NFL.com's Adam Rank: 'I Like What the Ravens Have Built Here'
It's been an offseason of change for the Ravens, but don't be surprised if the Ravens make a deep playoff run.
That's the opinion of NFL.com's Adam Rank, who had high praise for the Ravens in his “state of the franchise” analysis. For the Ravens' season to be considered a success, Rank said they need to "win a playoff game, and maybe even get all the way to the AFC Championship Game."
The wave of momentum from Baltimore's late-season run of winning six of their last seven regular-season games was halted in a Wild-Card loss to the Los Angeles Chargers last year. The next goal is to get further in the playoffs, and Rank believes Baltimore has what it takes.
"When I look at the landscape of the AFC North, I see the drama revolving around the Pittsburgh Steelers. I see the Bengals starting over with a new coach for the first time in nearly two decades. And I see the Browns fighting through the weight of expectations and the media scrutiny that comes with them," Rank wrote. "But when I see the Baltimore Ravens, I see stability. Even in the wake of losing a long-time general manager and some familiar names on defense, the Ravens are a beacon of continuity in a division embroiled in chaos.
"I'm really comfortable with where the Ravens currently stand in the AFC, which seems strange to say when you're talking about a team that has a second-year quarterback, new stars not only on defense but in key offensive skill positions and a new general manager. But I like what the Ravens have built here."
Two of the main reasons for Rank's optimism regarding the Ravens this season are what Head Coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Lamar Jackson bring to the team.
"Harbaugh's one of the best coaches in the game," Rank wrote. "He was on the hot seat last year because the team had three consecutive non-playoff seasons. But outside of a 5-11 campaign in 2015, the Ravens haven't had a losing season under his watch. So I never really understood why he was under such scrutiny. If the Ravens had ever let him go, he would have been unemployed for about an hour.
"[Jackson's] the most important member of this team," Rank continued. "Jackson will never be a classic dropback passer, but he can be a very effective thrower if provided with the right tools. With the offseason additions at both running back and receiver, there is no way Jackson is going to fail in Year 2. He can extend plays. He can get outside of the pocket and throw. He offers so many things you want at the position in the modern NFL."
Rank noted that the healthy state of the franchise is due in large part to the efforts of former General Manager Ozzie Newsome.
"Newsome was one of the best GMs in NFL history and we'll look at what he did during those glory years as the stuff of legend. But the way he set up the Ravens to be successful for when he walked away should be noted, too," Rank wrote. "I mean, how easy would it be for a GM run the course with a Super Bowl-winning QB and then be all, 'later, guys' while leaving the cupboard bare? That's not the situation inherited by Newsome's successor, Eric DeCosta. His mentor has set him up tremendously well. This should be a good year in Baltimore."
In identifying some key games for the Ravens this season, Rank noted two that could have postseason implications: a Week 3 tilt at the Kansas City Chiefs and Week 7 at the Seattle Seahawks.
In addition to Jackson having an opportunity to avenge the lone regular-season loss of his career in Kansas City, Rank wrote that the Chiefs matchup is "one of those key games for teams you expect to be jockeying for one of the top seeds in the AFC. You know, the team that will host the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game."
"The Ravens need to reignite the rivalry they had with the Patriots a few years back," Rank wrote. "They had some classic playoff games, and I would like to get back to that."
Ravens Recognized Among Most Improved Teams
Remember back in March when the Ravens released Eric Weddle and then lost defensive stalwart C.J. Mosley, all-time Ravens great Terrell Suggs, 2018 team sacks leader Za'Darius Smith and deep threat John Brown in free agency?
There was a lot of hand-wringing around Baltimore at the time, but that seems ages ago now. Thanks to signing coveted free agents Earl Thomas and Mark Ingram II and what appears to be a strong draft class, the Ravens have been pegged this year's fifth-most improved team, according to Fansided's Lucas Schuh.
Like Rank, Schuh believes the Ravens have the potential to make some noise in the playoffs.
"With an improved roster and hopefully an improved Lamar Jackson, the Ravens could do some serious damage in the postseason," Schuh wrote.
Not surprisingly, the Cleveland Browns were at the top of the "most-improved" list.
Elliott, Andrews, Williams Poised for Breakout Seasons?
Safety DeShon Elliott and tight end Mark Andrews have been among those who have stood out at minicamp, fueling talk that the second-year players could be breakout stars in 2019.
Elliott, a sixth-round draft pick who missed all of last season after suffering a broken arm in a preseason game, provided one of the highlights at practice yesterday when he sprinted across the field and made a leaping interception. At last week's OTAs, Elliott made a spectacular diving interception.
"He played physically and with athleticism during the preseason last year, but his nose for the ball and impressive range have stood out this spring, and he is playing with confidence," PressBox’s Bo Smolka wrote.
Andrews, who showed good chemistry with Jackson last season and posted a franchise rookie record for tight ends with 34 catches for 552 yards and three touchdowns, shined at Tuesday's practice.
"He only improved as the season wore on, and he's coming into year two as a standout performer, " Baltimore Beatdown’s Kyle P Barber wrote. "This could be an exciting season for the tandem Andrews and Jackson."
Meanwhile, Rank's pick for the Ravens' breakout player this season is third-year outside linebacker Tim Williams.
"The Ravens have to replace several veterans on defense, so they'll be looking for some of their younger players to step up. And it will be a testament to retired GM Ozzie Newsome's ability to stockpile talent via the draft when Williams rises to the occasion," Rank wrote.
"Williams didn't see the field a whole lot during his first two seasons, but the former Alabama edge rusher is going to emerge as a key piece in 2019. This isn't unfamiliar territory for him, having paid his dues with the Crimson Tide before becoming a leading contributor. You watch. He's going to break out this year."
Gerald McCoy Was Impressed With the Ravens
Gerald McCoy ended up choosing the Carolina Panthers after visiting the Ravens and Browns, but the star defensive tackle came away from his visit with the Ravens highly impressed with the organization and Harbaugh.
"Coach Harbaugh and the history he has of being a Super Bowl-winning coach and just the overall culture of the organization. All I heard was how great of an organization it was, and when I went on my visit, it was all that and more," McCoy said on Ian Rapoport's podcast.