For Ravens' Offensive Core, Low Ranking, High Ceiling
The Ravens' trio of Lamar Jackson, Mark Ingram II and Marquise "Hollywood" Brown landed in the bottom fourth of NFL.com's Ali Bhanpuri's rankings of the league's triplets (a team's top quarterback, running back and pass catcher), but their modest rating comes with a qualifier.
"Of all the trios on this list, Baltimore's offensive core is the one I'm most excited to see take the field in September," Bhanpuri wrote.
The Ravens' triplets were ranked 26th out of 32 teams and last in the AFC North behind the Cleveland Browns (No. 3), Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 11) and Cincinnati Bengals (No. 18). However, Bhanpuri believes there's a high ceiling for the Jackson/Ingram/Brown combination.
"Lamar Jackson proved in Year 1 he's one of the league's most electrifying playmakers, and the team's commitment to running an offensive system designed around his unique skill set is refreshing," Bhanpuri wrote. "Even at 29, Ingram is a quality back who will add experience and production (fifth-most yards from scrimmage among RBs since 2015) to Baltimore's backfield. And I can't wait to watch 'Hollywood' Brown sprint by defenders on the M&T Stadium turf."
So why the low ranking, then?
"As much as I appreciate and am intrigued by the Ravens' Army-like offensive approach, the potential run-run-run-run philosophy could ding Jackson's (and Brown's) overall production," Bhanpuri wrote. "I'll have no problem issuing a mea culpa in January if the Ravens have a top-10 unit."
One pundit who won't have to issue a mea culpa if the Ravens' offense is among the top 10 is Sportsnaut's Vincent Frank, who ranked the unit as the ninth-most explosive offense in the league entering the season.
"Talk about untapped potential in Baltimore," Frank wrote. "Baltimore's offense is a bit lower than it could be. Again, that's primarily due to the untapped potential. Jackson will be joined in the backfield by Pro Bowler Mark Ingram and underrated rookie in Justice Hill. Meanwhile, rookie first-round pick Marquise Brown will benefit from Jackson's play-making ability in the backfield. We're more than bullish on this offense in 2019."
The Ravens also came in at No. 26 on ESPN.com's Bill Barnwell's rankings of team's offensive arsenals. His list considered "a team's skill-position talent without including the impact of the quarterback, offensive line or scheme."
He cited the Ravens' reliance on young talent as the reason for the conservative ranking.
"The vast majority of Jackson's targets are likely to go to players on rookie deals, including first-round picks Hayden Hurst and Marquise Brown, both of whom have injury flags," Barnwell wrote. "Even players like Willie Snead and Nick Boyle are only 26. The key exception is Mark Ingram, who turns 30 in December and is likely to be Baltimore's featured back."
Meanwhile, The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shafer ranked the AFC North's offensive position groups, and the Ravens fared well, but not as well as the Browns.
The Browns dominated the "triplet" positions, coming in at No. 1 in Shafer's rankings at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. The Ravens were fourth at quarterback and wide receiver and second at running back.
Baltimore took the top spot at tight end, and its offensive line was No. 2 (behind the Steelers).
"Name a scenario that calls for a tight end's help, and the Ravens will probably be able to provide two," Shafer wrote. "Mark Andrews was maybe the NFL's best rookie at the position last season and figures to be Jackson's favorite target. Nick Boyle was a wrecking ball as a blocker in the team's running game last season and is still improving as a receiver. Hayden Hurst, when healthy, has flashed the potential that made him the No. 25 overall pick a year ago."
Of the Ravens' offensive line, Shafer wrote: "With the return of Marshal Yanda and the continued development of Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr., the Ravens have the talent to continue to win at the line of scrimmage."
Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson Ranked Among Best Safety Tandems
While there continues to be a wide range of opinions regarding how the Ravens' offense will perform, there is no shortage of love for the Ravens' secondary.
Veterans Earl Thomas and Tony Jefferson were ranked as the NFL's third-best safety tandem by Pro Football Focus, with the potential to be the No. 1 duo if Thomas is indeed at 100 percent after suffering a broken leg in Week 4 last season.
"You expect to see the old Earl Thomas back, and if you do get that, this could easily be the best safety tandem in the NFL," PFF's Sam Monson said. "Earl Thomas just changes the game when he's on the field. There are no other free safeties out there that have his combination of range, instincts, the ability to set off ahead of everybody else, to play closer to the line of scrimmage and impact more plays because of that.
"You look at the Seahawks' splits when Thomas is on the field versus when he isn't, they're incredible the difference between those numbers. So I anticipate him going to Baltimore showing the same kind of thing. Flashbacks to Ed Reed when he was such an incredible ballhawk for them."
Entering his third season with the Ravens, Jefferson is the perfect complement to Thomas, Monson said.
"I love that Earl Thomas pairing with Tony Jefferson, allowing the prototypical single high safety like Earl Thomas to be able to play deep, to allow Tony Jefferson to move down towards the box and makes plays against the run and in shallow passes," PFF's Austin Gayle added. "I'm really excited to see those two work together."
Jefferson talked about the developing chemistry between him and Thomas last month during mandatory minicamp.
"We've got two safeties back there who like to read and react," Jefferson said. "Earl's obviously been one of the best in the game for a very long time, which he still is. … We're just going to continue to grow, continue to build chemistry."
Thomas said that he and Jefferson are a "very natural" fit.
"Tony brings that energy," Thomas said during mandatory minicamp. "First day he came out, he was colliding with people with no shoulder pads. That's my type of guy. We're going to play really well together. We're already building that chemistry right now."
Steve Smith Sr. Receives 'Honor' News on FaceTime at 7-Eleven
It's no secret that the split between Steve Smith Sr. and the Carolina Panthers was acrimonious, but he and the organization gradually reconnected and took a big step toward a full reconciliation a couple months ago when the Panthers announced that they would be inducting the former star wide receiver into their Hall of Honor.
On the latest episode of the Panthers digital series "The Hall," a FaceTime video of Panthers Owner David Tepper informing Smith of his induction was shown, revealing that the conversation took place at, of all places, a 7-Eleven in Utah.
"I was putting sugar and a non-dairy powdered cream in my coffee to try to wake up because I was on the West Coast," Smith told the Panthers website. "He called and asked, 'Do you have FaceTime?' I said, 'No.'"
Smith said Tepper told him he needed for him to get FaceTime.
"I have an Android," Smith said. "So my buddy who was with me, I said, 'Can I use your phone?' and that's how it went down."
Smith played the final three years of his career (2014-2016) in Baltimore after the Panthers released him following 13 seasons in Carolina.
Smith totaled 195 receptions, 2,534 yards and 14 touchdowns with the Ravens. One of his best games with the Ravens was against the Panthers in 2014, when he had seven catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-10 victory.
- NFL.com's Tom Blair ranked the top 10 teams of the decade. The 2012 Super Bowl champion Ravens did not make the list, but the team they beat in Super Bowl – the San Francisco 49ers – were No. 7.