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Ravens agree to terms with first-round pick Queen, third-rounder Duvernay

Posted on 22 July 2020 by Luke Jones

With rookies beginning to report to team facilities around the NFL for the start of training camp this week, the Ravens have agreed to contract terms with first-round pick Patrick Queen and third-round selection Devin Duvernay.

Queen, an inside linebacker from LSU, was the 28th overall selection in the 2020 draft and projected to receive a four-year, $12.16 million contract in the league’s slotted system. Queen will turn 21 next month and is expected to start for a top-shelf defense that lost veteran inside linebackers Josh Bynes and Patrick Onwuasor in free agency this offseason.

The 6-foot, 232-pound Queen started only 15 games in his college career and is undersized by traditional standards, but his skill set is ideal for Wink Martindale’s defensive system valuing versatility. He finished his junior year with 85 tackles (12 for a loss), three sacks, one interception, and three pass breakups and was named defensive MVP in LSU’s national championship win over Clemson.

“When you watched the film, you saw the instincts and the speed and athleticism,” director of player personnel Joe Hortiz said in May. “You were like, ‘Wow, he’s a 20-year old kid who’s showing this right now. What would he have been next year if he would have been another year starter with 12 more, 14 more starts under his belt? How much more instinctive would he be?’ I think you project that out forward.

“He’s a smart kid, he works his butt off, he loves the game, and he’s a great character kid. You say to yourself, ‘Man, as this guy gets experience in the NFL, he’s just going to get better and better.’ We really think he’s got a high ceiling and also a high floor.”

Queen was the first LSU player ever drafted by Baltimore and the third inside linebacker selected in the first round by the Ravens in their 25-year history, joining Hall of Famer Ray Lewis (1996) and C.J. Mosley (2014). Those two combined for 17 Pro Bowl selections in their time with Baltimore, leaving high expectations for the talented rookie.

The 92nd overall pick out of Texas, Duvernay was a standout performer for the Longhorns in 2019, catching 106 passes for 1,386 yards and nine touchdowns. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound slot receiver earned first-team All-Big 12 honors in 2019 and finished his collegiate career with 176 receptions, 2,468 yards, and 16 touchdowns.

With his entire draft class now under contract, general manager Eric DeCosta could now be faced with some unfortunate roster decisions entering camp with the league expected to reduce the preseason roster limit from 90 players to 80 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic requiring social distancing and new health protocols. The Ravens entered Wednesday with 89 players on their roster.

The roster reduction and the elimination of preseason games are expected to have a particularly harsh impact on undrafted rookies vying to make the regular-season roster, but expanded practice squads will allow teams to keep more developmental talent, which will be especially helpful with the uncertainty created by the pandemic.

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 6: “Would it be us if we didn’t end it that way?”

Posted on 18 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 7 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The Ravens defense was determined not to let it happen again.

On Christmas Day in 2016, a last-second touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown had given Pittsburgh a 31-27 win that eliminated Baltimore from postseason contention in Week 16.

On New Year’s Eve the following year, Andy Dalton’s 49-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd on fourth-and-12 had stunned the Ravens, who entered the season finale with a projected 97-percent chance of making the playoffs. The heartbreaking collapse resulted in the Ravens missing the postseason for the third straight year, the first time that had happened since their first four years in Baltimore.

A defense that had been among the NFL’s best statistically the previous two years had come up small at the most critical times, but the 2018 Ravens were riding momentum entering Week 17 after winning five of six games since the bye week to take the AFC North lead. Rookie Lamar Jackson taking over for the injured Joe Flacco at quarterback had provided the spark for a team in transition, but the league’s top-ranked defense had played at a championship level down the stretch, most recently holding the explosive Los Angeles Chargers to 10 points in one of the Ravens’ biggest road victories in years.

All that was needed for John Harbaugh’s team to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 was a win over Cleveland, who had played well down the stretch with rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield at the helm. After what had happened against the Bengals at home the previous year, no one in Baltimore had any reason to be overlooking the Browns, who had also won five of their last six games.

That warning appeared overblown early as the run-heavy Ravens jumped to a 20-7 lead and were on the verge of blowing the game wide open late in the first half. However, on third-and-goal from the Cleveland 1, Jackson tried to hurdle the pile and extend the ball toward the goal line, but it was knocked loose before breaking the plane and recovered by Cleveland.

The game was much different in the second half as the Browns held the Ravens to just two field goals while Mayfield rebounded from a poor first half to throw two touchdown passes. His short scoring throw to Antonio Callaway cut the Baltimore lead to 26-24 with 3:24 remaining. And when the Ravens offense answered with a three-and-out, the gut-wrenching memories of the previous two years consumed a sold-out M&T Bank Stadium crowd.

