Better, worse or the same? Better, at least the Ravens hope so.
No group underwent more changes on the Ravens than the offensive line. There is no starter returning to the same spot from last season’s playoffs.
Stanley, a first-team All-Pro in 2019, is expected to return at left tackle at some point in training camp after suffering a season-ending ankle injury in Week 8. Bradley Bozeman, a two-year starter at left guard, has moved to his more natural position at center, which was a major trouble spot for Baltimore last season.
Zeiter, the team’s biggest free-agent addition, should provide some Marshal Yanda-type stability at right guard. The Ravens made a bold move of trading Orlando Brown Jr. to the Kansas City Chiefs and replacing him at right tackle with Alejandro Villanueva, the former left tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The major question mark is at left guard. Rookie third-round pick Ben Cleveland appears to the be the frontrunner, although he’ll have to beat out Tyre Phillips and Ben Powers.
Bozeman has yet to start a game at center over his first three seasons with Baltimore. However, that is where he played (and excelled) while at Alabama, and there is a good chance he makes the switch heading into 2021. Bozeman has given the Ravens average play as their starter at left guard over the past two seasons on a whopping 2,357 snaps, including the postseason (fourth among all offensive players). That snap count is part of the reason he’s been one of the 10 most valuable guards in the league since 2019, per PFF WAR.
This coming season may serve as a case study for how important scheme can be for offensive linemen. Zeitler was released by the Giants after struggling through the worst season of his NFL career — albeit one still good enough to rank among the top 32 guards in the NFL — but was quickly picked up by the Ravens, who have one of the most friendly schemes in the league for offensive linemen. You don’t need to go back far to find Zeitler posting grades among the best in the NFL, and we could see that again for the Ravens this year.
Stanley was his usual self prior to going down with a season-ending injury in Week 8 of 2020, virtually never losing in pass protection. He earned a 91.0 pass-blocking grade over his six outings, which at the time was the best in the NFL. In 2019, Stanley led all tackles in pass-blocking grade by over four grading points with a 93.3 mark.
While Baltimore’s offense helps, Stanley maintains his strong ranking when isolating the data set to true pass sets. He ranks fourth among all tackles in true pass set grade since entering the league in 2016, and he jumps to first when looking at just the past two seasons.
Baltimore smartly avoided having to pay Orlando Brown Jr., offloaded him for major draft capital and then signed an average, veteran offensive lineman to replace him. Over the past three years, Villanueva ranks 12th among left tackles in pass-blocking grade and has routinely done his job in the ground game, producing a negatively graded run-block rate that sits in the 82nd percentile at the position. He has just four career snaps at right tackle (all of which came in his first season in 2014), but he should hold up just fine there for Baltimore.
NFL training camps 2021: Dez Fitzpatrick and other AFC rookies drafted after Day 1 who could earn key roles – Chris Trapasso
Impressive stat to know: Measured in at 6-6 and 343 pounds and ran a 5.05 (92nd percentile) in the 40 at the Georgia Pro Day
Cleveland was born to play in Baltimore. That sentence reads weird if you’re a Ravens fan, doesn’t it? This former Georgia star kindly moves 300-pound defensive linemen out of the intended run lane as if he was organizing stuffed animals in a little kid’s room. Stiff? Yes. But unfairly powerful. After Marshal Yanda’s retirement, the Ravens lost some grown man strength at guard. Cleveland won’t be the next Yanda, but he can provide some of the jolt Baltimore missed in 2020. Cleveland was drafted in Round 3 to start right away.
Defensive lineman Justin Madubuike
Injuries delayed the start of Madubuike’s rookie season, but once the 22-year-old defensive lineman got rolling, he seemed to make at least one eye-popping play a week, earning solid grades as a run and pass defender. You don’t necessarily look at 19 tackles and one sack and think “star,” but the tape told a more tantalizing story about Madubuike’s potential. With his quickness off the ball, he could become the interior pass rusher the Ravens have lacked in recent seasons. He’s not a mountain who will swallow multiple blockers a la Brandon Williams; he’s a playmaker. Veteran teammates Derek Wolfe and Calais Campbell have predicted a big leap from Madubuike in 2021. The Ravens need that kind of breakout from him as they look to the future of a position group dominated by graybeards.