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Late for Work 5/23: Ravens Defense Expected to Return to Top-10 Form

Left: S Kyle Hamilton; Right: S Marcus Williams
Left: S Kyle Hamilton; Right: S Marcus Williams

Will the Ravens' Defense Bounce Back in 2022?

Pundits have said multiple times this offseason that the Ravens could come roaring back in 2022. After an injury-stricken season robbed them of multiple All-Pro players on both sides of the field, there's an expectation that with said players' return, along with the offseason additions, the Ravens could be back with a vengeance.

For CBS Sports' Jared Dubin, that not only means the team is competitive and back in the playoff race. It means they could return to their history of being a top 10 defense.

"Baltimore's defense collapsed due to injury last season, but there were some strong underlying metrics that point to a rebound," Dubin wrote. "The Ravens finished third in yards allowed per play and eighth in the share of opponent drives that ended in a score, for example. With better health, plus Marcus Williams and Kyle Hamilton on board, they should be back in or around the top 10."

With the Ravens 19th in points and 25th in yards allowed last season, it's clear the team prioritized getting back to its roots as a franchise. Baltimore was aggressive in free agency, signing Williams, defensive tackle Michael Pierce and defensive end Brent Urban, along with re-signing defensive end Calais Campbell and inside linebacker Josh Bynes. Prior to Pierce's signing, the Ravens also attempted to reunite with outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith.

It could be a challenge, jumping from No. 19 in total defense to a top-10 spot, but the additions, along with the return of two All-Pro cornerbacks in Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, could be enough to jump them nine spots in points in 2022. After all, in the three seasons prior to 2021, the Ravens' defense was ranked in the top 10, with two of them in the top 5.

Running Back Gus Edwards Called Ravens' 'Best-Kept Secret'

The Ravens have quite a few impact players on their roster heading into 2022, even when narrowing the list to strictly offensive players. But according to Bleacher Report's Maurice Moton, running back Gus Edwards is the Ravens' "best-kept secret."

"Gus Edwards hasn't started in more than six games in any of his four seasons, though he led the Baltimore Ravens in rushing for 2018 (718 yards) and accumulated at least 711 yards on the ground in each of his first three terms," Moton wrote.

"He missed the entire 2021 season with a torn ACL. Mostly as the No. 2 running back over the past two years, Edwards established himself in the Ravens backfield. Last year, he may have reached career-high rushing totals as a fill-in starter for J.K. Dobbins, who also tore his ACL during the 2021 offseason."

Moton isn't far off about what the expectations were when Dobbins went down. Many saw the silver lining of Dobbins injury being a full season of "Gus Bus," whose physically imposing running style dovetails with Jackson's elusive grace. But Edwards suffered the same fate as Dobbins shortly before the season opener.

Along with Moton, Ebony Bird's Kristen Wong believes in Edwards' ability to return to form in 2022.

"Assuming all backs are ready to go, though, Edwards will most likely assume RB2 duties behind Dobbins as he's done for most of his career," Wong wrote. "Edwards hasn't started in more than six games in any of his four seasons as a Raven, but don't count him as a minimal impact player."

Reaction to Ravens Signing Brent Urban

On Friday, Kate Urban, Brent's wife, broke the news that the former Raven will reunite with the Ravens on a one-year deal.

Quickly thereafter, a few Ravens chimed in welcoming the return of Urban.

Baltimore Beatdown's Frank Platko sees this as a good addition to the Ravens' run defense.

"Urban has never been a huge 'stat sheet stuffer' or sack artist in his career, but he's proven to be a high-level run defender during his stops in Baltimore, Chicago, and Dallas," Platko wrote. "Now, at age 31, he'll look to carve out an impact role in a suddenly crowded Ravens' defensive line room."

"Urban will certainly fit right in with the Ravens with his veteran leadership and previous history with the team," Ravenswire's Robert Sobus wrote.

Which Ravens Rookies Will Quickly Earn Starting Jobs?

Throughout Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh's tenure, he's made sure rookies are prepared for a starting role before slotting them into the top spot on the depth chart. With the jump from the college level to the professional level being significant, it's important they're up to speed before fielding them. But the 2022 class may be talented enough to field numerous starters, according to Russell Street Report’s Chris Schisler.

"[Safety Kyle Hamilton's] expected to play and be a difference-maker right away," Schisler wrote. "Hamilton is the reason Chuck Clark is now on the trading block. Starting Clark over Hamilton would be a stick-in-the-mud choice, even for Harbaugh. Hamilton is going to see the field early and often."

Schisler also sees the Ravens' second first-round pick, center Tyler Linderbaum, as a Day 1 starter.

"The Ravens also drafted Tyler Linderbaum in the first round. He's a plug-and-play starter," Schisler wrote. "That was the entire point of taking Linderbaum with the 25th overall pick."

The Ravens' second-round pick in 2022, outside linebacker David Ojabo, isn't expected to be a starter immediately, but the reasoning is due to him recovering from injury rather than him needing time to get up to speed.

Both Schisler and Russell Street Report's Todd Karpovich see third-round defensive tackle Travis Jones competing for starting snaps in 2022.

"Jones may not get top billing on the defensive line, but he has to get involved," Schisler wrote. "He offers much more than both Michael Pierce and Broderick Washington in terms of athleticism. Calais Campbell is going to be on a snap count as the elder of the defensive front, while we don't really know if we can expect to see Derek Wolfe back in action."

"Defensive tackle Travis Jones, a third-round pick, is widely regarded as one of the steals of the draft and has the ability to push for a starting job or play his way into the rotation," Karpovich wrote.

It's not until the fourth round that Schisler sees the rookies not making a starting impact right away.

"If anybody is going to be subject to the rookie tax it's probably going to be tight end Charlie Kolar," Schisler wrote. "Nick Boyle is one of the best blocking tight ends in football. Isaiah Likely, another rookie tight end, isn't competing with Boyle's role nearly as much. Because Likely is more of a big slot receiver than a hand in the dirt, next to the tackle tight end, he may escape the rookie tax easier than Kolar."

Quick Hits

  • NBC Sports' Peter King gave his first 2022 NFL Power Rankings, placing the Ravens at No. 8 on his list. "But I look at the Ravens this way: They won 12 in 2020, they beat Tennessee on the road in the playoffs, and they got murdered by injuries last year," King wrote. "That counts. I say they're back, and I say they'll challenge the Bengals for the division. Week 18, by the way: Ravens at Bengals. Game 272? Don't bet against it."

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