Skip to main content
Presented by

Late for Work: Filling Defensive Holes Named Ravens' Biggest Concern Ahead of Training Camp

Ravens defense at minicamp
Ravens defense at minicamp

Despite the Ravens returning a number of stars from last season's No. 1 scoring defense, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec contends that the defense is Baltimore's biggest concern heading into training camp next month.

Specifically, Zrebiec questioned whether the Ravens have done enough this offseason to fill their holes on defense.

"This offseason saw an exodus from arguably the league's best defense in 2023," Zrebiec wrote. "Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald and key position coaches Dennard Wilson and Anthony Weaver left for promotions elsewhere. The Ravens also lost outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, inside linebacker Patrick Queen, cornerback Ronald Darby and safety Geno Stone, among others, in free agency.

"They added some pieces in the draft and are confident several younger players will emerge at other spots. Still, their defensive depth, particularly at outside and inside linebacker and safety, could become a significant problem if injuries hit."

Zrebiec's points are valid, but there's reason to believe the Ravens' defense will again be one of the NFL's best under first-year coordinator Zach Orr.

Inside linebacker Roquan Smith and safety Kyle Hamilton are arguably the best players in the league at their positions, and Justin Madubuike established himself as a force at defensive tackle last season. Sports Illustrated named the Ravens’ defensive triplets the best in the NFL.

Safety Marcus Williams is healthy and appears poised for a breakout season, and the Ravens have significant talent at cornerback, including Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Stephens, first-round pick Nate Wiggins, and underrated veteran Arthur Maulet.

Veteran outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy is coming off his best season, and he said he expects fellow outside linebacker Odafe Oweh "to bounce off the charts this year." The Ravens also expect second-year inside linebacker Trenton Simpson to make an impact as Queen's replacement, and third-year defensive tackle Travis Jones could make a leap.

Pundit Stresses Importance of Extending Mark Andrews

Whether Stephens could be the next Ravens player to receive a contract extension was discussed in yesterday’s Late for Work, but Bleacher Report’s Ryan Fowler identified tight end Mark Andrews, who turns 29 this season, as the team's most important potential contract extension.

"Although the ascension of Isaiah Likely has been a positive, Mark Andrews will remain Baltimore's top flex weapon as long as he's in town," Fowler wrote. "Length of extension and monetary details become more and more of a question as players age, but locking in Andrews past his 30-year-old season should remain a priority for GM Eric DeCosta.

"Cap space is an issue in Baltimore in both the present, and future, but locking in Andrews would extend the Ravens' offensive ceiling in the years to come."

Zrebiec also weighed in on a potential extension for Andrews: "The four-year, $56 million extension Andrews signed with the Ravens in September 2021 has two seasons remaining. Andrews has a base salary of $7 million and a salary-cap hit of $16.9 million in each of the final two years of his deal. If Andrews has a Pro Bowl-caliber season in 2024, you'd have to think there would be discussion about an extension next offseason."

Derrick Henry Ranked as NFL's Second-Best Running Back

Derrick Henry may be 30, but his status as an elite running back is intact. Henry was No. 2 in CBS Sports’ Garrett Podell’s top 20 running backs rankings, which took both past production and future projections into account.

"Henry, who is a four-time Pro Bowler, ranked inside the top two of the entire NFL in both carries and rushing yards in four of the last five seasons, making him only the 10th player all time to finish inside the the top two in the league in rushing yards in at least four seasons," Podell wrote. "Henry's 280 carries led the league in 2023 while he ranked second in the NFL in rushing yards (1,167) behind only NFL Offensive Player of the Year Christian McCaffrey.

"Yes, he averaged a career-worst 4.2 yards per carry in 2023 as a 29-year-old, but that figure was above average across the NFL (his 4.2 yards per carry ranked 18th among 44 qualified running backs last season.) Henry totaled that production in a Tennessee Titans offense that lacked a scary passing attack with quarterback Ryan Tannehill injured and rookie Will Levis experiencing growing pains — his 58.4% completion percentage ranked dead last in the NFL in 2023."

Podell said Henry should flourish playing alongside Lamar Jackson and behind a better offensive line than he had with the Titans last season.

"Henry should have much wider running lanes to work with since the Ravens' registered a Pro Football Focus run-blocking grade of 67.9, the eight- best in the league," Podell wrote. "That's a considerable upgrade from the Titans' 60.2 PFF run-blocking grade, which ranked 17th in the NFL. King Henry is set up to rule once again in 2024."

Henry also was ranked as the second-best running back by PFF.

Three Ravens Poised for Breakout Seasons

The Ravens have several players poised for breakout seasons, according to PFF’s Gordon McGuinness. Here's a look at three players from his list:

DT Travis Jones

"Jones improved from a solid rookie year in 2022 to earn a 68.1 PFF grade on a higher snap count in his second year last season. The Ravens coaching staff seemed to lean on him more as the season progressed. Only Justin Madubuike logged more snaps than Jones on the defensive interior in the six games from Week 15 through the AFC Championship game. Expect that to continue into the 2024 season if Jones can continue his upward trajectory."

LG Andrew Vorhees

"Filling the void left by John Simpson, who departed as a free agent, Vorhees looks set to step right into a starting role coming off a redshirt rookie season due to a torn ACL suffered at the 2023 NFL Combine. His production in college before the injury warranted going higher than the seventh round, as Vorhees earned 80.0-plus PFF pass and run blocking grades in each of his final two seasons at USC."

RB Keaton Mitchell

"Coming off his own ACL injury, though this one occurred late in the NFL season, Keaton Mitchell won't be ready for the start of the 2024 season, so this is more of a potential late-season breakout option. When he does get back on the field though, his ability to create big plays will add another layer to the Ravens offense. As a rookie, he forced 15 missed tackles from just 47 carries while producing a 15-plus-yard run on 14.9% of his rushing attempts."

Former Ravens Fullback Says Games Against Steelers Led to His Retirement

As a testament to how fierce and physical the Ravens-Steelers rivalry has been over the years, former Ravens fullback Lorenzo Neal said recently that playing against Pittsburgh three times during the 2008 season caused him to retire.

"We lost to them three times that year," Neal said on the Bleav in Chargers” podcast. "That was the year that pretty much retired me because it was just Le'Ron McClain, who played fullback, that I was blocking for, and Ray Rice. That year took at least two years off my career. I think I would've played another two or three years if I didn't go to Baltimore."

Neal, a four-time Pro Bowler, played just that one season with the Ravens (it was his 16th overall). He signed with the Raiders before the 2009 season but was placed on IR in August. He retired shortly thereafter.

Quick Hits

  • Center Tyler Linderbaum was named the center most likely to become a first-time All-Pro by CBS Sports.
  • Quarterback-turned-wide receiver Malik Cunningham was identified as the Ravens' most surprising player at minicamp by ESPN’s Jamison Hensley.

Related Content