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Late for Work 6/13: Ravens are the 'Safest Bet' Among Turnaround Teams

Baltimore Ravens TE Mark Andrews (89) leads the team huddle with head coach John Harbaugh.
Baltimore Ravens TE Mark Andrews (89) leads the team huddle with head coach John Harbaugh.

Ravens Top the List of Teams Rebounding From 2021

Due to an inordinate number of injuries last season, the Ravens fell from No. 1 in the AFC to an 8-9 record and last place in the AFC North. But Sports Illustrated’s Conor Orr isn't expecting them to remain at the bottom. Instead, he has the Ravens as "the safest bet we can possibly make when talking NFL futures."

"Last year, despite having to re-sign half of the guys in Madden 2004 to play running back amid a rash of injuries and despite missing Jackson for five games, the Ravens were still one of the five most successful teams on early-down success rate (via Sports Info Solutions) and the best team in the NFL in red zone success rate," Orr wrote. "Why? The system works. It's still incredibly hard to defend. That hasn't changed. Now, with Jackson in a contract year, a host of healthy backs and quite possibly the deepest tight end room in football, everything is set up for the Ravens to take advantage of a division in flux."

Orr wasn't alone in considering the Ravens as a team that could go from worst to first. According to PFF’s Doug Kyed, one AFC personnel executive considered the Ravens as the only team among the list of eight fourth-place finishers who could do so.

"'Maybe the Ravens,' the executive told PFF. 'That's it. And that's a maybe.'"

It appears Vegas agrees with pundits and executives, as DraftKings, Caesars and BetMGM all have the Ravens with the best odds to go from fourth place to atop their division.

Not everybody is quick to jump on the Ravens, however. Former Minnesota Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman does have some hesitancy when it comes to the wide receivers.

"'They had a hell of a draft I thought, but I don't know if they have enough receivers,' Spielman told PFF. 'They're gonna have to have some receivers step up for them.'"

Minicamp Battles to Watch For

The Ravens' mandatory minicamp kicks off on Tuesday, and The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec believes there are 10 position battles worth watching.

No. 2/3 wide receivers

The competitors: Devin Duvernay, James Proche II, Tylan Wallace, veteran to be named
The favorites: Duvernay, Proche
How it might play out: "After the Ravens traded Marquise Brown during the NFL Draft and didn't select a wide receiver, it seemed inevitable that they'd sign a veteran pass catcher. Nearly a month and a half after the draft, the Ravens still haven't signed one. Duvernay and Proche are the veterans of their receiving group and entering their third seasons. Whether it's Julio Jones, Will Fuller, Cole Beasley, T.Y. Hilton or somebody else, it still feels likely that the Ravens will add a free agent at this position."

No. 3 tight end

The competitors: Charlie Kolar, Isaiah Likely, Josh Oliver, Tony Poljan
The favorites: Kolar, Likely
How it might play out: "With Nick Boyle slated for the No. 2 blocking tight end role and fullback Patrick Ricard also likely to be utilized as a tight end in some looks, the Ravens need their No. 3 tight end to be a pass-catching complement to Mark Andrews. Kolar and Likely, both rookie fourth-round picks, seem capable of filling that role and have shown their receiving ability during OTAs. It will come down to how the rookies develop through the summer and who earns the playing time."

No. 3 CB

The competitors: Jalyn Armour-Davis, Kyle Fuller, Kevon Seymour, Brandon Stephens, Damarion Williams
The favorites: Fuller, Stephens
How it might play out: "The Ravens have some options here. They can use Fuller or Armour-Davis on the outside opposite Marcus Peters and move Marlon Humphrey into the slot. They could keep Peters and Humphrey on the outside and use Fuller, Stephens or Williams inside. This will have to play out in training camp, but Fuller seems to be the safest bet to settle into the No. 3 cornerback role."

Three 'Sneaky' X-Factors for the Ravens

The Ravens will be calling on younger players to take the leap this season as they look to bounce back from 2021. And while many are expecting wide receiver Rashod Bateman and rookie safety Kyle Hamilton to be those players, Baltimore Beatdown’s Frank Platko listed three under-the-radar players who could be "X-factors" this coming season.

WR Tylan Wallace

"In flashes, we've seen the abilities of Bateman, Duvernay and Proche on display. It's Wallace, though, who is the biggest unknown of the group. The Oklahoma State product played only 84 offensive snaps in his rookie season despite being active for all 17 games. By virtue of Marquise Brown and Sammy Watkins no longer being on the roster, Wallace will be higher on the depth chart in 2022, with a greater opportunity for playing time. He may end up being one of the most important wide receivers on the roster, in large part due to his skill set."

OLB Daelin Hayes

"After essentially a redshirt first year, Hayes has a chance to make a carve out a legit role for himself in 2022. Given the question marks the Ravens have at the outside linebacker position, the Ravens may need him to take on consistent defensive snaps. Also, like Wallace, Hayes' specific skill set could prove to be important. Hayes' coverage abilities for an edge rusher were a calling card coming out of Notre Dame last draft cycle. In drafting him, the hope was that he'd be a good fit behind Tyus Bowser, who the Ravens have always dropped into coverage often because of his high-end skills in that department.

OL Ben Cleveland

"Cleveland was expected to establish himself as a plug-and-play starter at left guard as a rookie. This didn't exactly come to fruition, although he was limited late in the offseason by injury. Cleveland flashed at times on the field but also showed there's legitimate room for improvement in his technique and consistency. Physically, Cleveland fits the profile as a Ravens' starter more so than Tyre Phillips or Ben Powers, the other likely primary candidates for the starting right guard spot in 2022. However, both of the latter probably have a slight advantage over Cleveland as currently stands, by virtue of experience."

Did the Ravens Build a 'Bengal-Beating' Defense

This offseason, the Ravens used the majority of their capital—be it cap space or draft picks, toward improving their defense. Along with bringing in new Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald, they signed or re-signed seven defensive players and drafted five more. According to Russell Street Report’s Chris Schisler, the Cincinnati Bengals may have something to do with it.

"The Ravens are quietly building a team designed to beat the Bengals," Schisler wrote. "Kyle Hamilton and Marcus Williams being added at the safety spots surely look like a response to Ja'Marr Chase and company. Getting back [Marcus] Peters and [Marlon] Humphrey back is huge for the Baltimore defense. Adding two cornerbacks in the draft and signing Kyle Fuller certainly looks like a way to slow down Burrow."

It wouldn't be the first time in the AFC North that a team made additions to counter a rival. Many speculated the Browns' addition of linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in 2021 was to counter Lamar Jackson. However, it's more likely the Ravens added these players to simply improve their defense rather than construct it with the Bengals in mind.

Regardless of intention, Schisler sees the Ravens as a team capable of usurping the AFC North throne.

"The Ravens are built to re-establish Lamar Jackson as a weapon," Schisler wrote. "The Ravens are built to have the best secondary in the NFL. The Bengals fans may not be able to hear this over their excitement, but the Ravens might be built to knock the Bengals down."

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