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Late for Work 4/12: Pundit Says 'Ravens Are a Sleeping Giant'

QB Lamar Jackson runs ball against Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 12, 2021.

Pundit Says 'Ravens Are a Sleeping Giant'

There's been much discussion this offseason about how loaded the AFC is.

The Bills, Chiefs, Bengals and Titans are expected to be strong contenders again, while teams such as the Browns, Dolphins, Chargers, Broncos, Raiders and Colts appear to be more dangerous after making splashy moves.

It's easy to overlook the Ravens, who ended the season on a six-game losing streak to finish in last place in the AFC North. However, teams that sleep on the Ravens could be in for a rude awakening, ESPN's Mina Kimes said.

Kimes pointed to how the Ravens just missed the playoffs last season despite suffering a historic amount of injuries to key players.

"I think they're a sleeping giant," Kimes said. "Not just because of the additions they made — signings like Marcus Williams at safety, who's an excellent, young player; Morgan Moses to man the right side [at offensive tackle], Michael Pierce on the defensive line — but because they're bringing back half of their dang team [from injury]."

To illustrate just how hard the Ravens were hit by injuries last season, Kimes cited Football Outsiders’ annual AGL (Adjusted Games Lost) rankings, which estimates the impact of injuries on teams, giving more weight to injuries to expected starters and situational players than to expected back-ups.

The Ravens' AGL last season (180.0, prorated to 16 games) was the most since Football Outsiders created the metric in 2001.

Despite all the injuries, the Ravens' DVOA, which measures a team's efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent, was -2.1 percent, which was second best of the 10 teams with the biggest pro-rated AGL totals this century, according to Football Outsiders.

"Aided by the easiest projected schedule by DVOA, the Ravens are a good bet to bounce back to contention in 2022 with better injury fortune even after Cincinnati's maturation and Cleveland's offseason additions in their division," Football Outsiders' Scott Spratt wrote.

John Harbaugh: Lamar Jackson's Contract Extension Will Get Done 'When It's God's Will and Lamar's Will'

The Ravens have been steadfast in saying that it's a question of when, not if, Lamar Jackson will sign a contract extension.

NFL Network's Rich Eisen posted the "when" question to John Harbaugh during the head coach's appearance on "The Rich Eisen Show."

"When he's ready to do it, it's going to become a priority for him, then we're going to know it. It doesn't have to be a priority for us right now. It's got to be a priority for both sides. We could do something or we can wait because we know it's going to get done when it's supposed to get done. When it's God's will and Lamar's will at the same time it's going to all fit together.

"I do believe Lamar when he tells me that he just wants to be the best quarterback he can be and that's what he's thinking about right now, and he doesn't think he has to think about his contract. He feels like he's got time to do it. You could argue that one way or the other, but everybody gets to make that decision for themselves."

Who Are the Top Two Ideal Picks for the Ravens? draft analyst Chad Reuter looked at the ideal top two picks for every team in the upcoming draft. For the Ravens, it's Utah inside linebacker Devin Lloyd in the first round (14th overall) and Nebraska center Cam Jurgens in the second round (45th overall).

"Lloyd steps into the role of inside linebacker, enabling Patrick Queen to play free at 'Will,' where he excelled at times in 2021," Reuter wrote. "Either trading down in the first to select Tyler Linderbaum or snapping up the athletic, rugged Jurgens in the second round would fill a gaping hole left in the middle of the team's offensive line by the free-agency departure of center Bradley Bozeman."

A quick comment regarding the Ravens potentially drafting a center in the first or second round: While that's possible, there's no indication the team believes it has a "gaping hole" in the middle of the offensive line, as veteran Patrick Mekari is a strong in-house candidate to start at center.

Meanwhile, Lloyd also was the Ravens' selection at No. 14 in’s Rhett Lewis’ mock draft.

Lewis added a twist to his draft, as he identified need and best player available for each team. He had Lloyd as the BPA, and Georgia defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt as the player who best fit the Ravens if they were selecting solely based on need.

