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5 Ravens in ESPN Top 100 MVP ballot for 2023; Lamar Jackson not No. 1

The front-runner to win the AP award surprisingly didn’t top the list.

SPORTS-FBN-RAVENS-ALLPRO-BZ Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The top-seeded Baltimore Ravens have several elite playmakers on both sides of the ball who are integral to their tremendous success and are worthy of recognition. However, there is only one Most Valuable Player award given out each year that takes into consideration players from every team in the league.

Since the turn of the century, it has predominantly been an honor given to the quarterback who had the best season but ESPN’s Seth Walder wanted to give other elite players at different positions some shine as well. With that in mind, he compiled a Top 100 MVP ballot for 2023 in which he ranked the most valuable players in the league based on a culmination of factors including opinion, data-driven metrics such as pass block win rate and Pro Football Focus grades, and feedback from NFL personnel around the league.

The Ravens were well represented with five players including three in the top 25 but in a somewhat surprise that shouldn’t be all that surprising given the metrics he used to come up with his rankings, soon-to-be two-time league MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson wasn’t at the top of the list or even second. The Ravens’ two-time All-Pro came in third behind Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen who was second, and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott who ranked No. 1 on the list.

This will feel like an insult to Jackson when he probably will win the MVP award. He had an incredible season, ranking fourth in QBR and leading the Ravens to the No. 1 seed in the AFC. For me, though, there has to be a good reason for him to overcome the significant QBR and EPA per play deficit he faces compared to Prescott, and I don’t see one.

Jackson is getting credit for the Ravens being the 1-seed, and he played a big role in it. But the wins argument rings hollow in part because Baltimore’s best unit was its defense — and the second-best unit was its special teams. Its offense had the league’s best starting field position, and that’s where the disconnect with the mainstream and EPA partly lies, as defense — and special teams — plays a role in points scored even when they aren’t the ones actually scoring the points.

While Jackson has benefited from having an elite defense and a special teams unit that recovered from early struggles and found more consistency down the stretch, he has also been the sole reason that the Ravens have been able to succeed in their biggest games against the toughest competition. Unlike his 2019 unanimous MVP-winning season when he led the league in passing touchdowns, touchdown-interception ratio, and rushing among quarterbacks with an NFL record 1,206, stats and other metrics no matter how advanced can fully encapsulate just how special his 2023 season was, only the tape can.

The other four Ravens that made the ballot included second-year defensive back Kyle Hamilton, sixth-year veteran inside linebacker Roquan Smith, fourth-year defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, and 10th-year outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, all of whom had either career years or another elite season.

Hamilton is the second-highest ranked on the team at No. 23 following a breakout season in which earned Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro honors after recording 81 total tackles, 10 tackles for loss, four quarterback hits, three sacks, a forced fumble, 13 pass deflections, four interceptions in 15 games.

Smith is ranked right behind him at No. 24 and was arguably just as vital to the Ravens’ tremendous success on defense. He earned Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro honors for the second year in a row after leading the team with 158 total tackles, five tackles for loss, five quarterback hits, 1.5 sacks, eight pass breakups, one forced fumble, and one interception in 17 games.

Madubuike is the fourth-highest-ranked Raven at No. 56 following a stellar breakout season in the final year of his rookie contract. In 17 games, he became the team’s first pass rusher to record double-digit sacks since Terrell Suggs in 2017 with a career-high 13 on his way to earning Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro honors. He also recorded 33 quarterback hits which was nearly twice as much as the next closest who just so happened to round out the list of Ravens on the list.

Clowney is the fifth Raven ranked at No. 79 following a strong bounce-back season in which he was the second most disruptive pass rusher on the team, tied his career-high with 9.5 sacks, tied the second-most quarterback hits of his career with 19, and set a new career high in quarterback pressures according to Pro Football Focus with 71.