Led By Patrick Queen and J.K. Dobbins, Ravens' 2020 Draft Class Is Making an Impact
Two of the most spectacular plays from Sunday's win over the Steelers were running back J.K. Dobbins' 44-yard run and inside linebacker Patrick Queen's leaping interception.
They were the type of game-changing plays the Ravens envisioned when they selected Queen (first round) and Dobbins (second round) in the 2020 draft. Both are key players for the AFC North-leading Ravens, but they're not the only members of Baltimore's 2020 draft class who are making an impact.
Ebony Bird’s Kristen Wong said the group has the potential to "develop into an all-time great class."
"Aside from the top two picks, the Ravens also groomed Justin Madubuike (third-rounder), Malik Harrison (third-rounder), Broderick Washington (fifth-rounder), and Geno Stone (seventh-rounder) into key roster pieces," Wong wrote. "Those four players have each carved out a significant role in the defense with Madubuike and Stone arguably making the biggest impacts this season. Stone filled in seamlessly in the backfield after Marcus Williams got injured while Madubuike has notched a career-high 3.5 sacks on the year and has turned into one of the team's top-performing defensive linemen."
Not to be overlooked is third-round wide receiver Devin Duvernay, who was a first-team All-Pro as a return specialist last season. This season, Duvernay is second on the team in receiving touchdowns (three) and has a rushing touchdown and 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Wong noted that even the two picks from Baltimore's 2020 class who are no longer with the team – guards Ben Bredeson and Tyre Phillips – have been starters this season. Both are with the New York Giants.
Play of Tyler Huntley, Anthony Brown Is a Testament to Ravens' Approach to Signing Undrafted Rookies
The Ravens' history of success in the draft is well-documented, but the organization also has proven adept at signing undrafted rookies.
That was on full display Sunday, when Tyler Huntley started at quarterback in place of an injured Lamar Jackson and Anthony Brown took over under center and played with poise when Huntley was forced out of the game after suffering a concussion. Both players were signed as undrafted free agents.
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec said the Ravens being able to rely on Huntley and Brown "is a testament to the importance the organization places on the undrafted free-agent process."
"Teams are allowed to bring in 30 prospects for interviews before the draft. The Ravens don't just use those visits to get a look at players they're considering selecting on Days 1 and 2 of the draft. They traditionally use some of the 30 allotted visits on players who are projected late-round picks or undrafted free agents," Zrebiec wrote. "By getting potential undrafted free agents into the building and around their coaches, the Ravens start building relationships that can help them once college free agents begin deciding what NFL team to join.
"That process ultimately helped them land Huntley after he went undrafted out of the University of Utah in 2020, and Brown after he wasn't taken in April. Brown said he met with Head Coach John Harbaugh, Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman, Quarterbacks Coach James Urban and Assistant Quarterbacks Coach Kerry Dixon, and they sold him on how he'd fit with the team. That, plus the organization's reputation, was enough for him to sign a Ravens contract."
Zrebiec noted that several other members of the Ravens' undrafted free-agent classes also contributed to the win in Pittsburgh, including "running back Gus Edwards, who rushed for 66 yards and salted the game away with a late 6-yard run; fullback Patrick Ricard, who was battering Steelers all afternoon; [Justin] Tucker, who converted all four of his kicks; offensive lineman Trystan Colon, who played well in his first start at guard; and defensive back Ar'Darius Washington, who played a handful of snaps in the slot.
"Then, there were Huntley and Brown. Picking up a road divisional win with a former undrafted free-agent quarterback starting the game and a current undrafted free-agent quarterback finishing is not exactly a regular occurrence around the NFL."
The Athletic Says Ravens Should Target Potential Free-Agent Wide Receiver Darius Slayton
In The Athletic's power rankings this week, writer Bo Wulf looked ahead to the offseason and identified a potential free-agent target for all 32 teams.
Not surprisingly, for the Ravens it was a wide receiver, specifically Darius Slayton of the Giants.
"In the offseason, once Baltimore has secured Jackson's return — either with a new long-term contract or the franchise tag — it'll still need to surround him with weapons. Slayton is the closest thing on the market to 'low-rent DeSean Jackson,'" Wulf wrote.
The addition of Slayton would give the Ravens another receiver capable of stretching the field along with Rashod Bateman.
Slayton, 25, has emerged as the Giants' top wide receiver this season, leading the team in receiving yards (608) and yards per catch (17.4). A 2019 fifth-round pick, Slayton had a combined 98 catches for 1,491 yards and 11 touchdowns in 30 games over his first two seasons.
Pundits Continue to Debate Who Will Win AFC North
Even though the Ravens (9-4) have a head-to-head victory over Cincinnati (9-4) and a better record in the division (3-0 to 2-3), a growing number of pundits believe the red-hot Bengals will win the AFC North.
As noted in yesterday’s Late for Work, NFL.com's Marc Sessler predicted that Cincinnati will have overtaken the Ravens by the time the teams meet in the regular-season finale.
Not everyone is so quick to count out the Ravens, however. NFL.com’s Eric Edholm predicted the winners of each division, and he went with Baltimore to prevail in the AFC North.
"The Bengals are becoming fan darlings in a way, and you can't overlook how hot they've been — and for how long — outside of that Halloween hiccup against the Browns," Edholm wrote. "But their closing schedule is an absolute bear, with road trips the next two weeks to face desperate teams (Buccaneers and Patriots) followed by challenging home games against the Bills and Ravens. It might take Cincinnati going 3-1 or better because it needs to win more games than Baltimore.
"It says here that the Ravens, with a much more manageable slate, get it done one year after they could not."
Still, Edholm said the Week 18 game between the Ravens and Bengals "might end up being the biggest regular-season game in Cincinnati in some time."