John Harbaugh Is Well-Suited to Lead Ravens in Challenging Times
In the wake of George Floyd's death, sports has taken a back seat.
Even when football returns, topics of racism, police brutality, and social justice will continue to be a prominent conversation.
If there's one team who pundits believe can come together, it's the Ravens. NFL senior analyst, longtime Dallas Cowboys personnel executive, and Pro Football Hall of Famer Gil Brandt named John Harbaugh as one of the head coaches he knows can unify a locker room in times of racial tensions.
The Ravens have already taken steps at all levels of the organization to work towards this.
Owner Steve Bisciotti pledged $1 million through the Stephen and Renee Bisciotti Foundation to support social justice reform. Current and former players will decide which organizations receive the proceeds.
Last week, players and members of the organization participated in a moment of silence in honor of Floyd via Zoom for eight minutes, 46 seconds. The team also had an open and honest conversation about Floyd's death last Monday.
Many players have also been outspoken on social media, participating in peaceful protests, or doing their part to help their local communities.
"I don't want it to be an empty promise," Robert Griffin III told The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec. "I don't want it to be a PR move. There are some wonderful PR people out there who know how to put together a statement and know how to make the right response at the right time. We want it to have substance. That's what the players and, really, society are asking for. I want to see and hear and know and be a part of the change that the NFL and the United States is saying they want."
Harbaugh is entering his 13th season with the Ravens and is an unquestioned leader the players can look to. He has helped guide the Ravens through other challenging times, including the wake of Freddie Gray's death in 2015.
University of Michigan Offensive Coordinator Josh Gattis took to Twitter last week to talk about the impact the Harbaugh family – Jack, Jim and John – have had on African-American coaches and players.
"Harbaugh is a great leader," Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler added. "He's the perfect front man of the Ravens organization. He's an energetic and self motivated coach who blends seriousness and toughness very well with charisma and magnetism. He's poised and sometimes stoic but more than anything he's passionate. In other words, he's a Harbaugh. In a family of coaches, he happens to be the best one."
Defensive Line Among Most Underrated Position Groups
The Ravens made it a priority this offseason to beef up the defensive front.
The secondary has been the talk of the defense, but The Ringer’s Danny Kelly named Baltimore's
defensive line as one of the NFL's most underrated position groups.
"The Ravens' unstoppable offense under league MVP Lamar Jackson stole the spotlight for Baltimore in 2019, but the team's always-tough defensive front heads into 2020 with the potential to be one of the league's best," Kelly wrote.
"Longtime stalwart Brandon Williams is the anchor in the middle and outside linebacker Matt Judon (who collected 9.5 sacks in 2019 and will play on the franchise tag) is a rising star on the edge. Tyus Bowser (5.0 sacks) and Pernell McPhee (3.0 sacks) both return to the team's outside linebackers group, and while interior defensive linemen Michael Pierce (signed with the Vikings), Domata Peko (still a free agent) and Chris Wormley (traded to Steelers) are all gone, the team grabbed some big-name replacements in former Jaguar Calais Campbell, former Bronco Derek Wolfe, and third-round rookie Justin Madubuike. Add in developing role players in Jaylon Ferguson (a third-rounder in 2019) and Daylon Mack (a 2019 fifth-rounder) plus veteran role players in Justin Ellis and Jihad Ward, and this unit looks far more talented and deep than it did last year."
The interior defensive line won't look the same after Pierce's departure, but it gives Williams the chance to play at nose tackle.
"With Williams' move, the team will turn to Campbell and Wolfe and rookie defensive tackle Justin Madubuike for a pass-rush boost at the line's other interior position," The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer wrote.
Some of the untapped potential Kelly is referring to are Bowser and Ferguson. The Ravens only added one outside linebacker (McPhee) this offseason along with placing the franchise tag on Judon.
We've seen pass rushers in Baltimore make major strides after their first few seasons and the Ravens will hope that's the case with their young core.
Ravens Had One of the Best 2017 Draft Classes
When looking back at Ozzie Newsome's illustrious career as a general manager, his final drafts were some of his best.
Jackson and the 2018 draft class are already shooting up that list after two seasons, but The Athletic's Dan Brugler praised the class one year prior too.
Brugler revisited the 2017 draft classes and ranked the Ravens' haul as the seventh-best in the league. Four of the seven picks aren't on the roster, but the three that are have paid dividends for the defense.
Bugler's picks for best player (Marlon Humphrey) and best value (Chuck Clark) serve as key starters in the secondary.
"I don't think you can list the top-10 cornerbacks and leave Humphrey off the list," Brugler wrote. "He has compiled double-digit passes defended and multiple interceptions in each of his three seasons, earning his first Pro Bowl nod in 2019.
"One of the better late-round steals from the 2017 class, Clark spent his first two seasons in Baltimore as a backup before emerging as a starting-level safety this past season."
Bowser was the team's second-round pick who, as mentioned above, could be in store for a breakout in 2020.
How Geno Stone Can Contribute to the Ravens' Defense
Many considered Geno Stone to be one of the steals of the draft and the seventh-round pick will look to make an impact on a loaded defense.
The Athletic's Mark Bullock dove into the tape, and believes Stone brings strong coverage ability to the Ravens.
"From a coverage standpoint, Stone is far more talented than where he was drafted," Bullock wrote. "Other issues caused him to slide, which we'll get to, but as a deep safety, he has terrific instincts and often anticipates the ball being thrown before the quarterback has begun his throwing motion."
Stone had just one interception in his junior season at Iowa, but his value goes far beyond that. According to Pro Football Focus, Stone only allowed nine first downs and gave up the fewest yards per coverage snap among safeties.
Bullock compared Stone's skillset to former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Gerod Holliman, but noted that his Stone's weakness is his tackling.
"He'll have to prove to the Ravens that he is at least willing to play more physically than he did in college and try to learn some better tackling technique," Bullock added. "If he can manage that, his coverage traits have the upside to turn him into a steal."
It may be tough to determine Stone's impact at this point. His best chance to make the 53-man roster will likely be through special teams with Clark, Earl Thomas III, DeShon Elliott, and Anthony Levine Sr. ahead of him on the depth chart.
Ravens Add Power Five Standouts in 2021 Mock Draft
Easterling has the Ravens selecting Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman and Alabama defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis.
Easterling believes General Manager Eric DeCosta will continue to add young talent to the wide receiver core in Baltimore and Bateman fits the bill. Bateman totaled 1,219 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns for the Golden Gophers last season.
Bateman averaged 20.3 yards per reception and his ability has excited pundits as a potential first-round talent.
"Simply put, this guy is just a tremendous playmaker on the outside who will likely put up massive numbers catching passes from Tanner Morgan as the number one option in the Minnesota offense," Fansided’s Schmelzer wrote. "Bateman was fantastic in 2019, but he will likely absolutely explode this season."
The Ravens love Alabama players, and the 6-foot-4, 312-pound Mathis would serve as another building block along the defensive line.
"Mathis can play a bunch of different roles on the defensive line, having the size to eat up space in run support and the athleticism to get into the backfield and harass quarterbacks," Ravens Wire’s Matthew Stevens wrote. "That versatility would come in handy for the Ravens, who have a bunch of their defensive linemen set to be free agents next offseason or the year after"