Other Than Lamar Jackson, These Players Are Most Vital to Ravens' Success in 2023
Like most teams in the NFL, how far the Ravens go largely hinges on the play of their starting quarterback. However, beyond Lamar Jackson and his fellow signal callers, every team has players who are crucial to its success.
NFL.com’s Eric Edholm predicted a non-quarterback MVP for each AFC team, and his choice for Baltimore was safety Kyle Hamilton.
"I thought long and hard about Roquan Smith, who, admittedly, is probably the odds-on favorite for this category. However, I'm just fascinated by Hamilton, who was a bit miscast in a heavy nickel role last season but battled admirably and made tangible strides," Edholm wrote. "The belief is that he'll be able to showcase more of his playmaking ability in a more complete safety role this coming season — and don't forget, he's still only 22 years old. I might be a year or two ahead of myself here, but I think the 2022 first-round pick is capable of a five-sack, five-interception type of season.
"Facing strong QB competition in the AFC North, along with a few tough late-season games, the Ravens are going to need Pro Bowl-level play from Hamilton, and it says here they'll get that this season."
Pro Football Focus’ Gordon McGuinness named All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley and Smith as two of the Ravens' most important non-quarterbacks.
"Stanley's importance is likely to grow in a Ravens offense that is expected to rely more on the passing game this year under new Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken," McGuinness wrote. "Having Stanley on the field also solidifies the Ravens offensive line, which means that Patrick Mekari can be the top reserve across the line and fill in where needed rather than being needed to start at either tackle spot and force the Ravens to dig deep into their reserves pending any injuries.
"Smith and the Ravens were a perfect match after a midseason trade last year, as the former Chicago Bears linebacker earned an 85.9 PFF grade over the second half of the season with the Ravens —he never earned a full-season grade over 67.2 in his time with the Bears. … Before Smith's arrival in Baltimore, the Ravens defense was allowing 0.041 EPA per play through the first eight weeks of the season, the ninth-worst mark in the league. From Week 9 through the playoffs, the Ravens had the fourth-best defense in the league in that regard (0.080 EPA per play)."
The Ravens' Biggest Concern From a Former GM's Perspective
Having been given more weapons in the passing game and the keys to new Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken's system, everything seems to be in place for Jackson to return to league MVP form.
Not so fast, said former NFL general manager Randy Mueller of The Athletic.
"My biggest worry for this team is whether Jackson can handle the change in offense," Mueller wrote. "Everyone is assuming, as a former league MVP, he will just immediately regain form. Realistically, there will probably be a period of adjustment. If so, Baltimore has to hope it will be temporary. There is a lot of pressure on the quarterback after all the changes this offseason."
The expectation is that the Ravens will throw the ball more and take more shots downfield than in previous seasons under Jackson, but Mueller said he doesn't want Jackson to abandon what makes him special.
"Monken already has said he wants defenses to have to defend the whole width and length of the field when facing his Ravens. It makes sense," Mueller wrote. "The problem, though, is that spreading out defenders will force Jackson to have to make many more throws in areas of the field that have not traditionally been his strength.
"I would want Jackson to do what he does best and not be boxed into any particular system. Having said that, the upgrades Baltimore made on the perimeter are outstanding and the value of these players has to be maximized. So naturally, the field will be defended differently, just based on the skill sets of the receivers."
Pro Football Focus Projects Ravens to Win Less Than Nine Games
Expectations are high for the 2023 Ravens, but not everyone is bullish.
PFF's Ben Brown listed the Ravens going under their projected win total of 9.5 (via DraftKings) as one of his best bets for the upcoming season. PFF's simulation has the Ravens' win total at 8.57.
"They still have more questions than answers at the wide receiver position and need either Odell Beckham Jr. to return to form quickly post-ACL surgery and a year off or have one of their young wide receivers emerge quicker than expected," Brown wrote. "The right side of their offensive line is promising, as Morgan Moses looks like a hit after one season in Baltimore, but they are also banking on Ronnie Stanley playing 700-plus snaps, which hasn't happened in three years.
"Defensively, their edge situation is bordering on disastrous, and their secondary is being held together by Marlon Humphrey and Kyle Hamilton. Baltimore might need an MVP-type season from Lamar Jackson to come close to this current win total, and PFF's simulation is bearish on that outlook."
PFF projects the Ravens to finish third in the AFC North, behind the Cincinnati Bengals (11.36 wins, the most in the league) and Pittsburgh Steelers (9.19), and ahead of the Cleveland Browns (7.96).
Ravens Are Near the Bottom in PFF's Three-Year Salary Cap Health Rankings
PFF's Brad Spielberger ranked all 32 teams based on salary cap health over the next three years, and the Ravens came in at No. 27.
"Health across the roster will push this ranking way up, but you see now why Baltimore made some tough decisions to move on from key contributors in recent seasons," Spielberger wrote. "In back-to-back drafts, the Ravens had multiple first-round picks after trading away players looking for big-money extensions. Wide receiver Rashod Bateman, edge defender Odafe Oweh, safety Kyle Hamilton and center Tyler Linderbaum represent a new, young nucleus on both sides of the ball over the next four years, but Baltimore will need to take the next step with Justin Houston, Calais Campbell and Chuck Clark departing this offseason.
"Conversely, the Ravens traded away their second-round pick in 2023 for linebacker Roquan Smith, who shortly thereafter became the highest-paid player at his position. If Baltimore is going to get over the hump, it's with this core of young players and a top-heavy group of big contract stars that includes the highest-paid player in NFL history (for now)."
Jackson Placed Just Below 'Big Three' In CBS Sports' Quarterback Rankings
CBS Sports’ Will Brinson ranked all 32 starting quarterbacks by tiers, and Jackson landed in Tier 2.
Tier 1 ("The Big Three") was composed of the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes, Bengals' Joe Burrow, and Bills' Josh Allen. Joining Jackson in Tier 2 ("Could Join Them Next Year") was the Chargers' Justin Herbert, Jaguars' Trevor Lawrence, and Eagles' Jalen Hurts.
"For Jackson, the pedigree is there as a former MVP and being locked in long term helps, as does the addition of Todd Monken as Ravens OC," Brinson wrote. "Injuries are a fair complaint here the last two seasons; it wouldn't shock me to see a monster year from Lamar and a quick move up."