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Late for Work 8/16: ESPN Pundits Share Why Ravens Will Win AFC North

081622-LFW
Ravens players gather in a huddle.

ESPN Pundits Believe the Ravens Will Win the Division

The AFC North, per usual, will be a hard-fought division that may take until the final game to find its champion, but ESPN's Mina Kimes believe the Ravens will stand atop the division when the dust settles.

"I'm bullish on the Ravens," Kimes said on The Mina Kimes Show Featuring Lenny. "I'm excited to watch them this year. I think I've got them winning the division."

Joined by Kimes was ESPN's Bill Barnwell, and the two shared one reason each as to why the Ravens will win the division, with the first being Lamar Jackson and the running game.

"I was looking up the Ravens' EPA per play running into loaded boxes—which obviously they face the most loaded boxes in the NFL, and I was—I didn't think it was going to be terrible but in 2019 [they] were third in EPA per play. In 2020 it drops to eighth. Last year, it was still fourth!" Kimes said. "Even with all those injuries on the offensive line, all those injuries in the running back room. That is because Lamar Jackson is the quarterback of this football team. It is even with those injuries this is still an unstoppable machine on the ground. And if those guys are healthy and if the offensive line is better, there's just no reason to think they're not going to return to form. It's funny, like, the whole Lamar Jackson, 'figure out thing,' I know we kind of make jokes about it, but the truth is, that to me, more than you talk about the passing game, that number to me is the perfect piece of evidence for the fact that it is impossible to figure out this quarterback because of his special abilities, right? Like, it doesn't matter. … So if they can get just a little bit more out of the passing game this year, this offense should get back on track."

Barnwell's reasoning for a Ravens resurgence is due to the moves made in the offseason to improve the secondary.

"They're going from like a bottom five secondary to a top five secondary on paper," Barnwell said. "That's with adding Marcus Williams who has been very good and by the way very healthy for his Saints crew, which might be a plus after what happened last year. And I mean, there's a real X-factor here with Kyle Hamilton…Can he be, like… Antoine Winfield [Jr.] with the Bucs. Where it was like they leveled up by adding this guy… If Kyle Hamilton can have that sort of impact, they can be a top two secondary, or even the best secondary in football. And that's going to help, it's going to make things a lot easier as they sort of figure out what their pass rush looks like and if Odafe Oweh can be their guy up front."

Barnwell, like Kimes, believes in the Ravens.

"I think the Ravens are pretty comfortably the best team in the AFC North," Barnwell said.

Ravens Coaching Staff Ranked No. 4

Among the greatest strengths for the Ravens over the last decade has been their coaching staff, with Head Coach John Harbaugh at the top. This season, Bleacher Report's Alex Ballentine ranks the Ravens coaching staff fourth in the NFL.

"John Harbaugh has won a Super Bowl with Joe Flacco and got an MVP season out of Lamar Jackson," Ballentine wrote. "If the true hallmark of a great coach is finding multiple ways to win with different talent, then that's Exhibit A as to why Harbaugh and his staff deserve a spot on this list."

Ballentine also sees the pairing of Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman and Jackson as a "perfect fit."

"[Roman] has specialized in building potent offenses around athletic quarterbacks, aiding the Colin Kaepernick-led 49ers in getting to the Super Bowl (which Harbaugh won) and making Tyrod Taylor a functional NFL starter in two seasons with the Bills," Ballentine wrote.

The only question mark for Ballentine is new Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald, but Macdonald's resume breeds confidence.

"However, Michigan was 13th in college football defensive efficiency last season and he spent the previous seven seasons working with the Ravens defense in some capacity. He should bring enough familiarity to carry on the good things about the Ravens' defense while instilling some of his own flavor."

Three Ravens Make CBS Sports Top 100 Players of 2022

With each ranking of the top players in the NFL or top players at each position, there's been a questionable placement regarding Ravens stars, and it's no different with CBS Sports' Pete Prisco's Top 100 NFL players of 2022.

30. Mark Andrews, TE

"He led all tight ends last season in catches and yards. He has established himself among the elite of the tight end position in the NFL, and at the age of 26, he has a lot of good football ahead of him," Prisco wrote.

Last year, Andrews was the best tight end in football, breaking the Ravens' franchise records in receptions (107) and receiving yards (1,361) with Jackson as his quarterback for 12 games. To place two tight ends ahead of Andrews (George Kittle, 15; Travis Kelce, 19) is laughable.

34. Lamar Jackson, QB

"Jackson was limited to 12 games last season because of COVID-19 and injury, and didn't have the type of season many expected," Prisco wrote. "He threw 16 touchdown passes and 13 picks and his rushing numbers weren't as good. He is trying to get a long-term deal, which I think will happen, but he needs to get back to his MVP ways this season."

Jackson simply making the top 50 and being the No. 7 quarterback on this list is a win at this point. This offseason, PFF didn't place Jackson in their list of top 50 players in the NFL. That said, are there really 33 players better than Jackson?

100. Marcus Williams, FS

"He is a safety who plays mostly in the middle of the field, which he will do for the Ravens," Prisco wrote. "He's got good ball skills and he's developed into a good tackler, which helped earn him a contract as a free agent from the Saints."

Like Jackson, Williams is ranked the No. 7 player at his position. It's easy to argue he should be above a few names on the list.

Not making the list, though he made the NFL Top 100 on Sunday, is Justin Tucker. At what point does the best player at his position consistently get the respect he deserves on these rankings?

Latest 53-Man Roster Prediction Offers Insight into Camp Battles

Today, the Ravens will have to complete their first round of roster cuts, going from 90 to 85 players by 4 p.m. ET. Two weeks from now, rosters across the NFL must be trimmed to 53 players. The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer released his latest projection, and here are some of the more talked about camp battles.

Wide receiver (5): Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay, James Proche II, Tylan Wallace, Jaylon Moore

"The front-office calculations after that are difficult: Would DeCosta be comfortable having just four receivers on the initial 53-man roster, then adding another before Week 1," Shaffer asked. "What are the odds of a practice squad reunion with Moore, one of their better receivers in camp, if he hits the waiver wire? How attached are the Ravens to promising undrafted rookies Shemar Bridges and Makai Polk? And what if they want a free agent like Will Fuller V? There's a lot to consider."

Safety (4): Marcus Williams, Chuck Clark, Kyle Hamilton, Geno Stone

"Stone's star turn in Thursday's win all but assured him of a job here," Shaffer wrote. "There's always a chance the Ravens trade Clark before they trim their roster, but the speculation has quieted since the offseason. With or without Clark, the Ravens probably want to keep Tony Jefferson in Baltimore, too, even if they can't keep him on their initial roster. As another vested veteran, he could rejoin the team once an IR designation frees up a spot."

Interior offensive line (6): Ben Powers, Tyler Linderbaum, Kevin Zeitler, Patrick Mekari, Tyre Phillips, Ben Cleveland

"The Ravens appear committed to entering the season with 10 offensive linemen, even if they'll activate only eight on game days. Versatility will be key," Shaffer wrote. "Powers entered preseason play with the edge over Phillips and Cleveland at left guard, and he played some center Thursday and held up well, Harbaugh said. Both Mekari and, to a lesser extent, Phillips can move out wide. Cleveland's range is limited, but he boosted his preseason stock Thursday, and the Ravens are typically reluctant to part this early with Day 2 draft picks. Trystan Colon's odds, meanwhile, appear to be fading."

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