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Late for Work 6/26: Ravens' Secondary Could End Up Being the Best Unit in the NFL

S Kyle Hamilton
S Kyle Hamilton

Ravens Secondary "Could End Up Being the Best Unit" in the NFL

Excitement and expectations are brewing for the Ravens' secondary in Year 2 of Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald's tenure. Last week in LFW, it was mentioned the safety tandem of Kyle Hamilton and Marcus Williams were PFF's top unit. Now, the secondary as a whole are ranked top five, but PFF’s John Kosko believes they could be No. 1.

"The Ravens secondary struggled for parts of the early season but ended the campaign as the NFL's 10th-highest-graded unit. That slow start was to be expected, given the new pieces and new defensive coordinator, but Humphrey and company will be tough to pass on this year now that they've had a full year to play together," Kosko wrote. "Hamilton earned the highest grade of any safety in the NFL in 2022, while Humphrey was reliable as ever. This could end up being the best unit in the league by the end of the year."

Though the bar is set high, there's no reason to write off the secondary becoming the NFL's best. With the added pieces this offseason and chemistry that began forming last season, the secondary is primed for dominance.

Durability Labeled Ravens' Red Flag

Quelling the positivity and optimism is CBS Sports’ Cody Benjamin, who chose red flags for the NFL's contenders for the pending season. For some, it's new coaches, subtractions and shifts in the roster or staff. For the Ravens, it's a frustratingly familiar foe: injury concerns.

"All eyes are on Lamar Jackson, who's under big-money pressure to stay on the field and finally deliver a deep playoff run," Benjamin wrote. "But what about his supporting cast? Left tackle Ronnie Stanley has struggled to stay upright himself, while out wide, notable names like Odell Beckham Jr., Rashod Bateman, Nelson Agholor and Devin Duvernay have all battled their own injury issues."

Since returning from injury, Stanley's done an admirable job staying on the field, playing in 11 of 13 games in 2022. The two games he missed were once more due to being rolled up on, but afterward he played the remaining five games of the regular season. Though Beckham and Bateman must prove they can remain healthy, they are expected to begin training camp as full participants.

It's strange to include Duvernay as he's been a healthy player nearly his entire career. Last season he suffered a broken foot in practice, which forced him to miss the final few weeks of the season. Otherwise, he's played 16 games in back-to-back seasons. Agholor has also been widely healthy, playing in 47 of 51 regular season games.

As for the rest of the AFC North, Benjamin only considered the Cincinnati Bengals as contenders, and believes their red flag is their secondary.

"Everything revolves around Joe Burrow; as long as he's functioning alongside their elite crop of wideouts, they should be in the hunt for an AFC title once again," Benjamin wrote. "But they're counting on new, young faces throughout the defensive backfield, where Eli Apple, Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell all left via free agency. Daxton Hill and rookie DJ Turner bring speed, but they lack experience."

Odafe Oweh Considered a "Tantalizing Talent Still to Be Molded"

Among the Ravens' most notable hires this offseason was outside linebackers coach Chuck Smith. A great reason for the addition was getting the most out of former first-round pick Odafe Oweh, who Bleacher Report’s Alex Ballentine considers a player "with the most untapped potential entering 2023."

"Back when Odafe Oweh was getting ready for the draft in 2021, Justis Mosqueda compared him to a ball of clay that needed to be molded in his scouting report for B/R," Ballentine wrote. "Oweh is a great example of why it's important to understand a prospect's background when establishing expectations. Macdonald took over as defensive coordinator in 2022 so Oweh has already had two different coordinators and is still growing as a player. The tantalizing talent is still there to be molded."

It's clear the team believes so, too, after hiring Smith and Macdonald expressing confidence in Oweh during offseason workouts.

"I thought he really caught his stride at the end of the year. And the sacks, I just really believe they'll come," Macdonald said. "I'm not worried about what sack number he's going to end up at, but I think we're going to be pleased with where he's at."

2018 Re-draft Sees Two Ravens Picked Top 6; Ravens Take Maryland Product

The Ravens' 2018 draft helped set the foundation for the current roster, with three of their first four picks earning Pro Bowl bids. So, it comes as no surprise that in Bleacher Report’s 2018 NFL re-draft with the help of hindsight, things shake out a bit differently. This time, Jackson doesn't hang around until pick No. 32, or even the Ravens' original No. 16 pick. Rather, he goes No. 2 overall, behind quarterback Josh Allen.

"This one is actually tough," Gary Davenport wrote. "Saquon Barkley has been a great player at times for the Giants over five seasons. Quarterback Daniel Jones, whom the Giants drafted sixth overall the following year, teamed with Barkley to lead the G-Men to the postseason in 2022. Still, you just don't pass on drafting an MVP quarterback like Lamar Jackson."

The next familiar face off the board is former Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr., who the Indianapolis Colts select at No. 6 overall.

"The Indianapolis Colts don't have an opportunity to select Quenton Nelson in this re-draft. But they still have an opportunity here to bolster the offensive line at what most would argue is a more valuable position," Davenport wrote. "Brown hasn't quite had the career Nelson has, but he's not exactly cat food, either. In five seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs and now the Cincinnati Bengals, Brown has been named to the Pro Bowl four times."

With draft-night picks no longer being a part of the equation, the Ravens remain at their original No. 16 selection in the re-draft and take Maryland wide receiver D.J. Moore.

"D.J. Moore had a relatively modest 63 catches for 888 yards in 2022, but he topped 1,100 receiving yards in each of the three preceding campaigns. The Chicago Bears thought enough of Moore's talent to make him part of the trade that gave the Panthers the first overall pick in 2023," Davenport wrote. "This was also the draft class in which the Ravens drafted tight ends Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst, and Andrews was absolutely a consideration here. But it's just too tempting to envision a world in which the Ravens have a proven commodity at wideout."

It didn't take long for Andrews to be scooped off the board in the re-draft, heading to the Dallas Cowboys at No. 19.

"Since becoming a full-time player for the Ravens in 2019, Andrews ranks second among tight ends in targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns, according to Dallas Robinson on Pro Football Network," Davenport wrote. "Two years ago, the three-time Pro Bowler had the best season of his career with 107 catches for 1,361 yards and nine scores. That was the third-most receiving yards for a tight end in a season in NFL history."

Quick Hits

  • CBS Sports’ Jared Dubin ranked Humphrey as the No. 7 cornerback in the NFL. "He can do pretty much anything in Mike McDonald's defense, and the Ravens will surely ask him to do just that," Dubin wrote.
  • Touchdownwire’s Doug Farrar ranked Hamilton as the No. 11 slot defender. "The pass breakups were examples of Hamilton using his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame, and movement skills you'd expect from a player five inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter, to issue Dikembe Mutombo-style denials to receivers around the league," Farrar wrote.

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