Can Jaylon Ferguson Have a Breakout Second Season?
Matthew Judon is expected to be the Ravens' top pass rusher this season, but what does the future of the position hold?
"Four of their top five edge rushers — Judon, Pernell McPhee, Tyus Bowser and Jihad Ward — are eligible for free agency next offseason," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "... Depending on how things play out in 2020, there stands to be a gaping hole on the roster at outside linebacker after the season."
The only experienced outside linebacker under contract beyond the 2020 season is Jaylon Ferguson, and he was one of the offseason's biggest winners.
Baltimore didn't add a new veteran or make a draft pick at the position, tagging Judon and re-signing McPhee. Baltimore added pass rush production along the front seven with Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe, but Ferguson should see an expanded role.
Ebony Bird’s Richard Bradshaw can see a breakout season for the second-year pass rusher.
"For starters, the Ravens brass clearly has a lot of faith in Ferguson," Bradshaw wrote. "Starting nine games in 2019 after being a top-100 draft choice shows the team entrusts their defense to him. It also means he could give McPhee a run for his money to be the opening-day starter across from Judon. If he does, there will be plenty of opportunities to impress."
Ferguson started nine games during his rookie year and became more integrated into the defense as the season progressed. He finished with 31 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and nine quarterback hits.
What would constitute a successful season?
Bradshaw projected Ferguson to finish with 25 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles. But pundits acknowledged there's room to improve.
"Ferguson ranked near the bottom among rookie edge defenders in both overall and pass-rush grade, as he picked up 30 pressures on 287 rushes," Pro Football Focus’ Steve Palazzolo wrote. "That number isn't bad, but 11 of them were late in the down, and his pass-rush win rate of 10.0% ranked just 91st out of 110 qualifiers.
"The Ravens need more players who can win one-on-one matchups up front, and the 2019 third-rounder will be a crucial part of the defensive line rotation."
"More consistent play as well as a diversification of pass-rush moves … will be needed from Ferguson to have a breakout season," Baltimore Beatdown’s Adrian Charchalis added. "Nonetheless, sharing snaps with the likes of Wolfe and Justin Madubuike will allow for Ferguson to take advantage of tired offensive linemen. Needless to say, inevitably getting a few pointers from Campbell and Wolfe will only help Ferguson's development."
To compare to recent Ravens pass rushers, Judon had eight sacks in his second season, Bowser had 0.5, and Za'Darius Smith had one.
The Ravens' pass rushers have typically been late bloomers in their rookie contracts, in part because of limited opportunities with Terrell Suggs and others gobbling snaps, but Ferguson has the potential to break that mold.
"There were some talks of maybe picking up some pass rushers, et cetera, this season or bringing back some guys," Ferguson told Glenn Clark Radio. "But the road's totally clear, and here it is, Year Two. We [didn't take a] big pass rusher in the draft. I think we've got a pretty good squad right now. I'm happy. It's real confidence for me."
Orlando Brown Jr. Talks Development and Impact of Marshal Yanda
At 6-foot-8, 345 pounds, Orlando Brown Jr. is a towering presence. Playing in the AFC North, he's matched up against talented pass rushers like T.J. Watt, Myles Garrett and Bud Dupree. He also sees plenty of Judon during the practice week.
So what goes into the development of a Pro Bowl right tackle? Brown provided insight on the "Trench Warfare" Podcast with Brandon Thorn.
"What I've learned over time is that I'm a long-armed guy," Brown said. "I'm a long leg guy. I've got a really good punch. I'm not the most athletic, so I don't necessarily like to play in a super athletic position. … My game is going to be making sure that I figure out a way to make this man across from me rush a full body."
Brown said his technique differs from Ronnie Stanley, who plays opposite of him protecting Lamar Jackson's blindside. Brown also said understanding the techniques and tendencies of pass rushers has been crucial to his development.
"I can tell you that, 'Hey, when I get in my third kick against certain guys, I see their shoulders turn at me, I'm very confident that guy is going to be bull rushing me,'" Brown said. "... I've been fortunate to be around a lot of great offensive minds and it's just allowed me to understand the big picture of things and understand that the position is more of a feel and reaction than it is a computer chip."
Brown told Thorn that he's drawn inspiration from watching film of Trent Brown, Andrew Whitworth, and King Dunlap. But one of the biggest impacts of his young career came from playing alongside Marshal Yanda.
"What he was able to do for me as a person, more so than a player I think is what helped shape me into what I'm becoming," Brown said. "Like all of the teachers that I've had in my career, understanding that it's a lifestyle. That was the biggest thing that I took from Marshal.
"If you want to be a great offensive lineman, it starts with your approach at home, it starts with your approach in everyday life … doing everything that you can do to a Hall of Fame level. I have so much respect for him and everything he taught me. I could go on for days of everything I learned from him. It was just so beneficial for me."
No Love for Mark Andrews' 'Madden 21' Ranking
We've talked at length about "Madden 21" rankings, but there's one Raven who continues to fly under the radar.
Mark Andrews has an 86-overall rating, No. 8 among tight ends, and that isn't sitting right with fans or pundits.
"Now an 86 isn't horrible by any means, but Andrews' body of work in 2019 does make it a little confusing," NBC Sports’ Ryan Homler wrote. "The tight end finished seventh in receptions (64), fifth in receiving yards (852) and first in touchdowns (10). Yet, he still slots in below Evan Engram, who is very talented but only played in eight games in 2019."
Andrews' stats during a Pro Bowl season are even more impressive when you consider how much the Ravens ran the ball.
What separates Andrews from the pack is his ability to find holes in coverage and win one-on-one matchups. Just pull up his leaping catch on third down against the New England Patriots in Week 9 or his touchdown against the Cleveland Browns in Week 17.
"It's kind of funny considering in reality he's probably the third best tight end],” [Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler wrote. "... Andrews has an 80 catch in traffic rating. Isn't that what makes him such a game changer? Shouldn't that number be higher?"
This isn't the first time Andrews hasn't gotten the praise he deserved. NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks didn't include Andrews among his top five tight ends. George Kittle, Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, Jared Cook, and Darren Waller made it ahead of him.
Even fantasy football evaluators, who have a good read on a player's production, are high on Andrews in 2020.
"Andrews finished just second in PFF's yards per route run (YPRR), which indicates players' receiving efficiency, and it's one of the stickiest metrics year-to-year," Fantasy Pro’s Jared Lese wrote. "With an anticipated snap rate increase (he only reached 50% of offensive snaps in six games last year per Pro Football Reference) following the departure of Hayden Hurst, Andrews may ascend into the Kelce/Kittle echelon."
Mark Ingram and Andre Smith Give Back During Pandemic
It's been a weird offseason with the COVID-19 pandemic, but Mark Ingram II and Andre Smith are doing their best to give back to the community.
The two teamed up with Together Assisting People (TAP) to help distribute 80,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables to families in Baltimore.
The help came with a hometown connection. Chris Rogers, the founder of the non-profit, was teammates with Ingram and Smith at the University of Alabama.
"Smith and] Ingram gave me a call saying they really wanted to give back to the city of Baltimore, and I just plugged them in with the partners, and we're here today to serve the community," [Rogers said, via WBAL. "We had cars lined up here at 9 a.m. We're expecting to serve 2,000 cars today. We've got plenty of fruits and vegetables -- over 4,000 boxes, over 80,000 pounds -- so we know the need and we're here to meet the need."