'Gap May Be Bigger' Between Ravens and Rest of AFC North
Looking around the AFC North, there's reason to believe the division got better.
The Bengals believe they've found their franchise quarterback in No. 1-overall pick Joe Burrow, the Browns return a talented roster and got better on the offensive line, and Ben Roethlisberger is expected to be back under center for the Steelers.
There's also reason to believe the gap got bigger between the Ravens and the rest of the division.
"When you look at what they've done this offseason, how they've tried to make their team better, I really do think the gap may be bigger than smaller between them and the other three teams," Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio said.
"One-hundred percent," Chris Simms responded. "If you talked about the teams who won the offseason in the NFL this year, the Ravens are in the conversation for some of the things they did in free agency and the draft.
"[I]n free agency … they did a lot of good things just there as far as keeping their core together in Baltimore. … I'm with you Mike. I think Baltimore is one of the teams I would sit here and go, 'they had the best offseason in all of football.' I'm not sure if anybody closed the gap."
After trading for Calais Campbell and signing Derek Wolfe to majorly upgrade the defensive line, the Ravens added a strong rookie class. So much that ESPN’s Matt Bowen believes the Ravens' rookies will have the most significant impact among the league.
"They filled multiple needs and drafted scheme-specific players who can make an early impact," Bowen wrote. "Start at linebacker with LSU's Patrick Queen and Ohio State's Malik Harrison. They fit the defensive profile in Baltimore. Running back J.K. Dobbins? He brings downhill juice and contact balance to the Ravens' run-heavy offense. And wide receiver Devin Duvernay is an explosive play threat in the slot, a middle-of-the-field target for quarterback Lamar Jackson."
Florio and Simms agreed that if any team closed the gap on the Ravens in the division, it was the Browns. ESPN's Stephen A. Smith concurred.
"We don't expect Baker Mayfield to regress," Smith said. "You have a new coach in Kevin Stefanski who clearly is an upgrade from [Freddie] Kitchens himself, at least that's the perception. … Now that they've gotten knocked back down to earth, I do believe they can be a legitimate threat right now."
Even with the Browns' improvement, pundits not only believe the Ravens will win the division, but they expect them to go further in the playoffs. ESPN's Skip Bayless is on board.
"Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens should have won it all last year. They were the best team easily through the regular season. And I believe they will win it all this coming year," Bayless said on Undisputed.
Bayless loved the addition of Campbell and draft picks of Dobbins, Duvernay and James Proche, specifically.
"The Ravens were the best team and they won the offseason," Bayless said. "The rich just got richer."
Why Keeping Four Running Backs Makes Sense
We've talked at length about how the addition of Dobbins gives the Ravens one of the deepest backfields in the NFL, but is it too crowded?
I've seen suggestions from fans that the Ravens could trade Gus Edwards or Justice Hill. The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec doesn't think it makes sense unless Baltimore could recoup anything better than a Day Three pick or a "legitimate" piece in return.
The Ravens ran the ball almost 100 times more than the next closest team last season. If it makes sense for any team to keep a deep rotation of running backs, it's them.
Zrebiec said it wouldn't be unprecedented for the Ravens to keep four running backs.
"The Ravens have done it before," Zrebiec wrote. "Other teams have as well. The Ravens can open a spot by carrying only two tight ends and using fullback Patrick Ricard as the third. They can keep one fewer special teams only player. They can go with two quarterbacks. There are ways to do it without straining the rest of the roster."
General Manager Eric DeCosta said he envisions a four-headed monster at running back. Edwards and Hill make sense financially to keep on the roster, only counting $1.6 million against the salary cap.
"Both backs are young and cheap," Zrebiec added. "At the very least, they are worth keeping around even if only as depth plays and insurance policies. Minus an enticing trade offer, the Ravens should be in no rush to move on from them."
Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler made a case for a trade, citing the team's ability to move on from second-year linebacker Kenny Young in a trade package to acquire Marcus Peters.
"Extra picks help the Ravens keep building for the future while they stack the roster for a championship run at the same time," Schisler wrote. "Even if the Ravens only get a sixth-round pick out of the Edwards trade, Eric DeCosta will make use of it. Big picture thinking sees Edwards as an expendable player for the right price."
GMFB: Ravens, Chiefs Among Most Highly-Anticipated Matchups
The NFL regular-season schedule will be released Thursday at 8 p.m., and pundits are already circling their top matchups.
The Ravens and Chiefs will meet for the third straight season, this time in Baltimore, and Good Morning Football's Kay Adams is excited to see two of the league's top young quarterbacks face off.
"I think we were robbed of the Chiefs and the Ravens in the AFC Championship game," Adams said. "They play each other, Chiefs-Ravens in Baltimore. All respect to the Titans, you did your thing. But I think Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes is the quarterback rivalry to watch for this next era and generation of the NFL."
Coming off a 14-2 season with the reigning MVP at quarterback against the reigning Super Bowl champions, there's a good chance this will be a primetime game. Mahomes and the Chiefs have won the last two matchups, but they've been close, entertaining games. This one has the makings of an instant classic.
"This would be a competition between two teams that are easily favored to be the most talented teams in the AFC in 2020," Chiefs Wire’s Charles Goldman wrote. "This is the type of game that has the potential to explode into a dramatic high-scoring affair just like the Chiefs vs. Rams game did in 2018."
GMFB's Peter Schrager, who has spent the past couple months living near Baltimore, opted for a rematch of last year's AFC divisional round.
"There is some unfinished business from the Ravens organization and the Ravens fan base with those Titans," Schrager said. "… There's history between those franchises. Ray Lewis used to own Eddie George in big games. Well, the script was reversed last year. … They play in Baltimore again in 2020."
Ben Bredeson Sees Plenty of Similarities In Harbaughs
The transition from his college head coach to NFL head coach shouldn't be too difficult for fourth-round rookie offensive lineman Ben Bredeson considering they share the same last name.
Bredeson, who played under Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, told reporters he sees similarities in his new head coach, John Harbaugh.
"The way the program is being run, their mannerisms — a lot of them are the same," Bredeson said. "It's comforting for me knowing I'm still in the Harbaugh family."
John got the full scouting report from Jim on Bredeson, who was a four-year starter with the Wolverines. Bredeson is the third Michigan player drafted by the Ravens since Jim Harbaugh took over as the school's head coach.
Another similarity for Bredeson could be playing time early on in his career. The competition at right guard is wide open following Marshal Yanda's retirement.
"Bredeson might prove the smart choice," The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer wrote. "He got the team's playbook last week and said he's already 'got a good grasp of it.' Bredeson could contend for playing time at center and at left guard, so he's studying those roles, too. What he sees on the page, he tends to remember."