Quality of Ravens' Roster Goes Beyond the Stars
There's no question the Ravens have an abundance of star power. Led by reigning MVP Lamar Jackson, Baltimore tied an NFL record by sending 13 players to the Pro Bowl last season.
However, good teams cannot thrive on star power alone. They also need to get significant contributions from their less-heralded players, and the Ravens are a prime example of a team that does exactly that, which is a testament to those players, the team's front office and coaching staff.
Ebony Bird's Chris Schisler believes the Ravens lead the league in quality role players.
"The Ravens have about as complete of a roster as you can have in the NFL," Schisler wrote. "It's not just about the superstars. They have good depth and they have a bunch of players who contribute in big ways."
One such player is tight end Nick Boyle. He may not put up many points in fantasy football, but the reality is that his prowess as a blocker played a key role in the Ravens setting the single-season rushing record last year and leading the league in scoring.
Despite never scoring a touchdown or recording more than 28 catches or 213 receiving yards in a season before last year, Boyle was signed to a three-year extension in 2019.
"Boyle gets a lot of time on the field and is considered one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL," Schisler wrote. "That's what a role player is, a needed part of the team that doesn't steal the show and does whatever the team needs."
Like Boyle, wide receiver Willie Snead IV doesn't put up gaudy numbers, but he's a sure-handed possession receiver and strong blocker in the run game. Wide receiver Chris Moore caught just three passes for 21 yards last season, but the Ravens re-signed him this offseason because of his strong play on special teams.
On defense, Schisler cited veterans such as inside linebacker L.J. Fort, cornerback Jimmy Smith and versatile defensive back Anthony Levine as important role players.
"The Ravens just drafted Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison. These players will do a lot of the work at inside linebacker, yet you can't forget about L.J. Fort," Schisler wrote. "He brings veteran savvy and quality play to the middle of the Ravens defense.
"It's hard to believe that Jimmy Smith has become a role player. Even last season, Smith was crucially important to the secondary. When the Ravens traded for Marcus Peters, he became the third corner of a team that has the best cornerback duo in the NFL. Anthony Levine has been with the Ravens since 2012. He's done just about everything for the Ravens over the years."
New Browns Defensive Coordinator Already Preparing for Jackson
Imagine getting a new gig as a defensive coordinator and your first task is to figure out a way to slow Jackson and the Ravens' potent offense. Welcome to the world of Joe Woods, the defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns, who will open the regular season at M&T Bank Stadium.
In a Zoom call with Browns beat writers yesterday, Woods said he is already working on a plan for defending the Ravens quarterback.
"We spent some time, I will tell you that," Woods said. "We have done some things this offseason to help us. What Baltimore does is unique in terms of their scheme."
Woods got a first-hand look at Jackson's skillset last season when he was the defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. Jackson rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown and threw a touchdown pass in the Ravens' 20-17 victory over the eventual NFC champions.
"Played against them last year so I am familiar with what they do, but we did do some things this offseason as a defensive staff to help us out with playing against a team like Baltimore," Woods said. "Obviously with Lamar, he is just athletic, [has] speed and he can do it all. You can have a guy accounting for him, but can that guy make the play? That is what it comes down to."
What the Ravens Need to Do to Take the Next Step This Season
One of the main takeaways from Head Coach John Harbaugh's conference call with season-ticket holders yesterday was that the Ravens need to take the next step after the most successful regular season in franchise history ended with a second consecutive home playoff loss.
NFL Network's Bucky Brooks and Daniel Jeremiah offered their opinions of what the Ravens must do to get over the hump in 2020.
Getting Jackson off to a quicker start in playoff games is crucial, according to Brooks. The Ravens scored a combined six points (on two Justin Tucker field goals) in the first half of their playoff losses to the Los Angeles Chargers and Tennessee Titans.
"The Baltimore Ravens have to make sure that they get the MVP comfortable and ready to go in the postseason. The two playoff games that we've seen Lamar Jackson play, he's gotten off to slow starts," Brooks said. "If he gets off and rolling, the team tends to feed off his energy and his production."
Jeremiah said the main reason the Ravens lost to the Titans was because they couldn't stop Derrick Henry, who ran for 195 yards, but he believes they made the right moves this offseason to strengthen their run defense.
"I give [General Manager] Eric DeCosta a lot of credit. He could've sat on that roster and said we're going to bring everybody back as is and just hope we have a little better luck in the postseason," Jeremiah said. "He didn't do that. He went out and got Calais Campbell. He went out and drafted Patrick Queen. Guys that are going to help out in the middle of that defense to be able to slow down a rushing attack they might see similar to the one they saw last year with the Tennessee Titans."
In addition to Campbell and Queen, the Ravens also signed veteran defensive end Derek Wolfe and drafted Harrison.
Hall of Famer Ray Lewis expressed a similar sentiment about the Ravens' offseason moves being fueled by the memory of what Henry did to the defense.
"If I'm anybody that's playing linebacker right now, I'm saying, 'Listen here man, Derrick Henry got to deal with me,'" Lewis said on "The Lounge Podcast." "That's a personal thing for me. I don't like the way it went down and I got to see him. I'm going to dedicate this whole offseason to the person that ended my dreams. That's what we did with [Tom] Brady. Prepare ourselves enough to get me back to that one position and lock that door and throw away the key. You ain't getting out of here this time. It's the process of never getting comfortable with losing."
Jaylon Ferguson Is Confident Entering His Second Season
Outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson paid close attention to what the Ravens did this offseason, but he also noticed what they didn't do: draft an edge rusher. The 2019 third-round pick out of Louisiana Tech said he's ready to capitalize on an opportunity to take the next step in his second season.
The Ravens re-signed outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, but Ferguson viewed the Ravens' decision not to draft an edge rusher as a vote of confidence.
"There were some talks of maybe picking up some pass rushers, etc this season or bringing back some guys," Ferguson said on Glenn Clark Radio. "But the road's totally clear, and here it is, Year Two. We [didn't take a] big pass rusher in the draft. I think we've got a pretty good squad right now. I'm happy. It's real confidence for me."
Ferguson was identified as a post-draft winner by ESPN's Jamison Hensley.
"Baltimore passed on A.J. Epenesa and Yetur Gross-Matos in the first round and chose not to take Zack Baun or Josh Uche in the second," Hensley wrote. "The Ravens could sign a veteran pass-rusher before the season, but the draft provided a vote of confidence in Ferguson."
The 6-foot-5, 275-pound Ferguson, the all-time NCAA leader in career sacks (45), played in 14 games last season, including nine starts, and became more of a factor as the season progressed. It has been suggested that he could be on a similar career trajectory as Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon, who also came from a small school (Grand Valley State).
Ferguson said he's looking forward to continuing to learn from Judon, who signed his franchise tender yesterday.
"He taught me how to [play] off what I've got," Ferguson said. "Use my body — tall — [and] use my head when I fake instead of trying to build me into the perfect football player — this height, this strong, this weight. He taught me that I can do everything he can do."