Abundance of Youth Has Ravens in Good Shape for Present and Future
The Ravens got younger this offseason, and in doing so it appears the defending AFC North champions have put themselves in good position for success both now and for years to come.
"It's a golden age for the Ravens in a way," Ravens Wire’s Matthew Stevens wrote. "They were a playoff team last year and are looking to build on that success both immediately and for the long term through their core of young talent. … The Ravens are stacked with talent at or under 25 years old. It's a great spot to be in as Baltimore looks to march into the next era of football and remain competitive."
Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler expressed a similar opinion about the state of the Ravens.
"The Ravens were rebuilding the team this year. That doesn't mean they don't want to win now," Schisler wrote. "[Ravens Head Coach] John Harbaugh has every intention of punching another ticket to the playoffs. It's a competitive rebuild that the Ravens have started to accomplish. It's about 2019 and it's about the future as well."
Stevens listed 17 players on the roster between the ages of 22-25 who either made significant contributions last year or are expected to do so this season.
"That's all before counting on the rookies, with a number who will definitely contribute in their first seasons," Stevens wrote. "Several of these players are primed for breakout seasons this year."
The Ravens have built the offense around second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson and surrounded him with exciting, young skill position players such as rookie wide receivers Marquise "Hollywood" Brown and Miles Boykin, rookie running back Justice Hill, and second-year players such as tight ends Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst.
Left tackle Ronnie Stanley, 25, and right tackle Orlando Brown Jr., 23, are cornerstones on the offensive line, and rookie guard Ben Powers could compete for a starting job. On Stevens' predictions for the 53-man roster, guard Marshal Yanda, 34, is the only offensive player over 30.
"Ronnie Stanley is going into a contract year. He was drafted in 2016 and he could be a player that the Ravens will invest in next offseason," Schisler wrote. "Stanley is one of the better left tackles in the league and he is entering the prime of his career. On the other end, Orlando Brown Jr. is just entering his second season.
"Ben Powers was a fourth-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. He has potential not only to start in 2019, but for years to come. From the quarterback position all the way through to the offensive line, the Ravens have a young offense."
The Ravens got younger on the defensive side of the ball as well, although some of it was not of their choosing, as Stevens noted. Eric Weddle was released, while fellow veterans Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley and Za'Darius Smith left via free agency.
"Those losses will undoubtedly be felt this season but helped push the Ravens to get younger on a quickly-aging defense," Stevens wrote. "Even though both were just 27 years old, the loss of Mosley and Smith opened up opportunities for younger players to step up.
"Kenny Young (24), Patrick Onwuasor (26) and Chris Board (23) are fighting to help replace Mosley this season. Tyus Bowser (24) and Tim Williams (25) are among the outside linebackers trying to replace Suggs and Smith. Even Weddle's replacement, the 30-year-old Earl Thomas, is four years younger."
Another key player on defense is Marlon Humphrey (22). Entering his third season, Humphrey – who was named one of Pro Football Focus’ top 25 players under 25 – has developed into a shutdown cornerback.
"A top-tier defense with a top secondary should help the Ravens win now while an offense that gets to grow up together can start helping them as well," Schisler wrote. "This is only the beginning."
Having so many young players has put the Ravens in good shape regarding the salary cap. According to Over The Cap, the Ravens are estimated to have $52.695 million in salary cap space next year, which would rank 12th in the league. That should help Baltimore bolster an already strong, young roster.
"That extra cap space will eventually have to go to young players like Humphrey in order to keep them," Stevens wrote. "But the teams most often found going deep in the postseason are the ones getting the most from the players still on rookie deals. Baltimore has set themselves up for a golden age by making some tough calls over the last few offseasons."
Thomas Expected to Have Big Impact
Despite the abundance of youth on the team, the Ravens are not devoid of strong veterans. At the top of the list is Thomas, who was identified by NFL Network's Maurice Jones-Drew as the defensive player who will have the biggest impact on his new team.
"This guy is the closest thing to Ed Reed that the Ravens have had since Ed Reed," Jones-Drew said. "That is going to be a game-changer."
Jones-Drew's colleague, Nate Burleson, agreed.
"When he's healthy, I don't think there's another safety that can go north and south full-speed downhill, put his shoulder right in the middle of the chest of a running back, wide receiver, tight end, or east to west, and that's important, him going sideline to sideline," Burleson said.
Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox selected the six-time Pro Bowl safety as the Ravens' biggest standout of the offseason. Thomas, whose 2018 season with the Seattle Seahawks was cut short after suffering a broken leg in Week 4, has shown no signs of the injury in offseason workouts.
"Given the fact that he's coming off a broken leg and is new to the Baltimore Ravens … there was never a guarantee that he'd immediately be an offseason standout. Fortunately for Baltimore, he has," Knox wrote. "Thomas was one of the biggest offseason acquisitions for any team this offseason, and he appears poised to make an immediate impact for the Ravens."
Oddsmakers Don't View Ravens As a Likely Playoff Team
The Ravens have been a polarizing team with the pundits this offseason. Some have ranked the Ravens among the league’s most improved teams and predicted they'll be in the thick of the AFC North race, while others see the team as having taken a step back.
The oddsmakers have taken the latter viewpoint. The Ravens are listed at plus-185 to make the playoffs in the updated odds by Caesars Entertainment, the official casino partner of the NFL. Sixteen teams have better odds than the Ravens, including AFC North rivals the Cleveland Browns (minus-130) and Pittsburgh Steelers (minus-110).
Also not high on the Ravens' chances this season is Touchdown Wire’s Michael Colangelo, who tabbed the Ravens as the 2018 playoff team most likely to miss the playoffs in 2019.
"The Ravens play in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL," Colangelo wrote. "The Browns are expected to make the playoffs this year. The Steelers are always good and get to play the 'no one believed in us' card this year. The Bengals have a veteran defense and what may be an offensive guru as a head coach (Zac Taylor) — he did come from the Sean McVay tree.
"Unless Lamar Jackson has improved dramatically in the passing game then Baltimore could be in some trouble. Teams got a look at their running game last year and may be a little more prepared. The Ravens also lost some key pieces on defense, but they did add Earl Thomas and he's pretty good."
All of this probably brings great joy to Harbaugh, who has made it clear that he likes when pundits underestimate the team.
"Tell everybody how bad we are," Harbaugh told the media after practice a few weeks ago. "That's what I'm rooting for. It helps us."
- CBS Sports’ Jared Dubin looks at what must happen for the Ravens' run-heavy offense to be successful.