Ravens Are Best Built for the Future
Coming off a franchise best 14-2 record, it's clear the Ravens are far from a one-year wonder.
Just ask ESPN’s panel of experts, who projected which NFL franchises are best built for the next three seasons.
They took into account each team's quarterback, remaining roster, front office and coaching staff based on a grading scale from 50-100
The Ravens ranked No. 1 with an 89.4 overall grade. The front office ranked first (91.3), draft third (83.3), coaching fifth (90.5), quarterback third (94), and overall roster third (87.8)
"Lamar Jackson didn't need long to put himself in the conversation for the most dynamic player ever, as he became the league's second unanimous MVP pick in just his first season as a starter," ESPN's Field Yates wrote. "But GM Eric Decosta has also built up a defense ready to hold up its end of the bargain going forward, led by a particularly fearsome secondary."
According to ESPN, one of the biggest advantages the Ravens have over the Kansas City Chiefs, who ranked No. 2 on the list, is their front office.
DeCosta has ushered in a new era with Jackson and has molded the Ravens into Super Bowl contenders.
In June, ESPN ranked the Ravens’ roster as the best based on Pro Football grades from the 2019 season. Seven of the 13 players the Ravens sent to the 2019 Pro Bowl are still playing on their rookie contracts.
It's a good problem to have, but the price tag also worries pundits.
"This team is loaded," ESPN's Louis Riddick wrote. "The thing that can derail what is clearly an organization with a lot of positive momentum is the health of its young superstar QB. He must be protected at all costs, which means not 'changing' who he is as a player, but being more selective and judicious as to when he purposely puts himself in harm's way."
Patrick Mahomes' mega-deal is a first-hand look at how contracts could affect a team's future salary cap. The Ravens will have to pay a number of young stars soon, but DeCosta has remained confident that they are in good salary cap shape.
"However the Ravens proceed, they should have two important assets as the 2021 league year approaches: a mostly proven roster and financial flexibility," The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer wrote. "If the salary cap remains around $200 million, the team could spend $40 million next offseason — a market-setting deal for Stanley? An early extension for Andrews? New pieces at outside linebacker? — and still have some wiggle room."
Pundits believe the next step is adding more weapons on both sides of the ball.
"Get a big-bodied receiving target for Jackson early in the draft – think [Mark] Andrews with more speed, someone with catch radius to complement Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown's speed," ESPN's Jeremy Fowler wrote. "Matthew Judon could walk after this year, so investing in a pass-rusher via free agency or the draft is a prudent move."
Brown Projected as One of the AFC's Most Improved Players
There's been plenty of buzz around Brown this offseason and the expectations continue to grow for the second-year receiver.
NFL.com’s Cynthia Frelund projects Brown to be one of the AFC's most improved players this season.
"We've already seen glimpses of what Hollywood can do when Jackson wants to find him deep," Frelund wrote. "He caught three touchdowns on six deep receptions and 15 such targets as a rookie in 2019. No other Ravens wide receiver had more than three total deep receptions on the season, per NGS. Baltimore's deep passing game forecasts to improve in 2020, which should mean greater opportunities for Brown."
Every indication points to a breakout season. Brown looks bigger and faster coming off a Lisfranc foot injury. It hindered Brown during his rookie season, but he still caught 46 passes for 584 yards and seven touchdowns.
Brown's performance in the AFC divisional round loss to the Tennessee Titans (seven catches for 126 yards) provided a glimpse of his potential in Baltimore.
Brown has spent time working out with Jackson, and the two already have a connection. Now fully healthy, Brown's speed could open up the downfield threat in the Ravens' passing attack.
"Brown is the most tantalizing receiving prospect in team history," The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker wrote. "Now, he must show he can hold up to the NFL grind.
"Beyond better health, Brown has another major factor going for him as he tries to build on that rookie performance. He and Jackson have formed one of the closest friendships on the team, and that means the MVP 'quarterback will be fully invested in unlocking his potential."
Could Jackson Join the 'Madden' 99 Club This Season?
Only five players, Aaron Donald, Stephon Gilmore, Christian McCaffrey, Michael Thomas, and Mahomes are in the "Madden 21" 99-overall rating club, but there's an argument for more.
NFL Network's "Good Morning Football" crew debated which players could jump into the 99 club this season and Jane Slater's choice was Jackson.
"If he continues to run over guys, and he has the amount of touchdown passes he had last year, I can 100 percent see Jackson moving up the ratings and possibly getting into that 99 club," Slater said.
There was excitement surrounding Jackson heading into his second season, but few predicted that he'd take the league by storm in MVP fashion. Now, Jackson is a 94 overall, and the No. 3 quarterback in Madden behind Mahomes and Russell Wilson.
"Jackson, this year's Madden cover athlete, took a massive jump from the start of last season, when he was a 76 overall and the No. 25 quarterback, to his current spot as the No. 3 signal-caller in the game," ESPN’s Michael Rothstein wrote. "After an MVP season in 2019, the question will be whether Madden developers made him too good -- a la Michael Vick in Madden '04 -- causing him to theoretically break the game."
Even if his rating doesn't change, Jackson is going to be a cheat code. He has 92 throw power, 95 throw on the run, 95 agility, 96 speed, 96 acceleration, and 95 awareness.
Just hope you're not the one who has to play against him.
"Jackson is easily the biggest reason to play this game and your stats with him are going to be off the charts, whether you're all that good or not," Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler wrote. "I repeat, he's a cheat code."
- Pro Football Focus ranked the Ravens' defensive line group No. 17 in the NFL.