The feeling of dread grew as completions of 19 and 16 yards — each confirmed by replay reviews — gave the Browns a first-and-10 at the Baltimore 39 with 1:20 remaining. Kicker Greg Joseph had missed a 46-yard attempt in the same direction to conclude the first half, so Cleveland needed more yardage and likely another first down to feel confident about giving him another try.

It couldn’t possibly happen again, could it?

Unlike those previous times, first-year defensive coordinator Wink Martindale was now in charge. Predecessor Dean Pees was often criticized for being passive in such late-game situations, but Martindale was influenced by the late Buddy Ryan and embraced a more aggressive approach with his defense.

On first down, Martindale blitzed Mayfield, whose sideline throw to tight end David Njoku was broken up by dime back Anthony Levine. The Ravens rushed six on second down, forcing another Mayfield incompletion. With Baltimore blitzing yet again on third-and-10, Levine broke up another pass intended for Njoku.

The stage was set for fourth down with a division title and a chance to avenge the previous two years on the line for the Ravens.

With Martindale deploying his fourth straight Cover-0 blitz, Mayfield was hurried by an unblocked Matthew Judon and threw over the middle toward running back Duke Johnson. Delaying his drop into pass coverage to deceive the Cleveland quarterback, Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley leaped, batted the ball in the air, and secured the interception.

Mosley and his defensive teammates sprinted the length of the field in celebration.

There would be no “Immaculate Extension” or “Fourth-and-12” this time around as the Ravens were AFC North champions for the first time since 2012 and back in the playoffs. Making the moment even sweeter was that it eliminated Pittsburgh as Steelers players were watching the end of the Baltimore-Cleveland game on the Heinz Field video board after their win over Cincinnati.

A Ravens defense that had folded under the pressure of previous big moments had finally broken through.

“Would it be us if we didn’t end it that way?” Judon said in the celebratory locker room. “Last year, the fourth-and-12, that’s all we see and that’s all we remember. And then we come down [before] fourth-and-10, Levine made two hell of a plays on man coverage, tight coverage. And then that fourth down, C.J., you can’t say enough about that guy.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on drafting LSU linebacker Patrick Queen

Posted on 24 April 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens selecting LSU inside linebacker Patrick Queen with the 28th overall pick of the 2020 draft, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A 20-year-old undersized inside linebacker from a college football powerhouse selected late in the first round sparks memories of a certain Hall of Famer. Even Lamar Jackson was calling Queen “Ray Lewis Jr.” on Instagram Live after the pick was made. No pressure.

2. Queen is “so tired of hearing” his 6-foot, 231-pound frame is undersized and believes he’s “more mobile” than Lewis was while making clear the Baltimore legend was “probably the best to play.” I like that confidence in someone who had to wait his turn behind former Tigers teammate Devin White.

3. Wink Martindale did an admirable job rotating inside linebackers last year, but having a three-down starter with a high ceiling and cover ability will make life much easier. Queen’s speed also makes him an enticing blitz option in the same way the Ravens used Patrick Onwuasor.

4. Fair concerns about Queen’s size should be eased by the additions of Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe up front. Lewis was at his absolute best playing behind the likes of Sam Adams, Tony Siragusa, Haloti Ngata, and Trevor Pryce, so a big defensive line should help Queen roam more freely.

5. Remarkably, it took 25 years for the Ravens to finally draft a player from LSU, an elite SEC program that’s won three national championships since 2003. In contrast, Baltimore has selected multiple players from Central Florida, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, and Weber State. Go figure.

6. Asked how Ozzie Newsome reacted to an LSU draft pick, Eric DeCosta said, “He kept saying something, but we muted him. He kept waving his hands, and the video went out. That’s the thing with technology sometimes — it can be manipulated. I think it was the Russians.” Funny stuff.

7. You wonder about a college player who only started one year, but Queen really stood out against Georgia, Oklahoma, and Clemson and was named defensive MVP of the national championship game. Excelling against top competition seems to be a good trade-off for the lack of starting experience.

8. Queen is the fifth linebacker to be drafted by the Ravens in the first round, joining Lewis, Peter Boulware, Terrell Suggs, and C.J. Mosley. The first four each made at least four Pro Bowls and combined for 28 in Baltimore. Again, no pressure.

9. Credit DeCosta’s patience as options such as edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson, linebacker Kenneth Murray, and center Cesar Ruiz started coming off the board in the early 20s. Standing pat in the first round for the first time since 2017, the Ravens protected their remaining six picks in the top 150.

10. General managers always say the player they picked topped their board, but that appeared to be the truth with Queen, who fit one of Baltimore’s biggest needs. DeCosta said he received a congratulatory text from Dallas defensive coordinator and former Ravens assistant Mike Nolan for his pick.

