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Late for Work 6/25: Ravens Roster Is Ranked the Best in NFL

QB Lamar Jackson; G Bradley Bozeman; G Patrick Mekari
QB Lamar Jackson; G Bradley Bozeman; G Patrick Mekari

Ravens Roster Is Ranked the Best in NFL

Head Coach John Harbaugh recently described the Ravens as an "iceberg" heading into last season because no one saw them coming. Heading into this season after going a franchise-best 14-2, however, it's clear as day the Ravens are one of the best teams in the NFL.

In fact, they are the best, at least on paper, according to ESPN’s roster rankings.

The rankings were determined by using Pro Football Focus grades from the 2019 season – a number that is included for every projected starter – and a more comprehensive look at each player's career using both PFF grades and statistics.

Not surprisingly, Baltimore's record-setting rushing attack, led by MVP Lamar Jackson, was identified as the team's biggest strength.

"The Ravens' rushing attack was so good in 2019 that they were the most efficient offense in the NFL according to expected points added (EPA) per play while running the ball at a higher rate than any other offense," PFF's Ben Linsey wrote. "In the modern NFL, that just isn't supposed to happen.

"Lamar Jackson's unique skill set as both a runner and passer is what makes that possible. His 47 carries with 5 or more yards before contact was eight more than any other runner in 2019, and his 42 missed tackles forced was over double the next-closest quarterback. Simply getting a hand on Jackson is easier said than done."

On defense, the Ravens have nearly every starter back from last season's unit, which ranked No. 4 in fewest yards and No. 3 in fewest points allowed. By trading for five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell, the defense figures to be even better this season, which is why Campbell was identified as the team's X-factor by Linsey.

"Baltimore's addition of Calais Campbell is one of the biggest moves this offseason that has flown under the radar for some reason," Linsey wrote. "He has picked up overall grades of 90.0 or higher in each of the past four seasons, dominating against the run and consistently bringing pressure at an above-average rate whether lined up on the inside or on the edge."

Report: Ravens Have Not Seriously Discussed Signing Antonio Brown

In yesterday’s Late for Work, we noted that the NFL Network's Mike Silver said the Ravens reportedly were one of two teams who have had internal "discussions" about signing free-agent wide receiver Antonio Brown. However, ESPN's Josina Anderson disputed the report.

According to Anderson, the Ravens have not had internal talks recently about Brown.

The Brown-to-Baltimore speculation began in April when video surfaced of the four-time All-Pro working out with Jackson and Brown's cousin, Marquise "Hollywood" Brown. Earlier this month, Brown added fuel to the fire by posting a digitally altered photo of him wearing a Ravens uniform on social media. Last month, CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki Barber predicted Brown would be a Raven in 2020.

Brown, who turns 32 next month, would have to be reinstated by the NFL in order to play again. He could face a suspension up to half of the season as the league investigates allegations of sexual assault and rape.

Lamar Jackson Is No. 5 in Chris Simms' Quarterback Rankings

Speaking of rankings, Pro Football Talk’s Chris Simms revealed his list of the top 40 quarterbacks in the league. Despite Jackson's historic 2019 season, which included setting the single-season rushing record for a quarterback, he placed fifth in the rankings.

That's a big jump from Simms' rankings last year, when Jackson was No. 30, but the second unanimous MVP in NFL history not even cracking the top three at his position this year is puzzling.

The quarterbacks ranked ahead of Jackson were Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes, Seattle's Russell Wilson, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Houston's Deshaun Watson.

Simms' reasoning for not ranking Jackson higher is that he lacks consistency as a passer and is 0-2 in the playoffs.

"He is a natural thrower of the football. Now, is he a polished passer yet at this point of his career? No," Simms said. "That's something he needs to work on. … Two years in a row in the playoffs when a team does get a little feel for how to slow the run game down, this is why he's No. 5 and not No. 2 or No. 3 to me. He can't win games just automatically with his arm yet."

Jackson led the league in touchdown passes (36) last season, but stats don't tell the entire story, Simms said.

"When you just look like the stats and the machine of which Baltimore was. And of course he took a."dvantage of a lot of plays that were there to be had," Simms said on his "Chris Simms Unbuttoned” podcast. "You went, 'Well this guy is amazing, this is awesome.' He's a really good thrower, don't get me wrong, but his great running ability is setting up some great passing looks sometimes, too, to maybe fool us into thinking he's a little bit better of a thrower than he is."

That said, Simms stressed that he considers Jackson one of the best players in the league.

"Awesome, exciting, one of the most explosive players in football," Simms said. "To me, it's just those nuances that are holding back Lamar Jackson. I think they are conquerable, he's gotten better at it, I've seen it already. But I think that's what keeps him at five for me at this moment."

Miles Boykin Is Key to Ravens Offense Soaring Even Higher

Wide receiver Miles Boykin only had 13 catches as a rookie last year, but he is the key to the Ravens' high-scoring offense being even harder to defend in 2020, Ebony Bird’s Darin McCann wrote.

"Where Jackson has really shined, to this point, is to the middle of the field, illustrated by pinpoint seam throws to tight end Mark Andrews, perfectly-placed posts to Marquise Brown and using creative arm angles and a deft touch to hit crossing routes in traffic," McCann wrote. "If Boykin and Jackson can develop a connection on the boundaries, along with slants to keep opponents on their toes, that middle of the field will become even more available for Jackson, and safeties having to watch both Brown and Boykin from play to play will make the running game that much easier to function."

Boykin became a bigger part of the offense from one season to the next during his three years at Notre Dame, and McCann believes the third-round pick can duplicate that progression in the NFL.

"Boykin has every tool you would want out of an 'X' receiver," McCann wrote. "He's big. He's fast. He has shown an ability to use his body as a shell against defenders when taking in slants, and he does a nice job working his way back to Jackson when the quarterback gets off-schedule."

McCann said Boykin doesn't need to have a 1,000-yard season for him to be an impact player.

"Boykin doesn't even have to become the team's top receiver," McCann wrote. "But if he can develop into his tools, and sting teams from a different direction than they are used to getting stung by Jackson and company, the sky's the limit."

Eric Weddle: 'I Enjoyed Every Second' of Time in Baltimore

Eric Weddle only spent three of his 13 NFL seasons in Baltimore, but the six-time Pro Bowl safety has said he will always be a Raven. Weddle, who retired after last season, reiterated that sentiment during an appearance on Jim Rome’s podcast.

For Weddle, his love for the organization starts with owner Steve Bisciotti.

"I was lucky enough to experience a different organization and be a part of an organization that is top notch," Weddle said. "It shows a lot about what the owner's all about when he's the only one so far that's been out on the front lines of supporting the black lives of this country and supporting his players. That shows you what he's about."

Weddle, who signed with the Ravens in 2016 after nine years with the Chargers, also praised the Ravens for their commitment to winning and how well the organization treated him.

"[Bisciotti] wants to win Super Bowls and will do it at all costs," Weddle said. "To be wanted again in your career. We all want to feel appreciated, we all want to feel respected and we all want to feel important, and that's what Baltimore gave me. They rejuvenated my career. They gave me a sense of appreciation and also a sense of, 'Man, we believe in you and we want you for who you are.' I just enjoyed every second … the people, the city, the organization."

Quick Hits

  • Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders, who came out of retirement to sign with the Ravens in 2004, made CBS Sports’ list of the 10 best comebacks from retirement in NFL history.

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