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Late for Work 9/6: Projecting Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for Ravens' Heralded Rookies

TE Isaiah Likely

Projecting Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for Ravens' Heralded Rookies

Expectations are high for the Ravens' rookie class, so The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker looked at how the first-year players might contribute this season, and also what might hold them back.

Here's what Walker said about five rookies in particular:

S Kyle Hamilton

Best-case scenario: "Hamilton's tackling ability and range in coverage make him a staple in the Ravens' nickel and dime packages (five and six defensive backs, respectively) and a standout on special teams. His chameleonic skill set helps unlock the Ravens' defense, forcing quarterbacks to account for him as a blitzer, deep safety and tight end blanket."

Worst-case scenario: "Hamilton's unexpected tackling issues carry over into the regular season, hurting a defense that's struggled in recent years to limit damage after the catch. In coverage, offenses find a way to isolate him against quicker, faster receivers, making him more of a liability than an asset on passing downs."

C Tyler Linderbaum

Best-case scenario: "Linderbaum has a Creed Humphrey-like rookie year and emerges as one of the NFL's best centers. His quickness and technique open up the Ravens' zone-running game. Despite his size, he holds his own against the bigger nose tackles on the Ravens' schedule. And, maybe most importantly, every shotgun and pistol snap he delivers to quarterback Lamar Jackson is catchable."

Worst-case scenario: "Linderbaum's Lisfranc (foot) sprain limits his effectiveness or, worse, sidelines him for part of the season. His smaller frame and limited wingspan makes him an easy target for bull-rushing nose tackles. There are growing pains as he adjusts from Iowa's traditional, under-center offense to the Ravens' diverse playbook and shotgun-heavy approach."

OLB David Ojabo

Best-case scenario: "Ojabo returns by the middle of the season and develops into a dangerous designated pass rusher. Fully recovered from a torn Achilles tendon, he pairs with Odafe Oweh to give the Ravens two of the NFL's fastest edge rushers and one of the league's best high school reunion stories. Ojabo shows the strip-sack ability that made him so dangerous at Michigan under coordinator Mike Macdonald."

Worst-case scenario: "Ojabo's not ready to play until 2023."

DT Travis Jones

Best-case scenario: "Jones overcomes his preseason knee injury to play early and often on a deep defensive line. He's stout enough against the run to stand in for Michael Pierce as a two-gap nose tackle and explosive enough to earn snaps on passing downs. Jones finishes the season with a handful of sacks, raising hopes that he could be the Ravens' answer to Cameron Heyward."

Worst-case scenario: "Jones' knee sprain lingers throughout the season, limiting his playing time and hurting his development. His strength can't compensate for his inconsistent technique, and he gets stuck behind Calais Campbell, Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington in the competition for interior pass-rush snaps."

TE Isaiah Likely

Best-case scenario: "Likely's preseason form carries over into the regular season, where he earns more than 50% of the offensive snaps. With All-Pro Mark Andrews attracting double teams, Likely becomes a go-to receiver for Jackson. His understanding of zone coverages earns him regular targets, and his slippery ability as a ball carrier makes him the Ravens' most dangerous weapon after the catch."

Worst-case scenario: "Likely's shortcomings as a blocker make him a liability on early downs and near the goal line for the run-heavy Ravens. In obvious passing situations, he's not dynamic enough to earn regular snaps over Andrews, the team's top option in the slot, or wide receivers Devin Duvernay and James Proche II."

Optimism for Odafe Oweh Breakout Season Goes Beyond His Freakish Athleticism

Plenty of pundits are expecting a breakout season for Oweh in Year 2, including NBC Sports' Peter King, who — as noted in yesterday’s Late for Work — predicted the 2021 first-rounder to finish second in Defensive Player of the Year voting.

Oweh's obvious, freakish athleticism is what's getting him noticed, but The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec said the reasons to be high on the outside linebacker go beyond his physical ability.

"It also has to do with Oweh's mindset and commitment level," Zrebiec wrote. "Oweh is extremely serious about his craft. He spent a ton of time this offseason studying tape of himself and other pass rushers while working on his technique and array of moves. Just about every day during training camp and the preseason, Oweh was the last Ravens player to walk off the practice field. Following practices, he'd go over to the side of the field, often with [Justin] Houston, and work with the blocking pads and sleds. They'd talk things over and then work through different drills and moves. Whether it's Houston, Calais Campbell or one of the offensive linemen he's facing in practice, Oweh is constantly asking for feedback."

"You never know how a player will develop given the different factors, including health, but Oweh has all the tools to be an extremely good NFL player."

Analytics Model Projects Ravens to Win AFC North

NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund is bullish on Baltimore to win the AFC North.

Based on data that included simulations of 1,000,000 runs of every single regular-season game, Frelund projected the Ravens to win 9.8 games. That put them slightly ahead of the Cincinnati Bengals, who were projected for 9.4 wins and the third and final AFC wild-card spot.

Frelund's model has the Ravens' ceiling at 11.4 wins and their floor at 7.8.

"Lamar Jackson tops 900 rushing yards in 54.5 percent of simulations and throws for more than 3,550 yards in 54.1 percent of simulations," Frelund wrote. "The Ravens earn at least 10 wins 53.8 percent of the time, which might sound low, but within the context of my models, that's a pretty high rate.

The AFC teams with higher projected win totals were: Buffalo (11.7), Kansas City (10.7), Indianapolis (10.3) and the Los Angeles Chargers (10.2).

Analysts Consider Ravens a Super Bowl Contender, But Not a Favorite

There is a growing sentiment that the Ravens are a Super Bowl contender, but not necessarily a favorite.

The Ravens were among the eight teams to receive at least one vote to win the Super Bowl in voting by 25 analysts, although they were one of five teams to get just a single vote.

Brooke Cersosimo predicted the Ravens will defeat the New Orleans Saints for the Lombardi Trophy.

"The knock against Lamar Jackson is he's 1-3 in the postseason. No matter when he signs what is likely to be a record-setting contract, he'll prove he's worth every penny after delivering the franchise its third Lombardi Trophy," Cersosimo wrote.

The Bills led the way with 12 votes, followed by the Chargers (five) and Buccaneers (three). Interestingly, the defending champion Los Angeles Rams didn't get any votes.

Jeremy Bergman picked the Green Bay Packers to beat the Ravens in the Super Bowl.

"Aaron Rodgers trades in his back-to-back league MVPs for another Super Bowl MVP, as his Packers thwart Lamar Jackson and the Ravens' miracle run to Glendale," Bergman wrote.

Meanwhile, The Ringer’s Austin Gayle placed the Ravens in the second of five tiers in his power rankings and at No. 8 overall, one spot behind the Bengals. Five teams made the top tier: the Bills, Buccaneers, Chiefs, Packers and Rams.

"Baltimore missed the playoffs for the first time in the Lamar Jackson era last season after the roster, particularly the running back group and the secondary, was decimated by injuries. I'm here to remind you that Jackson is still the NFL's most dynamic player and the primary reason the Ravens remain a deep postseason contender," Gayle wrote. "Health permitting, which is far from a guarantee, Jackson should reassert himself as one of the league's most prolific signal callers on his way back to the playoffs."

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