11. DeCosta is dedicating this draft to former Ravens scout Ron Marciniak, who died at 85 last month and was the creator of the famous “red star” meeting in which each scout picks a draft prospect who stands above the rest on and off the field. It was a classy gesture.

12. Credit the NFL, ESPN, and NFL Network for pulling off a quality broadcast despite such challenging circumstances, but there was so much going on in this scene at Tennessee head coach Mike Vrabel’s house that I haven’t a clue what to even say.

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DeCosta weighing draft options as Ravens aim to boost inside linebacker

Posted on 14 April 2020 by Luke Jones

The most iconic player in franchise history.

Pro Bowl talents.

First-round standouts and unknowns eventually blossoming into starters.

No position epitomizes the 24-year history of the Ravens better than inside linebacker. From Ray Lewis and C.J. Mosley to Bart Scott, Jameel McClain, Dannell Ellerbe, and Zach Orr, there’s been no shortage of success stories at the position, regardless of their origin.

But 2019 brought an abrupt shift when Mosley, a four-time Pro Bowl selection in his first five years, signed an $85 million contract with the New York Jets. For only the second season in franchise history — the other being 2013 after Lewis’ retirement — the Ravens were without a Pro Bowl talent or former first-round pick at the position. Baltimore endured a problematic September before stabilizing the position with the veteran signings of Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort and adequately mixing and matching in various sub packages the rest of the way.

General manager Eric DeCosta now hopes to find a more stable answer in next week’s draft after beefing up the defensive line with the acquisitions of five-time Pro Bowl selection Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe last month. But finding the ideal three-down player at inside linebacker is easier said than done in an ever-changing NFL.

“It used to be that we wanted these really, really big and strong, physical guys,” DeCosta said. “I think the league has kind of morphed into more of a speed league in some respects. You need guys that can run and cover and blitz and do all those things, but you also need a guy that can effectively play the run and take on guys. In a perfect world, you like to have a bigger guy, but you’re also looking for a bigger guy who can run.”

With Clemson phenom Isaiah Simmons almost universally projected to go in the top 10, draft pundits and fans alike have discussed Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray and LSU’s Patrick Queen as potential fits for the Ravens with the 28th overall pick. Asked about the two prospects last week, DeCosta said it “depends what flavor you like” and anticipates each being selected in the first 40 picks or so.

The Ravens are no strangers to taking Oklahoma talent after selecting Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews, Pro Bowl right tackle Orlando Brown Jr., top wide receiver Marquise Brown, and guard Ben Powers in the last two drafts, but the explosive and physical Murray thrived on the other side of the ball with more than 300 tackles and 9 1/2 sacks as a three-year starter. Though the 6-foot-2, 241-pound linebacker didn’t stand out quite as much in coverage with a total of six pass breakups and no interceptions over three seasons, Murray possesses ideal traits for the next level.

“He’s been a very, very productive player, a tremendous athlete, a cerebral guy. He’s got really good length,” DeCosta said. “He’s been a really, really good defensive player on a team that hasn’t really had a lot of really good defensive players lately. Oklahoma’s been known primarily for their offense in the last four, five, six, seven years. Kenneth Murray’s been probably one of their very best defensive players. I think he’s a good prospect. I think he’s a great student of the game. He’s got great intangibles.”

In contrast, Queen was a breakout performer for a stout defensive program after playing sparingly the previous two seasons, registering 85 tackles, three sacks, one interception, and three pass breakups as a first-year starter in 2019. At 6-foot and 229 pounds, the LSU product is a more lateral than downhill player, but his strength in coverage makes him very appealing in today’s pass-happy NFL.

There’s also the perception of Queen being a late bloomer with a higher ceiling, which can be a blessing or a curse in the long run.

“He’s not as big as Murray. He’s very, very explosive,” DeCosta said. “LSU has put a number of really, really good defensive players in the league over the last four or five years. He’s a guy that is sidelined to sideline. He can play downhill. He’s a very good cover linebacker. He kind of came on the scene this year. He was not a household name before this year. He played his best football probably over the second half of the season with some really, really good performances in the playoffs and the national championship.”

Of course, there’s no guarantee that either will be available by the time the Ravens are on the clock since multiple teams in the first round seek help at the position. That’s where the organization can embrace the experiences of last season when defensive coordinator Wink Martindale effectively rotated multiple options with different strengths.

Run-stopping linebackers such as Jordyn Brooks of Texas Tech and Malik Harrison of Ohio State or  coverage standouts like Oregon’s Troy Dye, Appalachian State’s Akeem Davis-Gaither, and Mississippi State’s Willie Gay may not offer the same package as Simmons, Murray, or Queen, but they can still serve as good solutions to improve the second level of the defense in 2020 and beyond. Teams can dream about finding their next Hall of Famer or Pro Bowl talent at a position of need, but winning the draft is about maximizing value and identifying puzzle pieces that can fit in a variety of ways.

