Late for Work 5/17: Ravens Could See Production Early and Often From Rookie Class 

051721-LFW
Left: WR Rashod Bateman; Right: OLB Odafe Oweh

Ravens Could See Early Production From Rookie Class

Despite having one of the oldest rosters in the NFL, the Ravens could see immediate production from their rookie class.

"The Ravens value experience and production at the NFL level when it comes to giving out snaps," Ravens Wire's Kevin Ostreicher wrote. "... [B]ut in most cases talent is talent, regardless of age. The Ravens' 2021 draft class has plenty of skill, and there could be more immediate contributions from them as opposed to years prior with different Baltimore draft classes.

"First-round pick Rashod Bateman should see plenty of snaps early as a main pass catching weapon for Lamar Jackson, while fellow first rounder Odafe Oweh will look to replace some of the edge rusher production that Baltimore lost in the offseason."

Patrick Queen, J.K. Dobbins and Tyre Phillips were the rookies who saw consistent playing time and starting roles last season. Devin Duvernay, Malik Harrison and Justin Madubuike were also part of key rotations.

There were a number of factors that came into play, including a coronavirus pandemic that made it more difficult for rookies to get integrated to the NFL.

But with a more normal offseason already in play, Ostreicher sees more immediate contributions from this year's rookie class.

"Other Ravens rookies who could make big impacts during their first year are guard Ben Cleveland, edge rusher Daelin Hayes, and fullback/tight end Ben Mason," Ostreicher added. "All three players will be auditioning for big roles on the team from Day 1, and if they impress over the course of both training camp and the preseason, each could earn a massive amount of snaps.

"Players such as defensive back Brandon Stephens, wide receiver Tylan Wallace, and cornerback Shaun Wade all have the talent and the ability to help Baltimore in their first season, but the positions they play are all extremely deep, so it could be hard for them to find playing time early, especially being mid-round draft picks."

An argument can be made for more than half of the draft class to make an immediate impact.

Eric DeCosta said on "The Lounge" podcast that the Ravens targeted players from Power Five schools who they believed would integrate quickly to the NFL level.

Pro Football Focus' Zach Tantillo listed Bateman and Wallace as two rookies who should make immediate impacts for the Ravens in the passing game.

"Bateman is among the more NFL-ready receivers, boasting excellent separation skills (five touchdown receptions coming with a step or more of separation in 2019) and after-the-catch ability that perfectly addresses a need for Baltimore," Tantillo wrote. "... Wallace is no slouch, either, despite his fourth-round draft label. His 46 contested catches and 40 receptions of 20-plus yards since 2017 both rank first in college football."

Undrafted Rookies Stand Out at Rookie Minicamp

The Ravens' 2021 rookie class isn't just limited to the draft picks.

Northwestern linebacker Blake Gallagher was one of five undrafted players at rookie minicamp on a tryout basis and he caught the eyes of pundits.

"Gallagher certainly stood out amongst the tryout guys," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "He was extremely vocal, around the football a lot and he played with great energy and effort. Gallagher, though, is just 6-foot and 224 pounds and he ran a 4.8 at the Northwestern pro day."

Gallagher was a three-year starter for Northwestern. He was a consensus second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2020, racking up 84 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.

On the other side of the ball, one the most intriguing position battles won't even be for a starting role.

There's a wealth of young talent competing to make the roster at tight end behind Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle. The Ravens added more competition this offseason by trading for Josh Oliver and drafting Ben Mason in the fifth round.

But one of the players who stood out over the weekend was second-year tight end Eli Wolf, who came to the Ravens as an undrafted rookie out of Georgia last year.

"Wolf moved impressively throughout practice and was the standout at his position today," Russell Street Report's Tony Lombardi wrote.

"Wolf, who spent last season on the practice squad but was eligible to participate in the rookie minicamp because he's still yet to play an accrued season, had a solid day, making several catches in the intermediate area of the field," Zrebiec added. "More importantly, he also looked a bit bigger and stronger than he did last year, when he struggled to stay healthy. Wolf looked more like a receiver out there last summer. Just from my perspective Saturday — and it can be tough to tell with guys in full uniform — but he looked more like a tight end."

The Ravens did not keep a third true tight end (not counting fullback/tight end Patrick Ricard) on their original 53-man roster last season, but there's expected to be plenty of more competition for that spot this offseason.

Marlon Humphrey vs. Ja'Marr Chase Among Top WR-CB Matchups to Watch

Bleacher Report's Chris Roling took the schedule analysis one step further and looked at the top wide receiver-cornerback matchups to watch this season.

Among them are Week 6 and Week 17 matchups between Marlon Humphrey and Ja'Marr Chase.

"The budding of what could be a special long-term rivalry is always something to watch, especially if it takes place in a gritty division like the AFC North," Roling wrote. "... Even better, the second of the two matchups comes near the end of the season in Week 16. Baltimore at least figures to be in the playoff race, so the showdown could hold increased importance."

What makes the matchup so enticing is the fact that Chase was the best receiver in college football during his time at LSU with Joe Burrow. How will that translate going up against one of the NFL's top young corners?

Roling noted that Humphrey allowed just 66 receptions on 103 targets last year. During that span, he also led the NFL with eight forced fumbles.

The AFC North has a long-standing reputation for playing physical football, but it's not limited to just the ground game anymore. Chase now joins a talented group of receivers Humphrey and the Ravens will come up against twice a year.

Potential Trap Games on the Schedule?

There's no such thing as a guaranteed win in the NFL, and Baltimore Beatdown's Joshua Reed looked at potential trap games the Ravens could face this season.

Week 6 vs. Los Angeles Chargers

"While they finished with a losing record last season, Los Angeles was a very competitive team in 2020. By notching a win against an elite team like the Ravens, who will likely only have one or no losses when they face off, will give them legitimacy as a contender in their own right."

Week 11 vs. Chicago Bears

"They might be facing a rookie quarterback in Justin Fields in this game. Also, the last time they faced a Chicago first-year quarterback, it was Mitchell Trubisky in 2017. That game went into overtime and resulted in a 24-27 loss at home. The Ravens have been able to take care of business against teams that they should beat with Jackson under center but anomalies occasionally occur."

Week 16 vs. Cincinnati Bengals

"I fully expect the Ravens to win their first matchup with their AFC North foes in Week 7 handedly but the second meeting has the potential to be a trap game. It will take place in Week 16, at which point Baltimore will be on the road again after having just finished the toughest stretch of their season."

Quick Hits

  • "[T]he interplay between [Wink] Martindale and inside linebackers coach Rob Ryan is going to keep reporters laughing throughout training camp," Zrebiec wrote. "Talk about two chips off the old block. … It really will be interesting to see how guys like Queen and Malik Harrison respond to Ryan. His personality is so different than last year's inside linebackers coach, Mike Macdonald, who is now running Michigan's defense."
  • "I think I'd say this in response to the Raiders' belief that the Ravens were laying in wait for tackle Alex Leatherwood to get past mid-first-round so Baltimore could pick the Alabama tackle late in round one: My belief is the Ravens had a round-three grade on Leatherwood," NBC Sports' Peter King wrote. "So they'd never have considered him late in the first."

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