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Mailbag: Which Pass Rusher Is Most Likely to Step Up?

Left: LB Jaylon Ferguson; Right: LB Tyus Bowser
Left: LB Jaylon Ferguson; Right: LB Tyus Bowser

Downing: The Ravens have some good candidates to step up in this area. Tyus Bowser is a natural choice, as he's heading into a contract year and looking to cash in with a big season. He had a career-high five sacks last season, and he recently said his goal is to get into the double-digit sack club this year. Bowser has quietly, but steadily, improved during his career, and the former second-round pick could turn a big 2020 season into a big payday this offseason.

Second-year outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson is also a strong candidate to take a step forward this year. He was thrown into the fire as a rookie and started nine games, finishing the season with 2.5 sacks. He now knows what to expect from the NFL game and he'll be ready to play an important role from day one. Ferguson is physically gifted and can get after the quarterback – he broke Terrell Suggs' FBS record with 45 career sacks – and the Ravens will lean on him heavily on the pass-rush department.

It's also worth pointing out that the arrivals of Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe will help the overall pass rush. They'll attract more attention and generate interior pressure, which will put Matthew Judon, Bowser and Ferguson in more favorable situations to get after the quarterbacks.

Mink: It's hard to imagine how the offense is going to be better than it was last year. I mean, we're talking about the No. 1 scoring offense in the league, which broke a team rushing record that stood for 41 years, and was led by the league MVP. It would be difficult to replicate all that even in a normal offseason, but COVID-19's impact on the offseason makes it even harder. As Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman said, "maybe it's not a stats and record year around the league."

With that said, I do think there's room for improvement and reason to believe the Ravens can take steps forward in those areas. We've talked at length this offseason about Lamar Jackson's continued development as a passer, which is to become more consistent on throws to the outside. If Lamar can become more dangerous with his wide receivers and stretch the field horizontally and vertically, that opens up everything else. Lamar's maturation in that regard, paired with the expected breakout year for Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, could make a big difference. If you've been living under a rock, Brown has undergone a Marvel-like physical transformation this offseason.

Second-round rookie J.K. Dobbins adds more juice to the backfield and Miles Boykin has a chance to give Baltimore another dangerous wideout. But how about even more from an already really strong, young core? What happens if Jackson, Brown, Mark Andrews, Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Patrick Ricard and other young stars get even better? It would be a mistake to think they're maxed out.

Downing: First of all, I expect tight end Mark Andrews to probably lead the way again this year in overall receptions. But if we're specifically talking about the receivers, then Brown is the natural pick. He had the most receptions of any receiver last year (46), and he's only going to get better this season. Brown has bulked up and is fully recovered from the foot injury that hindered him as a rookie, and I expect him to make a significant leap in receptions and yards this year.

Mink: This goes back to the earlier question. Andrews had a phenomenal sophomore season, but he can certainly be better. A 1,000-yard season is certainly not out of the question after Andrews posted 852 last year. Already the team leader in targets (98), he could get even more his way after Hayden Hurst (39 targets) was traded to Atlanta. Andrews is certainly someone teams will be keying in on next year, but he's capable of becoming even better himself and would be a primary beneficiary of a Hollywood breakout.

Downing: I agree with you! As I said in Final Drive this week, I understand Patrick Mahomes getting the 99 rating and top spot for all quarterbacks. But Jackson should have been the No. 2 quarterback ahead of Russell Wilson, who had a 97-overall rating. It's not like 94 is a bad rating by any means, but I am surprised with that score considering that Jackson is on the game's cover. Now the good news is that Madden adjusts the ratings throughout the year, so let's just give Madden some time.

Mink: I haven't seen every other team's announcement on how many fans they plan to accommodate at their stadiums this year, but this will obviously be a league-wide issue. No doubt, it's a bummer. The Ravens have one of the best gameday atmospheres in the NFL, and that is one reason why they have had so much success playing at home. So capping the attendance at 14,000 is obviously a tough, but necessary, pill to swallow. I think the players are professionals who will still play at a similar level. But there's no doubt that players do feed off the crowd's energy, and that just won't be the same. I'm particularly disappointed to lose out on the full splendor that would have filled M&T Bank Stadium for the Monday Night Football game against the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 28. Rest assured, we'll do everything we can to still turn it up inside M&T Bank Stadium as best we can.

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