Consensus Among Ravens' Most Important Players
There's still plenty unknown heading into the 2020 season, but one thing we know for sure is that the Ravens have a roster built to contend for a Super Bowl title.
That got pundits like Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz and The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec thinking. They ranked the most important players to the team's success this season.
Since there was plenty of debate following the fan-voted All-Time Ravens Team, I thought it would be interesting to look at the top five players for each pundit. Here's how it went:
5. CB Marlon Humphrey
4. DE Calais Campbell
3. OLB Matthew Judon
2. LT Ronnie Stanley
1. QB Lamar Jackson
5. DE Calais Campbell
4. OLB Matthew Judon
3. WR Marquise "Hollywood" Brown
2. LT Ronnie Stanley
1. QB Lamar Jackson
For the sake of the obvious, we're not going to discuss Jackson. But there was a close consensus among the rest of the top five, with some players interchangeable.
Kasinitz and Zrebiec both had Stanley as the second-most important player. That's not surprising considering his role protecting Jackson's blindside.
Stanley was one of the NFL's best left tackles last year, and a player the Ravens couldn't afford to lose.
"He gets this ranking on his own merit, but the team's lack of tackle depth and inexperience up front emphasizes the importance of Stanley staying healthy and playing dominant football," Zrebiec wrote. "If Stanley gets hurt, the Ravens would probably have to rely on 33-year-old Andre Smith at left tackle. With Yanda gone, Stanley is now the guy for the Ravens, so he'll be counted on for leadership, too."
"Without a quality backup in place at tackle, Stanley's health and performance stand as crucial aspects of the Ravens' 2020 season," added Kasinitz.
Judon and Campbell also made the list for both pundits, and it's not hard to see why. The two combined for 16 sacks last season and will be relied on as the top pass rush producers in Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale's unit.
"The Ravens didn't use any assets to bring in a veteran edge rusher and that's partly because they expect Campbell to make the guys who they have better," Zrebiec wrote. "A double-digit sack season would be nice, but more than anything, the Ravens will rely on Campbell to be a consistently disruptive presence. His leadership and experience are bonuses."
After falling to the Tennessee Titans in the playoffs, General Manager Eric DeCosta and the front office made a concerted effort to bulk up the defensive front. That centers around Judon and Campbell.
"Baltimore asked a lot of Judon in 2019 and didn't do much to pad the depth at outside linebacker behind him," Kasinitz wrote. "He'll enter training camp as the Ravens' most irreplaceable defender."
The difference in the lists came between Humphrey and Brown. Kasinitz ranked Brown 10th, while Zrebiec ranked Humphrey eighth.
Coming off a strong rookie season, Brown is poised to develop into a top-end No. 1 wide receiver. Zrebiec believes Brown, who's bulked up this offseason, has the potential to elevate the Ravens' offense.
"A major breakthrough in 2020 would provide a new dimension to the team's offense and force defenses to play the Ravens a little more honestly," Zrebiec wrote. "Ravens coaches have talked about challenging teams more through the air and making them defend different parts of the field. Brown is the best candidate to make that happen."
Kasinitz made the case for defense, and in a pass-happy league, shutdown cornerbacks have become even more important. Coming off an All-Pro season, Humphrey is that for the Ravens.
"While the Ravens carry the depth in the secondary to cushion a potential injury to Humphrey or [Marcus] Peters (which is why they aren't ranked even higher), the presence of the two stars helps make Baltimore's roster one of the NFL's best," Kasinitz added.
Other players ranked right outside of the top five were Mark Andrews, Marcus Peters, Earl Thomas III, Orlando Brown Jr., Nick Boyle, and Patrick Queen.
Looking at the Ravens' Most Underrated Offseason Moves
We just discussed the most important players on the roster, but what about moves that have flown under the radar?
Baltimore Beatdown's Frank Platko looked at three additions that could pay dividends for the Ravens this season.
"Eric DeCosta and company made a number of less-heralded moves that could similarly have a major impact on the team's success in 2020," Platko wrote.
Re-signing Pernell McPhee and Jihad Ward were two of Platko's picks.
