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Late for Work 7/5: Pundit Says This Is the Ravens' Biggest Concern Heading Into Training Camp

WR Nelson Agholor
WR Nelson Agholor

Ravens Have an Upgraded Wide Receiver Room, But 'Injury Baggage' Is an Issue

Questions about the Ravens' wide receiver corps heading into the season has been a hot button topic for years. Despite assembling what on paper looks to be the most talented group the Ravens have ever had at the position this offseason, there is still uncertainty.

This time it's not about the level of talent the Ravens have at wide receiver. It's about the unit's injury history.

The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec said the question of whether Baltimore's receivers can stay healthy is the team's biggest concern as the start of training camp approaches.

"Much has been said about Baltimore's offseason wide receiver makeover. However, the new-look group carries injury baggage," Zrebiec wrote. "Free-agent acquisition Odell Beckham Jr. was sidelined all of last season as he recovered from a knee injury. Rashod Bateman has missed almost as many games as he's played since entering the NFL in 2021.

"Devin Duvernay is returning from foot surgery. This year's first-round pick, Zay Flowers, is just 5-foot-9 and 182 pounds, so he will have to prove that he can handle the physicality of the NFL. This could be one of the most talented receiving corps the Ravens have ever had, but health is going to have to cooperate."

Zrebiec makes a fair point, and it makes the under-the-radar signing of Nelson Agholor more significant. The 30-year-old veteran, who has been a standout at OTAs and minicamp, has been durable throughout his career. Agholor has played at least 15 games in six of his eight NFL seasons and has never played fewer than 11 games.

Themes From Ravens' 2022 Season and What They Mean for 2023

The Baltimore Sun’s Brian Wacker looked back at the themes that stood out for the Ravens last season and what they mean for the team in 2023, with insight from ESPN analyst Matt Bowen. Here's a look at two of them:

Red zone struggles

"There's no getting around Baltimore's problems inside the 20-yard line last season," Wacker wrote. "Only the Jets and New England Patriots had a worse touchdown rate in the red zone than the Ravens' 44.44%.

"[Todd] Monken's offense at Georgia did not have any problems finishing drives last season — the Bulldogs scored a touchdown in 68.7% of their trips to the red zone, best in the country. Bowen believes the spread and wide variety of formations Georgia used will be a hallmark of Baltimore's offense this season, from run-pass options, to quarterback runs, to roll outs and dropbacks and more running plays."

Bowen said: "When you run out of spread sets, it's going to create more options for J.K. Dobbins as a runner on zone teams on bending the ball back because you have to account for Lamar [Jackson]. Spread the field, use motion and movement to create misdirection. There are multiple ways to utilize that misdirection off motion on pre- and post-snap movement."

Blown coverages and confusions

"The Ravens had the fifth-best overall defense in the NFL last year, per Pro Football Focus, but they ranked just 14th in pass coverage," Wacker wrote. "It's no wonder that the four worst performances by the defensive backfield — against the Jaguars, Dolphins, Bills and Giants — all resulted in losses. … It was also [Mike] Macdonald's first year as defensive coordinator after serving in the same role at Michigan in 2021. Safety Kyle Hamilton was a rookie as well. Though he found his footing as the year went on, there was a learning curve."

Bowen said: "When you have busts, a lot of times it's communication. When you have a new coordinator and have a rookie like Hamilton on the field, there's going to be some mistakes. You'd expect going into Year 2 those mistakes will be gone. … I think they can be one of the best secondaries in the NFL."

Analysis of Lamar Jackson by Passing Depth Shows Why He Is Likely to Thrive This Season

It was noted in Late for Work last week that Jackson has room for improvement as a deep passer, and the Ravens undoubtedly want to take more shots downfield this season. That said, the Ravens having a more explosive passing game isn't solely dependent on long throws.

"The exact shape of Monken's offense remains to be determined, as he has proven highly adaptable to the available talent in his previous NFL stops with the Cleveland Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as well as the last three years at Georgia," USA Today’s Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz wrote. "Given what Beckham and Flowers can create after the catch, the unit might not need to rely merely on deep passing in order to pick up yardage in big chunks. No matter what the final product is, it should be far more electric than what the franchise has offered up in the last few years."

Pro Football Focus’ Gordon McGuinness said Jackson has an opportunity to thrive in Monken's offense because of his prowess in the intermediate part of the field.

"There are just 11 quarterbacks with 100-plus attempts at 10-19 yards that have earned a higher PFF passing grade than Jackson's 92.4," McGuinness wrote. "His 7.1% big-time throw rate ranks sixth while his 5.0% turnover-worthy play rate is the 16th-best mark, too.

"The exciting thing for Ravens fans is that this is an area of the field where Jackson is at his best as a passer, and he's going to get to throw passes to better receivers here in 2023 with the addition of Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers joining a hopefully fully healthy Rashod Bateman."

McGuinness said, "Jackson has been fine, if a little inconsistent, as a deep passer," but "this is an area where having his best receiving corps since entering the league will help."

"Flowers can win downfield, coming off a season where he ranked 11th among all FBS receivers with 500 yards on receptions 20-plus yards downfield, and we know what Beckham is capable of in terms of spectacular catches," McGuinness wrote.

Who Is the Top Ravens Quarterback of All Time?

Ebony Bird’s Ryan Heckman ranked the top five quarterbacks in Ravens history. It's a no-brainer that Jackson and Joe Flacco are the top two, but in what order?

Heckman gave the nod to Flacco. The Super Bowl XLVII MVP spent 11 seasons with the Ravens and is the franchise leader in career yards (38,245) and touchdown passes (212) by a wide margin.

"Joe Flacco is one of those guys who has gotten plenty of grief over his career for being fairly average, and maybe just 'good' at best," Heckman wrote. "Yet, when the lights come on and he's on the big stage, Flacco was incredible."

In putting Jackson at No. 2, Heckman said the 2019 unanimous league MVP "has more than enough time to blow the doors off every Ravens quarterback record."

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