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2021 Team Report: Baltimore Ravens

Last updated: Mon, Jun 7

Offensive Philosophy

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has had plenty of experience working with mobile quarterbacks, from David Carr in Houston to Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco to Tyrod Taylor in Buffalo. When Joe Flacco was injured in 2018, Roman was able to overhaul his entire offense practically overnight to suit the skills of rookie Lamar Jackson. After the season, Jackson's 2018 performance was much-discussed, with many noting that had played a full year at that level, Jackson would have broken every major quarterback rushing record on the books. When Roman and head coach John Harbaugh were asked about that heading into 2019, both men slyly suggesting that fantasy owners should bet the over. Both men were right. Jackson did indeed break the single-season quarterback rushing record by nearly 200 yards (despite sitting out a meaningless Week 16 contest). In fact, Jackson out-rushed all but five running backs, and the team as a whole rushed for more yards than anyone since the 1948 San Francisco 49ers in the now-defunct All-American Football Conference. The question in 2020 was whether such a run-focused offense could succeed in such a pass-heavy league, and the early returns were negative. But by the end of the year, Baltimore had regained their stride, topping 3000 rushing yards for the second consecutive year. Baltimore runs with a variety of players out of a variety of fronts and relies heavily on the deep passing game to keep defenses on their heels.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Lamar Jackson
Backup(s): Trace McSorley, Tyler Huntley

Starting QB: Jackson followed up his electric 2019 with a less exciting 2020. In the same amount of games, he passed for nearly 400 fewer yards and 10 fewer touchdowns. He also rushed for 201 fewer yards than he did in his MVP campaign two seasons ago. Jackson's supporting cast has been bolstered by another in a long line of savvy free agent signings by Baltimore. Sammy Watkins joins the team from Kansas City, and it's Watkins' health -- not his skill -- that is his biggest question mark. If he can play the majority of Baltimore's games, he'll be the best wide receiver Jackson has played with in his short tenure as starter. Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews, who led the team in receiving in 2020 and 2019, respectively, will also return to give Jackson some familiar weapons.

Backup QB: Jackson has defied the predictions of many by staying healthy so far in his NFL career. His only two missed games were due to rest (Week 17, 2019) and COVID (Week 12, 2020). However, he did leave the team's Divisional Playoff loss last season with a concussion. And if Jackson misses time in 2021, Baltimore will struggle. McSorley put together a gritty performance in relief of a struggling and injured Robert Griffin in the Week 12 game last season, but expecting McSorley to sustain that level of play for a full game or longer is a longshot. Huntley, who came into last year's playoff game in relief of Jackson, could surpass McSorley as the team's primary backup. This is a battle to watch throughout the preseason.

Running Backs

Starter: J.K. Dobbins
Backup(s): Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, Ty'son Williams
Fullback(s): Patrick Ricard, Ben Mason [R]

Starting RB: Dobbins was a somewhat surprising pick in the 2020 NFL draft considering team needs, but he fit in well with Baltimore's run-first mentality. He provided the burst and versatility that starter Mark Ingram lacked, and he was the team's second-leading rusher behind Lamar Jackson. With Ingram gone, Dobbins should lead a committee with tremendous potential. Jackson will continue to be a threat for 1,000 yards, but Dobbins should receive at least his 134 carries from 2020 and the lion's share of the 72 vacated by Ingram. And he should be expected to do more with them he and Ingram did last season.

Backup RBs: Edwards is mostly a one-dimensional player, evidenced by his 18 career catches in 43 games. But he has a role in a run-first offense and will be more than just a traditional backup to Dobbins. The team brought him back this year by giving him a second-round tender as a restricted free agent, and the parties are still working on a long-term extension. The 2019 preseason might as well be a decade ago, and that's the last time Justice Hill was receiving buzz as a player who could emerge due to his quickness and explosiveness. But with the acquisition of Dobbins in last year's draft and bringing Edwards back, Hill remains strictly a change-of-pace/depth option.

