Is It Risky to Place Too High Expectations on Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison?
Among the reasons the Ravens received high grades for their draft this year is their selection of inside linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison in the first and third rounds, respectively.
Expectations are high for the two rookies, but since neither has yet to play a down in the NFL, there's no guarantee they will make an immediate impact. Bleacher Report's Gary Davenport said the Ravens rolling with two rookie linebackers is the team's riskiest move this offseason.
"The Baltimore Ravens have done pretty well where risks are concerned in recent years," Davenport wrote. "The move up to select Lamar Jackson at the back end of Round 1 in 2018 appears to have worked out OK. Still, given where the Ravens have their sights set in 2020, any risk is amplified. And the team is taking one by entrusting the middle of the defense to a youth movement."
Davenport was quick to point out that he's not questioning the talent of Queen and Harrison. The risk comes in the margin for error being minimal "when the expectations are through the roof," he wrote.
"In an AFC North that's chock-full of high-end talent at running back, there's going to be considerable pressure on those young linebackers to make an immediate impact for a team that was fifth in the league in run defense in 2019," Davenport wrote.
Davenport is correct about the spotlight being on Queen and Harrison. Case in point: Earlier this week, NFL.com's Charley Casserly named them as two of the rookies who will make an impact in the AFC North.
However, it's not as if the Ravens don't have quality depth at inside linebacker, which should alleviate some of the pressure on Queen and Harrison as they get acclimated to the NFL.
"If the two rookies aren't able to pick up the NFL game quick enough to demand immediate playing time, they've got L.J. Fort, Chris Board and Otaro Alaka returning at linebacker who have played in the system for a year already," NBC Sports' Andrew Gillis wrote.
All things considered, if drafting two players as talented as Queen and Harrison and having high expectations for them is the riskiest thing the Ravens have done this offseason, it's been a darn good offseason.
John Harbaugh Involved in Three Top 10 Coaching Matchups This Season
John Harbaugh is the reigning NFL Coach of the Year, so it comes as no surprise that he was named in three of CBS Sports' John Breech's top 10 coaching matchups of the 2020 season.
Here are some excerpts:
7. Mike Vrabel vs. John Harbaugh (Week 11: Titans at Ravens): "In one of the biggest playoff upsets of the past decade, the Titans went into Baltimore as a 10-point underdog and beat down the Ravens 28-12. You have to think Harbaugh would love to get revenge in this game. On the other hand, there's a good chance Vrabel will want to prove that Tennessee's postseason win wasn't a fluke and that his team can stop Lamar Jackson again."
4. Harbaugh vs. Bill Belichick (Week 10: Ravens at Patriots): "This has arguably been one of the most entertaining coaching rivalries over the past decade, and one reason it's been so entertaining is because it hasn't been one-sided. Since September 2012, Harbaugh and Belichick have faced each other six times with each coach winning three games."
3. Andy Reid vs. Harbaugh (Week 3: Chiefs at Ravens): "These two teams have met a total of three times since Reid was hired by the Chiefs in 2013, and Harbaugh has come out on the losing end in each of those games. … The Ravens had the best record in the NFL last year and Harbaugh is absolutely one of the best coaches in the league, but Baltimore is going to have a tough time getting back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2012 if Harbaugh can't figure out a way to beat the Chiefs. This matchup is especially juicy because Harbaugh actually coached for nine years under Reid."
A couple other matchups that could've made the list are Harbaugh vs. Doug Pederson (Week 6: Ravens at Eagles) and Mike McCarthy vs. Harbaugh (Week 13: Cowboys at Ravens). Both contests are matchups of Super Bowl-winning coaches.
By the way, if you're wondering why Harbaugh vs. Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin didn't make the list, it's because divisional rivalries were not eligible.
Ravens, Chiefs Still AFC Favorites, But Patriots Are Gaining on Them
The Patriots signing former NFL MVP Cam Newton prompted The Ringer's Danny Heifetz to reassess what the AFC landscape looks like heading into the season.
In Heifetz's opinion, the Ravens and defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs are still the top teams in the conference, but the Patriots – who had been projected by most pundits as the second-best team in the AFC East behind the Buffalo Bills before they signed Newton – are now right behind them.
In Heifetz's rankings, he placed the Patriots, Steelers and Bills (in that order) in the second of six tiers. He gave the Ravens the slight edge over the Chiefs for the top spot (he actually ranked Baltimore and Kansas City 1a. and 1b., respectively).
"Picking between [the Ravens and Chiefs] requires splitting hairs, and the Ravens win the tiebreaker because (cliché alert) they are hungrier," Heifetz wrote. " … But the Ravens get the nod after also returning all of their coordinators, all 17 assistant coaches, and every starter except future Hall of Fame guard Marshal Yanda, who retired after the season.
"They improved their defense significantly by adding Calais Campbell, and they have an entire offseason to tinker with the offense that set the record for rushing yards and rushing yards per attempt in the Super Bowl era. Also, the Ravens had one of the best four defenses in football, and that combination is why they went 14-2 and earned the 1-seed last year. … Only one AFC team is getting a bye in 2020, and the Ravens look like the most likely candidate."
Don't Overlook What Derek Wolfe Brings to the Defense
The Ravens made a splash this offseason by acquiring Campbell to boost the defensive line, but their signing of free-agent defensive end Derek Wolfe should not be overlooked, Ebony Bird's Chris Schisler wrote.
One of the Ravens' main goals this offseason was improving the run defense, and Schisler said "bringing in Derek Wolfe was sneakily the best move to shore it all up."
"Wolfe is a stout run defender who is an underrated pass rusher. With guys like Calais Campbell and Matt Judon next to him, Wolfe could perhaps put up career numbers in 2020," Schisler wrote.
Wolfe, 30, is coming off a season in which he recorded a career-high seven sacks in 12 games with the Denver Broncos. He made it clear after signing a one-year contract with the Ravens that he has "a lot of football left" and would like to be in Baltimore for the long haul.
"Turn on the film from last year. That's all you really have to do," Wolfe said. "I'm still running at 16 miles per hour during the game. I'm still playing really strong at the point, able to take guys that are five or six years younger than me, put them on their back, put them into the quarterback's lap."