Three Ravens Who Need to Take Their Game to Next Level in 2021
The Ravens have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL, but if the team is to realize its full potential this season, several key players need to take their game to the next level, Baltimore Beatdown's Dustin Cox wrote.
Cox identified three such players:
ILB Patrick Queen
"The 2020 first-round pick out of LSU certainly flashed the potential to be a really good linebacker at the NFL level as a rookie. That being said, Queen has some work to do if he is to take that next step. While he was no stranger to making splash plays as a rookie, particularly as a blitzer, Queen had many instances of being lost in coverage or being out-muscled in the run game. These things can be corrected over time, especially with a normal offseason this year, something all rookies were robbed of in 2020."
Edge Jaylon Ferguson
"In two seasons with the Ravens, Ferguson has only gotten 4.5 sacks. While he did take major strides as a run defender last season, Ferguson found himself inactive or with very little playing time in some games after Baltimore traded for Yannick Ngakoue. With both Ngakoue and Matthew Judon now gone, Ferguson has a chance to step up and earn more playing time."
OL Tyre Phillips
"Phillips played both right guard and right tackle at different points in the season as a rookie for the Ravens, though he left a lot to be desired at each spot. It's hard to be too critical of Phillips' play last season though given the circumstances. Not only did Phillips have to deal with an unprecedented offseason shakeup like other rookies, but he also had to change positions from where he played in college. … Whether Phillips or recently signed veteran Alejandro Villanueva starts the season at right tackle remains to be seen, but Phillips is certainly in the long-term plans for the franchise if he can develop."
Another Hypothetical Ravens Trade Proposal for Julio Jones
ESPN asked its NFL Nation reporters to play general manager for the team they cover and make a realistic offer for Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones. Reporters were asked to make trade proposals only if their teams legitimately could be in the mix for the seven-time Pro Bowl selection.
Since the Ravens are often mentioned as a potential suitor for Jones, Jamison Hensley submitted an offer.
Hensley's scenario has the Ravens sending the Falcons a 2022 second-round pick and the Kansas City Chiefs' 2022 fifth-rounder (acquired in the Brown trade). As part of the deal, Atlanta would pick up $4 million of Jones' $15.3 million guaranteed salary in 2021.
"Rashod Bateman would line up on the outside opposite of [Jones], and Marquise Brown would work out of the slot. Sammy Watkins, who received $5 million guaranteed this season, would have trouble getting on the field," Hensley wrote. "This would be the most talented wide receiver group in Ravens history and create more balance for the most run-heavy offense in the league. Defenses would have to decide whether to stack the box against Jackson and running back J.K. Dobbins or double Jones."
Hensley acknowledged that there are several factors working against the Ravens landing Jones.
"Baltimore has very limited salary-cap space ($9.7 million) and would need to restructure a handful of players to create more room — which is something Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti has been against — in order to acquire Jones," Hensley wrote. "And the Ravens are expected to give Jackson a big-money extension, which means they are going to rely more on the draft and less on free agency to build a team around him. The addition of Jones would require giving up some valuable draft picks, but his game-breaking ability would make a big impact."
ESPN's Falcons reporter, Michael Rothstein, rejected the hypothetical Ravens offer.
"Part of this is to create cap room, so the Ravens asking Atlanta to eat salary was a non-starter — unless, perhaps, the draft compensation were higher," Rothstein wrote.
Regrading the 2018 Draft Classes: Ravens Are Elite
The Ravens received good grades from pundits following the 2018 draft, which was Executive Vice President Ozzie Newsome's final one before stepping down as general manager. Three years later, the Ravens' 2018 haul looks even more impressive.
Regrading that year's draft, Pro Football Focus has put the Ravens at the head of the class, elevating them to "elite" from an initial grade of "above average."
That's what happens when you land quarterback Lamar Jackson (first round, No. 32 overall), offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. (third round, No. 83) and tight end Mark Andrews (third round, No. 86) in the same draft.
"Getting Lamar Jackson with the last pick in the first round is about as big a win as exists in this draft class," PFF's Michael Renner wrote. "Following that up with two more Pro-Bowlers in Orlando Brown Jr. and Mark Andrews is just icing on the cake after that. Say what you want about the Hayden Hurst selection at Pick 25, but they knew when to cut bait to maximize his value, as they got a second-rounder in return."
That second-rounder ended up being running back J.K. Dobbins. The Ravens also traded linebacker Kenny Young (a fourth-round pick in 2018) and a fifth-round selection for All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters in 2019.
Two of the Ravens' sixth-round selections in 2018 have become starters: safety DeShon Elliott and offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman. Overall, eight of the Ravens' 12 draft picks in 2018 have started games for them.
Fourth-round cornerback Anthony Averett has been a strong reserve who could start elsewhere. Defensive lineman Zach Sieler, who the Ravens selected in the seventh round that year, didn't start in Baltimore but has since become a starter for the Miami Dolphins and already signed a contract extension.
Earlier this year, Press Box's Bo Smolka wrote that the Ravens' 2018 class, which produced the franchise's only league MVP (Jackson in 2019), is on course to be among the best in franchise history.
"It's not as if the Ravens' 2018 picks have accumulated starts for a rebuilding franchise — far from it," Smolka wrote. "They have contributed to the best regular-season record in franchise history (14-2 in 2019) and a record of 35-13 and three straight playoff appearances."
Steelers Are Ranked Second-Most Vulnerable Defending Division Champion
The Steelers are the second-most vulnerable defending division champion in rankings by NFL.com's Gil Brandt.
The Steelers, who won the AFC North last year with a 12-4 record after starting 11-0, face strong challenges from the Browns and Ravens, Brandt wrote.
"Cleveland returns the majority of a team (with some key additions on defense) that looks like a bona fide Super Bowl contender, led by reigning Coach of the Year Kevin Stefanski," Brandt wrote. "And let's not forget about the Ravens, who continue to enjoy superpower status under Lamar Jackson and could look even more imposing in 2021, with pass catchers Sammy Watkins and Rashod Bateman rounding out the offense.
"As for Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger still has good football left in him at age 39 — but I worry about that offensive line (which returns only one proven starter, David DeCastro) and a defense with suspect depth."