Ravens Named 'Dark-Horse Destination' for Pro Bowl CB J.C. Jackson
The Ravens have two outstanding cornerbacks in Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, who have a combined five Pro Bowl appearances and three All-Pro selections, but could the team pursue another Pro Bowl cornerback in free agency this offseason?
Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox identified Baltimore as a "dark-horse destination" for New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson, who was named to his first Pro Bowl this season.
Knox said the Ravens aren't an obvious suitor for Jackson because they already have Humphrey and Peters, but he speculated that Peters could be a cap casualty.
"[Peters is] 29 years old, entering the final year of his contract and could generate $10 million in cap space if released," Knox wrote. "Replacing Peters with the 26-year-old Jackson could be a tremendous long-term move for Baltimore. Even if the Ravens keep Peters for the final year of his contract, adding Jackson could be a wise defensive decision."
Jackson's 17 interceptions over the past two seasons lead the league, and he had a league-high 23 passes defensed this season. Pro Football Focus ranked Jackson as the sixth-best pending free agent.
Jackson played two seasons at Maryland after transferring from Florida. He signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2018.
In reaction to Knox's article, Ravens Wire’s Kevin Oestreicher wrote: "[Jackson] would instantly make Baltimore's defense better, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the Ravens make a big-time splash in their secondary, especially with the rumors connecting the team with Miami Dolphins star cornerback Xavien Howard during the 2021 trade deadline."
Pundits Say Rebuilding Defense Should Be Ravens' Top Priority
The Ravens and strong defense have been synonymous throughout the franchise's history. This season, however, the unit finished 25th overall and last defending the pass, and had issues with tackling, giving up big plays and finishing games.
Injuries to key players were a major factor but not the sole reason for the defense's decline. ESPN’s Jamison Hensley said rebuilding the defense should be the Ravens' No. 1 priority this offseason.
"After years of building an offense around Lamar Jackson, it's time to put more focus on the defense," Hensley wrote.
Every positional group needs to be addressed and there could be as many as four new starters, according to Hensley.
"Baltimore needs to address the defensive line because Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams — who combined for 1,012 snaps this season — are free agents," Hensley wrote. "The Ravens need to address middle linebacker after moving former first-round pick Patrick Queen out of that spot. They need to address their pass rush after ranking 22nd in sacks (34). And they also need to address the secondary, which needs a playmaking safety and a No. 3 cornerback."
Russell Street Report’s Rob Shields said the Ravens need to prioritize defense in the draft.
"This team needs a major influx of talent and youth to the defense and I think with nine picks in the first four rounds, we could easily see five or six defensive players chosen," Shields wrote.
Two pending free agents who raised their stock in 2021 and would be good fits for the Ravens are interior defensive linemen D.J. Jones of the San Francisco 49ers and Maliek Collins of the Houston Texans, PFF’s Brad Spielberger wrote.
"Jones accrued 40 defensive stops in 2021 after amassing 43 total in his first four seasons," Spielberger wrote. "His 14 tackles for loss or no gain in 2021 were second to only Aaron Donald among all interior defenders despite playing roughly half as many snaps as the Los Angeles Rams' phenom.
"Collins always demonstrated upside as an interior pass-rusher, but his 61.8 run defense grade in 2021 was also a career-high despite playing on a defense that lacked talent throughout the front seven. Collins doesn't quit on any snap, and his tenacity in a losing situation was admirable. He can be a valuable asset for any team, even if he's not a true difference-maker."
Could Devonta Freeman or Latavius Murray Return in 2022?
The Ravens were expected to have one of the best running back duos in J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards this season, but we all know how that turned out. Not only did they both suffer season-ending injuries in the preseason, but so did backup Justice Hill.
With Dobbins and Edwards expected to be healthy next season, would the Ravens re-sign either Devonta Freeman or Latavius Murray to provide depth?
Freeman ran for 576 yards and five touchdowns and caught 34 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown in 16 games.
Murray ran for 501 yards and a team-high six touchdowns in 14 games. In the season finale against the Steelers, Murray rushed for 150 yards on 16 carries (9.4 yards per carry), including a 46-yard touchdown.
"It took some time for Freeman and Murray to adjust to Baltimore's offense, but they wound up being mostly solid contributors," Sports Illustrated’s Todd Karpovich wrote.
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec said it wouldn't be a shock if the Ravens brought back the 29-year-old Freeman, who is a couple years younger than Murray.
"It will be interesting to see if the Ravens re-sign Freeman to a modest one-year deal for insurance in case J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill aren't 100 percent next year. Freeman has been a solid contributor," Zrebiec wrote.
Two young running backs who could be in the mix are Ty'Son Williams, who is an exclusive rights free agent, and Nate McCrary, who was signed to a Reserve/Future deal yesterday.
Rashod Bateman, Odafe Oweh Are Ravens' Highest-Graded Rookies
Baltimore Beatdown’s Joshua Reed graded the Ravens' rookie class. Not surprisingly, wide receiver Rashod Bateman and outside linebacker Odafe Oweh, the Ravens' two first-round picks, received the highest marks.
Bateman received an A-minus, and Oweh got a B-plus.
"A groin injury that [Bateman] suffered early in training camp and required surgery delayed his debut by five games but once he arrived on the scene, he shined bright when given the opportunity," Reed wrote. "From the jump, he showed that he had a knack for moving the chains as a first-down machine and gaining almost instantaneous separation off the line of scrimmage with his release as well as at the top of his route stems. … Once Lamar Jackson recovers from his ankle injury, the two will have an entire offseason to build better chemistry and could be a dynamic tandem as soon as 2022."
On Oweh, Reed wrote: "After a somewhat quiet training camp and preseason, he hit the ground running once the regular season started. He made one clutch impact play after another and recorded three sacks in his first five career games. Oweh would only record two more sacks in the next 10 games he appeared in before a foot injury made him miss the final two of the season. However, the first-year edge defender still generated consistent and expedient pressure along with displays of formidable strength against the run."
Baltimore Positive's Luke Jones also assessed the Ravens' rookies, although he didn't issue grades.