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Late for Work: Pat McAfee Calls AFC North 'Hard Knocks' the 'Perfect Division for the Perfect Show'

061824 LFW

Pat McAfee Calls AFC North 'Hard Knocks' the 'Perfect Division for the Perfect Show'

On Monday, HBO and NFL Films announced the "Hard Knocks" docuseries will be covering the AFC North in-season, and pundits are excited to see the behind-the-scenes action of the best division in football. Among those most excited are Pat McAfee and A.J. Hawk of *The Pat McAfee Show*.

"I think it's great even if you're not a football fan," Hawk said. "If you're casual, it'll be cool to see all the behind-the-scenes stuff in-season. That's what's awesome about this."

"With four teams bouncing around, the storylines in Pittsburgh, huge. The storylines in Cincinnati, huge. Especially with Tee Higgins signing his franchise tag," McAfee said. "You got to the Browns, storylines [are] never ending. And then you go to the Ravens. Lamar Jackson and that team about to go on another run. I mean, it's like the perfect division for the perfect show at the perfect time. I'm very excited for 'Hard Knocks.'"

The show's debut season featured the Ravens and was a smashing success due in part to a colorful cast of characters, including tight end Shannon Sharpe and linebacker Ray Lewis. Baltimore Beatdown’s Joshua Reed sees the Ravens boasting a fair bit of personality on the current roster and writes this will make for an "exciting viewing experience."

"On offense, two-time league MVP Lamar Jackson and two-time All-Pro running back Derrick Henry will be fun to follow. Second-year wide receiver Zay Flowers possesses star potential and emits a jovial personality at all times," Reed wrote. "On defense, inside linebacker Roquan Smith could be this group's Ray Lewis on and off the field and others with outgoing personalities who will entertain include outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy, cornerback Marlon Humphrey and safeties Kyle Hamilton and Marcus Williams."’s Nick Shook wrote the Ravens' "attempt to defend the throne" will be one of the biggest storylines for the docuseries.

"The Ravens finished the 2023 regular season with so much emphasis, it helped power Jackson's campaign for his second MVP," Shook wrote. "Jackson was far from the only star, though, for a team that emerged from the regular season as the heavy favorite to take the AFC crown, and it wasn't until the clock struck triple zeroes that we even considered the chance Baltimore wouldn't be in the Super Bowl.

"The Ravens looked like a juggernaut as the calendar turned to 2024, and there's no reason -- other than losses in the coaching staff -- they shouldn't repeat that performance again this season. The addition of Derrick Henry and a depth-focused draft should make them the favorites again this fall, but don't expect the rest of the division to lay down. Every team in this division believes this is their year."

Final Takeaways from Minicamp

Offseason workouts and minicamp officially ended last week, and local media have all submitted their reports on what they saw over the past month. The first being The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker, who notes the OTA absences which caused a stir on social media "don't mean a whole lot."

"Could a Jackson-led offense be 3% tighter if he attended every workout or gathered his receivers more religiously for informal pitch-and-catch sessions in South Florida? Maybe, but it's such an easy point for his critics to harp on because the premise is impossible to measure," Walker wrote. "The bottom line is we can count on two hands the players who, when healthy, almost guarantee their teams will play in the postseason. Jackson is one of them. His teammates have never not rallied to him, even after he was injured for the 2022 playoffs and uncertain to sign an extension with the Ravens. Imperfect OTA attendance isn't going to change any of that."

The Ravens minicamp attendance was near-perfect, with only a handful of players being held out due to injury. Baltimore Positive’s Luke Jones sees it as a win to finish OTAs and minicamp without any significant injury.

"Though Marlon Humphrey and Michael Pierce were very limited during minicamp and a handful of young players missed valuable practice reps this spring, the only long-term recovery entering training camp appears to be Keaton Mitchell, which was expected," Jones wrote. "Completing the spring program without any major injuries is a victory itself."

Both The Baltimore Banner's Jonas Shaffer and The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec covered player performances and a few of the same names came up.

Isaiah Likely, Tight end

"Likely was one of the NFL's most efficient tight ends down the stretch last year, and his strong form carried over into minicamp, where his leaping, one-handed grabs were among the top highlights," Shaffer wrote. "If the 2022 fourth-round pick can develop a Mark Andrews-esque connection with quarterback Lamar Jackson, offensive coordinator Todd Monken will have trouble avoiding two-tight-end sets."

"Likely's spot as the No. 2 tight end behind stalwart Mark Andrews was secure long before he returned to the team facility for the offseason program," Zrebiec wrote. "However, Likely's work in OTAs and minicamp gave Monken even more reason to polish those multiple tight end sets. From making highlight-reel one-handed catches in the middle of the field to finding openings underneath to pulling away from defenders after receptions, Likely looked like a player who will be hard to keep off the field."

Trenton Simpson, Inside linebacker

"It helps to have Roquan Smith as a teammate and hype man, but Simpson looked the part of a starting-level inside linebacker throughout OTAs and minicamp," Shaffer wrote. "The 2023 third-round pick seemed comfortable passing off route combinations in zone coverage, and even hung with Andrews a few times one on one."

"There's been zero talk in recent weeks of a starting weak-side linebacker competition. That's because Simpson has looked the part," Zrebiec wrote. "He's stronger and more confident in what he's seeing, and he's playing fast, which is all you can ask for at this stage. Simpson will make mistakes that just about all first-year starters make, but he's preparing the right way and doing the right things, including attaching himself to Roquan Smith."

Andrew Vorhees, Offensive guard

"Harbaugh acknowledged Thursday that it's difficult for offensive linemen to distinguish themselves in practice until the pads come on. Still, Vorhees has gotten glowing reviews after a healthy offseason," Shaffer wrote. "Harbaugh expressed optimism last month that Vorhees' strength would translate in the more physical settings of training camp."

"After missing all of his rookie season while rehabbing a knee injury, Vorhees was a bit of a curiosity when the offseason began, simply because he hasn't been on the field," Zrebiec wrote. "He'll enter training camp as the favorite to start at left guard. Baltimore's decision-makers will get a better idea about Vorhees when the pads come on this summer, but they believe his smarts and physicality will translate well. Vorhees has been on the field for every practice, so the knee appears to be a non-issue, too."

Lamar Jackson Ranked Best 27-Year-Old Football Player

The Ravens have an awful lot of talent at varying age groups, from the young 20-year-old first-round cornerback Nate Wiggins to 38-year-old quarterback Josh Johnson. But in ESPN's top players at every age, from 14-40, only Jackson made the cut, being the top player of anybody 27-years-old.

"Jackson remains the league's premier dual-threat talent at the quarterback position," ESPN wrote. "He completed 67.2% of his passes in 2023, and he has rushed for more than 750 yards in five straight seasons. He combines excellent arm talent and electric movement ability to create consistent conflict for opposing defenses. And he has found the right offensive fit under coordinator Todd Monken, who creates space -- both vertically and horizontally -- for Jackson to attack as a runner and thrower."

It feels a bit of a snub to not place any other Raven on the list or runners-up category. A case could be made for safety Kyle Hamilton over Detroit Lions tackle Penei Sewell for the 23-year-old category or runner-up New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner. Same could be said for Wiggins, who for the 20-year-old category was beat out by New York Giants No. 6 overall pick Malik Nabers. The runner up was Oklahoma State running back Ollie Gordon II.

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