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Late for Work 5/24: Despite Losses, Ravens Defense in Top 5 of Preseason Rankings

Ravens Defense
Ravens Defense

Pundits Rank Ravens as Top Five Defense

To no surprise, a lot of the offseason talk surrounding the Ravens has been focused on the offense. That comes with the territory when you have a reigning league MVP at quarterback.

But how do pundits feel about the defense?

Baltimore was No. 4 in CBS Sports’ Jared Dubin's defensive rankings heading into this season.

Despite losing their two top pass rushers from last season in Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue, Dubin called Wink Martindale's defense a "high-floor, high-ceiling unit."

"[T]his was a top-10 unit last year (seventh in yards, second in points, ninth in DVOA), Martindale is one of the best defensive coordinators in the league, and the Ravens are still absolutely stacked everywhere," Dubin wrote.

"Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe, and Brandon Williams up front. Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison up the middle. Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, and Tavon Young at corner. DeShon Elliott and Chuck Clark at safety. Oh, and they added Odafe Oweh and Daelin Hayes in the draft to supplement Pernell McPhee and Tyus Bowser on the edge."

The Ravens were one spot ahead of the Steelers in Dubin's rankings. The Steelers also lost a top edge defender (Bud Dupree) this offseason, but Dubin predicts Baltimore is better suited to overcome its losses.

These lists tend to create plenty of debate given their subjectivity, but the Ravens have the stats to back their rankings up. Last season, they ranked second in points allowed per game (18.9), sixth in passing yards allowed (221), and seventh in yards allowed (329.8).

Defensive success has been a staple in Baltimore for the entirety of the franchise. While the household names of Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and others aren't around, the Ravens have a strong mix of talented young and veteran players.

Sportsnaut’s Matt Johnson also ranked the Ravens as a top-five defense, pointing to the addition of Oweh that should help elevate the pass rush.

"Baltimore desperately needed pass rushers thanks to the Orlando brown Jr. trade, they landed one to close out Round 1," Johnson wrote. "Oweh didn't record a single sack this past season, but he created constant pressure and teams draft for potential. Oweh is pure athleticism and length, but needs NFL coaching to help him work on his pass-rush moves and to refine his technique. If any coaching staff can utilize him as a rookie, it's the Ravens."

Bart Scott: Adding Julio Jones Would Make the Ravens a 'Team to be Reckoned With'

With Julio Jones reportedly on the trading block again, it hasn't taken long for the Ravens to be mentioned as one of the trade candidates, again.

ESPN's "Get Up" host Mike Greenberg asked a panel of analysts which team is best suited for Jones.

ESPN's Bart Scott said the Ravens adding Julio would make them a "force to be reckoned with."

"You talk about the Ravens … most complete team in the NFL knocking on the doorstep, ready to take the next step," Scott said. "You talk about a young quarterback that's inexpensive while Lamar Jackson is still on his rookie deal. You talk about the ability to have an eight-man box, there's going to be nothing but space for a guy like Jones.

"And also, he can be a mentor in a guy like Bateman, who is similar. And Sammy Watkins, you can't consistently count on his feet to be healthy, so if you bring him in you can imagine that threat with Jackson, with that running game, with Mark Andrews, with Bateman, with potentially Watkins. That's a team to be reckoned with."

In last Friday’s edition of Late for Work, we talked about the salary cap and roster implications surrounding a potential deal, but The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec said what's happened since the draft has made it less likely.

"The logic makes sense," Zrebiec wrote. "If you're judging it by output and statistics alone, the Ravens had the least productive receiving group in the league last year. The organization has lacked a bona fide No. 1 receiver for years, and it's frequently cited as the reason the team in recent years hasn't been able to get over the AFC Divisional Round playoff hump. General manager Eric DeCosta has earned a reputation for being aggressive on the trade market and for coveting veteran stars.

"For those factors alone, it would be foolish to completely rule out the Ravens on Jones. However, nothing has changed from a Ravens' perspective. So much would have to happen for a Jones trade to get done and that's why it feels unlikely."

Zrebiec said it would likely take the Falcons lowering their asking price for the Ravens to be involved. Other pundits expressed similar sentiments.

"With Baltimore's style of play and the talent that they already have on their roster, adding a player like Jones would instantly increase their Super Bowl chances," Ravens Wire’s Kevin Ostreicher wrote. "However, with plenty of hoops to potentially jump through for the Ravens when it comes to a trade for Jones, the scenario looks unlikely."

"You also have to consider that trading for Jones will cost Baltimore significant draft capital as well," Ebony Bird’s Justin Fried added. "The Ravens will have to surrender at least a first-round pick and likely more to acquire the star receiver.

"Jones is a great player, but there are likely better ways for the Ravens to allocate their assets. … If this trade was proposed back in February, it would be a different story. But the Ravens are content with their wide receiver corps right now."

Peter King Is a Fan of Ravens' Offseason Moves

NBC Sports’ Peter King ranks the NFL offseason for all 32 teams every year.

This year, the Ravens were ranked seventh on King's list, behind the Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams.

"John Harbaugh might long for the early days of his tenure, when a quarter of his schedule was played in Palookaville; in his first five seasons, the Ravens went 16-4 against Cleveland and Cincinnati," King wrote. "But the Browns have arrived, and the Bengals might be the modern-day Dan Fouts Chargers, with Joe Burrow throwing to three premier wideouts. So Baltimore could be an excellent team and still go 3-3 in the souped-up AFC North.

"Add to that this factoid: Seven of the Ravens' last eight games this year are against 2020 playoff teams. Baltimore will have its customary strong running game, but DeCosta's focus in the offseason was to get more explosive on offense, adding oft-injured speed threat Sammy Watkins and first-round (Rashod Bateman) and fourth-round (Tylan Wallace) [wide receivers] to producers Devin Duvernay and Hollywood Brown. Baltimore's season could well rest on Lamar Jackson's ability to make sweet music with three or four of those wideouts."

Young Ravens Poised for Breakout Seasons

Pro Football Focus didn't give J.K. Dobbins much love in their running back rankings, but Bleacher Report’s Gary Davenport made sure to highlight the young star.

Davenport predicted Dobbins to be the Ravens' breakout player in 2021.

"With Mark Ingram II now playing in Houston, the title of lead running back for the Ravens has fallen to second-year pro J.K. Dobbins. And that's fine with the former Ohio State standout," Davenport wrote. "He was hardly invisible as a rookie—he averaged six yards per carry, topped 900 total yards and scored nine rushing touchdowns on just 134 carries.

"... The only thing standing between Dobbins and stardom is opportunity."

You can make the argument that Dobbins' breakout already came during his rookie season. And as far as opportunities go for Dobbins? The Ravens have rushed the ball well over 500 times the last three seasons.

On the other side of the ball, Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox tabbed Tyus Bowser as the team's best-kept secret.

"Bowser has never been to a Pro Bowl, but Ravens fans know he is still a valuable rotational piece," Knox wrote. "A second-round pick out of Houston in 2017, Bowser has played at least 40 percent of the defensive snaps in each of the past two seasons. He has also been a regular contributor on special teams.

The Ravens signed Bowser to a four-year extension this offseason, and Knox said the young pass rusher's time in the spotlight could be coming.

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