AFC North training camp preview: Odell Beckham primed for comeback; who will back up Big Ben? – Nick Shook
Most important position battle: Linebacker. First off, there is pressure on former first-rounder Patrick Queen to be a better coverage defender than he was as a rookie in 2020. That’s undeniable. Having gotten that out of the way, we must look at the position next to Queen, which appears to be at least somewhat up for grabs between L.J. Fort and Malik Harrison. The latter logged just two regular-season games in which he played at least 50 percent of the defensive snaps last season, but as a 2020 third-round pick, he’ll be expected to take a larger role before long. The Ravens’ system of drafting to replace key players has worked out more often than not, and Harrison is next in line to be tested to see if he can follow in the footsteps of other productive defenders. While Lamar Jackson and Baltimore’s running backs carry the offense, the Ravens have remained competitive because they’ve fielded a top-10 defense in each of the last three seasons. Linebacker play is a key component of this success, and it might just be time for Harrison to ascend.
Training Camp Competition: Quarterbacks – Ryan Mink
McSorley saw some action last season in Pittsburgh and connected with Marquise Brown for a 70-yard touchdown. Two weeks later, McSorley suffered a knee injury in Cleveland and it was Huntley’s turn. Huntley ran twice as often as he threw during two brief regular-season appearances, then was thrust into the spotlight in the playoff loss in Buffalo when Jackson left the game with a concussion.
Neither lit it up when called upon, but they’re young and developing. Both can run the Ravens’ read-option offense because they’re both mobile, though Huntley has more speed. McSorley has a year more of experience, however. Preseason games will be a big factor in determining who gets the job behind Jackson and whether Baltimore keeps two or three quarterbacks.
Ranking all 32 NFL receiving corps ahead of the 2021 season – Steve Palazzolo
23. BALTIMORE RAVENS
After Baltimore wide receivers posted the fourth-worst receiving grade in the league last year at 68.5, the Ravens have added Sammy Watkins in free agency and Rashod Bateman in the first round. Watkins once looked like one of the next great receivers in the league, but his 89.8 overall grade in his second season is the best of his career and he’s coming off a career-low 64.5 grade. He still shows flashes of brilliance, but Watkins was clearly a step slower while battling injuries last season.
Bateman adds a potential No. 1 threat as his slick releases and a 55% contested catch percentage landed him at No. 17 on the PFF draft board. His presence takes pressure off former first-rounder Marquise Brown, who can play to his strengths as a downfield threat. Brown has 675 yards on deep (20-plus yard) passes in his two years in the league.
WR Miles Boykin has disappointed with receiving grades in the high-50s in each of his two seasons, so look for rookie fourth-rounder Tylan Wallace to compete for snaps, especially as another vertical threat. Devin Duvernay, a 2020 third-rounder, had just 20 catches as a rookie, but he’ll have a role in the slot and in the underneath game.
At tight end, Mark Andrews is one of the league’s best, and his 2.22 yards per route rank fourth among tight ends over the last two seasons. TE Nick Boyle is one of the best run-blockers at the position, but there was a clear dropoff with last year’s departure of Hayden Hurst to the Atlanta Falcons.
The Ravens have the pieces to improve as a receiving unit, but much of their hope lies in Watkins’ health and how quickly Bateman adjusts to the NFL.
13. BALTIMORE RAVENS
The Ravens would rank much higher here if Lamar Jackson were factored into the rankings. His unique ability as a runner and the respect that defenses must give it is what drives this rushing attack, but Baltimore will have several quality running backs in the backfield heading into next season, as well.
J.K. Dobbins is coming off a rookie season in which he earned a rushing grade of 82.0 and averaged six yards per carry during the regular season. And Gus Edwards has been one of the highest-graded running backs in the league over the past three seasons. They, along with Jackson, should once again lead one of the NFL’s most efficient rushing attacks in 2021.
Ravens will have Successful 2021 Season If… – Benjamin Solak
Jackson and the Ravens are 1-3 in the playoffs over the last three years—of course, that means they’ve made it three consecutive years, which is inarguably a win. But across those four games, their top offensive output was a mere 20 points against the Tennessee Titans this past season. Jackson is a 56% passer, averaging 6.6 yards/attempt and a stunning 4.0 adjusted net yards/attempt. He’s thrown more picks (5) than touchdowns (3) and taken 19 total sacks—he took just 29 total in a 15-game regular season last year. In last year’s postseason, he didn’t have a passing touchdown at all.
The Ravens simply must make a deep playoff run in 2021. They arguably underachieved in 2018, certainly underachieved in 2019, and after finally securing the first playoff win of the Jackson era, the offense delivered an absolute stinker in a 17-3 loss to the Buffalo Bills in the divisional round. For all of their talent, quality coaching, and defensive prowess, it feels like the Ravens disappoint every time the calendar cycles back to January.
Three consecutive playoff berths are awesome. Only the Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, and Seattle Seahawks have similar or greater streaks. But playoff berths are quickly becoming old hat in Baltimore, where Jackson’s rookie contract is expiring and the shine of their trend-bucking, world-breaking offense has certainly worn off. John Harbaugh and the Ravens need to win something this year in order to avoid significant changes along the coaching staff, and likely with the personnel on the field as well.