Mink: There's a lot of attention on the rookies right now because they're the new toys. But the beginning of Phase 2, when the veterans can take the field for the first time, is a reminder that this is also an important offseason for last year's rookies. Remember those guys we were all so smitten about this time last year but then didn't touch an NFL field until training camp?
Patrick Queen and J.K. Dobbins are expected to take big leaps this offseason, but if we're excluding them, one player I'd keep an eye on is defensive tackle Justin Madubuike. The third-round pick came on strong at the end of last season, showing he can be a gap-penetrating force on the interior. He logged his one sack of the season in Week 15 against the New York Giants.
First of all, I love how Madubuike is originally lined up against Kevin Zeitler, the Ravens' new right guard, and is like, "Nah, you go over
there, Jelly!" Then you see Madubuike's explosion off the snap, followed by the power to defeat multiple blocks to get to the quarterback.
That is the kind of potential Madubuike possesses in that uber-athletic frame. Injuries set him back a little at the start of last year (on top of COVID's limitations), but he played well and earned the coaches' trust. He played nearly half the defensive snaps in each playoff game. With the starting defensive line trio getting up there in age (Brandon Williams, Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe), Baltimore needs Madubuike to help usher in a the next wave in the trenches.
Downing: You're certainly right that, at the end of the day, Oweh will be judged on production. We all know that he didn't put up any sacks last season at Penn State, and that's something Oweh, Wink Martindale and Eric DeCosta have all discussed since the Ravens drafted him at No. 31. But how exactly do you judge production? Are sacks the only valuable metric in that discussion? Of course not. DeCosta has explained that Oweh's ability as a run defender gives him a high floor as an edge-setting run defender. Stopping the run is still the first order of business for the Ravens defense.
With all of that said, the Ravens drafted Oweh in hopes that he blossoms into a premier pass rusher. He's an incredible athlete with all the tools to wreak havoc on offenses, and he could put up big sack numbers after getting some great coaching from this defensive staff. I think your number of eight sacks as the threshold for a good season is probably too high. Let's not forget that Matthew Judon had six sacks last year and he signed a $54 million contract with the Patriots. I'd put the number for Oweh more at six sacks. If he finishes his rookie year with six sacks and is a stout run defender on first and second down, then that would be strong start in my mind.
Mink: It's impossible to say how Tee Martin and Keith Williams are doing based off watching them run drills in one rookie minicamp practice, but I do find their dynamic to be interesting. They both seem like good teachers, and they were constantly in the receivers' ears, explaining things to them. David Culley, who coached the wide receivers the past couple years before becoming the head coach of the Texans, had a different sort of energy. He was animated, excited, and loud. Martin and Williams appear to be more low-key and are seemingly very dialed into the details. I'm excited about what they're bringing to this young receiver unit.
Downing: This would surprise me. First of all, the Ravens are often in double tight end sets, so they mostly won't have three receivers on the field to start the game. But even if they go three wide, I don't expect that group to be Hollywood Brown, Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace. Don't forget that the Ravens signed veteran Sammy Watkins this offseason and they have high hopes for last year's third-round pick Devin Duvernay. The early impressions of Bateman and Wallace are all positive, but we've only seen them for a couple practices of rookie minicamp at this point. We still have a long way to go. Bateman is a first-round pick, so it probably won't take long for him to crack the starting lineup. But Wallace is a fourth rounder and the competition will be stiff for him. If I'm guessing right now, the three starting receivers for Week 1 will be Brown, Bateman and Duvernay.
Mink: We addressed this in last week's edition of Mailbag, but since it's still the most popular question, I'll hit it again. The "holdup" on Houston, according to reports, is that he and the Ravens are too far apart on $$$. It would not surprise me if there's still mutual interest, but the number has to be right and Baltimore doesn't have a ton of cap room.
Wink Martindale told PSL holders this week that he'll leave it up to Eric DeCosta. Martindale said he's happy with the guys he currently has in the room, but of course, any coach would like more proven weapons at their disposal. Considering that Oweh's pass rush, in particular, is still a work in progress, I do think a veteran pass rusher would be a great help. With multiple options still available, the question is which one (if any) will fit the Ravens and their budget.