Analyst Predicts Two Ravens Rookies Will Make Instant Impact
Two of the Ravens' top goals this offseason were getting more weapons for Lamar Jackson and bolstering the offensive line.
They addressed those needs in the draft (as well as free agency), and Sharp Football Analysis’ Ryan McCrystal believes first-round wide receiver Rashod Bateman and third-round guard Ben Cleveland will make an instant impact.
"Baltimore needed to give Lamar Jackson a reliable downfield weapon, and WR Rashod Bateman (first round) should be the perfect fit," McCrystal wrote. "Ravens receivers caught only 63% of Jackson's catchable throws 15 or more yards downfield last season, which ranked 29th out of 35 quarterbacks. Bateman had a 78% catch rate on catchable targets at that distance during his college career.
"With former left guard Bradley Bozeman moving to center, OL Ben Cleveland (third round) is likely to start at left guard. Cleveland spent his entire career at Georgia on the right side of the line (both guard and tackle) but free agent addition Kevin Zeitler is likely to remain at right guard, where he's played his entire career. The 6'6", 343-pound Cleveland played a key role in Georgia's running game over the last few seasons, and looks like an ideal fit for Baltimore's run-heavy offense."
McCrystal praised the Ravens' draft class as a whole but said the roster is so well-constructed that it might be difficult for any of the other picks to make a substantial impact this season.
"Baltimore may have leaned more heavily on a needs-based approach to the draft than usual, but none of their selections can be considered an unjustifiable reach," McCrystal wrote. "This draft class appears capable of contributing in 2021, while also offering some long-term developmental value."
As for the Ravens' other first-round pick, Odafe Oweh, McCrystal said he has the raw talent to develop into a dangerous edge rusher as "the coaching staff refines his technique."
J.K. Dobbins Just Misses Making Top 10 in Maurice Jones-Drew's RB1 Rankings
NFL.com analyst Maurice Jones-Drew ranked all 32 RB1s heading into this season, and J.K. Dobbins fared much better than he did in Pro Football Focus’ rankings.
Jones-Drew ranked Dobbins No. 12. The second-year running back was No. 26 on PFF's list, which was surprisingly low given how productive he was during the second half of last season.
"Dobbins averaged 6.0 yards per carry while sharing the backfield with Mark Ingram (now in Houston) and Gus Edwards last season, showing great burst and flashing big-play ability," Jones-Drew wrote. "Now it's time to see what he's got as the Ravens' featured back for a full season. He'll obviously benefit from having Lamar Jackson in front of him and should be a productive back in Baltimore for years to come."
Speaking of Jackson, NFL Network's Marc Ross raised the question of whether he should be on the list even though he's a quarterback.
"The most dangerous guy with the ball in his hand, Lamar Jackson, I'm going to put him on this list as a dual-threat runner just because of the way they have to game plan against him and that Ravens run attack," Ross said.
Ross' colleague, Michael Robinson, said Jackson shouldn't be eligible for the list.
"But to your point," Robinson added, "the dude can run the ball. Oh my goodness."
ESPN Front-Office Insider Says Ravens Should Extend Jackson ASAP
It's well established that a contract extension for Jackson is just a matter of when and for how much.
As for the timing aspect, Head Coach John Harbaugh recently said that a Jackson extension is a "done deal," although he didn't mean that literally, and Jackson said he's hopeful something will happen "pretty soon or whenever."
ESPN front-office insider and former NFL executive Mike Tannenbaum said getting the deal done sooner than later should be an easy decision for the Ravens.
"I just don't know why (you wouldn't)," Tannenbaum told The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec. "I don't know what the benefit is of waiting. I don't see the macroeconomics of the NFL trending in any other way than going up."
To Tannenbaum's point, Jackson's price could increase if Buffalo's Josh Allen and Cleveland's Baker Mayfield – two members of Jackson's draft class – get extensions before him.
Zrebiec said there are pros and cons to signing Jackson now in regard to how it would affect the Ravens' salary cap.
"If Jackson plays next year under his fifth-year option, his salary-cap number would jump to more than $23 million in 2022, an increase of more than $20 million on his current number," Zrebiec wrote. "Signing him to an extension now could give the Ravens more flexibility next offseason although it also would likely cut into the modest amount of cap space that they have for the upcoming season."
As for what Jackson's annual salary will be, Tannenbaum doesn't think Jackson will get $45 million like Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes but should equal or exceed the contracts for Dallas's Dak Prescott ($40 million) and Houston's Deshaun Watson ($39 million).
"It's got to be 38 to 40-ish (per year)," Tannenbaum said. "There's always ways for both sides to declare victory, like three-year cash, guaranteed money. But it has to be somewhere in there, I would think."
Ravens Are No. 5 in PFF's Roster Rankings
PFF used its grading system to rank the rosters of all 32 teams, and the Ravens came in at No. 5.
The defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers were No. 1, while teams 2-5 all reside in the AFC. Between the Bucs and Ravens were the Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills.
In breaking down the rosters, PFF's Ben Linsey (via ESPN.com) identified each team's biggest strength, biggest weakness and X-factor. Here's what he wrote about the Ravens:
Biggest strength: CB Marlon Humphrey
"There aren't many cornerbacks in the league who can seamlessly transition from an outside role to the slot and provide high-level play at both spots. Marlon Humphrey has done that better than anyone in recent years, spending more time inside due to a string of Tavon Young injuries. Humphrey is the only cornerback in the league with a PFF coverage grade of at least 80.0 both in the slot and out wide since 2017."
Biggest weakness: Outside linebacker
"It's not difficult to see the reasoning behind Baltimore's decision to let Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue walk in free agency. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale does as good of a job as anyone at scheming up pressure with the blitz, reducing the need for elite edge rushers. But those departures do leave the Ravens thin at outside linebacker entering this season."
"Bateman showed that he could win from primarily wide alignments (2019) and in the slot (2020) by earning grades north of 80.0 in each of the last two seasons at Minnesota. Bateman joined DeVonta Smith and new teammate Tylan Wallace as the only wide receivers in this draft class to average over 3.0 yards per route run in both 2019 and 2020."
Meanwhile, CBS Sports’ Jordan Dajani placed the Ravens at No. 6 in his roster rankings, behind the Buccaneers, Chiefs, Browns, Los Angeles Rams and Bills, respectively.
"The offense is impressive all-around with the offensive line, Lamar Jackson, J.K. Dobbins and Mark Andrews, but the Ravens may actually have some wide receivers to work with this year!" Dajani wrote. "This defense did lose some important pieces such as Matt Judon and Yannik Ngakoue, but I think Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison will take big leaps forward in 2021. This defense is still going to be one of the better units in the NFL."