With most of the roster building complete, the Ravens will enter the summer with a new set of questions that need to be answered.
1) Will the Ravens Modernize the Offense to Fit Both Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson?
Apparently, this is a question the Ravens asked themselves long before they even drafted quarterback Lamar Jackson with the 32nd pick. It was just one of countless questions they had to think through during the pre-draft process.
Their conclusion is partly what led them to grab Jackson once he was still available at the end of the first round.
“Any team considering drafting Jackson had to have a plan for him,” wrote Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer. “Baltimore, in fact, did plenty of work in that regard …
“As the team started its final set of draft meetings, Head Coach John Harbaugh affirmed to GM Ozzie Newsome, Assistant GM Eric DeCosta and the scouting side that his staff indeed had a plan that would work for *both* **incumbent Joe Flacco … and Jackson.” [emphasis added]
Flacco is the unquestioned Week 1 starter in Baltimore, but would the Ravens have to implement a completely different scheme if he were injured and Jackson were handed the keys to the offense?
Not necessarily, even though the two quarterbacks have vastly different styles.
"The staff was excited to get to work on modernizing the scheme in a way that, they hope, will benefit both Flacco and Jackson,” Breer wrote.
Not only do several Ravens coaches have experience in teaching a dual-threat quarterback, but equally as important is they have experience in transitioning an offense to include both a dual-threat and traditional pocket passer.
Marty Mornhinweg and James Urban oversaw a Philadelphia Eagles offense that transitioned from Kevin Kolb to Michael Vick after an early-season injury. Greg Roman managed the same thing in San Francisco when Alex Smith suffered a concussion and the 49ers turned to Colin Kaepernick.
“What will that look like in 2018?” asked Breer.
“I think a fair example is right back in Philly, where Harbaugh’s roots are. [They] built a system to highlight Carson Wentz’s athletic gifts, getting him playing fast by threatening the defense with his ability to run. And that offense, stocked with run-pass-options and movement, worked all the same for Nick Foles, pulling the veteran journeyman out of a mid-career funk and into a championship. Point being, it’s not easy, but it can be done.”
2) Will Receiving Corps Improve Production After Its Offseason Rebuild?
Baltimore accomplished its goal of remaking its wide receiver corps, and now we’ll find out if it’ll be better than last year’s unit. The Ravens finished with the 29th-ranked offense, so there’s plenty of room for growth.
“The weapons in the Ravens' passing game look improved, but hardly fail-safe,” wrote NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal.
“Signing John Brown was a risk worth taking. That said, he couldn't produce in Arizona the last two years, even when he was healthy. Ex-Saint Willie Snead is coming off a lost season on one of the league's best offenses. The Raiders couldn't wait to get rid of Michael Crabtree despite his production. Consider it a victory if Newsome hits on two of those three free-agent pickups.”
The other factors that will affect the passing game will be the Ravens’ two mid-round draft picks, Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley, and their two rookie tight ends …
3) Are Rookie Tight Ends as Advertised?
It’s rare for tight ends to make a major impact in their rookie years. Case in point: the Ravens franchise record for rookie production at the position is only 268 yards (set by Maxx Williams in 2015).
But Baltimore will need its two rookie tight ends to get up to speed quickly because the team doesn’t have a pass-catching veteran to lead the way.
“The Ravens will be expecting contributions from Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews,” wrote Press Box’s Bo Smolka. “Remember Hurst? He could go down in history as the Ravens’ most-forgotten first-round pick, given that half an hour later the Ravens set their fan base abuzz by drafting Jackson with the last pick of the first round.
“Maybe that bodes well for Hurst, who can fly somewhat under the radar as he adapts to life in the NFL. But the Ravens will be looking to see how quickly Hurst and Andrews, a third-round, pass-catching tight end in the mold of Dennis Pitta, can get up to speed with the Ravens playbook. Ben Watson led the Ravens with 61 catches last season, so there's no question that Mornhinweg's offense is going to call the tight ends' numbers a lot this season.”
