Ravens' Weapons Ranked Higher, But a Word of Caution
The Ravens have not been known as a team with a multitude of offensive weapons, but that's changing.
Baltimore upgraded Lamar Jackson's weapons with another first-round wide receiver, Rashod Bateman, and veteran free-agent signing Sammy Watkins. That's not to mention additions to the offensive line to help protect Jackson better.
ESPN's Bill Barnwell ranked all 32 NFL teams' offensive weapons and the Ravens jumped into the top half of the league at No. 14 overall - up from No. 20 in 2020 and No. 26 in 2019.
"After watching Lamar Jackson fruitlessly wait for receivers to come open in the AFC [Divisional] Game, the Ravens acted and added Sammy Watkins and first-round pick Rashod Bateman to their receiving corps," Barnwell wrote.
"The hoped-for leaps forward from Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews simply didn't come; the talented tight end seems to be better playing somewhere around 50% of the offensive snaps, while Brown hasn't been able to consistently make his explosiveness pay at the NFL level. They still may have another gear, but now, the Ravens won't be as dependent on Andrews and Brown to be present and impactful."
However, it seems Barnwell may be just as - if not more - excited about the Ravens' running game weapons.
"And while they get help from the threat of Jackson as a runner, the one-two punch of J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards gives the Ravens one of the league's better halfback combos," Barnwell wrote.
"Dobbins is coming off what might be viewed as a historic rookie season in some ways, as you don't see many runners who take the ball often (134 times) and finish the season with a yards per carry starting with the number '6.' Just two backs since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger have posted 100-plus carries and averaged 6.0 or more yards per attempt as a rookie: Dobbins and Alvin Kamara. Dobbins isn't in Kamara's league as a receiver, but if Bateman or Watkins help spur the downfield passing attack, the Ravens won't need him to be."
There's a lot of optimism about the Ravens' passing attack taking the next step this season, and for good reason. An improvement in the aerial attack is widely seen as the key to unlocking a deeper postseason run.
But NFL Network's Jim Trotter had a word of caution about leaning too heavily on the passing game and those new receivers.
"One thing the Ravens have to be careful about and Greg Roman has to be careful about is ... I've seen this play before in San Francisco where Greg Roman was the offensive coordinator. Late in his tenure there, they decided to try and open up that offense, to bring in more wide receivers and make it more explosive when Colin Kaepernick was the quarterback. It did not work," Trotter said.
Trotter may be referencing the 49ers' 2014 season, two years after falling to the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. That offseason, San Francisco added two veteran wide receivers, Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd, to an already veteran group led by Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree.
The passing game didn't take off, Kaepernick's stats dropped (fewer touchdowns, more interceptions, lower quarterback rating) despite significantly more passing attempts, and the 49ers went from 12-4 in 2013 to 8-8 and out of the playoffs in 2014.
Now, comparing the two teams just because Roman was the offensive coordinator of both isn't at all apples to apples. It's all different players and Roman isn't the same coach he was then.
This offseason, Roman said he wants to "expand the profile" of the Ravens offense. But he also said it's about finding more balance and being able to hurt opponents more when they commit extra resources to stop the run. The Ravens are still going to run the ball a lot.
"It's all about execution. If you execute, it doesn't matter if they know what you're doing," Trotter said. "From that standpoint, I would caution that the Ravens should not get too far away from what they've been successful at."
By the way, Barnwell ranked the Cleveland Browns as having the NFL's fourth-best offensive weapons, Bengals at No. 13 and Steelers at No. 15.
A Surprise Pick for Most Important Training Camp Battle
Some of the competitions written most about (by local media) as we head into training camp are at wide receiver, left guard, backup quarterback and tight end.
In his AFC North training camp preview, however, NFL.com's Nick Shook selected inside linebacker as the most important position battle.
"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," Shook wrote.
Shook pointed out that Harrison played at least 50 percent of the defensive snaps in two games last season (vs. run-heavy teams New England and Tennessee).
"But as a 2020 third-round pick, he'll be expected to take a larger role before long," Shook wrote. "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."
As a rookie, Harrison played in all 16 games and made six starts, registering 44 tackles. That's a solid campaign that he can build on this year.
However, the Ravens brought back Fort (one of their best coverage linebackers) this offseason, so it wouldn't be surprising to see them continue to share the spot next to Queen.
GMFB Crew Takes Lamar Jackson Over Kyler Murray
The debates over where Jackson ranks among the top quarterbacks rages on, and yesterday it was about whether he or the Arizona Cardinals' Kyler Murray is the better dual-threat QB.
This time, the "Good Morning Football" crew gave the nod to Jackson.
"I'll say Lamar Jackson strictly based upon the track record to this point," Tom Pelissero said. "He's been more productive as a runner - he has consecutive 1,000-yard seasons - he throws fewer interceptions than Kyler Murray does, and he does it, frankly, with an inferior supporting cast. You talk about the wide receivers that Kyler Murray is throwing to in Arizona. Lamar Jackson has not had a DeAndre Hopkins. He has not had the same level of threats that Kyler Murray has. If there's one guy that scares you going into a game ... to me and the coordinators in the league I've spoken to, it's still Lamar."
Murray threw for 3,971 yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season. He ran for 819 yards. Jackson threw for 2,757 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He ran for 1,005 yards. Though Murray put up more total yards, Brandt also took Jackson.
"I agree, 100 percent. He's a runner, he's a track star," Brandt said. "When he takes off, we're seeing him dominate against grown men that are fast, DBs that run 4.3 and linebackers that can go sideline to sideline. ... It's Lamar because of the rushing. He was a top-10 running back at the quarterback position."
Developers Have Big Plans for Area Around M&T Bank Stadium
The Ravens are excited to welcome fans back to a packed M&T Bank Stadium this offseason, and they'll soon have more to do around the stadium as well.
According to The Baltimore Sun's Hallie Miller, developers, city officials and business owners are looking to create a new entertainment district between M&T Bank Stadium and Horseshoe Casino Baltimore, which sits just a couple blocks away.
The plans include a Topgolf driving range and 4,000-seat concert hall called The Paramount. A new outdoor Hammerjacks nightclub and concert hall will open as early as this fall as a tailgating and events venue.
The four-block district may also feature additional retail, dining options and a hotel once completed, Miller reported.
Speaking of former Ravens, defensive tackle Michael Pierce, who signed a big deal with the Minnesota Vikings last offseason, opted out of 2020 because of COVID-19 and now has suffered a calf injury that could delay his training camp debut. In another way-too-early 2022 mock draft, Luke Easterling has the Ravens selecting another first-round wide receiver - Ohio State's Garrett Wilson. Easterling picked Washington offensive tackle Jaxson Kirkland in the second round. [Draft Wire]