Tag Archive | "gus edwards"

Baltimore Ravens running back Gus Edwards runs for a touchdown against the Houston Texans during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Edwards, Ravens’ historic ground game still aiming for “step forward” in 2020

Posted on 17 June 2020 by Luke Jones

The revolutionary Ravens offense rushed for an NFL-record 3,296 yards on the way to a 14-2 record last season.

Quarterback Lamar Jackson (1,206) and running backs Mark Ingram (1,018) and Gus Edwards (711) each ran for more than 700 yards. In contrast, seven NFL teams didn’t have a single 700-yard rusher in 2019.

Now adding the second-round selection of Ohio State star running back J.K. Dobbins to the mix, could the Baltimore ground game improve in 2020?

“It’s going to be difficult to do better than what we did last year with breaking the rushing record, but I think it’s a step forward,” Edwards said in a Wednesday conference call. “It’s a definite step towards that because he’s a great back and all. He’s going to make the competition that much better in the running back room.”

Consider the Ravens ran for nearly 1,000 more yards than second-place San Francisco and over 2,000 more yards than the New York Jets and Miami in 2019. Only one other team — the Michael Vick-led 2006 Atlanta Falcons — has sniffed 3,000 rushing yards in the 21st century and just 12 other teams have even eclipsed the 2,500-yard mark in a season since the beginning of the John Harbaugh era in 2008.

In other words, improving upon — or even matching — those raw numbers and efficiency will be a very tall order, especially in a sport where the passing game has been proven as the more efficient way to move the ball and score points in the long run. The record-setting pace was certainly aided by the Ravens rarely trailing last season, allowing them to lean even more heavily on the run in the second half of games. One can’t assume those multi-score leads will come quite as easily in the new season as we saw what happened when Baltimore fell behind multiple scores in the playoff loss to Tennessee.

There’s also the question about the number of carries to go around.

Even without Dobbins in the picture last season, Edwards and his shiny 5.3 yards per attempt average received just 133 carries — many in short-yardage situations — behind Ingram and Jackson in the pecking order while 2019 fourth-round pick Justice Hill only saw 58. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s long-held stance that you can never have too many running backs could be put to the test, especially if the Ravens have designs of Jackson and the offense taking another step forward through the air.

“Coach Roman is just committed to it. It seems like coach Harbaugh is committed to it,” said Edwards about the competition for carries. “Everybody is just throwing around a ‘four-headed monster.’ I think everybody is committed to it and really wants to do it. That’s the first step and we’ll see where it goes. I’m excited.

“It’s a chance to make history.”

It’s a great problem to have on paper, of course, but reality could prove more challenging.

Cutting down on the number of times Jackson carries the ball may make sense in the big picture, but arbitrarily redistributing some of his attempts to running backs is highly unlikely to produce the same NFL-best 6.9 yards per carry the league MVP averaged a year ago. Dobbins is an intriguing talent, but his addition doesn’t change the reality of Jackson being the transcendent force in this running game or the simple math of there being only one football.

There’s also the business side with many viewing Dobbins as the running back of the future and a signal that the 30-year-old Ingram could be a salary cap casualty next winter despite his 1,000-yard season that resulted in a trip to the Pro Bowl last year. That’s not to suggest Ingram or any other Ravens back will be anything but a team player, but the earning potential at the position is as tenuous as ever, making touches and statistics that much more important.

Entering his third season, Edwards will be a restricted free agent next year and is certainly aiming to continue making his mark after exploding on the scene as an undrafted free agent from Rutgers in the second half of 2018.

“I think that’s how I want myself to be remembered as somebody that works hard,” said Edwards, who’s averaged an impressive 5.3 yards per carry in his brief career. “That’s what the team thinks of me. I’m going to be in a great position with a great team, a team that wants to run the ball. Everything is in front of me. I just have [to take] another step forward.”

The ground game is certainly deeper and should easily remain the NFL’s best by a significant margin, but making history once again could prove difficult in more ways than one.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 2020 schedule release

Posted on 11 May 2020 by Luke Jones

With the NFL unveiling the 2020 regular-season schedule late last week, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. What we know about the alarming incident between Earl Thomas and his wife doesn’t — and shouldn’t — provide any grounds to jeopardize his employment, but the Ravens’ terse statement made clear their disenchantment about being left in the dark. Practically speaking, a public figure’s right to privacy only goes so far.

2. The schedule release highlighted what we already knew about Baltimore being in tremendous shape from a travel standpoint with the longest trip of the season being to Houston in Week 2. Already dominant on the road last season, the Ravens should be able to continue such away success.

3. Even if one argues the Ravens are better from a talent standpoint and have a favorable schedule on paper, ESPN’s Mike Clay presented some data that should make you take pause before boldly predicting another 14-2 or better finish. What they did offensively last season just isn’t easy to duplicate.

4. With five prime-time games, four in a five-week period from November into early December, and the reigning NFL MVP, the Ravens have never carried a brighter national profile than they do right now, which is saying plenty for an organization with two Super Bowl titles in the last 20 years.

5. Asked about the center spot in a call with season-ticket holders, Eric DeCosta mentioning Bradley Bozeman was interesting, especially since left guard was seemingly the only stable interior line spot entering 2020 after Bozeman started every game there last year. Will we see three different starters inside?

6. When an elite player retires at the top of his game, speculation can persist about a comeback, but Marshal Yanda left no doubt by losing 45 pounds in two months after his final game and looking even thinner on “The Pat McAfee Show.” He looked lighter than the ex-Indianapolis punter.

7. No matter how you felt about the second-round selection of J.K. Dobbins, I don’t get the rush some have to trade Gus Edwards or Justice Hill for what would likely be an inconsequential draft pick. If more depth at running back was important, hastily diminishing the group makes little sense.

