Late for Work 10/25: Midseason Grades & Superlatives

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Midseason Grades & Superlatives for Ravens

With the Ravens on their bye week and the NFL season near its midpoint, it's the perfect time to analyze how the team has performed thus far.

The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec graded the Ravens – who are 5-2 and hold a 2½ -game lead in the AFC North – at each position, while Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz handed out individual superlatives.

Here are some highlights of what they came up with:

To no surprise, second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson – one of the leading candidates for league MVP – was selected as the Ravens' MVP by Kasinitz.

"This was an easy choice," Kasinitz wrote. "Jackson has been the motor for an offense that ranks second in the NFL in both points and yards per game, and he's pulled the team to victories against the Cardinals, Bengals and Seahawks without much help."

Zrebiec gave Jackson a grade of A-minus.

"There are still questions about how Jackson will progress as a passer, how he'll adjust when teams get a better plan on how to defend him, and whether he'll be able to hold up physically," Zrebiec wrote. "However, Jackson has already improved so much. His throwing mechanics are better. He's making sounder decisions and playing smarter.

"From a leadership, game management and accountability standpoint, Jackson is giving the Ravens everything they'd want from a franchise quarterback and then some. The Ravens have to be thrilled with his progress."

The rest of the Ravens offense – a unit that is averaging just under 435 yards per game, second in the league – received high marks from Zrebiec. The running backs, who have contributed to the Ravens' league-leading rushing attack (204.1 yards per game), got a B.

"Free-agent signing Mark Ingram II has been as good as advertised, and Gus Edwards has delivered when given the opportunity," Zrebiec wrote. "Between the two of them, they are averaging 4.6 yards per carry, which will certainly play. Ingram is also tied for second in the league with seven rushing touchdowns, and he's brought a hard-working and no-nonsense mentality to the locker room."

Tight ends, a big part of what the Ravens do on offense, were given a B-plus.

"This is probably the Ravens' strongest position group," Zrebiec wrote. "Even after the dropfest in Seattle, Mark Andrews leads the Ravens with 36 catches for 449 yards and he's tied for the team lead with three touchdown receptions. Nick Boyle has been a hammer as a blocker and his 12.1-yard per reception average is nothing to sneeze at. Hayden Hurst has been quiet at times, but he made a few big plays in victories in Pittsburgh and Seattle."

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who is earning a reputation as one of the best in the game at his position, was Kasinitz's most valuable defender.

"The former first-round pick has often shadowed and smothered an opponent's No. 1 receiver, and he's added a playmaking punch in 2019," Kasinitz wrote. "Humphrey already has two interceptions and three tackles for loss this season, which tie his totals from the entirety of last year. He set up a game-winning field goal against the Steelers with a strip and recovery in overtime, and his 18-yard fumble return for a touchdown sealed Sunday's victory over the Seahawks."

Sticking with the secondary, safety Chuck Clark was named the most pleasant surprise.

"Clark [has] stepped into a large role and delivered top-notch play during his third season with the team," Kasinitz wrote. "What's especially surprising is that Clark, who entered the year as a backup, has spent the past two games wearing the defensive headset and relaying play calls.Since safety Tony Jefferson went down with a season-ending ACL tear Oct. 6, Clark's filled in with more-than-adequate play, leadership and communication."

Guard Bradley Bozeman was selected as most improved.

"Through the offseason, fans and media members wondered who would start for the Ravens at left guard and whether that player could hold up against stiff competition," Kasinitz wrote. "Bozeman's risen to the challenge. The second-year player out of Alabama won the job in the preseason and has fared well while squaring off against Pro Bowl interior pass rushers like Chris Jones and Geno Atkins."

The offensive line, one of the team's main concerns heading into the season, was given a B-minus.

"This unit has overachieved and deserves a lot of credit," Zrebiec wrote. "Ronnie Stanley has played as well as any left tackle in football. Right guard Marshal Yanda is a rock. Right tackle Orlando BrownJr. has been mostly solid. Skura is improved. Left guard Bradley Bozeman has battled throughout while facing some of the top interior defensive linemen in the NFL."

The Ravens defense has been up and down this season (up as of late), and their grades reflected it. The defensive line, which received a B, was the only defensive unit to get a grade above C.

"From a pure run-stopping standpoint, the Ravens interior defensive line has held up well," Zrebiec wrote. "The Ravens are allowing only 84.3 rushing yards per game, which is tied for third-best in the NFL, and that's with being gouged for 193 rushing yards by the Cleveland Browns. When big nose tackle Brandon Williams has been healthy, the Ravens have been really tough to run against. The blemish with the defensive front is that it hasn't applied much in the way of interior pressure."

The Ravens special teams unit received a B-plus from Zrebiec, and Kasinitz chose kicker Justin Tucker as the Ravens' best All-Pro candidate.

Lamar Jackson Is Trending Up, Baker Mayfield Down

Want some more midseason analysis?

The Athletic's Mike Sando revisited his 2019 Quarterback Tiers preseason survey, which "leveraged opinions from 55 coaches and evaluators to place veteran starting quarterbacks into five performance tiers." Sando reached out to select voters for fresh thoughts on specific quarterbacks.

Sando noted that two of those QBs – Jackson, the final pick of the 2018 first round, and the Browns' Baker Mayfield, the 2018 No. 1-overall pick – are trending in vastly different directions.

"Those relentless Baker Mayfield commercials kept replaying through Week 7 NFL broadcasts even while the Cleveland Browns' struggling quarterback stepped away for a welcome bye week," Sando wrote. "There goes Baker to fetch lemonade for his girlfriend. Oops, forgot the straw.