Fullback: Ricard came to the Ravens as an undrafted defensive lineman but since has won a role as their starting fullback. He has scored four touchdowns as a receiver and gets a look about once every other game. He'll be entrusted with the mentorship of the team's fifth-round pick, Ben Mason, who came to Michigan as a linebacker. Mason could also play some H-back and serve as the #3 tight end.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins
Backups: Rashod Bateman [R], Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay, James Proche, Tylan Wallace [R]

Starting WRs: The preseason hype surrounding Brown last year was unavoidable. He put on significant weight to be able to handle the physical nature of the NFL; he was fully recovered from his 2019 Lisfranc injury; and he was working out with Lamar Jackson throughout the offseason. But Brown disappointed, with only 769 yards and 13.3 yards per reception, a mediocre number for someone with his electric speed. Baltimore hopes that Watkins can help to open things up for the entire passing game and take some pressure off Brown. Watkins worked with Greg Roman in Buffalo, so the learning curve of the offense should not be steep. After a year in which Baltimore was far too predictable on offense due to a lack of playmaking talent, Watkins is a welcome addition.

Backup WRs: Bateman was highly productive in college and succeeded from both the perimeter and the slot. He's a physical player who broke many tackles and gained plenty of yards after the catch. Bateman's basketball background suggests he's a tough player, and he should earn reps in two and three-receiver sets, especially in the event of an injury to Brown or Watkins. The selection of Bateman in the first round wasn't just a team need. It suggests that Baltimore isn't thrilled with Boykin's progress. Boykin has struggled to gain consistent playing time to the point that there were offseason rumors that the team might convert him to tight end. John Harbaugh said such a conversion wasn't happening but did concede that Boykin runs some tight end routes and will continue to. With Watkins and Bateman ahead of him, Boykin is unlikely to play in two-receiver sets. And with Mark Andrews being a favorite target of Jackson's, the team isn't likely to play many three-receiver sets. Boykin will have a role as a big slot and in the red zone, but he won't be a constant presence. Duvernay's most significant contributions in his rookie year came as a returner rather than a receiver. Veteran Willie Snead manned the slot in 2020 and kept Duvernay on the bench within the offense. But Snead is gone this season, which leaves the slot role open. Duvernay, Boykin, and Proche will all compete for the role. And it's likely that all will have limited roles considering the varying skill sets they possess. Such a scenario would lead to none emerging as an every-down player, especially with the lack of three-receiver sets Baltimore uses. Baltimore also added Wallace in the fourth round of the draft. Wallace was considered a first-round talent by many, but injury concerns dropped him down the board. Baltimore doesn't pass enough to make Wallace this season, but he's an interesting name to monitor.

Tight Ends

Starters: Mark Andrews
Backups: Nick Boyle, Josh Oliver, Eric Tomlinson

Andrews built on his excellent 2019 with another solid showing in 2020. He's a favorite target of Lamar Jackson, who looked his way 88 times last season (second on the team). Andrews' athleticism and size make him a difficult matchup for any opposing defense. He'll likely be among the team's most frequently targeted players once again in 2021. Boyle is the opposite kind of player from Andrews. He lacks elite athleticism and is purely a blocking specialist. Boyle is unlikely to contribute much more than the 14 receptions he registered in 2020. The team could employ fifth-round pick Ben Mason as a #3 tight end in addition to his college position of fullback. They could also turn back to Tomlinson, who is a serviceable blocking tight end. If they want more of an athletic receiver as their #3, Oliver could win that job, assuming he stays healthy, which he hasn't been able to do in his first two years after the Jaguars took him in the third round. The Ravens acquired him for a conditional seventh-round pick (Oliver has to make the team) this offseason.

Place Kicker

Justin Tucker: Tucker dropped off a little in 2020 because he missed 3 of his 29 field goal attempts (as opposed to 1 of 29 in 2019) and made five fewer extra points. That's two years in a row that Tucker's field goal attempts have been in the high 20s instead of high 30s, and he is also attempting fewer kicks from 40-49 and 50+ yards. While the higher extra point totals make up some of the gap, he isn't the elite fantasy kicker he was before Lamar Jackson broke out. Fantasy draft ADP tells a different story, as Tucker is usually first or second off of the board. His scoring the last two years just doesn't justify that even though he might be the first kicker we would take if we were drafting kickers for our NFL team.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Devin Duvernay, Marquise Brown, James Proche

Baltimore returns all of its principal contributors on special teams, with speedy young receiver Devin Duvernay a good bet to reprise his role as the team's top kickoff returner.

