Ravens Still High in Power Rankings Following Injuries
The Ravens lost a centerpiece of their offense when running back J.K. Dobbins suffered a torn ACL and the team's top pick, wide receiver Rashod Bateman, is sidelined at the start of the year.
Despite the preseason injuries, the media's expectations regarding the Ravens haven't migrated.
Recent power rankings have kept the team among the top contenders, with The Ringer’s Danny Kelly placing them as high as No. 4.
"The Ravens will have to weather a spate of preseason injuries on offense (J.K. Dobbins tore his ACL and is out for the year, and rookie Rashod Bateman will start the season on the injured reserve with a groin injury), and the defense will be relying on an aging pass rush group, but Baltimore is still among the league's best-coached and most-balanced teams," Kelly wrote. "They've also got a pretty good cheat code in quarterback Lamar Jackson, whose unique dual-threat skill set makes the team's offense go. The Ravens offense could start slow, but I think Jackson will bounce back to his MVP-level performance from 2019."
Kelly appears to be the highest among the national media on the Ravens, but the lowest the Ravens have been ranked is No. 7, by Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco and the Bleacher Report staff.
"Even with J.K. Dobbins gone for the year, the Ravens are still the Ravens," Florio wrote. "They'll need to finally get much more out of the passing game."
"The big issue is whether the passing game will improve enough this season," Prisco wrote. "Lamar Jackson is an amazing weapon, but the passing game has to be better to win it all."
"For a team that runs the ball as much as the Ravens do, losing the team's top running back just before the season begins is a sizable blow," Bleacher Report wrote. "At least the Ravens will have a little time to get things in order. Three of the team's first four games are against opponents that went .500 or worse in 2020."
A pair of analysts, NFL.com’s Dan Hanzus and ESPN’s Mike Clay, gave the Ravens high marks due to "institutional stability," and Head Coach John Harbaugh.
"The Ravens I keep in the top five because I'm a fan of institutional stability," Hanzus said. "I love that John Harbaugh is back with his whole coaching staff."
"Baltimore has finished .500 or better in 12 of the past 13 seasons, and that includes a combined 25-7 regular-season record during Lamar Jackson's two full seasons as a starter," Clay wrote. "John Harbaugh's squad is sure to give Cleveland a run for the money in the AFC North."
Ravens Are Le'Veon Bell's Best Chance at a Career Resurgence
On Tuesday, the Ravens reportedly signed running back Le’Veon Bell to the practice squad with the expectation of upgrading his status to the active roster eventually.
Bell hasn't been a part of an offense that complements his skill set since 2017. Now, he would join the best rushing offense in the NFL and not as the primary ball-carrier, but be utilized with quarterback Lamar Jackson and running back Gus Edwards. At least, that's what Bleacher Report’s Scott Polecek believes.
"Look for Bell to be more of a change-of-pace back with Edwards and quarterback Lamar Jackson remaining as the top options, but he could feature heavily in the offense without Dobbins," Polecek wrote.
For the Ravens, this addition brings them a highly motivated former star running back for little-to-no cost.
"Regardless of being more than three years removed from when he was the Steelers' bell cow back and often dominated defenses, Bell will always bring about a certain excitement because of what was," NFL.com’s Grant Gordon wrote.
More importantly, it makes the Ravens-Steelers matchups all the more interesting, Behind the Steel Curtain’s Jeff Hartman said.
"Steelers fans might feel as if Bell is old news, but there will be a renewed sense of hatred towards the former Michigan Spartan since joining Alejandro Villanueva in Baltimore," Hartman wrote.
Peter King Lists Justin Madubuike As a Defensive Player of the Year Candidate
Sophomore defensive tackle Justin Madubuike has received a lot of attention entering this season. Teammate Derek Wolfe said Madubuike has "the ability to become an All-Pro football player," and multiple outlets called him a second-year breakout candidate. The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec concurs, saying, "Any short list of potential Ravens' breakout candidates has the 2020 third-round pick near the top."
Now, NBC Sports’ Peter King has called his shot above the rest, listing Madubuike as one of his three top candidates for 2021 Defensive Player of the Year, behind Steelers pass rusher T.J. Watt and Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
"This was Watt's award last year," King wrote. "This year he leaves no doubt. Watch Madubuike explode this year."
It's quite a lofty expectation, putting Madubuike in conversation with Watt and Donald. In fact, it's a little too ambitious, Ebony Bird’s Justin Fried thinks.
"Don't be surprised to see Madubuike take some reps away from both [Calais] Campbell and Wolfe, especially the latter," Fried wrote. "Still, it seems highly unlikely that he ascends to the ranks of one of the best defensive players in the NFL. What the Ravens are really hoping for is to see Madubuike prove that he can carry the load of a future starter."
While the Ravens wouldn't complain if Madubuike become a game-wrecking defensive tackle, it's surprising to see him listed above Calais Campbell, who holds multiple All-Pro nominations and is eight sacks from breaking the 100-sack mark. This is who Russell Street Report’s Darin McCann believes will be the Ravens' best defensive player in 2021.
"Campbell had a nice first season with the Ravens last year, with some dashes of dominance sprinkled in (watch the Eagles game if you want to see three hours of borderline abuse)," McCann wrote. "Sure, Campbell is a year older. And, sure again, the Ravens don't run a prototypical, four-man rush defense that lets him get upfield nearly every down, but I think we're going to see a different level of dominance this season for Campbell, with added comfort in the system and hopefully better health across the board. This is more of a hunch, obviously, but I suspect Campbell creates mayhem up front all season."
Is 2021 the Final Year of the Ravens' Super Bowl Window?
Since Jackson first took over as the Ravens' starting quarterback in 2018, the team knew they had a multi-year window of opportunity. Jackson was an immediate upgrade to an offense needing change and his rookie contract offered flexibility for General Manager Eric DeCosta to sign a catalogue of defensive talent while acquiring young offensive players through the draft for Jackson to build the offense alongside.
Now, it's 2021 and the Ravens have one playoff victory to show in the past three years. NFL.com’s Jeffri Chadiha writes that the Ravens' window may be closing at the conclusion of the 2021 season.
"This is the year when they need to prove that they're more than a collection of pretty highlights and failed predictions," Chadiha wrote. "If a championship can't happen for them now, it's fair to start wondering when that will ever be the case with this group."
The Ravens have been talking Super Bowl for three years, but one of their greatest obstacles have been the Kansas City Chiefs. However, Chadiha writes a victory over Patrick Mahomes and company isn't something worth hanging their hat on. It's only about the trophy.
"While there are a handful of teams trying to show they belong in the conversation about who can upend the Kansas City Chiefs for AFC supremacy, Baltimore is the one that has been living in that space the longest," Chadiha wrote. "It's even fair to say that the Ravens are at a point where just beating the Chiefs wouldn't be enough to satisfy their expectations. As Campbell said, the window for this current team to win a title is closing fast, and it's time to really wonder if they'll ever be able to push through it."
- Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters and center Bradley Bozeman handed out school supplies to kids in Baltimore