McPhee suffered a season-ending triceps injury in Week 7, but Platko believes he still has plenty left in the tank to provide depth at outside linebacker.
"The Ravens needed consistent, starter-level production from McPhee last season, as he was the only established pass-rusher at the position aside from Matthew Judon," Platko wrote. "In 2020, though, McPhee can work in more of a rotational role alongside Jaylon Ferguson and Tyus Bowser.
"McPhee's veteran leadership and playoff experience will also be vital as the Ravens look to make a push towards a Super Bowl appearance."
Ward's season also flew under the radar as a versatile defensive lineman.
"His numbers don't jump off the page, but they fail to tell the whole story," Platko wrote. "On the season, Ward posted seven tackles, six pressures, six QB hits and one sack. In a rotational role, though, he seemingly made a number of impact plays throughout the year.
"Ward is a natural defensive end but possesses the versatility to kick inside and outside along the front seven. … He should provide steady depth behind Campbell and Wolfe, while the upgrades the Ravens made on the defensive line could open up more individual opportunities for him to make his share of plays."
McPhee and Ward join an already loaded defense, but the most underrated move could be the signing of veteran guard D.J. Fluker. Fluker comes to Baltimore after starting 23 games for the Seattle Seahawks the past two seasons. But the impact of his addition depends on if he wins the competition at right guard.
"At 6-foot-5, 342 Ibs, Fluker's size gives him an advantage as a mauler in the downhill run game, as does his impressive 7-foot wingspan," Platko added. "Given his athletic traits and scheme fit, Fluker could potentially thrive in Greg Roman's offensive system."
PFF: 'No True Starter' in Ravens' Backfield
Coming off a season where they set rushing records, the Ravens have an even deeper backfield with the addition of second-round pick J.K. Dobbins.
Pro Football Focus' Ben Linsey listed the running back competition between Dobbins, Mark Ingram II, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill as one of the top training camp battles to watch.
Linsey doesn't think there's a "true starter" with Ingram and Dobbins splitting the load. That doesn't speak to a lack of talent, but rather the amount of talent available in the backfield.
"[Roman] doesn't sound like someone who dreads the decision to make one of them the lead back," Linsey wrote. "Both the PFF fantasy projections and consensus rankings have Ingram as a favorite to lead the group, but I expect things will shake out pretty evenly between [Ingram] and Dobbins."
Ingram is coming off a 1,000-yard season where he scored a career-high 15 touchdowns, but Dobbins is well-positioned to be a productive back early on.
Edwards and Hill are also expected to share the workload. We're not sure how much, but Linsey sees both factoring in.
"If we're talking about production, Edwards is getting a raw deal coming in third or lower on any depth chart," Linsey wrote. "Over the past two years, his 83.6 rushing grade ranks 13th among running backs, and no player at the position has had a higher percentage of their runs go for first downs or touchdowns than Edwards (31%). Hill, meanwhile, had just 58 rushing attempts in 2019, but it was only a year ago that the Ravens spent a fourth-round pick on the Oklahoma State product."
Ingram Says Jackson is Going to 'Secure the Bag'
It may be too early to tell what Patrick Mahomes' mega-deal means for Jackson, but Ingram is confident that his quarterback will get paid.
On NFL Network's "Inside Access," Ingram said Jackson is about to "secure the bag."
"That means he's about to get a half billi," Ingram said. "He's about to secure the bag. He's coming up next. So all he's gotta do is follow the same trend … then he gets his half a billi."
Now Jackson is hoping to follow in Mahomes' track record and win a Super Bowl in his third season.
Jackson, Deshaun Watson, and Dak Prescott are the next logical candidates for new deals, but CBS Sports' Joel Corry doesn't see a quarterback surpassing Mahomes' deal anytime soon.
"The days of the next man up becoming the league's highest-paid player are probably over for the foreseeable future," Corry wrote. "Mahomes raised the salary bar for NFL quarterbacks by just over 28.5 percent in average yearly salary. Typically, when a player is made the highest paid in the league, it's only by a few percentage points at the most. For example, Wilson's deal is 4.48 percent more than Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' extension."