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Rookie Class Is Playing a Big Role Down the Stretch

Left: RB J.K. Dobbins; Right: LB Patrick Queen
Left: RB J.K. Dobbins; Right: LB Patrick Queen

Where would the Ravens be without their rookies? They are fortunate they don't have to answer that question.

As the Ravens make their push toward a possible playoff berth, the major contributions of the 2020 rookie class are impossible to ignore. Their adjustment to the NFL was made more challenging due to the COVID-19 pandemic, yet they have responded to make an immediate impact.

Head Coach John Harbaugh isn't surprised, but he is appreciative.

"We felt like it was going to be a good class coming in," Harbaugh said. "We really didn't know what the impact would be on their development with the new situation, but they've done great. They've been all-in. They're just a bunch of guys who love football and want to contribute. They've forced their way in there, and we've needed them to do that.

"So, it's very impressive. They've made their share of rookie mistakes, and we get on them about it, but they're going strong. They're going strong as ever right now, and I'm really proud of those guys."

Baltimore's first-round pick, Patrick Queen, is a candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Queen was expected to be a starter from Week 1 and he has played every game and leads the team in tackles with 98, to go along with three sacks, eight tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, an interception and a touchdown.

Queen had a key fourth-down sack Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first half when the game was still close. His presence has made he Ravens' defense faster, and when Queen has a chance to make an open-field tackle he rarely whiffs.

J.K. Dobbins is an electric running back who has taken over as the Ravens' lead back in a talented group. His speed and ability to avoid going down on first contact makes him effective as both an inside and outside runner. Dobbins has run for a touchdown in four consecutive games, setting a franchise record for most consecutive game with a touchdown by a rookie.

The Ravens have two rookie defensive linemen who've made an impact, Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington. With Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams both missing some games due to injuries and illness, the presence of Madubuike and Washington has become more important. Without Campbell out of the lineup against Jacksonville, Baltimore's defensive front didn't miss a beat.

"I thought the two young guys really stepped it up when Calais couldn't go, which we found out before the game," Harbaugh said following the Jacksonville game. "Those two guys, I think, took it upon themselves to play to that level."

Tyre Phillips began the season as the starting right guard, and he has recently shared time with D.J. Fluker as the starting right tackle. But what people will talk about most is Phillips' runaway freight train run on Sunday after he picked up Lamar Jackson's fumble. Phillips' collision with Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack was epic, an effort that earned Phillips a game ball and the "Angry Run" of the week from "Good Morning Football."

"Even Derek Wolfe and I were saying – a guy who has been around for a while – we've never seen that before," Harbaugh said. "We've never seen an offensive lineman pick up a ball and actually gain yards without fumbling."

Rookie inside linebacker Malik Harrison has been part of the inside linebacker rotation every game, and he has also been a standout on special teams. When inside linebacker L.J. Fort was out of the lineup against the Indianapolis Colts, Harrison started and had his best game of the season.

Two other rookies are important players on special teams. Devin Duvernay has been the kick returner all year and took a 93-yarder the distance in Week 3, while James Proche II has been a sure-handed punt returner. Duvernay has seen fewer offensive snaps the past couple weeks, going from 80 percent against Dallas to 15 percent versus Cleveland and six percent against Jacksonville.

There was speculation before the season that this could be a difficult year for rookies in general, but for the Ravens, that hasn't been the case. They're getting contributions from rookies in all three phases, and they all seem to share the same outlook as Dobbins, who doesn't believe in rookies running out of gas.

"I don't feel like I'm hitting the rookie wall," Dobbins said last week. "My body feels fine. I take care of my body. It hasn't hit me yet, I don't think. Does it look like it in my play? I don't know what the rookie wall is, so y'all have to let me know."

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