Stock Watch From Training Camp Thus Far
With seven training camp practices in the books for the Ravens, a number of players have raised their stock, while others have gone in the opposite direction.
The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer and Daniel Oyefusi identified which players are trending upward and downward.
Here's a look at three of each:
Rising: WR James Proche II
"After signing [Sammy] Watkins and adding two more wideouts in the draft, Proche's spot on the 53-man roster seemed tenuous. After all, the 2020 sixth-round pick was targeted just three times as a rookie and lost his punt returner job to Devin Duvernay late in the season.
"But Proche has looked like every bit the slot receiver he was projected to be coming out of Southern Methodist. He's consistently separating from defensive backs with his slick route running and has become a favorite target of Ravens quarterbacks with his consistent hands. Teammates and coaches have lauded his work ethic. Even if Proche can't regain his return man responsibilities, he's making a compelling case to be incorporated in the offense in Year 2."
Rising: OLB Daelin Hayes
"Hayes has the look of the Ravens' best fifth-round pick since outside linebacker Matthew Judon, in 2016. … Hayes never had more than 3½ sacks in a season in college, where he battled shoulder injuries, and Ravens coaches and officials in recent months hailed his versatility as a run stopper and pass defender more than they did his pass-rush ability. But in one-on-one drills and 11-on-11 action, Hayes has played with savvy, burst and bend, routinely beating the offense's reserve tackles. He hasn't looked out of place setting the edge, either, as a strong-side outside linebacker."
Rising: OLB Patrick Queen
"Maybe the best compliment you can pay Queen and the Ravens' inside linebackers is that star tight end Mark Andrews has had a relatively quiet camp so far. Andrews still wins his share of battles over the middle, but after an occasionally disastrous season in pass coverage, Queen looks more confident and capable. He's shown improved awareness in zone coverage and flashed his speed in man-to-man. … [On Wednesday], he flew through gaps on blitzes and shrugged off running backs in pass protection, racking up a handful of would-be quarterback hits. He should improve on his three-sack rookie season."
Falling: QB Tyler Huntley
"As Ravens coaches watch the competition to back up [Lamar] Jackson unfold, they'll have to weigh the merits of [Trace] McSorley's experience against Huntley's athleticism and upside. … Huntley had his worst practice Wednesday, throwing three interceptions in team drills and two on consecutive plays. There's still much time for Huntley, the slight favorite entering camp, to regain ground; the team's joint practices with the Carolina Panthers and three preseason games should go a long way to determining a winner. To this point, though, he's been outplayed by McSorley."
Falling: WR Miles Boykin
"Given the additions at his position and his inconsistent production, Boykin was one receiver who needed to have a strong camp. The 2019 third-round pick was fairly anonymous through the Ravens' first few practices before dropping two passes Monday and leaving early with a hamstring injury. He hasn't practiced since, and as many of his peers continue to impress, his roster standing seemingly becomes more up in the air by the day."
Falling: OT Alejandro Villanueva
"Like much of the offensive line, still in flux because of injuries, Villanueva has at times been overwhelmed by the Ravens' defensive line. [Odafe] Oweh and Hayes, especially, have gotten the best of Villanueva with their speed in one-on-one and team drills. Given his inexperience at [right tackle], Villanueva should get the benefit of the doubt, but the transition hasn't been as seamless as it looked during offseason workouts."
Why the Ravens' Pass Rush Will Be Better in 2021
The Ravens bolstered their pass rush by signing veteran Justin Houston this week, but cause for optimism about the unit goes beyond the addition of the four-time All-Pro Bowler.
Russell Street Report's Dev Panchwagh cited three reasons the Ravens' pass rush — which was 24th overall last season in Pro Football Focus' rankings based on pass-rushing grades and pressure rate factors — will be better in 2021:
More snaps for Tyus Bowser.
"'In light of paying [Matthew] Judon and [Yannick] Ngakoue north of $13 million annually on inflated deals, [General Manager Eric] DeCosta wisely pivoted to SAM linebacker Tyus Bowser, and decided to pay him about half that amount instead. I wrote in my free agency analysis back in March that Bowser's deal, by any measure, is a steal. … In 2021, Bowser will earn more snaps overall. I expect that he'll be deployed more as a blitzer and have the chance to rush with his hand in the dirt.