“When we look at the guys throughout the draft, there are players that can help us in specific roles,” director of player personnel Joe Hortiz. “There are guys in the mid-rounds that can come in and cover, maybe play the run. Knowing our coaches [and] the versatility that we play with on defense, as scouts, we’re able to identify, ‘Hey, this is what this guy can do for us. This is what we believe this guy can do for us.’

“It helps us evaluate players that maybe can’t do all the things but can do one thing well.”

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New York Jets inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (57) runs back and interception for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game as Buffalo Bills' Cole Beasley (10) watches Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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Ravens receive two compensatory picks in next month’s draft

Posted on 10 March 2020 by Luke Jones

Trying to build on their franchise-record 14-2 mark in 2019, the Ravens have officially been awarded third- and fourth-round compensatory picks in next month’s draft.

Despite concerns about C.J. Mosley’s injury-riddled first season with the New York Jets hurting Baltimore’s compensation, general manager Eric DeCosta still received a third-round pick for the free-agent departure of the four-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker. Mosley signed a market-setting five-year, $85 million contract last March, but he appeared in only two games due to a groin injury in 2019.

The Ravens also received a fourth-round compensatory pick for the free-agent departure of wide receiver John Brown to the Buffalo Bills. The free-agent exits of Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs were canceled out by the signings of safety Earl Thomas and running back Mark Ingram, who both made the Pro Bowl in their first year with Baltimore.

DeCosta is now scheduled to have a total of nine selections in this year’s draft: a first-round pick, a second-round pick, two third-round choices, three fourth-rounders, one fifth, and a seventh-round pick. The Ravens now have seven selections in the first four rounds and four picks in the top 106 spots of the 2020 draft, good capital to address some needs and continue to build long-term depth.

Baltimore received more than one compensatory pick for the first time since 2016.

Determinations for compensatory picks are based on a formula considering the salary, playing time, and postseason honors earned by unrestricted free agents who left their teams the previous offseason. Since the compensatory pick program started in 1994, the Ravens have led the NFL with 52 compensatory choices as the organization has often resisted signing unrestricted free agents over the years while making difficult decisions not to re-sign their own.

Below is a history of the Ravens’ compensatory picks since 1996 with the round in which the player was selected noted in parentheses:

1996: none
1997: LB Cornell Brown (sixth), QB Wally Richardson (seventh), S Ralph Staten (seventh), DT Leland Taylor (seventh)
1998: TE Cam Qualey (seventh)
1999: G Edwin Mulitalo (fourth)
2000: none
2001: none
2002: WR Javin Hunter (sixth), RB Chester Taylor (sixth), S Chad Williams (sixth)
2003: FB Ovie Mughelli (fourth), OT Tony Pashos (fifth), C Mike Mabry (seventh), S Antwoine Sanders (seventh)
2004: WR Clarence Moore (sixth), WR Derek Abney (seventh), G Brian Rimpf (seventh)
2005: QB Derek Anderson (sixth)
2006: RB P.J. Daniels (fourth), TE Quinn Sypniewski (fifth), P Sam Koch (sixth), CB Derrick Martin (sixth)
2007: LB Antwan Barnes (fourth), FB Le’Ron McClain (fourth), QB Troy Smith (fifth), LB Prescott Burgess (sixth)
2008: OL Oniel Cousins (third), OL David Hale (fourth), S Haruki Nakamura (sixth), RB Allen Patrick (seventh)
2009: none
2010: none
2011: CB Chykie Brown (fifth), DE Pernell McPhee (fifth)
2012: S Christian Thompson (fourth), CB Asa Jackson (fifth)
2013: FB Kyle Juszczyk (fourth), OT Rick Wagner (fifth), OL Ryan Jensen (sixth), CB Marc Anthony (seventh)
2014: TE Crockett Gillmore (third), DE Brent Urban (fourth), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (fourth), G John Urschel (fifth)
2015: CB Tray Walker (fourth), TE Nick Boyle (fifth), G Robert Myers (fifth)
2016:
DT Willie Henry (fourth), RB Kenneth Dixon (fourth), CB Maurice Canady (sixth)
2017: Traded third-round compensatory pick and DT Timmy Jernigan for Philadelphia’s third-round pick used to select DE Chris Wormley
2018: OL Bradley Bozeman (sixth)
2019: Traded third-round compensatory pick and two sixth-round picks for Minnesota’s third-round pick used to select WR Miles Boykin

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Ravens must walk fine line between evolving, fixing what isn’t broken

Posted on 04 March 2020 by Luke Jones

Free agency officially begins in two weeks and the 2020 draft is only 50 days away for the Ravens.

