Eschewing 'All In' Approach, Ravens Are 'Rare Super Bowl Contender Building for Future'
The 2021 Los Angeles Rams were the poster boys for going "all in," meaning they swapped major future assets for a shot at present glory. Their approach paid off with a Super Bowl victory. With that in mind, The Ringer devised a system to rank how "all in" each team is to win a Super Bowl this season.
The Ravens ranked 27th, which put them in the bottom eight along with the New York Jets, Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks, New York Giants and Houston Texans. The oddsmakers have projected all seven of those teams to be among the worst in the league this year.
Baltimore is the anomaly. The Ravens' low ranking reflects their philosophy of building a roster that can contend for the Super Bowl both now and in the foreseeable future.
To determine its All In-dex rankings, The Ringer measured each team's draft pick capital and analyzed its spending. The Ravens were No. 25 in spending and No. 27 in draft capital.
"The Ravens will likely shoot up this list if they sign QB Lamar Jackson to a contract extension before the season begins, but Baltimore is still the rare mix of a present-day contender building for the future," The Ringer's Danny Heifetz and Riley McAtee wrote. "Of all the teams in the bottom quartile of the All In-dex, the Ravens have the best chance to be a serious Super Bowl contender."
It's no secret that the Ravens value their draft picks, so their No. 27 ranking in that category isn't surprising. But, again, just because they don't trade away a number of high draft picks to acquire star players (a la the Rams, Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins — the top four teams in the All In-dex), it's not an indication that the Ravens aren't trying to win it all now.
"Like the Packers and Chiefs, the Ravens got a first-rounder for their top receiver (Marquise Brown). Unlike the Packers and Chiefs, they didn't give up an elite NFL receiver," Heifetz and McAree wrote. "GM Eric DeCosta sent the pick they received from Arizona to Buffalo, and took Iowa's Tyler Linderbaum with the pick from the Bills. Linderbaum might end as Baltimore's center for the next decade. The Ravens invest in the draft for renewed success as well as any team in the NFL."
There's no denying the Rams' all-in approach paid off for them. But it remains to be seen whether it turns out to be a tried and true blueprint for capturing the Lombardi Trophy.
As Ravens Executive Vice President and former General Manager Ozzie Newsome said on a podcast a couple months ago, there's more than one right way of doing things, and the Ravens believe in their way.
"There are a lot of ways of doing it. But we believe in building through the draft," Newsome said. "I applaud the way the Rams have done it, but we believe in the way we do it because I think it sustains longer."
Pundits Predict Bounce-Back Season for Ravens, 'The Most Unique Team in the League'
Last season, the Ravens were a team to be reckoned with even when wracked by injuries, so it stands to reason that a healthy Ravens squad has the potential to go a long way.
ESPN's Bill Barnwell and "That Franchise Guy's" Marcus Whitman both believe Baltimore will bounce back in a big way in 2022.
"The 2021 Ravens only vaguely resemble the team you'll see this season," Barnwell wrote. "John Harbaugh's team underwent a catastrophic streak of injuries. By adjusted games lost, they were the most-injured team in the history of the statistic. … The Ravens will be healthier in 2022, if only by sheer chance.
"As I look more and more at what we saw from Baltimore in 2021, my optimism about its chances grow. No, it wasn't as good as its 8-3 record from the first half of the season. Even while surviving on fumes for the last six weeks of the year, though, the Ravens were much better than their 0-6 finish. I think they will win the AFC North."
Whitman also views the Ravens as the best team in the division. He placed Baltimore at No. 7 in his power rankings, one spot ahead of the defending AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals.
Whitman pointed out that the Ravens aren't just welcoming back a number of key starters from injury; they also made significant additions in the draft and by signing players such as safety Marcus Williams, offensive tackle Morgan Moses and defensive lineman Michael Pierce in free agency.
"They didn't just sit back and say, 'OK, we're getting some of these key players back healthy, let's run this thing back,'" Whitman said. "No, they really looked themselves in the mirror and said, 'Who are we as a Ravens team? What are our strengths that we can continue to get better at?' And they looked around the league and said, 'Well, everyone's kind of going with this spread, small-ball approach,' … and they said. 'No, let's stay true to ourselves and we're going to become the bullies of the NFL. … Let's dictate our own terms with run game and defense and dominating the line of scrimmage. And let's double down on our offensive scheme. … and realize the strengths that Greg Roman's offense and this heavy run approach can take when you have a player the talent of Lamar Jackson.'
"This is the most unique team in the league. They play football a different way. And if they can drag you into the mud and do this the way they want to do it, you're more often than not going to come out bruised and broken, and probably losing."
Is Patrick Queen on the Hot Seat?
ESPN named one person in each organization who is on the hot seat entering the start of the regular season in its latest preseason power rankings (the Ravens moved up one spot to No. 9). For Baltimore, it's inside linebacker Patrick Queen.
"It's a critical time for Queen because the Ravens will have to decide whether to exercise his fifth-year option next offseason," ESPN’s Jamison Hensley wrote. "He hasn't become the every-down middle linebacker that was originally envisioned. Queen has struggled in coverage and getting off blocks, which is why he was moved to weakside linebacker. But new Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald, who was Queen's position coach in 2020, said the game has slowed down for him. It took until Queen's third season before he broke out at LSU. The Ravens are hoping Queen can do the same this season after being Baltimore's first-round pick in 2020."
Bleacher Report Proposes Two Trades for Ravens
Bleacher Report’s Alex Kay named one trade each team should make before the start of the regular season. He proposed the Ravens trade offensive guard Ben Powers to the Minnesota Vikings, and acquire wide receiver Jamison Crowder from the Buffalo Bills.
"Although Head Coach John Harbaugh recently called Ben Powers the 'most consistent guy [in the competition at left guard]right now,' he could net the club a nice return in a trade," Kay wrote. "Powers, a fourth-round pick in 2019, has started 19 games for Baltimore over the last two seasons. His 66.3 PFF grade last year was adequate, but it wasn't indicative of a long-term anchor along the interior of the offensive trenches. With Tyre Phillips and Ben Cleveland also for the same role, the Ravens may benefit most by simply dealing Powers and removing one competitor from the picture.
"The team may have showed their hand during the preseason opener by deploying Powers as their starting right guard and giving him snaps at center. Having him display that type of versatility could bolster his trade value by widening the number of potential suitors.'
In regard to his Crowder trade proposal, Kay wrote: "Crowder needs to beat out Isaiah McKenzie and rookie Khalil Shakir for the WR3 role in an offense that already has an elite wideout in Stefon Diggs and an up-and-comer in Gabe Davis. The position looks crowded, potentially leaving the 29-year-old as the odd man out. … The Baltimore Ravens should be interested in acquiring a wideout with Crowder's resume. The team has a critical lack of proven pass-catchers in its receiver's room right now, an issue it can cheaply rectify by bringing in a savvy veteran for a late-round pick."
The Ravens have said repeatedly that they like they're young receiving corps. They also reportedly have signed veteran wide receiver Demarcus Robinson.