4) Where Is Darren Waller?
We’ve been getting this question a lot recently, especially after LFW highlighted three media outlets’ depth chart predictions earlier this week and tight end Darren Waller wasn’t mentioned.
The last the public has heard anything substantial about Waller was 11 months ago when the NFL suspended him for “at least” a year for violating the league's policy on substances of abuse.
The 6-foot-6, 255-pound Georgia Tech product had already been suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season, which he said was for marijuana use.
5) Is Matt Skura Ready to Take Over at Center? Will Orlando Brown Win the Right Tackle Job?
The good news is the Ravens have six starter-quality offensive linemen.
The bad news is … well, there really isn’t a down side to having more starters than open spots. It just means it’s a competition to watch this summer.
The Ravens have several possible starting combinations, which will partly hinge on the transition to center for Matt Skura, who started 12 games at left guard last year. Skura’s natural position is center, where he started for three years at Duke.
“With no contact and limited 11-on-11 work permitted during OTAs, it's somewhat hard to assess players along the offensive line, for whom physicality is such a critical part of the job description,” wrote Smolka. “Still, the Ravens will be watching to see if Skura is up to the task of replacing starting center Ryan Jensen. Then again, at this time last year the Ravens were hoping to see if Jensen (or John Urschel) was up to the task of replacing Jeremy Zuttah.”
Another factor is whether third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr. shows he’s ready to start at right tackle. If he is, the Ravens might still want to get James Hurst, who they signed to a four-year deal in March, in the starting lineup elsewhere.
“As much attention as the Jackson pick got at No. 32 overall, Brown means more to the 2018 Ravens' playoff chances,” wrote Rosenthal. Brown played like a first-round pick while protecting Baker Mayfield's blind side last season.”
*6) Will C.J. Mosley Get a Contract Extension? *
The Ravens and Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley could strike a deal at any time; there’s no deadline.
That said, the fact that Baltimore reportedly restructured safety Tony Jefferson’s deal earlier this week is not a good sign that Mosley’s extension is close.
7) Does Tavon Young Look to Be Back? Who Else Emerges at CB?
The Ravens have perhaps the most depth they’ve ever had at the cornerback position, especially if Tavon Young fully recovers from last year’s knee injury and jumps right back on his projected ascension.
“Young, a fourth-round pick in 2016, was on his way to becoming the Ravens' starting slot corner last year before suffering a torn ACL during OTAs,” Smolka wrote. “If healthy, his return will be a boost to the secondary, especially since the timetable for Jimmy Smith's return from a torn Achilles is unclear.”
Smith’s outlook is optimistic after Harbaugh said he’s “ahead of schedule” and should be ready for Week 1. But Smith’s expected absence this summer could open the door for younger players to shine.
“Smith will not take part in OTAs or minicamp, giving the Ravens a chance to get a long look at Young, Maurice Canady, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, fourth-round rookie Anthony Averett and others,” wrote Smolka. “Perhaps someone will emerge as undrafted rookie Jaylen Hill did last year.”
Good Luck to Matt Elam in His Tryout With New Orleans
While the New Orleans Saints bring in their rookie class for their first NFL practices this weekend, Ravens 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam will join the group as a tryout player, according to The New Orleans Advocate.
The Ravens chose not to pick up Elam’s 2017 fifth-year option on his rookie contract after a tough start to his NFL career and some legal troubles. He missed the entire 2015 season with a torn biceps muscle.
Ben Volin of the Boston Globe reported that the drug charges against Elam have been dropped.
“[That] means teams are going to be willing to take a look,” wrote ProFootballTalk’s Darin Gantt. “It costs nothing to give him a chance, and the Saints could always stand to add depth to a secondary that made great strides last year.”
Best of luck to Elam as he works to get his NFL career back on track.
How will you respond to the pressures and expectations of the NFL? How will you Play Like A Raven?