*Patrick Queen Is a 'Prime' Defensive Rookie of the Year Candidate *
The Ravens drafted Patrick Queen with the belief he'll make an immediate impact, and pundits feel the same way.
Queen landed third on Pro Football Focus' top Defensive Rookie of the Year Candidates list behind second-overall pick Chase Young and the eighth-overall pick Isaiah Simmons.
"Queen's speed, explosiveness. and overall athleticism [are] off the charts and exactly what the Ravens needed in their defense," PFF's Anthony Treash wrote. "He'll have a large role right away in Baltimore, and his athleticism will make an impact immediately as a blitzing weapon. Mix in his top-notch coverage ability, and you've got yourself a prime DROY candidate.
"After being named a starter on LSU's defense in Week 4 of this past season, Queen went on to produce a PFF coverage grade that was the seventh-best in the FBS. Overall, he allowed just half a yard per coverage snap. Doing that in the SEC is incredibly impressive."
Oddsmakers currently have Queen at 14-to-1 odds to win the award. He'll look to become the first Raven to do so since Terrell Suggs in 2003.
In a "film session" conference call with the media, Director of Player Personnel Joe Hortiz displayed Queen's football IQ even though he was just a one-year starter at LSU.
"You were like, 'Wow, he's a 20-year old kid who's showing this right now. What would he have been next year if he would have been another year starter with 12 more, 14 more starts under his belt? How much more instinctive would he be?'" Hortiz said.
"So, I think you project that out forward. He's a smart kid, he works his butt off, he loves the game and he's a great character kid. So, you say to yourself, 'Man, as this guy gets experience in the NFL, he's just going to get better and better.' We really think he's got a high ceiling and also a high floor. So, we're fired up to see what comes of him, but yes, to me, it's impressive."
Bleacher Report’s Gary Davenport also envisions a big rookie year. He picked Queen as his breakout player for the Ravens in 2020.
"This breakout is all about opportunity," Davenport wrote. "The inside linebacker spots were a glaring weak spot for the Ravens in the offseason—both Queen and fellow rookie Malik Harrison could open the season as full-time starters.
"If that is the case, Queen has an excellent chance of leading one of the AFC's top contenders in total tackles in 2020."
Ravens Among Least Vulnerable Division Winners; Some Pundits Still Skeptical
Yesterday, we looked at how an improved AFC North could threaten the Ravens' chances of repeating as division champions for the third straight season, but not every pundit is buying into that narrative.
CBS Sports’ Sean Wagner-McGough ranked the most vulnerable to least vulnerable division winners from 2019. The Ravens ranked the second-least vulnerable behind the Kansas City Chiefs.
"The Ravens were the best team in football a year ago during the regular season, winning 12 straight games after starting 2-2, with Lamar Jackson capturing MVP honors," Wagner-McGough wrote. "Don't let their disappointing performance in the playoffs fool you: The Ravens had an incredible 2019 season, and after adding Calais Campbell in the trade market and Queen in the first round of the draft, they're primed to sustain their success in 2020. Even if they do take a step back – it's extremely difficult to win 14 games two years in a row – they can still win the division with 10 or 11 wins."
The offense was record-breaking last season, helping pave the way to a franchise-best 14-2 record. They averaged over 200 passing yards and 200 rushing yards, but history shows even the best offenses have difficulty replicating the same success.
"Baltimore should be favored and feared in 2020," Cleveland.com’s Ellis Williams wrote. "But Jackson again running exclusively out of the pistol would be a surprise. Harbaugh and Roman built a ground-breaking offense centered around a generational talent but it's on them to evolve it.
"NFL history details what happens when offenses don't grow. Whether it was Miami's Wildcat or Colin Kaepernick heavy-pistol 49ers offense, exotic offenses go from the hunter to the hunted quickly. Because of that, it's safe to assume Baltimore's offense will regress."
It's important to note that regression doesn't predict success. The Chiefs scored 20 fewer touchdowns in 2019 than in 2018 and still won the Super Bowl. Patrick Mahomes went from regular-season MVP in 2018 with 50 touchdowns and 5,097 passing yards to Super Bowl MVP in 2019 with 26 touchdowns and 4,031 passing yards.
If there's one stat the Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec isn't putting stock into ahead of the 2020 season, it's the strength of schedule.
"There's been a lot made of the Ravens having the easiest schedule in the league based on opponent winning percentage from last year," Zrebiec wrote. "I don't put a ton of stock into that as the best metric to deciding difficulty of schedule. Every year, there are a few teams who are supposed to stink and they wind up being pretty good, and vice versa. All three AFC North opponents should be better, as should a few others on the schedule, like the Indianapolis Colts and Dallas Cowboys."
Delanie Walker Makes Sense As a Free-Agent Fit
Behind Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle, tight end is one of the more interesting position battles to watch this offseason.
The Ravens don't have a clear third option after trading Hayden Hurst to the Atlanta Falcons and ESPN’s Matt Bowen thinks free-agent Delanie Walker would be a fit in Baltimore.
"Signing in Baltimore makes sense for Walker given the Ravens' offensive structure," Bowen wrote. "Multiple tight ends, play-action and middle-of-the-field throws. Plus, at this stage of his career, Walker would join a team eyeing a championship run."
The Ravens also added two talented undrafted rookies in Eli Wolf and Jacob Breeland. On the roster, Charles Scarff could fill the role after spending last season on the practice squad.
Walker, who turns 35 in August, has the advantage of proven experience. The three-time Pro Bowler has racked up 5,888 yards and 36 touchdowns in 14 seasons. He may be an even more intriguing add as a run blocker.
"Walker got his opportunity to be the guy with the Tennessee Titans in 2013, and in the five-year stretch that followed, he showed that he could be one of the league's best tight ends in a lead role," PFF’s Ben Linsey added. "He only continued to progress as a run blocker, earning a position-high 82.5 run-blocking grade from 2013 to 2017."
Injuries have been the biggest concern for Walker in recent seasons. He's played in just eight games over the last two years.
Keeping three tight ends on the roster is almost a given in Greg Roman's offense. Andrews, Boyle, and Hurst each played at least 40 percent of the team's offensive snaps last season.
Jackson Shares His Pregame Meal Ritual
Ever wonder what a reigning MVP quarterback eats before every game? For Jackson, his pregame meal ritual has been the same since high school.
"Shrimp Alfredo, that's my meal before the game," Jackson told CNBC. "They say [pasta] helps your brain. I feel like I go out with a level head and I can think."
That might not be the most popular choice among pregame meals, but it's certainly worked for Jackson. I'd say after winning the Heisman Trophy and MVP, keep giving him as much shrimp Alfredo as his heart desires.
From an exercise standpoint, loading up on carbohydrates makes sense before going out and breaking ankles.
"Consuming that pasta and sauce is heavy and turns into glycogen that's supposed to sustain him a long time," Sports Illustrated’s Chris Chavez said. "Two to three days before a race is what I've been taught in the past. He's an MVP and I've never played four quarters of an NFL game but I'd think he's burning off a bunch of his fuel and glycogen stores in that span of time. For the amount of exercise he's doing, I don't think the shrimp Alfredo would weigh him down. Especially with how much running he's doing on the field plus pregame warmups and such."