The sting of the best regular season in franchise history ending with an upset divisional-round loss lingers less than two months later. The mental challenge of moving on and trying to exorcise those playoff demons will persist long after general manager Eric DeCosta plays his offseason hand and head coach John Harbaugh has a better idea of what his team will look like in the coming weeks.

Yes, we’ve reached the point in the offseason when it feels as though every team — even Super Bowl champion Kansas City — has more questions than answers with no shortage of free-agent projections, mock drafts, and lists of needs to mull over.

How do the Ravens proceed if eight-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda indeed retires?

What will be the resolution with Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon, and how will that impact a pass rush already desiring more juice?

Are there enough cap dollars and draft picks available to effectively retool a free-agent-laden front seven that already had its deficiencies last year?

What about — for the “I lost count”-th year in a row — wide receiver?

But this is when the Ravens — and their fans — need perspective more than a linebacker, guard, or defensive tackle. Going an NFL-best 14-2 with the best point differential in the league in more than a decade — with some of the aforementioned concerns, mind you — shouldn’t be an invitation for complacency, but there is a fine line between evolving and trying to fix something that isn’t broken. Baltimore surely took lessons from the Tennessee loss — needing to be able to play more effectively off schedule, for example — but a bad day at the office at the wrong time didn’t mean there was some fatal flaw in need of upheaval.

Having the most efficient running and passing games in the league and a top-tier defense isn’t an identity from which to stray too far despite how tempting it can be to be bold addressing weaknesses. That’s where you trust an analytics-minded front office and coaching staff to understand themselves and the entire body of 2019 work rather than to overreact to one heartbreaking loss or a couple failed fourth-and-1 plays. Of course, there’s work to do.

“We understand that we are going to be studied on both sides of the ball by every single team in the league very thoroughly.” Harbaugh said in January. “We’ll be the first team that they will pull the tape up on and watch. Our job is to stay ahead. Our job is to find the areas where we can come up with new ideas — expand, tweak, challenge people the way they challenged us or the way we anticipate them challenging us going forward.”

Losing Yanda would definitely be a big blow to a record-setting offense, but the 2017 Ravens were a last-second Week 17 collapse away from making the playoffs without him or reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson, who was spending his last days at Louisville. Jackson’s unparalleled athleticism at the quarterback position will continue to make life easier for the offensive line and whoever might need to replace Yanda.

Few would argue that the Ravens would benefit from another wide receiver to make more plays outside the numbers, but the strength of the passing game remains the middle of the field with Jackson heavily targeting his tight ends, something unlikely to change as defenses across the NFL struggle to account for big, athletic tight ends. DeCosta and Harbaugh have expressed optimism about receivers being more open to playing in this unique run-first offense, but the right fit is more critical than adding “a true No. 1” who might grow unhappy with a fraction of the targets he’s used to seeing in a typical offense.

Speculation about trading tight end Hayden Hurst and mock drafts projecting the Ravens to take a running back in the first round would fall under the category of trying too hard to fix something that isn’t broken. The Yanda decision aside, this offense simply doesn’t need a ton of work beyond adding another pass-catching option at some point and implementing whatever system tweaks offensive coordinator Greg Roman and the staff cook up between now and September.

The defense is a different story with the front seven having multiple free agents, a list including Judon, defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Domata Peko, inside linebackers Josh Bynes and Patrick Onwuasor, and situational rushers Pernell McPhee and Jihad Ward. However, nearly half of those players were added during the 2019 season, a testament to defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and the front office to at least identify viable placeholders and account for less-than-ideal conditions.

An edge defender or two, a three-down inside linebacker, and a defensive tackle with pass-rushing ability would all be welcome additions, but that’s an ambitious list for one offseason. There’s no guarantee the right pass rusher or inside linebacker will be on the board when Baltimore selects 28th overall in next month’s draft, and there are red flags everywhere with free-agent edge rushers — Judon included.

Regardless of what happens in free agency and the draft, the Ravens will continue to lean on an elite secondary, a defensive strength endorsed by analytics, and the frequent blitzing that made a rebuilt defense one of the league’s best over the second half of 2019. The identity is in place, which is more than many defensive units can say at this point. Last season proved the personnel doesn’t need to be perfect.

“I think we want to have really good players at all those positions,” DeCosta said in Indianapolis last week. “I’d love to have some elite pass rushers. I’d love to have some elite corners. I think Wink Martindale does an unbelievable job taking players, finding out what they can do, putting them in position to succeed, and they did that this year. What we were able to do on defense under Wink’s guidance with our coaches and our players — bringing in all those guys that we did — I thought that was masterful.”