"This is a really interesting choice for the Ravens," Lewis wrote. "Calais Campbell's re-signing over the weekend lessens the immediate need at defensive line, helping Lloyd feel like the better value for Baltimore in this slot. And you wonder if the Ravens would prefer Wyatt's teammate, Jordan Davis, from an interior D-line perspective. All of that clears the picture to select [Pro Football Focus'] best available player and the top linebacker in this draft. Lloyd is a nice fit on the second level of the Ravens' defense, joining fellow young 'backers Patrick Queen, Tyus Bowser and Odafe Oweh."

There Is Still Work to Do on Defense

The Ravens have done a nice job of revamping their defense this offseason by acquiring Williams, reuniting with Pierce and re-signing Campbell, inside linebacker Josh Bynes and safety Tony Jefferson.

However, there is more work to be done, specifically at edge rusher and cornerback.

"It's hard to knock any of the Ravens' free-agent moves so far, but there are still two major issues that need to be addressed before a defense that badly needed a makeover will look whole: Who is going to get to the quarterback and who is going to slot in behind Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters at cornerback?" The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "Part of the answers to both questions will come in the draft later this month, but depending on rookies, particularly ones taken outside the first round, to come in and make significant contributions from Day 1 is fraught with risk.

"And it would be one thing if the Ravens needed just one edge rusher and one cornerback. They could use two early draft picks on the positions and be reasonably content. That, however, is not where they are."

Fortunately for the Ravens, the draft is loaded with edge rushers and there are viable veterans still available in free agency, including Jadeveon Clowney, former Raven Justin Houston, Melvin Ingram, Jerry Hughes, Jason Pierre-Paul and Trey Flowers.

"If the Ravens trade up from pick 14 with Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux as the target or even if they stay put and Florida State's Jermaine Johnson III falls into their laps, there won't be too many folks decrying their lack of investment in the position," Zrebiec wrote. "It will be very easy, too, to complement an early-round edge rusher with the signing of a veteran who still has a little juice left.

"The same pretty much is true at cornerback, where the addition of a first- or second-round pick, plus the signing of a solid veteran, would go a long way to improving a group that lost Anthony Averett, Chris Westry, Tavon Young and likely Jimmy Smith from last year's squad. Coming out of Round 1 or 2 with an Ahmad Gardner, Derek Stingley Jr., Trent McDuffie, Andrew Booth Jr., Roger McCreary or Kyler Gordon would be a nice start. Adding a free agent, such as Stephon Gilmore, Bryce Callahan, Steven Nelson or A.J. Bouye, would strengthen the cornerback group further."

Two Running Back Prospects Reportedly Had Virtual Visits With Ravens

Running back prospects Rachaad White of Arizona State and Pierre Strong Jr. of South Dakota State reportedly both met virtually with the Ravens.

Both players are viewed as mid-round picks.

White is the top receiving back in the draft, averaging over 40 receiving yards per game for the Sun Devils.

"White has a complete advanced stat profile, with elite rushing and receiving grades plus well-above-average results breaking tackles and producing yards after contact. White doesn't have a weakness to his game," PFF's Kevin Cole wrote.

Strong has the best "home run speed" of any running back in the draft, according to PFF's Michael Renner.

"It's always nice when the tape, stats and measurables align. All three say Strong has some juice," Renner wrote. "The South Dakota State back's ability to get up to top speed in a hurry jumps off his tape. His 54.3% breakaway percentage (percentage of yards gained on carries that went for 15-plus yards) last year narrowly edged out Kenneth Walker III for tops in the draft class. At the combine, Strong ran a blazing 4.37-second 40-yard dash to lead the draft class."

The Ravens have a formidable 1-2 punch at running back in J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, but they both missed all of last season with knee injuries. Quality depth is needed at the position, whether it comes via the draft of free agency. The Ravens reportedly are interested in veteran free agent Melvin Gordon III.

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