Chuck Pagano Sees Some of Ray Lewis in Roquan Smith
Anyone who saw the clip of Roquan Smith throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the Orioles game on Sunday knows the Ravens linebacker won't be mentioned in the same sentence as Baltimore sports legend Jim Palmer. However, Smith is being mentioned in the same sentence as Baltimore sports legend Ray Lewis.
While it's probably not fair to compare any player to Lewis, who is arguably the greatest linebacker of all time, it is fair to say that Smith and Lewis share some similar qualities.
Former Ravens Defensive Coordinator and Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano, who coached Lewis in 2011, spoke about the subject during his recent appearance on Glenn Clark Radio. Pagano noted that Smith and Lewis — who are the only two players in NFL history to have at least 100 tackles, two sacks and one interception in each of their first five seasons — both have an extremely high football IQ.
"Roquan, you pay a guy like that because you never have to take him off the field," Pagano said. "… The football IQ, the football character, he is so intelligent, and he understands and gets the game. He's like another coach on the field, so when you have him out there, and he's got the green dot on his helmet, and he's calling defenses that Mike Macdonald is calling in. All of those things, you can't put a price on that.
"There are so many times where I'd just look out to Ray … because you trust guys that you know are in the building 24/7, they know the game plan inside and out, they know the opponent inside and out. You can give them a game plan and say, 'Hey, what do you like? What don't you like? What's going to cause us some problems? What's too much for the guys?' And they go through it and scratch it out. That's the kind of thing, like Roquan, you can give him that. He can handle all that stuff."
Lewis has been highly complimentary of Smith, who attended an Under Armour camp hosted by Lewis when Smith was in high school. The two also worked together at the Pro Bowl Games in February, as the Hall of Famer served as AFC defensive coordinator for the flag football game.
Lewis said at the time that he and Smith were planning to watch film together this offseason, which will be Smith's first with the Ravens after arriving in Baltimore in a midseason trade last year.
"Him being able to take that next step of leadership and being able to get everybody playing on one shoestring, I think that's why he can really improve," Lewis said. "Roquan has that type of brain. It's a leader, but it's also a servant – a person that's willing to learn everything to get everybody to see it together."
Lamar Jackson-Odell Beckham Jr. Is One of NFL's Best New Veteran QB-WR Combinations
As anticipation builds for Lamar Jackson and Odell Beckham Jr. to take the field together for the first time, the duo came in at No. 2 on NFL.com Adam Schein’s rankings of the best new veteran quarterback-wide receiver pairings for the upcoming season.
"The big caveat is OBJ's health, considering he missed the entire 2022 season following a second torn ACL. By all accounts, he should be ready to ride at the start of this coming season, giving Jackson a potential field-tilting target the 2022 Ravens sorely lacked," Schein wrote. "We haven't seen the explosive OBJ from early in his career, back when he was a 1,000-yard maven. But during his run with the Rams in 2021, he proved he still has juice. In Beckham's last 12 games after joining Los Angeles in Week 10 of the 2021 campaign, he scored seven receiving TDs (including the playoffs).
"Even if he can't recapture his early-career magic, Beckham still provides Baltimore with a proven threat."
On a side note, ESPN's Mina Kimes noted that a byproduct of a more explosive passing game is that defenses will be deterred from stacking the box, which obviously benefits the Ravens' potent rushing attack.
"Since 2019, Lamar's first year as a starter, when the Ravens have run into light boxes, meaning six or fewer defenders, they have been the most efficient rushing attack in football by a good deal," Kimes said. "The problem is they rarely got to do it. Defenders stacked the box against them all the time because they knew they were going to run because they were in heavy personnel and had such a high designed rush percentage. Now if you stack the box against this team, they can punish you. You're compromised one way or another, and I think it's going to make the run game more deadly as a result."
Bill Barnwell: Justin Tucker Isn't the GOAT and Probably Never Will Be
Justin Tucker is believed by many to be the greatest kicker of all time, but ESPN's Bill Barnwell is not among the believers.
Barnwell named the GOATS at nine positions, and his choice at kicker was Adam Vinatieri, who played for 24 seasons (14 with the Colts and 10 with the Patriots) from 1996-2019. Barnwell identified Tucker as the kicker who could supplant Vinatieri as the GOAT, but he gave the Ravens star just a 30 percent chance of doing so.
Tucker, a five-time first-team All-Pro, is the most accurate kicker of all time (90.5-percent field-goal percentage), while Vinatieri (83.8 percent) ranks 31st. Tucker also holds the record for the longest successful field goal in NFL history (66 yards).