The Ravens are bound to face some roster turbulence over the next few weeks. A year ago at this time, DeCosta didn’t know he’d be losing perennial Pro Bowl defenders C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs, and desperate teams frequently overpay players coming from winning organizations. Baltimore has never been in the business of “winning” the offseason, and that’s unlikely to change simply because of a little more salary cap space than usual this year. Long-term planning is too critical, especially with the elite talents up for contract extensions over the next couple years such as left tackle Ronnie Stanley, cornerback Marlon Humphrey, and Jackson.

The truth is I’d take this team essentially as it is — meaning all but sitting out free agency and having only an ordinary draft class — up against any conference opponent not named the Chiefs next fall. Even with the disappointment of January being so slow to dissipate, that is rare territory and speaks to the tremendous opportunity Baltimore has to improve this offseason.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the Ravens are going 14-2 again — only three teams have ever done that in back-to-back years — as unforeseen challenges await next season. They can’t count on the schedule to fall the right way or for their remarkably good health over the last two seasons to continue, but those are realities every team faces. That’s why the Ravens know they must continue to evolve without drastically altering what they do best.

“We’re not going to be sitting on our hands schematically,” Harbaugh said. “We are not going to be saying, ‘OK, we have this offense and this defensive system that was hard for people to deal with, and we are good.'”

But they are good. Very good.

That makes this year’s offseason uncertainty easier than usual to handle, regardless of how it all plays out.

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Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Josh Bynes is introduced onto the field prior to an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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How did Ravens inside linebackers stack up to rest of NFL in 2019?

Posted on 24 February 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens recorded the best regular season in franchise history, but where did their individual players stack up across the NFL in 2019?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl — Baltimore had a record-tying 13 selections — or determining postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few watch every player on every team closely enough to form any real authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you watch the Tampa Bay offensive line this season? What about the Atlanta Falcons linebackers or the Detroit Lions cornerbacks?

That’s why I respect the efforts of Pro Football Focus while acknowledging their grading is far from the gospel of evaluation. I don’t envy the exhaustive effort to evaluate players across the league when most of us watch one team or maybe one division on any kind of a regular basis.

We’ll look at each positional group on the roster in the coming days, but below is a look at where Ravens inside linebackers ranked across the NFL this past season followed by the positional outlook going into 2020:

Safeties
Running backs
Cornerbacks
Wide receivers
Defensive linemen
Tight ends

Patrick Onwuasor
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 503
PFF ranking: 73rd among off-ball linebackers
Skinny: Viewed by many as a priority to extend after a strong 2018 season, Onwuasor flopped in his move to “Mike” linebacker and suffered a Week 5 ankle injury that cost him two games. The 27-year-old remained a solid blitzer upon returning to the weak-side spot, but he surrendered a 118.6 passer rating in coverage and was closer to being an afterthought than an impact player in the second half of the season.

Josh Bynes
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 431
PFF ranking: sixth among off-ball linebackers
Skinny: The October signing of the Super Bowl XLVII champion slowed the heartbeat of a position group in total disarray after the opening month of the season. Though not an every-down player in Baltimore’s multiple defense, the 30-year-old Bynes saw more action than any other inside linebacker down the stretch and was quite solid in coverage, proving to be a crucial in-season addition.

L.J. Fort
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 270
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: After previously drawing offseason interest from the Ravens, Fort also arrived after Week 4 and was graded favorably by PFF in more situational playing time. A good special-teams player and a capable nickel linebacker, the 30-year-old signed a two-year, $5.5 million extension in November and is the only safe bet to be part of the inside linebacker picture in 2020 at this point.

Chris Board
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 64
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The North Dakota State product created some buzz last summer and looked like he might be the next undrafted inside linebacker to earn a starting gig in Baltimore before late-summer injuries slowed his momentum. That preseason hype proved to be a greater indictment of former fourth-round pick Kenny Young, however, as Board played only a few defensive snaps after Week 4.

Otaro Alaka
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 0
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: A good preseason landed the rookie free agent from Texas A&M on the 53-man roster, but a hamstring injury eliminated any chance of him getting a look at inside linebacker as Alaka was placed on injured reserve in late September. He’s a name to watch this spring and summer, but the Ravens didn’t see enough of him as a rookie to assume he’s a viable rotation option at this point.

2020 positional outlook

Few would fault Eric DeCosta’s decision not to match the market-altering contract the New York Jets gave four-time Pro Bowl selection C.J. Mosley — especially after the ex-Raven missed all but two games with a groin injury in 2019 — but gambling on the youth and athleticism of Onwuasor, Young, and Board proved to be unwise, prompting an in-season reconstruction that worked surprisingly well. Still, there’s a reason why so many mock drafts have projected Baltimore to take Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray or LSU’s Patrick Queen with the 28th overall pick. Even with the increasing popularity of the dime and nickel packages in recent years, a three-down linebacker would help stabilize the front seven and leave the Ravens less vulnerable against the run, a deficiency that was exposed in the playoff loss to Derrick Henry and Tennessee. The Ravens don’t need to find the next Ray Lewis, but drafting an inside linebacker early, re-signing Bynes to platoon with Fort, and continuing to develop Alaka and Board as long-term depth options would put the Ravens in better shape at this position for 2020 and beyond.