Punt Returners: James Proche, Devin Duvernay

James Proche handled most of Baltimore's punt returns last year, and Devin Duvernay fielded most of the ones he missed. With both players set to return in 2021, Baltimore should have some continuity on special teams.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Ronnie Stanley, LG Ben Cleveland [R], C Bradley Bozeman, RG Kevin Zeitler, RT Alejandro Villanueva
Key Backups: OL Tyre Phillips, OL Patrick Mekari, OL Ben Powers, OL Ben Bredeson, OL Ju'Wuan James (inj)

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley returns from last year's injury while center Bradley Bozeman moves over from left guard. Kevin Zeitler arrived to play right guard from the Giants. However, the Ravens dealt Pro Bowler Orlando Brown to Kansas City and right tackle Alejandro Villanueva arrived from Pittsburgh to replace him. Round three rookie Ben Cleveland from UGA has generational strength and will likely start at left guard. This line grades as uncertain early but should firm up down the stretch.

Team Defense

The Ravens lost their top edge rusher, Matt Judon, to the Patriots in free agency, but otherwise will be returning the core of their defense. They finished as a top five D/ST in most scoring systems and will cost as much as the #2 D/ST pick in fantasy drafts. If Lamar Jackson and the offense leaves their first-half doldrums in 2020 and opens up larger leads, the Ravens could live up to that lofty cost, but it would help if they sign one of the many talented edge rushers still available in free agency after the draft.

Defensive Line

Starters: NT Brandon Williams, DE Calais Campbell, DE Derek Wolfe
Backups: NT Justin Ellis, DE/DT Justin Madubuike, DE Broderick Washington

Starting DL: For years Baltimore's defensive linemen were responsible for eating up space and blockers while keeping the second-level players free to make plays. As a result, there was been relatively low statistical production from the front three. In 2019 for example, Baltimore's defensive line as a whole produced four sacks. Last offseason the team added Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe with the intent to get more big plays from the front three. The result was an improvement but was not exactly what the organization was looking for. As a unit, the Ravens defensive line accounted for nine sacks with Campbell's four leading the way. Due largely to injuries, Baltimore had seven defensive linemen that played at least 161 snaps in 2020, with only Wolfe getting on the field for more than 358. Campbell, who is the best weapon of this group, missed five games. His numbers could pick up a bit in 2021 but he will be 35 in September and it is worth mention that three of his four sacks last year came against the Eagles who could not block anyone. Wolfe had seven sacks with Denver in 2019 but managed just one for the Ravens last season. Jihad Ward contributed three but is no longer with the team. At some point, the organization will have to look at their scheme instead of the personnel if they want to get more from their defensive line.

Backup DL: The only real negative with Baltimore's starting front-three is that all of them are north of 30 years old. That fact may also be a big part of the reason the Ravens rotate so many guys along the front line. Justin Ellis, Justin Madubuike, and Broderick Washington are all solid contributors. If the starters all stay healthy, these guys may not play as much as they did last season, but they will all get on the field. Madubuike and Washington were the Ravens' third and fifth-round picks last season respectively. They did not turn heads with their numbers as rookies but both played well enough to be considered future starters. Ellis is a veteran with starting experience and is not much of a step down if Brandon Williams were to miss time.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB Patrick Queen, ILB L.J. Fort, OLB Pernell McPhee, OLB Tyus Bowser
Backups: ILB Chris Board, ILB Malik Harrison, OLB Jaylon Ferguson, OLB Odafe Oweh [R], OLB Daelin Hayes