"Meanwhile, Mayfield's fellow 2018 draftee, Lamar Jackson, was putting his leadership, resolve and talent on display again while willing his Baltimore Ravens to victory in Seattle."

In the preseason survey, Jackson was rated as a high Tier 4 quarterback (defined as "an unproven player with some upside or a veteran who is ultimately best suited as a backup."). For 2020, Jackson is projected in the Tier 2/Tier 3 range.

Tier 2 is categorized as a QB who can "carry his team sometimes but not as consistently. He can handle pure passing situations in doses and/or possesses other dimensions that are special enough to elevate him above Tier 3. He has a hole or two in his game." Tier 3 QBs are "a legitimate starter but needs a stronger running game and/or defense to win. A lower-volume passing offense makes his job easier."

"I would bump him up to a 3," a personnel director told Sando. "Because they got a run game going and they are letting him play how he plays, it is very sustainable. That is who he is. In your tiers, it is a fallacy, in my opinion, to say in order for this guy to get moved up, he has to be a pocket passer. He's not that, but guess what? He can sit back there as a quarterback and the threat that he poses running the ball and being efficient with his throws puts strain on defenses. I think that is enough for him to move up."

An offensive assistant coach said of Jackson: "He knows how to work, he likes it, he's not afraid, he galvanizes everybody. His energy rubs off on that offense, which was dead in the water before he got there. That is why they have gone through so many coordinators. Now, they have life. Now, they are the strength of the building, because of that kid."

Mayfield was downgraded from a low Tier 2 to a low Tier 3.

"He would be the opposite of Lamar Jackson," an evaluator said. "Instead of identifying what he needed to work on to keep progressing, Baker made commercials. … You know every player in the NFL sees it. You know it gets brought up. Has this guy done enough to be on every other commercial? Now you have defensive players rubbing his nose in it." 

On a side note, Jackson moved up to No. 3 in NFL.com's quarterbacks index. He's behind the Seahawks' Russell Wilson and Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers and tied with the Houston Texans' Deshaun Watson.

"He landed on a competitive roster directed by a coaching staff and front office with the smarts to develop a plan for him and the temerity to stick to it," NFL.com's Tom Blair wrote. "When you see Jackson demolishing opponents by air and by land, remember that this wasn't a fluke or a mere stroke of good luck. Baltimore saw a quarterback where others refused to see one, and now its offense is run by a burgeoning MVP candidate with limitless potential."

Is Best Yet to Come for Ravens?

Now that we've taken a look back, let's take a look ahead.

The Ravens are currently the No. 3 seed in the AFC, but their schedule gets significantly tougher in the second half of the season. Five of Baltimore's next six games are against teams with winning records, including the league's two undefeated teams – the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers.

Ebony Bird's Chris Schisler believes the Ravens will be up to the task.

"The Baltimore Ravens are almost halfway through the season, and while they are impressive, they haven't played their best football yet," Schisler wrote. "The Ravens haven't been at full strength yet this season. Their injuries in the secondary have hurt them. Marquise Brown has missed the last two games and that hasn't helped the offense. Things are starting to click as evidenced by their 30-16 win against the Seattle Seahawks. That's the point I am here to make … things are just starting to come together for Baltimore."

The expected return of Brown and cornerback Jimmy Smith after the bye week will give the Ravens a huge boost, Schisler wrote.

"If you thought the addition of [Marcus] Peters was a game-changer, just imagine what can happen when Smith is inserted into the lineup," Schisler wrote. "The Ravens would then have three cornerbacks (Peters, Smith and the elite Marlon Humphrey) that can make life difficult for wide receivers.

"Brown is a game-changing receiver. The defense always has to be worried about him getting in the open field or even worse for them, past their entire secondary."

Schisler wrote that the Ravens have gotten better each week during their three-game winning streak, which followed a 40-25 loss to the Cleveland Browns at home, but they have yet to play their best game.

"This isn't the dominant team they could end up being. Not yet," Schisler wrote. "A 5-2 record is a masterpiece of coaching by John Harbaugh. This could be the beginning of a special run for the purple and black."

Report: Ravens to Sign Defensive Lineman Off Patriots' Practice Squad

It appears the Ravens and Patriots are continuing to trade players without actually making an official trade with each other. The Ravens reportedly are going to sign defensive lineman Ufomba Kamalu off the Patriots' practice squad. Kamalu would fill the remaining spot on the 53-man roster.

Kamalu has played in 15 regular-season games and registered 12 tackles and three sacks.

"During the preseason, the Patriots experimented with Kamalu as an outside linebacker," according to a Heavy.com article. "The 6-foot-6, 300-pound defensive tackle by trade surprised with his quickness off the edge and demonstrated an improved pass-rushing ability throughout training camp.

"The move comes at an unfortunate time for New England. With Michael Bennett traded on the same day, Kamalu could have had a chance to be promoted to the active roster as an extra defensive lineman. Instead, he will be suiting up for a new team."

Incidentally, the Patriots reportedly traded veteran pass rusher Michael Bennett to the Dallas Cowboys yesterday for a reported seventh-round pick that could become a sixth-rounder. There has been speculation in the media that the Ravens could (or should) have interest in trading for Bennett.

Earlier this week, Baltimore released veteran special teams ace Justin Bethel to save a likely fourth-round compensatory pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. The Ravens didn't want to let Bethel go, but they wanted that pick.

The Patriots picked up Bethel and released Jordan Richards to make room on the 53-man roster. Then the Ravens signed Richards, who will get a chance to make an impact on special teams and add depth to the secondary.

Oh, by the way, the Ravens host the Patriots Nov. 3.

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