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) throws a pass under pressure by Buffalo Bills defensive end Trent Murphy (93) during the second half of an NFL football game in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. The Ravens won 24-17. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

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Lamar Jackson “day-to-day” with quad issue as Ravens turn toward Jets

Posted on 09 December 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Needing to quickly turn their sights toward a Thursday meeting with the New York Jets, the Ravens are dealing with injuries to three of their most important offensive players.

Star quarterback and MVP favorite Lamar Jackson was listed as a limited participant for Monday’s walk-through with a quad issue and only arrived on the field at the conclusion of the media viewing portion of practice. Jackson appeared to be walking with a slight limp and is believed to have sustained the injury on the low hit from Buffalo defensive end Trent Murphy that drew a roughing the passer penalty early in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 24-17 win. The 22-year-old finished the game without any noticeable effects, throwing a short touchdown pass to Willie Snead to end the same drive and rushing twice for four yards before his final two kneel-downs to end the game.

Backup quarterback Robert Griffin III handled the starter reps during the open portion of the walk-through, but Tuesday and Wednesday should provide a better idea of Jackson’s status for Week 15.

“We’ll see. It’s less than 24 hours after the game — just about — so it’s hard to say,” head coach John Harbaugh said Monday evening. “It’s not a serious injury in that sense, but this is day-to-day and we play Thursday night. We’ll see where we’re at.”

Complicating matters is the health of standout left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who is in the concussion protocol despite playing all 60 offensive snaps against the Bills. His potential absence would be significant for even a fully healthy Jackson and the NFL’s top-ranked scoring offense as Pro Football Focus has graded Stanley as the top left tackle in the league in 2019.

With such a quick turnaround doing the Ravens no favors this week, it’s unclear whether Stanley or tight end and top receiver Mark Andrews (knee) — who exited in the first half of Sunday’s game — will be able to play against the Jets.

“I’m not going to get into injuries. We just got done playing the game 24 hours ago,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to play a game Thursday night. The guys that are ready to play will play, the guys that aren’t won’t, so just look at the injury report and take it from there.”

Defensive back Anthony Levine (ankle) and linebacker Chris Board (concussion) also missed practice after exiting Sunday’s game early.

A win over the Jets would clinch the AFC North division title for the 11-2 Ravens, but they can also clinch a first-round bye with a win and a loss by either New England or Kansas City in Week 15. The Ravens need only two wins in their final three games to secure home-field advantage in the playoffs without any other help.

The Jets listed 14 players as non-participants or limited during Monday’s practice. That list includes Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams (ankle), who didn’t practice and missed Sunday’s game against Miami. Running back Le’Veon Bell was a full participant after sitting out Week 14 with an illness.

There are no shortage of former Ravens on the New York roster with guard Alex Lewis, safety Bennett Jackson, cornerback Maurice Canady, and running back Ty Montgomery among them. However, one familiar face Baltimore won’t see Thursday is four-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, who was placed on injured reserve last week.

Mosley is in the first season of a five-year, $85 million contract signed in March, but a serious groin injury could have negative ramifications for the Ravens, who were expecting to net a third-round compensatory pick in next year’s draft for the departure of their star inside linebacker. With Mosley playing in just two games this season, that draft choice could end up being only a fourth-round choice.

“We love him and appreciate everything he did for us,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a tough break with the groin, but he’ll bounce back. He’s a great player, a hard worker and a good guy, but I haven’t really thought that much about it.”

Below is Monday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Mark Andrews (knee), LB Chris Board (concussion), S Anthony Levine (ankle), OT Ronnie Stanley (concussion)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: QB Lamar Jackson (quad), DE Jihad Ward (elbow)

NEW YORK
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: S Jamal Adams (ankle), OL Chuma Edoga (knee), TE Ryan Griffin (ankle), CB Arthur Maulet (calf), CB Brian Poole (concussion), RB Bilal Powell (ankle/illness), WR Demaryius Thomas (hamstring/knee), DL Quinnen Williams (neck)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Matthias Farley (ankle), DL Henry Anderson (shoulder), OL Kelvin Beachum (ankles), DL Steve McLendon (knee/hip), RB Ty Montgomery (foot/hip), DL Nathan Sheperd (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Le’Veon Bell (illness), CB Maurice Canady (shoulder), OL Tom Compton (ankle), QB Sam Darnold (knee/left thumb), QB David Fales (right elbow), LB Paul Worrilow (quad)

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Ravens extend Ricard through 2021, activate Trawick from injured reserve

Posted on 03 December 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens announced a two-year extension for fullback and defensive lineman Patrick Ricard, keeping their most versatile contributor under contract through the 2021 season.

