Ravens' Roster Is Ranked 17th-Best in NFL
ESPN tapped into the Pro Football Focus database to rank the rosters for all 32 teams, and the results were surprising regarding the Ravens and two of their AFC North rivals.
The AFC North is expected to be one of the NFL's best this season, but only one team from the division made the top 10, and it wasn't popular preseason favorite Cleveland; it was the Steelers, who were ranked eighth. Both the Ravens (No. 17) and Browns (No 18) finished in the second half of the rankings, as did the Cincinnati Bengals (No. 25).
PFF, an analytics website, grades players on every play of the season. The rankings focused on every team's expected starters.
Baltimore's mediocre ranking was due in large part to a perceived weak pass rush.
"The Ravens will be without longtime edge defender Terrell Suggs for the first time since he entered the league in 2003, and that's just the tip of the iceberg for their pass-rush woes," PFF wrote. "The team also lost Za'Darius Smith to Green Bay, which leaves Matthew Judon as the only player on the roster who recorded more than 23 pressures last season."
While it's fair to say there are questions about the Ravens' pass rush, the team arguably has the deepest secondary in the league. PFF's Eric Eager wrote in Peter King's Football Morning in America column that coverage is more important than pass rush, all else being equal.
"Invest a lot into coverage, so that some subset of five or six of these players give you an elite group," Eager wrote. The Ravens have done exactly that, investing $58 million in its secondary this offseason, according to OvertheCap.com.
PFF cited the offensive line as the Ravens' biggest strength.
"The right side of the Ravens' offensive line might possess the AFC North's best guard-tackle duo as second-year pro Orlando Brown Jr. paves the way next to future Hall of Famer Marshal Yanda," PFF wrote. "Brown was tremendous in pass protection last year, allowing just 18 pressures on 410 pass-blocking snaps, with only one of those pressures resulting in the quarterback being hit. And Yanda was the league's third-highest-graded guard despite finishing with a career-low grade."
The Ravens' X-factor for 2019 – no surprise – is Lamar Jackson, according to PFF. Despite a 6-1 record as a starter last year, the second-year quarterback's PFF grade was 58.5, the lowest of any 2019 projected starting quarterback.
Pittsburgh's ranking was boosted by a defensive line that included three starters with grades in the 80s: Cameron Heyward (84.9), Javon Hargrave (82.7) and Stephon Truitt (81.8).
Poor tackling last season contributed to Cleveland's lower-than-expected ranking.
"The team ended the 2018 campaign ranked dead last with a team tackling grade at 34.7, and they collectively missed a whopping 194 tackles over the course of the regular season -- 23 more than the next-closest team," PFF wrote. "Now that they have all the pieces in place on defense, improving on this fundamental aspect is a must."
The top five teams in the rankings were (in order): the New England Patriots, Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears.
Why the Ravens Are Being Underrated
If Ravens fans were annoyed by PFF's rankings, they're surely not going to like the fact that the team was at the top of Sports Illustrated's list of 2018 playoff teams in danger of missing the postseason this year.
"The Ravens were insanely difficult to prepare for over the latter half of 2018 until the Chargers deployed a savvy safeties as linebackers look in the playoffs," Sports Illustrated's Conor Orr wrote.
"Enter: A new offensive coordinator and a new system completely foreign to Jackson. It doesn't feel productive, and even if Baltimore scored one of the most talented receivers in the 2019 draft in Marquise Brown, this offensive scuffling could ultimately be their undoing."
Earlier this week, Touchdown Wire's Michael Colangelo also selected the Ravens as the 2018 playoff team most likely to miss the playoffs.
Ebony Bird's Chris Schisler has a theory as to why forecasts for the Ravens aren't brighter.
"The most likely hypothesis for this is that nobody really knows what to expect," Schisler wrote. "The Ravens are a team that has a lot of new pieces in place. Negative thinking is easier than optimism."
Schisler acknowledged that the Ravens lost some stars on defense, but he believes those losses will be offset by an "incredible" secondary and "more pass rush than you think."
"The pass rush is going to come from all over the place and people are overthinking this," Schisler wrote. "The Ravens defense didn't all the sudden become bad. It became different."
As for the Ravens' offense, Schisler thinks those who doubt Jackson are in store for a surprise.
"If the Ravens can run a limited offense for seven weeks to end the regular season on a 6-1 record, imagine what they can do with a full offseason to install Greg Roman's offense," Schisler wrote. "People get so worked up in the statistics and the throwing motion of Jackson and forget that he's a playmaker who genuinely stepped up in a tough situation. … The fact that he didn't panic and he showed that the stage wasn't too big for him is huge. He was better than he got credit for last season and he will be better than people expect in 2019."
In summation, Schisler wrote that the Ravens have the pieces in place to repeat as AFC North champions.
"At this time next year people will be raving about Mark Ingram and Marquise Brown," Schisler wrote. "Patrick Onwuasor and Jaylon Ferguson will be hailed as the surprise stars of the season and the Ravens will be drafting in the 20's again after another trip to the playoffs. Book it."
Feel better now?
Ravens' Coaching Staff Is No. 6 in Power Rankings
In keeping with today's theme of rankings and lists, here's one that's favorable for Baltimore. The Ravens are at No. 6 in Bleacher Report's Gary Davenport's coaching staff power rankings.
Beyond Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh's impressive resume – which includes a Super Bowl championship, seven playoff trips in 11 seasons and a 10-6 record in the postseason – Davenport noted that Harbaugh graded out as the best head coach in the NFL at clock management in 2018, per Head Coach Rankings.
In addition, Davenport wrote: "Don Martindale heads into his second season as defensive coordinator after six years of coaching the linebackers, further cementing the consistency and continuity that has marked Harbaugh's tenure."
Finally, here are two more lists:
NFL.com's Reggie Wayne identified seven young wide receivers (those who are playing under their rookie contracts in 2019) set to break out this season. Two rookies made the list, but Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, the first receiver chosen in the draft, was not one of them.
Using the same criteria, NFL.com's Gil Brandt named 10 young defensive backs ready to break out in 2019. Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey did not make the list. Perhaps it's because Humphrey, who is entering his third season, already had his breakout season?