All Aboard the Matthew Judon Hype Train
The Matthew Judon fan club appears to be growing at an exponential rate.
Last week, Judon was highlighted by Good Morning Football's Peter Schrager as someone who will stand out this season. Judon was also touted by Sports Illustrated's Andy Benoit as one of three defenders for the Ravens – along with defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Willie Henry – who he expects to take the next step this season.
Now, ESPN named a player for each NFL team that is most likely to breakout in 2018, and Judon was Baltimore's selection.
"He looks to be the latest homegrown Ravens pass-rusher to take the next step, following the likes of Paul Kruger, Adalius Thomas and Pernell McPhee," ESPN wrote.
Judon doubled his sack total from his rookie to sophomore year, and has 12 sacks in his first two NFL seasons. Last year, his eight sacks were second on the team behind outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. Judon also improved as the year went on, registering all of his sacks during Baltimore's final 11 games.
It's a trend that Judon believes will continue. In May, Judon turned some heads when he said his goal for the season was to lead the league in sacks.
That's a tough target to aim for, but Judon should believe that he has as good a chance as any to hit it.
Pro Football Focus (PFF) rated him as the No. 4 sack artist of 2017, which was calculated by the percentage of quarterback pressures that resulted in a sack. His 27.3 percent success rate is a good indicator that if the Ravens increase Judon's playing time, he'll respond with a lot of sacks.
Judon was asked about his aims for the season recently, and his answer changed a little bit.
"My goal this season is [to be the] most help I can be for the Baltimore Ravens. Every time I go out there, [I'm] looking to cause havoc and make plays," Judon said. "I can sit here and say I want the most sacks, or I want this and that. Maybe I'm getting blocked differently after four games, or maybe something else will happen after a couple games. I just want to go out there and be dominant every time I take the field."
Judon certainly looked the part during a limited appearance against the Los Angeles Rams, registering a sack in the process. Baltimore Beatdown's Logan Levy reviewed the sack, and referred to Judon as "the star on this play."
"He performed a quick-rip move to record the sack," Levy wrote. "The offensive lineman had no chance on this play as his kick-slide was not wide enough as he was in a terrible position to block Judon, and his only option was to attempt to hold him."
As for how Judon's improvement is being viewed, opinions vary based off how the Ravens are being perceived.
Schrager has a more positive view on Judon's development, and the Ravens' defense in general.
"Everyone I know in the Ravens organization is like 'Watch Judon, watch Judon,'" Schrager said. "They just have this thing where there's levels and levels on the depth chart. Two years ago, they drafted four defensive players to start the draft. They never want to have an issue where their defense is in question again."
Benoit thinks Judon's progress is crucial to Baltimore having a good season. Though the Ravens have enjoyed encouraging starts to the season from other outside linebackers like Tim Williams and Kamalei Correa, Benoit sees Judon as a surer bet to make an impact this season.
"If Judon doesn't keep progressing, the Ravens could be devoid of a much-needed pass rushing presence opposite Suggs," Benoit wrote.
PFF Believes Joe Flacco is in Strong Position to Remain Starting Quarterback
According to PFF's Gordon McGuinness, Joe Flacco has a great chance to remain the Ravens' starting quarterback through the 2018 season.
Though Flacco finished the 2017 season as the No. 20 quarterback using PFF's passer grades, his play at the end of the year suggests he'll do better this season and that his hot training camp/preseason is for real.
He endured a brutal beginning to 2017 while recovering from a back injury, and was ranked as the No. 27 quarterback over the first seven weeks of the regular season with a PFF passer rating of 61.1. The second half, when he was healthy, was a very different story.
"When you change it up and look at just his final nine games of the year, Flacco ranked 11th with a PFF passing grade of 72.7," McGuinness wrote. "His PFF passing grade on throws from a clean pocket also ranked 11th over that span, something which bodes well for 2018 considering that performance from a clean pocket is a more stable metric than under pressure."
Flacco continued this trend by having a strong preseason. He looked good on one drive against the Los Angeles Rams, completing five passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. Though his overall stats were good, McGuinness was more impressed with the types of passes Flacco was attempting.
"The key takeaway though was that half of those targeted passes travelled 10-plus yards downfield, with Flacco going 2-for-3 for 42 yards," he wrote.
Ebony Bird's Chris Schisler also believes Flacco's strong preseason is no fluke. Schisler looked at a variety of reasons to show that Flacco is in an excellent situation to succeed in 2018, ranging from retooling his receiving corps by drafting first-round rookie tight end Hayden Hurst and adding veterans like Michael Crabtree and John Brown in free agency, to having an improved defense.
"Flacco has everything he needs to be successful," Schisler wrote.
McGuinness also assessed rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson's play in the preseason. The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner has displayed "the skillset that made him the 19th-ranked player on our final 2018 NFL Draft big board," but hasn't shown enough consistency to be the Ravens' starter this season.