A 2017 rookie free agent from Maine, Ricard was scheduled to become a restricted free agent next March, but he has emerged as one of the NFL’s best fullbacks this season, serving as a devastating blocker for the league’s top rushing attack and catching eight passes for 47 yards and a touchdown. The 6-foot-3, 303-pound Ricard came to the Ravens as a defensive lineman, but he’s gained a more notable role as an offensive player.

“Is there a better fullback in the league? I don’t know. I’ll let somebody else decide that,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said last month. “But he’s playing his position at a high level, and if he can help us win the game, we’ll do whatever and how much of it we need to do.”

Ricard has played 249 snaps on offense and 135 on defense this season, becoming the first NFL player to play at least 100 snaps on each side of the ball in a decade. He currently leads all AFC fullbacks in voting for this year’s Pro Bowl. The 25-year-old has also collected one sack, nine tackles, one forced fumble, and a pass breakup on defense.

Baltimore also announced veteran safety and special-teams contributor Brynden Trawick has been activated from injured reserve. Trawick was designated to return to practice last month and spent the last eight games on IR with an elbow injury.

On Monday, the Ravens waived reserve safety Bennett Jackson to clear room on the 53-man roster. Jackson was claimed off waivers by the New York Jets, who placed linebacker C.J. Mosley on injured reserve with a groin injury. The former Raven appeared in only two games in the first season of a lucrative five-year, $85 million contract, a development that could cause Baltimore’s projected third-round compensatory pick to drop to a fourth-rounder in next year’s draft.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts going into Week 9

Posted on 29 October 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens coming off their bye week with a 5-2 record and a two-game lead in the AFC North, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The winless Miami Dolphins were the big only “buyers” on a toothless trade deadline day, but remember the Ravens acquired two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters two weeks ago for a benched linebacker and a 2020 fifth-round pick. That’s a lot more than other contenders could say.

2. That Eric DeCosta inquired about Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams reaffirms the philosophy of having a strong secondary above all else on defense. Legitimate pass-rush concerns remain, but having Peters and a healthy Jimmy Smith helps reset the defense closer to its pre-summer state. We’ll see how it plays out.

3. Not counting Pittsburgh’s annual trip to Baltimore, I’m not sure the Ravens have played a more anticipated home game in the regular season since hosting New England for Sunday Night Football in 2012, a contest sandwiched between their AFC Championship meetings. I can’t wait.

4. After labeling Lamar Jackson “a big problem” for his defense, Bill Belichick is bound to show the young quarterback something he hasn’t seen before. However, the future Hall of Fame coach hasn’t seen a talent quite like Jackson either. I’ll repeat that throughout the week.

5. If you bristled over the talk about the Ravens’ schedule prior to the win at Seattle, pump the brakes on being too dismissive about the New England defense’s slate of opponents to this point. The numbers are simply ridiculous — even against bad competition — in today’s NFL.

6. The Ravens are 9-2 immediately following their bye in the John Harbaugh era with the only defeats coming in 2013 and 2015, two of Harbaugh’s three non-winning seasons. That doesn’t guarantee victory, but Baltimore usually plays its best with extra time to prepare, which isn’t a given in this league.

7. Former Raven Lawrence Guy has carved out a nice place for himself in New England, but his career highlight may now be his involvement in a play the “Butt Fumble” thought was embarrassing. Congratulations are in order for his first career interception.

8. I’ve been asked recently about Gus Edwards receiving more touches. Edwards has averaged 5.2 yards per carry since Week 3 while Mark Ingram — a more complete back — has been slowed some recently, but there’s only one football. I suspect we’ll see a few more carries for Edwards down the stretch.

9. After watching another uninspiring performance by Cleveland and Pittsburgh falling behind 14-0 to Miami before waking up to regroup, I remain convinced it would take quite a collapse by the Ravens to not win the AFC North in comfortable fashion. Those division foes aren’t reeling off a long winning streak.

10. The Willie Snead extension didn’t prove to be the harbinger of a deadline trade, but Baltimore had under $2 million in salary cap space and needed flexibility for inevitable roster maneuvering the rest of the way. It’s a solid move to keep a reliable slot receiver who’s a good blocker.

11. News of C.J. Mosley missing at least another five to six weeks with a groin injury was bad news for the Ravens’ projected third-round compensatory pick. The more time he misses, the greater the chance that selection becomes a fourth-rounder. Mosley missed just three games in five years with Baltimore.

12. The Ravens will be wearing their black jerseys for the first time this season, and Ed Reed will be in the house to receive his Hall of Fame ring at halftime. As if you needed more reason to be pumped for a game against Tom Brady and the undefeated Patriots.

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