Ethan Hewett \ Aug 12th, 2019
The Ravens had a rollercoaster of a year in 2018. They started the year 4-2 but quickly lost three games in a row heading into their Week 10 bye week. It was at this point where the Ravens decided to bench their former Super Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Flacco. Little did they know that the young rookie Lamar Jackson would step in and use his legs and occasional arm talent to lead the team back to a 10-6 record and a Wild Card berth in the playoffs. It also helped that the Ravens boasted one of the best defenses in 2018. While the joy was short-lived after a first-round loss in the playoffs to the Los Angeles Chargers 23-17, it was clear that the Ravens were ready to begin a new era, the Lamar Jackson Era.
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The offseason for the Ravens, unfortunately, resulted in more loss than gain. The team traded Flacco to the Denver Broncos, and prominent edge rushers in Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith decided to take their talents elsewhere. Most notably was the loss of linebacker C.J. Mosley who was a key part to a top-tier defense in 2018. To add the icing on the cake, Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle was released and signed a two-year deal with the Los Angeles Rams. With all of this loss, the Ravens began to try and rebuild a defense that no longer had the household names that made their defense so great. It was time to pick up the pieces.
In the middle of March, the Ravens made a splash signing in safety Earl Thomas on a four-year, $55 million deal which added new veteran leadership and incredible talent. This also filled the gap that was left by Weddle. The team also signed free agent running back Mark Ingram which gave veteran leadership in a running back room that, while versatile, was not always up to par. The NFL Draft, however, was where things got interesting for the Ravens.
The Ravens set out to accomplish two things in the 2019 Draft, revamp the defensive front, and give Jackson weapons on offense. They did just that by grabbing promising receivers in Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin. While players like Suggs are hard to replace, the Ravens did the best they could by also drafting edge defender Jaylon Ferguson in the third round. Other notable picks were running back Justice Hill, offensive guard Ben Powers, and defensive tackle Daylon Mack.
The Ravens offense is going through somewhat of a transition this offseason. This is including the promotion of former assistant head coach and new offensive coordinator Greg Roman. After making the switch to Lamar Jackson in the middle of last season, it is now time for him to show that he can put together a full 16-game season. Jackson won’t be alone on offense, however, along with the two wideouts the Ravens drafted in Brown and Boykin, they also brought in Seth Roberts who served as a reliable target for the Oakland Raiders last year.
While he may have the weapons, a lot is riding on Jackson being able to develop as a passer. The Chargers showed in the Wild Card round of the playoffs last year how to slow down Jackson. He will need to be able to drop back and throw a lot more this year to make defenses honest in both the running and passing game making the offense more two dimensional.
With the offensive line still being in a good spot with stars in Marshal Yanda, and solid starters Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown, Jr., the pass protection should be there for Jackson and look for the running game to still be a big part of this offense. With Ingram, Gus Edwards, Kenneth Dixon, and Justice Hill in the backfield, paired with the abilities of Jackson, Baltimore’s run game should still be one of the best in the league. To add even more to this, you add speedster Marquise Brown outside. Also, keep an eye on Trace McSorley as we could see him in a role similar to that of Taysom Hill with the New Orleans Saints.
The Ravens defense lost a lot of talent this offseason. The only notable starters on defense returning are defensive tackle Michael Pierce, cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Jimmy Smith along with safety Tony Jefferson. Pairing these players with new additions in Earl Thomas, Pernell McPhee, and draft picks Jaylon Ferguson and Daylon Mack, this defense could still be very good this year. Ferguson is coming off a senior year in which he led the FBS with 17.5 sacks and while Mack didn’t have as flashy of numbers in college, he will serve as a key role player behind players like Pierce and Willie Henry. The front seven lost big names, but expect linebackers Patrick Onwuasor and Matt Judon to step up and fill in the hole that was left by C.J. Mosley.
Secondary wise, this could be one of the more talented groups in the league. Humphrey is coming off a great second season where he had two interceptions along with 15 passes defended and the addition of Earl Thomas elevates this group to a whole new level. Tony Jefferson and Jimmy Smith will continue to be solid starters as well. For me, it’s going to be about how well the guys behind them can perform. Brandon Carr and Tavon Young should have a good battle to see who will play in the slot for most of the season, and we’ll finally get to see DeShon Elliott who unfortunately was placed on the IR in August last year, missing his entire rookie season.
