Devin Duvernay Predicted to Start at Wide Receiver
Wide receiver is one of the most interesting position battles to watch, and Devin Duvernay could make an immediate impact.
ESPN asked all 32 of its NFL Nation reporters for a bold prediction heading into training camp, and Hensley believes Duvernay could start at receiver.
"The rookie third-round pick was one of general manager Eric DeCosta's favorite draft prospects because of his competitive streak," Hensley wrote. "DeCosta compared him to Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and Steve Smith Sr. Duvernay has a prime opportunity because the spot next to No. 1 wide receiver Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown is up for grabs."
Hensley acknowledged that Duvernay will compete against Willie Snead IV and Miles Boykin for the second spot. The Ravens have repeatedly talked about Boykin's opportunity to have a big Year 2 jump and Snead is a valued and versatile veteran in the receiver corps.
It's not a guarantee, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Duvernay emerge with a starting role. He was one of college football's best slot receivers last season, and had the second most receptions on screens, according to PFF.
DeCosta made an emphasis on wanting to add speed around Jackson. Duvernay does just that, with a strong pair of hands.
"Duvernay had a massive eruption in his senior season at Texas that was bolstered by a high number of screens, but he tracks it beautifully down the field and gives Jackson another speed option outside of Brown," CBS Sports' Chris Trapasso wrote.
Ravens' Four-Headed Monster on the Right Side of History
The Ravens return the NFL's leading rushing attack from last season with an even stronger wrinkle.
Mark Ingram II, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, and J.K. Dobbins make up a loaded backfield, leaving pundits wondering how it will shape out.
"Despite all the angst about the situation, it's not uncommon for teams to keep four backs," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote.
It's a good problem to have for a team that averaged over 200 rushing yards per game last season, and history says keeping four running backs on the 53-man roster leads to success.
"According to ESPN Stats & Information, just two teams in the past 10 years have had four running backs with at least 300 yards rushing in a season: the New Orleans Saints in 2011 (Chris Ivory, Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Ingram) and the New England Patriots in 2014 (Jonas Gray, LeGarrette Blount, Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley)," ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote. "The Saints and Patriots both won 12 or more games and captured the division title in those seasons."
What makes the Ravens' rushing attack even more unique is that the threat isn't limited to the running back position. Lamar Jackson was one of the most dynamic runners in the NFL last season, leading the team in rushing yards (1,206).
The "running back by committee" approach isn't new, and there are many teams who utilize multiple running backs. Theoretically, it could give opposing defenses five different ball carriers to account for each week, a big advantage for the Ravens.
Keeping four running backs is also important for depth. The Ravens' ground game took a hit late in the season and into the playoffs as Ingram dealt with a calf injury. A group of talented running backs behind him can combat that problem.
"A crowded backfield now helps Baltimore immediately and in the future," Hensley wrote. "General manager Eric DeCosta mentioned this offseason he doesn't remember a time over the past 15 years when the Ravens have had a starting running back stay healthy for a full season. The last Baltimore running back to start all 16 games was Rice in the 2012 Super Bowl season. So, the odds say the Ravens will need to rely on their depth at running back at some point this season."
Michael Pierce's Opt-Out Could Affect the Compensatory Formula
Not only are opt-out decisions affecting the Ravens' roster, it could also affect their compensatory picks.
Former Raven Michael Pierce was one of the notable players to voluntarily opt-out of the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Pierce, who signed a three-year, $27 million deal with the Minnesota Vikings this offseason, is considered high-risk due to respiratory issues.
Players placed on the reserve/voluntary opt-out list receive a stipend instead of their full salary.
Pierce's departure in free agency was expected to net the Ravens a fifth-round compensatory pick, according to Over the Cap. Now, there are questions about how player opt-outs could affect the formula.
The Ravens are kings of the comp picks but are only projected for one this year from Pierce. Seth Roberts' departure was canceled by the signing of Derek Wolfe.
Ravens Have PFF's Top-Ranked Secondary
There's no question the Ravens' biggest strength on defense lies in their secondary and Pro Football Focus wholeheartedly agrees.
The Ravens are PFF's top-ranked secondary, not only because of their talent, but because of Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale's scheme.
"The Ravens have a talented and versatile group of defensive backs, but they also have a defensive scheme that uses them to attack unlike any other in football," PFF's Steve Palazzolo wrote. "The Ravens led the league in blitz rate last season (41%), but they also led in the percentage of six- and seven-man rushes. Six different defensive backs on the team rushed the passer at least 15 times, with safety Chuck Clark being sent to attack 106 times over the year, the most among defensive backs in the league."
Three players – Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, and Earl Thomas III – made up almost half of the Ravens' selections on the NFL Network Top 100 Players list.
The Ravens were able to blitz so much because of the talent in the secondary. Humphrey and Peters played at an All-Pro level, matching up against some of the league's top receivers.
Humphrey did it playing primarily as a slot cornerback, and Tavon Young's return will allow him to move back outside.
"Humphrey is one of the best corners in the league in man coverage, with only Stephon Gilmore having a higher PFF grade in single-coverage situations last season," Palazzolo added. "Humphrey, Peters and Jimmy Smith represent one of the best corner trios in the league, while Young will be hoping to make it back from injury and contribute."
As Palazzolo noted, the talent isn't limited to the cornerbacks. Clark and Thomas make up a solid safety duo in the back of the defense.
"Thomas has been the prototype for the single-high free safety for his entire career, but he has been given more opportunities to line up all over the field in Baltimore," Palazzolo wrote. "... The Ravens have an elite defense that has been built back to front, with resources plowed into the secondary as more and more evidence surfaces as to the importance of coverage."
Tributes Pour in for Baltimore Superfan Mo Gaba
No one had a brighter smile or a more infectious laugh than Mo Gaba. He could light up a room, and loved Baltimore sports more than anyone.
The Baltimore superfan, who became a national inspiration, passed away yesterday at the age of 14.
In 2019, Gaba became the first person to announce an NFL draft pick in braille, welcoming fourth-round pick (No. 123) Ben Powers to Baltimore.
Mo was an inspiration to all of us, and a reminder to live life to the fullest no matter the circumstances.