It isn't all Jackson's fault. He's been pressured on 22 of his 38 dropbacks, which hasn't allowed Jackson to get into a rhythm during the preseason. This has perhaps led to him struggling passing when he does get quality protection.
"His PFF grade from a clean pocket of 56.7 ranks last among the five quarterbacks drafted in the first round," McGuinness wrote.
Biggest Question Facing Each Position Group
There are still plenty of questions the Ravens need to answer before their regular season opener against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 9. PennLive's Aaron Kasinitz looked at the biggest question mark facing each positional group.
Tight End: Can Mark Andrews develop into a steady contributor?
Kasinitz sees rookie first-round pick Hayden Hurst as a guarantee for a big role on the offense this season, and also highlights Nick Boyle as a key piece because of his blocking prowess. How the Ravens use rookie Mark Andrews could affect how productive this group will be for the offense.
"Andrews, a third-round rookie, has played well this summer when he's been on the field, but he's missed a chunk of time with an injury and needs seasoning," Kasinitz wrote.
When Andrews was drafted, many thought he would have the opportunity to contribute right away. He had a sensational final collegiate season for Oklahoma, hauling in 62 catches for 958 yards, and eight touchdowns. Andrews also received the John Mackey award, which is given to the most outstanding tight end in college football for that season.
As Benoit pointed out, "Baltimore played with two tight ends more than any team last season." With Benjamin Watson, the group's top playmaker, departing via free agency for the New Orleans Saints, Andrews seemed like a natural successor for that role. Now, his inability to stay healthy has made that trickier.
"If the Ravens trust Andrews to make a positive impact in the regular season, they'll be in good shape," Kasinitz wrote. "If not, they'll have to figure out whether 2015 second-rounder Maxx Williams or the embattled Darren Waller can get their careers headed in the right direction."
Secondary: What's the best combination of talent in nickel, dime packages?
Few concerns surround the secondary because it's arguably the deepest group on the Ravens' roster. That depth, as well as its versatility, provides a lot of different personnel outcomes the secondary can explore.
"The question is how Baltimore can make the best use out of all of these skilled players," Kasinitz wrote.
Indeed, some of the roles for players in this group need to be defined over the next few weeks.
One major part of the equation is if Brandon Carr or Marlon Humphrey will start alongside Jimmy Smith. Tavon Young seems to have established himself as the first choice to match up with slot receivers, but how will the team use Maurice Canady and rookie fourth-round selection Anthony Averett?
Check out all the questions Kasinitz highlighted here.
Orlando Brown Jr. Returns to the Site of his Disastrous Combine Performance a Changed Man
Heading into the NFL Scouting Combine, Orlando Brown Jr. was being projected as a first-round pick. Brown then had a subpar showing and his stock tumbled, which resulted in him getting drafted by the Ravens in the third round.
Brown returns to the site of the Combine tonight when the Ravens take on the Indianapolis Colts, and as ESPN wrote, he's put that disastrous showing behind him by having a preseason that could result in him becoming the team's starting right tackle.
"As Brown returns to Lucas Oil Stadium to face the Colts in his first Monday Night Football appearance, he finds his stock soaring again, the result of hard work, a good diet and impressive listening skills," ESPN wrote.
Brown told "The Lounge" podcast that before he even ran the 40-yard dash in 5.85 seconds and put up just 14 bench press reps in Indy, he told team executives that he did not expect to perform well. Thus, even though the football world reacted with shock, Brown did not.
Brown then went to work. When he first arrived in Baltimore, he was 338 pounds with 23 percent body fat. Now he's 350 pounds with 19 percent body fat.
"If anyone would ask me after the combine if I was going to have a good NFL career, I would have told you, 'Yes,'" Brown said. "This is what I do; I play football. I'm not the strongest guy. I'm not the fastest guy. But no one on the field plays with more will than me, more effort and more hustle."
Baltimore No. 10 in ESPN's FPI Rankings
The Ravens are a top-10 team in the NFL, according to ESPN's Football Power Index rankings.
A team's FPI is based off a variety of factors, including "a predicted offensive, defensive and special teams efficiency, as measured by expected points added per play, and that rating is the basis for FPI's game-level and season-level projections."
It's a big improvement from the rankings' original iteration this offseason, when the Ravens came in at No. 15 and were projected to get 8.4 wins this season. FPI also likes Baltimore's odds a lot more than the rankings put together by ESPN's Power Panel, which had the Ravens at No. 21.
- The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec gave a quick rundown on the encouraging feeling around Ravens training camp, and how a skirmish with the Indianapolis Colts during joint practices couldn't squelch it.
- What a great sight this is. PressBox selected a shot of Andrews and Pierce with a young fan during training camp as its Photo of the Month.