"Unleashing Bowser more as a pass rusher is just one way [Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale] can get more traction from his four and five-man front rush when he can't necessarily rely on numbers to get home. Bowser earning more snaps also adds to the overall disguise options for Wink, as he can run zone blitzes and exchanges to keep offenses guessing on exactly which defender is blitzing vs. dropping. Bowser also offers more pure athleticism and explosion than Judon and Ngakoue, which gives Wink a wider plate of creative rush schemes."
Calais Campbell is healthy and Justin Madubuike is a rising star.
"When [Campbell] was right, his impact was felt loudly and violently by opponents in 2020. … There were flashes of his dominance. However, injuries, and perhaps more notably, COVID-19, derailed his impact. Campbell is asthmatic. He's spoken openly about how COVID makes it even tougher for him. Recovering from testing positive for COVID must have been an even more difficult recovery than one could imagine. To this point in training camp, Campbell looks healthy and the lingering COVID effects don't seem to be a problem. He's out there as a one-man wrecking crew once again.
"[Madubuike] also looks ready to take off. With more reps and improved technique, Madubuike is adding that interior rush jolt that the team lacked in 2018 and 2019. Quite frankly, they haven't had a defensive tackle with his get off and ability to crash lanes quickly since maybe Timmy Jernigan, and honestly, Madubuike has a more complete game."
Oweh and Houston will make an impact.
"To me, it's clear that [Oweh] will make an instant impact on defense. It's not a matter of if anymore. Training camp can sometimes be fool's gold for determining player progress. But in the case of Oweh, it's hard to ignore just how good he's looked. From the live practice the Ravens hosted at M&T Bank Stadium, to the practices held at Owings Mills, Oweh has made his mark. He's made the Ravens offensive tackles look silly in his 1:1 battles.
"[The Ravens] needed a proven, established pass rusher who could win in the most important, critical downs. That's what Houston can do. … Houston is the pass rush craftsman that this defense has lacked since they had [Terrell] Suggs. By comparison, Judon was not that refined and relied more on schemed pressures to get loose. Houston can win without scheme, but now he has that scheme advantage as well in Wink's defense."
Pundit Says Lamar Jackson Can Be Second-Best QB in NFL
Because Jackson's statistics last season were not as impressive as the numbers he put up during his record-setting, unanimous league MVP award-winning 2019 campaign, he dropped a few notches in various pundits' quarterback rankings heading into the 2021 season.
The Ringer's Kevin Clark is not among those pundits. He placed Jackson at No. 5 and said a case could be made for him being No. 2, behind only Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes.
"I think Lamar Jackson's skill set and what he's shown, has the ability to destabilize defenses more than any other player in the NFL this side of Mahomes," Clark said on The Ringer NFL Show podcast. "And when Lamar Jackson is comfortable and doing Lamar Jackson things, he can be the second-best quarterback in football."
Clark attributed Jackson's "regression" in 2020 to it being such an unusual season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He noted that it affected the Ravens more than most teams in the league.
"There were so many guys in 2019 who I talked to — linebackers, cornerbacks — who said, 'We don't know what to do with this. We've forgotten how to play football because Lamar Jackson is Lamar Jackson,'" Clark said. "I think that takes a special player. And until there's an injury or until he proves he cannot do this, I'm going to take that over last year, and average those two out and weigh 2019 more heavily and rank him higher."
Ravens' Under-25 Talent is Among NFL's Best
Thanks in large part to the 24-year-old Jackson, the Ravens were No. 4 in Football Outsider's Justin Schatz's rankings of all 32 teams by their under-25 talent.
"Let's start with Lamar Jackson, because not every team has someone who has won the NFL MVP who is still under 25 years of age. Jackson won't turn 25 until Jan. 7," Schatz wrote. "Yes, his play last season didn't match his MVP play from the year before, but he still finished the year seventh in ESPN QBR and he's still one of the league's most valuable young assets."
Wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown and Queen also were identified as blue-chip players.
"Jackson's top two wide receivers this year are likely to be under-25 players as well: Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown is five months younger than Jackson, while first-round rookie Rashod Bateman doesn't turn 22 until late November," Schatz wrote. "Top running back J.K. Dobbins is also only 22 this season; he turns 23 in December.
"On the defensive side of the ball, Baltimore's young talent starts at the inside linebacker position with both Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison. Queen was the far more impactful player in his rookie season, struggling at times in coverage but improving over the course of the year."
Schatz wrote that Oweh and Madubuike also could make a significant impact.
With all those young players on the roster — not to mention Pro Bowlers Marlon Humphrey and Andrews, both of whom are 25 — it's no wonder the Ravens are expected to be contenders for years to come.