Barnwell went with Vinatieri as the GOAT because of his postseason success and longevity.
"There are two things Tucker has to do to leave the game as the league's best-ever kicker without much debate," Barnwell wrote. "One is simple enough: keep going. He is about to begin his 12th NFL season, which will have him at the halfway point of Vinatieri's career. Tucker already has converted 365 field goals, leaving him on pace to top Vinatieri's record of 599, but projecting anybody to follow Vinatieri's lead and play until he's 47 years old is impossible.
"Along the way, Tucker will need to add to his résumé of memorable kicks in the postseason to compete with Vinatieri. Tucker won a Super Bowl in his rookie season and went 4-for-4 on field goals in the process, but while the Ravens beat the 49ers by 3 points, Tucker's field goal put Baltimore up five before a late intentional safety. Tucker has gone 11-for-15 on field goals in the playoffs since, including a 1-for-3 performance amid tough winds in a frustrating loss to the Bills at the end of the 2020 campaign. He has shown the ability to convert big kicks in the regular season, but despite the Ravens making regular trips to the postseason, the opportunity to hit memorable game winners hasn't really arisen. Give Tucker another dozen years in the league and he likely will build his playoff résumé, but it's going to be tough to compete with Vinatieri's heroics."
David Ojabo and Patrick Queen Are Poised for Breakout Seasons
Edge rusher David Ojabo and inside linebacker Patrick Queen made Pro Football Focus’ Jim Wyman’s 2023 All-Breakout Team.
"Due to an injury suffered during pre-draft workouts, Ojabo slid to the second round of the 2022 draft and missed nearly his entire rookie season, only appearing in three games and getting notable playing time in just one, a Week 18 loss," Wyman wrote. "Ojabo did register his first career sack and forced a fumble in that game, though, putting up an 83.2 overall grade with a 77.2 pass-rush grade. With a clean bill of health in 2023, look for Ojabo to be one of the breakout stars along what is currently a thin Ravens pass rush.
"Queen has always been an above-average pass-rusher, but it wasn't until 2022 that we started seeing him figure out the other elements of his game. After getting his fifth-year option declined, if his grades continue to jump like they have each season, Queen could be in for a big payday next offseason."
Patrick Ricard and Tyus Bowser Among Most Interesting Ravens to Watch at Minicamp
The Baltimore Banner’s Jonas Shaffer identified the 16 most interesting players and coaches to watch at Ravens mandatory minicamp. You can probably name most of them, but two veterans who have flown under the radar lately also made the list: fullback Patrick Ricard and outside linebacker Tyus Bowser.
"Ricard, a spectator during OTAs, is one of the most intriguing pieces in [Offensive Coordinator Todd] Monken's scheme," Shaffer wrote. "He played nearly two-thirds of the offensive snaps last season, clearing paths for ball carriers and setting up the play-action passing attack. But, for all he accomplished last season — a fourth straight Pro Bowl selection, career highs as a receiver and runner — Ricard is not the kind of dynamic target Monken has typically featured in his offenses. How big a role will Ricard have in 2023, and what will that role look like?
"The circumstances of Bowser's one-sack 2022 can't be overlooked. That he played at all, much less half the season, was a minor miracle. Bowser tore his Achilles tendon in January 2022, in the last game of a strong seven-sack season. Only 10 months after what can be a career-altering injury, he was back in action. The defense will lean on Bowser's versatile skill set, but his ability as a pass rusher will be crucial. If Bowser, who didn't practice during open OTAs, looks like his old self this week, [General Manager Eric] DeCosta might feel less inclined to spend on a free-agent edge rusher — like, say, Justin Houston."
Is Tyler Linderbaum Pro Bowl-Bound in Year 2?
Tyler Linderbaum had such a strong rookie season last year that he made Sports Illustrated’s Conor Orr’s list of 10 players who could be named to their first Pro Bowl this season.
"It's not outrageous to make the argument that Linderbaum was one of the best centers in the NFL last season," Orr wrote. "It just so happens that most of the players better than him or on par with him were also in the AFC. [The Chiefs'] Creed Humphrey tops that list, and, with only two centers heading to the NFL's pre–Super Bowl festivities, it's a difficult VIP area to gain access to. I'll make the same argument I've always made for Linderbaum though (which, very tangentially, also applies to Humphrey): He has to work harder than other centers. That's just a fact.[add period]
"Playing center for Lamar Jackson is very different from playing for a quarterback whose list of outcomes in the pocket is far less of a guessing game. Linderbaum has to be the centerpiece of a very hard-nosed, downhill running game, but he also has to be improvisational and well adept at more spatially challenged downfield blocks."