Predicting the 53 Man Roster
The starting spot is Jackson’s to lose, with Griffin serving as the backup. With the first two quarterbacks having play styles that sometimes are risky health-wise, I think they keep three players here. I also think the Ravens keep McSorley on the roster to possibly use him as more of a gadget player similar to what we have seen from Taysom Hill with the Saints.
This should be a fun running back group to watch. Ingram looks to be the starter as of now, but who backs him up could go a few different ways. Edwards and Dixon will continue to serve as two other thumpers behind Ingram, but Hill is the guy to watch for me as he has turned some heads this offseason.
The first depth chart released by the Ravens has veterans in Snead and Roberts as the starters, and this does not surprise me in the slightest. With veteran presence outside, this will allow rookies Brown and Boykin to continue to develop. Moore will also be kept due to his impact on special teams as a kick returner.
Andrews has seemed to find his way up the depth chart this offseason. I think he is the best all-around option for the Ravens with Hurst backing him up in the number two slot. Boyle can serve as a good extra blocker on running plays.
The starting five should be a lock here with Stanley and Brown holding down the tackle spots with Hurst, Skura, and Yanda inside. I like the depth inside, but at tackle, the depth is pretty thin as Senat is a question mark here, he could grab a roster spot, but his development hasn’t been quite where it needs to be and he could find himself on the practice squad.
Pierce and Williams will serve as a solid interior for this defensive line. Henry, who was injured most of last season will look grab a starting spot as well. Rookies Mack and Willis should be able to make strong cases as to why they belong on this talented defensive line.
This linebacker group could still be very good in 2019. Even with the loss of Mosley, you have Onwuasor and Board filling in at middle linebacker. Young and Levine will have to use the preseason to show that they deserve these final two roster spots as other young players are hungry for a spot.
Edge is going to be pretty thin for the Ravens this season after the loss of both of their sack leaders in Suggs and Za’Darius Smith. However, with players like Judon, McPhee, and Williams leading the way along with Bowser and rookie Ferguson they can still get creative and create pressure.
The top three spots are secure here for the Ravens. After that, the competition should be interesting to watch. Young and Averett are two young veterans who are looking to solidify their spots and Marshall was the team’s fourth-round draft pick in 2019. Look for players like Justin Bethel and Cyrus Jones to be competing for the final roster spots.
The combination of Thomas and Jefferson could be one of the better safety tandems in the NFL. With the elite level of play that Thomas brings and Jefferson’s abilities at strong safety, this duo could cause havoc for opposing offenses. Depth wise I am excited to see Elliot after sitting his rookie season on the IR.
The one safety net the Ravens have is their Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker. After a 2018 season where Tucker had a field goal completion percentage of 90.6%, it’s safe to assume that he will be in Baltimore for quite a while. Punter Sam Koch and long-snapper Morgan Cox should have their positions locked down by the regular season.
2019 should be a good year for the Ravens. To me, they have three coaches that are all near the top of their craft in Head Coach John Harbaugh, Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman, and Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale. If there is an OC who knows how to create a system with an athletic, mobile quarterback it would Roman who has had success with the likes of Colin Kaepernick during his time with the San Francisco 49ers. Offensively, this year relies on Lamar Jackson, and not just as a passer, but as a leader and signal-caller. If Jackson can continue to build upon the momentum he created at the end of last year and can grow in a system that is built around his talents, this could be a very good year offensively.
Defensively I am excited to see how the young players in Onwuasor and Judon step into bigger roles along with the addition of Earl Thomas. This could and should be another great defense. Look for former undrafted free agent Chris Board at linebacker to make his case as too why he belongs on this team and Jaylon Ferguson who will be wanting to show all the teams who passed on him why they should’ve taken him earlier in the draft.
While I am extremely optimistic about this team, I also want to put things into perspective. If Jackson struggles this year, 2019 could be a down year, as they will be competing in a very competitive division with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns in the AFC North. They also are relying on a lot of players to step up into bigger roles on defense, so we will see how this shakes out for the Ravens, but keep an eye on them as they could surprise us.
Season Prediction: 9-7. While this is a good record, I don’t think they finish ahead of the Steelers or the Browns this year but they could possibly sneak into the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images