Starting LBs: The Ravens traditionally get strong play from the linebacker positions. The 2020 season was no exception, but it also marked the beginning of a youth movement. Baltimore used a first-round pick on inside linebacker Patrick Queen last spring. He immediately stepped into the lead role, but interestingly played only about 80% of the team's defensive snaps. Meanwhile, third-year men L.J. Fort and Chris Board shared the rest of the playing time with rookie third-round pick, Malik Harrison. All three of them played between 261 and 380 snaps in what was mostly a situational rotation. The Ravens made this work but it was not an optimal way of getting things done. Now that Queen has a year under his belt, he should be ready to stay on the field full time. He is a quick and effective run defender but it is Queen's impact plays that make him special. As a rookie, he was responsible for three sacks, five turnovers, and a score. Fort played the second-most snaps among Baltimore's inside linebackers in 2020, and projects as the starter alongside Queen. He has played for three teams in three seasons as a pro but appears to have finally found a home as a situational contributor in Baltimore. That said, it is likely the team will continue to use Fort in a timeshare with either Harrison and/or Board. This approach worked well for the team in 2020 so there is no reason to expect anything different this year. The emphasis moved outside for this year's draft. Baltimore has been without a premier edge rusher for a few years now. Matt Judon led the team in sacks last year with six and they let him leave in free agency. They then selected Odafe Oweh in round one. A player that failed to record a sack in seven games played with Penn State last year. Round-one picks are usually expected to contribute right away and Oweh will get a chance to do so, but the Ravens have the luxury of some solid veteran options on the outside as well, so there should not be much pressure on the youngster right away. Tyus Bowser, Pernell McPhee, and Jaylon Ferguson will all be part of the rotation on the edge. The chances that one of these guys will put up big sack numbers in small, but they have already shown the ability to get it done as a unit.

Backup LBs: Patrick Queen should ascend to a near every-down role in 2021. Leaving Chris Board and Malik Harrison to compete with L.J. Fort for playing time at the other inside linebacker position. None of these guys can fill the shoes of Queen should he be lost, but all three can be serviceable starters if called upon. The situation at outside linebacker is much the same with the exception that big things are expected of Odafe Oweh. His college production is misleading in that Oweh has a huge upside to go with limited experience. He is a work in progress but the Ravens believe he can be special in a year or two.

Defensive Backs

Starters: SS Chuck Clark, FS DeShon Elliott, CB Marion Humphrey, CB Marcus Peters, CB Jimmy Smith
Backups: S Anthony Levine Sr., S Jordan Richards, CB Tavon Young, CB Anthony Averett, Shaun Wade [R], CB Brandon Stephens [R], CB Iman Marshall

Starting DBs: The Ravens' front seven is solid but it was the stellar play of the secondary that set their defense apart in 2020, particularly at the corner positions. In Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, Baltimore has arguably the best starting tandem in the league. Even their third corner, Jimmy Smith, is a former first-round pick with a multitude of starting experience. Humphry and Peters are both excellent cover corners. Their ability to stick with receivers goes a long way toward covering for a less than stellar pass rush. Just as importantly, they also excel at the big play. Between them, Humphrey and Peters accounted for 12 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries, 5 interceptions, and 3.5 sacks last season. Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliot are the starting safeties. They are less flashy than their fellow defensive backs but are also rock-solid and proven contributors. Clark is the strong safety, generally working closer to the line and handling most of the run support duties, while Elliott lines up deep most of the time and does a good job in the cleanup role. Both are dependable tacklers that rarely make mistakes. They are also big-play contributors with four forced fumbles, a pair of recoveries, an interception and, four sacks between them.

Backup DBs: The Ravens have some solid veteran depth in the secondary but no future starters are waiting in the wings. Safeties Anthony Levine and Jordan Richards each have at least six years of experience but they have never been in a starting lineup for more than an occasional game as a temporary fill-in. The top-two corners behind the starters are Tavon Young and Anthony Averett. Young, who was a fourth-round pick in 2016, saw a lot of action as a nickel corner early in his career but has struggled with injuries over the past two seasons. Averett, a fourth-round pick in 2018, earned his way into some passing down sub-packages last season. These two and rookie Shaun Wade are expected to compete to determine who will get those snaps this season. The Baltimore secondary is in great shape from a talent perspective and should repeat as one of the league's elite units. They could absorb a couple of short-term injuries without suffering a huge drop-off, but a long-term loss of any starter would make this a different unit.