A Full Season of Roquan Smith in Baltimore Is Cause for Excitement
There are an ample number of reasons to be excited about the Ravens in 2023.
Ebony Bird’s Parker Hurley named five of them. At the top of the list is the fact that All-Pro inside linebacker Roquan Smith is spending his first full season with Baltimore.
Smith made an immediate impact with the Ravens last year after they acquired him from the Chicago Bears in a midseason trade. He embodied what it means to "play like a Raven," as he elevated the defense to a championship level with his ability and leadership.
In January, Smith signed a five-year contract extension for a reported $100 million, making him the highest-paid player in the league at his position.
"Now, he gets a full offseason to work with [Defensive Coordinator] Mike MacDonald," Hurley wrote. "Roquan Smith will now be wearing the green dot, calling plays, and getting everything in line. That is a lot easier after a summer of studying compared to picking things up on the road with a few days until the next game.
"The presence of Roquan Smith makes a lot of people better. We saw that Patrick Queen instantly started to perform with the steadying voice in the middle. It helped Kyle Hamilton and Chuck Clark as well. … Fans should be excited about what Smith can bring, and if he really can stay as the top linebacker in the game through the entire season."
Smith, who is in attendance for OTAs this week, is excited about having a full season in Baltimore as well.
"I think it's critical being out here, getting spring [work] again and then just more time with the coaches," Smith said yesterday. "So, like understanding the terminology and whatnot, because mid-season is just, you're just trying to understand the concepts, not much of the terminology. I just think it's a great time to be out here, bonding with teammates and enjoying the game that we all love. I'm excited, and there's always room for improvement, so I'm just trying to find little things to get better at."
Ravens Are Outside Top 20 in Rankings of Best, Worst Offseasons
A lot of good things happened for the Ravens this offseason, from signing Lamar Jackson to a contract extension; to revamping the wide receiving corps with the additions of Odell Beckham Jr., first-round pick Zay Flowers, and Nelson Agholor; to bringing in new Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken.
Despite those moves, ESPN's Bill Barnwell wasn't impressed. He placed the Ravens at No. 21 in his rankings of the best and worst offseasons.
Among Barnwell's concerns is how much the Ravens will get out of Beckham.
"I spoke to more than one NFL executive who was shocked by the terms of Beckham's new contract," Barnwell wrote. "Beckham had been disappointing in Cleveland, ran hot and cold in Los Angeles, tore his ACL in the Super Bowl, and then wasn't able to play a year ago. The Ravens are paying him $15 million for the 2023 season, including $13.8 million up front in a signing bonus. Even if he does live up to those expectations, the Ravens would have to franchise him or give him a significant new deal to stick around after this campaign. There wasn't much on the wide receiver market, but I'd be surprised if Beckham was a $15 million caliber of player in 2023."
Barnwell also has questions about the Ravens defense.
"Calais Campbell left and was replaced by Bears rotation D-lineman Angelo Blackson," Barnwell wrote. "With Marcus Peters unsigned, the Ravens imported corner Rock Ya-Sin, who was disappointing in Indianapolis before playing better while missing six games in Las Vegas a year ago. He's on a one-year deal. Cornerback looks like a problem outside of Marlon Humphrey.
"Do the Ravens have a great pass-rusher? Justin Houston is no longer on the roster, and he was the only Baltimore player to rack up more than six sacks a year ago. It's fair to say they deserve some benefit of the doubt given their history of drafting and developing talent, but they're dependent on Odafe Oweh or David Ojabo making a leap and becoming this team's best pass-rusher in 2023. It's possible they might have been more aggressive if the Jackson deal had been completed before the draft."
Lamar Jackson Is Among the Quarterbacks Under the Most Pressure This Season
With a contract that makes him the highest-paid player in the league and the most weapons he's ever had, expectations for Jackson to have another MVP-caliber season are high. That's why ESPN's Dan Orlovsky named Jackson as one of five quarterbacks under the most pressure this season.
"This is a little bit of an organizational change," Orlovsky said. "Lamar Jackson his first five years won 45 games in the style of offense that they played, led to an MVP, went to the playoffs four out of five years. "Now a new offensive coordinator, Todd Monken. Huge contract to Lamar Jackson. In the first round [of the draft] two of the last three seasons, a wide receiver. They add Odell Beckham Jr. They said it was good, but it wasn't good enough. I want to see if Lamar can go and take that next step."
If Jackson is feeling the pressure of high expectations, he didn't show it when speaking with the media at OTAs yesterday.
When he was asked whether he has peace of mind now because the focus is on football rather than his contract situation, Jackson said: "No, because I was cool regardless."
Za'Darius Smith Expects Lot of Booing When He Faces Ravens in Baltimore
Former Raven Za'Darius Smith does not expect a warm reception when he returns to M&T Bank Stadium this season as a member of the Cleveland Browns.
Smith, a fourth-round pick in 2015, spent his first four seasons in Baltimore before departing for the Green Bay Packers in free agency. He appeared to be reuniting with the Ravens last offseason after reportedly reaching a verbal agreement on a four-year contract. However, Smith backed out of the deal and went on to sign with the Minnesota Vikings.
Smith's stint with the Vikings ended after one season, as the three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher requested his release before being traded to the Browns two weeks ago.
"Baltimore, I don't know, man," Smith said at OTAs yesterday when asked about the deal with the Ravens falling through. "It was something where somebody leaked something and said that I agreed to the deal, but I never did. And a lot of Baltimore Ravens fans are upset about that. Like when I said when I get ready to go back, it's going to be pretty fun because a lot of people may be booing and a lot of people may be happy for me at the same time. So it's all fun and games at the end of the day."
Smith, who has 36 sacks in 49 games since leaving the Ravens, and All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett form arguably the most fearsome pass-rushing duo in the league.
● Mark Andrews was No. 2 in Pro Football Focus’ tight end rankings.
● Morgan Moses was named the Ravens' most under-appreciated player by NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund.