of the Washington Commanders, there were still some impressive outings by several players that could garner some overreactions.
Here are a few standouts from the exhilarating exhibition game that warrant some spicy yet reasonably conceivable takes.
Zay Flowers could be WR1 sooner rather than later
Despite having only touched the ball just three times and played three offensive series in the past two weeks, the first-rounder out of Boston College has been the brightest star of the Ravens preseason thus far. All the excitement that Flowers has generated over the past few months is likely to increase tenfold between now and the start of the regular season. He built off a strong showing in his NFL exhibition debut with an even more sensational one on Monday night.
Flowers was only on the field for the opening drive of the game but that’s all that was needed to demonstrate he’s a special talent and will have an immediate impact as a rookie. He recorded his first reception of the preseason lined up against fellow first-rounder Emmanuel Forbes. He did the same thing to him that he had done in joint practices leading up to the game — made him miss and moved the chains.
His second reception wound up being his last snap of the night and he made it count. Flowers caught a short pass and took it 26 yards to the house, making a couple of defenders miss along the way for his first NFL touchdown.
The Ravens team have three-time Pro Bowl veteran Odell Beckham Jr. and 2021 first-rounder Rashod Bateman as the projected starters on their unofficial depth chart. However, Flowers could usurp them both as the team’s top productive wideout by season’s end — even if he doesn’t out-snap either player. His ability to create explosive plays in space meshes perfectly with Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken’s new vision for the Ravens offense. So, expect to see him scheme up ways to get him the ball early and often.
“Zay is different,” veteran quarterback Josh Johnson said in postgame comments. “To see him do what you all see every day – we were able to get the ball in his hands early. He’s a very exciting player, and his moves are wild, and it’s like that every day. So automatically, it injects life into the whole team to see him go out there and just unleash his special talent. I’m excited for the young fella.”
Ravens can’t risk cutting Keaton Mitchell
The second most impressive rookie behind Flowers has by far been Mitchell, a UDFA running back out of East Carolina University. Some pundits believed he already faced an uphill battle to make the team given the three established players ahead of him returning. After the Ravens signed two-time Pro Bowler Melvin Gordon, Mitchell’s odds seemed even slimmer.
After impressive training camp practices, he’s backed it up during the preseason with incredible displays of his rare speed, burst, acceleration, and explosiveness on both offense and special teams. Mitchell has made that steep look like nothing more than an ant hill.
He only touched the ball three times between against the Commanders before exiting early in the second half with a shoulder injury. Even so, the electric first-year pro was able to show what makes him more indispensable than a player like Gordons. He picked up nine receiving yards and a first down on his lone reception, 31 rushing yards and a first down on his lone carry, and 28 yards on one kick return.
Gordon is a tested veteran who sat on the open market until late July and has had a solid, albeit not overly impressive preseason thus far. Therefore, he would be a prime candidate to be released and brought back as a member of the Ravens practice squad under the expanded new rules.
The odds of Mitchell making it to the team’s practice squad if released is most likely slim to none. He’s put out good film and further proved that he can be the same explosive playmaker in the pros that he was in college. With both J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards entering the final year of their respective contracts, the Ravens might have already found their succession plan for one or both of them.
Justice Hill might be a better fit in the new offense than others ahead of him
Although Mitchell has generated a lot more buzz than Hill this summer, the fifth-year veteran has reportedly been the most impressive and consistent running back on the roster to-date.
Hill was running with the first-team offense while Edwards was being brought along slowly and Dobbins was sitting out. Against the Commanders, he showed the explosiveness, burst, and quick footwork to make sharp cuts, get upfield and rip off chunks of yardage. Hill carried the ball twice for 25 rushing yards, including a long of 15, and picked up 13 yards on his lone receptions. He finished with 38 yards from scrimmage on just three total touches.
Justice Hill's five carries this preseason: 6, 37, 5, 10 and 15 yards.— Jonas Shaffer (@jonas_shaffer) August 22, 2023
Average: 14.6 yards per carry
Rush yards over expectation: 51 (10.3 per carry)
Success rate: 100%
(btw, check out that block by Daniel Faalele) pic.twitter.com/SsoujmLOmY
While his roster spot was never really in question given that the team re-signed him to a two-year deal and he’s a core special teams player, some wondered what Hill’s role in Monken’s offense would look like. Coming off his most productive career season in 2022, where he recorded highs in rushing yards (262) and yards per carry (5.3), Hillis building a strong case for a more regular role in the running back rotation.
Given his open-field speed and elusiveness along with underrated power, the former fourth-round pick might actually be a better fit for Monken’s system than Edwards. Edwards was more of the ideal back in Greg Roman’s scheme. Even though he still has some wiggle to his running style and is excellent power runner, Hill could present more upside. He has the potential to turn short-to-modest gains into bigger plays on a more consistent basis.
Kevon Seymour could be the Ravens answer at CB2
Sometimes it takes players a little longer to blossom in the league than others. Some players may never get an opportunity after initially faltering or struggling with injuries early in their respective careers. Seymour might be a late bloomer who is putting it all together at the right time. This development coincides with the Ravens’ need for another outside cornerback to step up, as three-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey is slated to miss just over a month after undergoing foot surgery.
The eight-year veteran has reportedly been consistently stacking good practices dating back to the offseason program. During the first two preseason games, he has backed it up with back-to-back impressive showings. On Monday night, he played very well in coverage against the Commanders’ first-time offense for most of the first half. Seymour finished with two total tackles and had a great pass breakup down the left defensive sideline. He stayed in phase with wide receiver Dyami Brown and turned his head just in time to locate and make a clutch play on the ball.
Great Rep! Kevon Seymour! pic.twitter.com/JINkoUFIAo— WeAreDBnation (@WeAreDBNation1) August 22, 2023
The Ravens made signing five-year veteran Rock Ya-Sin their first post-draft acquisition with the intention of having him replace three-time Pro Bowler Marcus Peters at outside cornerback. However, nothing is solidified and Seymour has been capitalizing on the extended opportunities with the first-team defense thus far. Therefore, he might be the answer to the CB2 query that the team didn’t realize they already had in-house.
Left guard competition has a clear front runner
The only starting spot on the Ravens’ offensive line has been an open competition since Ben Powers departed in free agency. Now, it appears to be coming into focus with just one preseason game left and the regular season only a few weeks away. Fourth-year veteran John Simpson has narrowly out-snapped sixth-round rookie Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu in both of the team’s first two preseason games. Additionally, he’s started both games and has performed more consistently, avoiding penalties and executing blocks and pulls.
Three blocks that make the case for John Simpson as LG1.— Jonas Shaffer (@jonas_shaffer) August 22, 2023
1. Makes initial pass block, then recognizes looper
2. Finds a on Zay Flowers' touchdown
3. Gets enough on reach block to help spring Justice Hill
He's graded out as one of PFF's top interior linemen in the preseason. pic.twitter.com/0B0nYRoHLT
Originally a fourth-round pick of the Las Vegas Raiders out of Clemson, the 26-year-old has 21 career starts of experience whereas the rookie has none. Circumstances could still change between now and the start of the regular season if he doesn’t stay consistent in practice or if “Sala” gains ground. For now, though, Simpson is the clear leader in the clubhouse to be the team’s starting left guard to open the 2023 season.
Ar’Darius Washington has more than a roster spot locked up
Typically, projected starters and key role players don’t play deep into the fourth quarter of preseason games. However, given the Ravens’ lack of healthy bodies at cornerback, Seymour played nearly 60 percent of the snaps, according to Baltimore Beatdown Manager Editor Kyle Barber.
Washington made the most of his extended exhibition action and left it all out on the field as he fiercely fought to keep the Ravens’ streak alive. He primarily lined up in the slot and finished tied for the team lead in tackles with seven. Washington had a strong night in coverage as well with three pass deflections to show for it. The former undrafted free agent has more than earned a roster spot. Unless veteran Arthur Maulet has the game of his life in the preseason finale, Washington likely has the team’s new starting nickel spot.
Charlie Kolar should get a larger role on offense
The second-year tight end more than made up for his uneven performance in the preseason opener with an outstanding performance against the Commanders. He showed off the vertical seam-stretching ability that made him a dangerous collegiate weapon at Iowa State and an alluring prospect in the fourth round of last year’s draft. Kolar led the team in receiving yards with 61 on just two catches. He had a 33-yard catch in which he went up for the ball and shielded it from being dislodged by the defender, who delivered a hard hit to his backside.
The Ravens already have a pair of playmaking pass catchers at tight end in three-time Pro Bowl veteran Mark Andrews and Kolar’s fellow sophomore Isaiah Likely. They are also deeper at wide receiver than have been at any other time in franchise history with Flowers, Beckham Jr, Agholor, and Bateman. Nevertheless, big-bodied pass catchers with Kolar’s size, catch radius, and dynamic ability are rare finds. His skill set shouldn’t be wasted on the bench or utilized primarily as a blocker when he brings so much more to the table.
Ravens should trade Travis Vokolek while they can
As impressive as Kolar was, the undrafted rookie tight end out of Nebraska was equally as, if not arguably more despite recording less than half the amount of yardage. He led the team in receptions with three. The last two went for touchdowns that gave the Ravens the lead back and extended it, before they ultimately relinquished it in the end.
The Ravens are already well-stocked at tight end with Andrew, Kolar, Likely, and Ricard and that they are no longer running a tight-end-centric offense under Monken compared to Roman. Therefore, it makes more sense for them to try to flip Vokolek for late-round draft compensation or perhaps even a cornerback, since they are currently ailing at that position.
With the proliferation of two-tight end sets being incorporated in more offenses across the league at a high rate, there could be a needy team willing to make a deal for Vokolek. Then, they also don’t risk losing him to a different team higher up in the waiver wire after final cuts.