8. DeCosta acknowledged the Ravens having limited avenues to clear meaningful salary cap space without striking a long-term deal for Matthew Judon or Ronnie Stanley, who carry two of their five largest cap numbers for 2020. These negotiations and decisions won’t get any easier.

9. First-round pick Patrick Queen bought his mother a new Range Rover over the weekend. Seeing a young player fulfill his NFL dream after years of hard work and finally be able to gift a token of appreciation to a parent never gets old.

10. Asked once again — this time by a season-ticket holder and not the media — whether the Ravens were interested in signing Antonio Brown, DeCosta provided a “filibuster” non-answer that would make Dan Duquette smile.

11. With Joe Flacco undergoing neck surgery and reportedly not expected to be cleared to play until late August, you wonder if the 35-year-old has played his final snap. However, Jets general manager and ex-Ravens scout Joe Douglas “discovered” Flacco and does need a backup to Sam Darnold.

12. A personal thanks to director of player personnel Joe Hortiz for taking extensive time to conduct a virtual film session on the Ravens’ 2020 draft class and answering questions from local reporters. Such a forum offers transparency and better educates media to hopefully improve our coverage for fans.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 2020 draft

Posted on 29 April 2020 by Luke Jones

With the 2020 NFL draft in the books and the Ravens shifting attention toward an unprecedented virtual offseason workout program, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore’s draft haul has been widely praised as it is, but Eric DeCosta also used 2020 fifth-round picks to acquire Pro Bowl selections Marcus Peters and Calais Campbell. We know many draft choices don’t pan out, of course, but the Ravens sure took advantage of value.

2. Marlon Humphrey’s fifth-year option being exercised was elementary as he’s projected to make $10.244 million in 2021, but he’s already been a team MVP and a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection prior to turning 24. He’s one more big year away from commanding top-of-the-market money at cornerback.

3. The career of D.J. Fluker has been pedestrian compared to first-round expectations, but his signing is a reminder of keeping expectations in check for rookies, especially without normal offseason workouts. Ideally, a young guy with a higher ceiling seizes the right guard job, but Fluker raises the position’s floor.

4. Whenever anticipating a position battle, I remember how much angst there was about the Ravens making no meaningful addition to replace right tackle Michael Oher in 2014. Rick Wagner, who had barely played as a fifth-round rookie, stepped in as an immediate upgrade for the next three seasons.

5. Speaking of competition, Jaylon Ferguson and Tyus Bowser had to be pleased to see no edge defenders taken in this draft class. Ferguson will compete to start and was in no roster danger, of course, but players like Bowser in the final year of their contract are always vulnerable.

6. J.K. Dobbins will try to break this post-Super Bowl XLVII run of second-round picks: Bowser (2017), Kamalei Correa (2016), Maxx Williams (2015), Timmy Jernigan (2014), and Arthur Brown (2013). Talk about “meh,” but I suppose the Ravens did OK trading their 2018 and 2019 second-rounders.

7. How the ground game shakes out with four running backs and the greatest single-season rushing quarterback in NFL history will be interesting — there’s only one football — but there’s no shortage of motivation. Mark Ingram was essentially put on notice and Gus Edwards and Justice Hill dropped down the pecking order.

8. Devin Duvernay will be an interesting wild card with good hands and an uncanny ability to gain yards after the catch. Considering how many screens he ran at Texas, I wouldn’t be surprised to occasionally see him lining up in the backfield and also motioning into jet sweeps.

9. After drafting exactly one wide receiver (Breshad Perriman) in the first three rounds from 2012-2018, the Ravens have selected three (Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, and Duvernay) in the last two drafts. Somewhere, Joe Flacco shrugs his shoulders.

10. Not only is Mike Tomlin getting inside information from Maryland wide receiver Dino Tomlin, but former Terps interim head coach Matt Canada became Pittsburgh’s quarterbacks coach in January. Anthony McFarland and Antoine Brooks landing with the Steelers was hardly a shock.

11. The gap is sizable between the Ravens and the rest of the AFC North on paper right now, but Cincinnati and Cleveland had strong drafts and Pittsburgh appeared to do OK despite trading its first-round pick for defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick last fall. Much talent was added to the division.

12. I’m not going to pretend to have any great insights into the Ravens’ reported (and unofficial) class of rookie free-agent signings, but I just hope the addition of Kennesaw State fullback Bronson Rechsteiner means his uncle shows up in Owings Mills at some point.

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2020 draft reinforces Ravens’ long-term view and identity

Posted on 27 April 2020 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of Ohio State Athletics)

One of the more significant moments of draft weekend had nothing to do with the Ravens, but it was a reminder of what lies ahead.

On Friday, Pro Bowl selection Laremy Tunsil and the Houston Texans agreed to a three-year, $66 million contract including $50 million guaranteed, making the 2016 first-round pick the highest-paid left tackle in NFL history by an overwhelming margin. Selected seven spots earlier in that same draft by Baltimore and also a 2019 Pro Bowl pick, Ronnie Stanley was surely paying attention as he prepares for the final season of his rookie contract and has had the better career to this point. Yes, the Ravens will need to pay their left tackle how teams used to pay franchise quarterbacks not terribly long ago in order to keep him.

Coming off a 14-2 season with the reigning NFL MVP and 11 other returning Pro Bowl selections, the Ravens are about to get incredibly expensive over the next 24 months, which will leave general manager Eric DeCosta with some very difficult decisions. Of course, that’s better than the alternative of not having a franchise quarterback and other elite talent, but understanding that reality and how it relates to the draft is how the best teams are able to remain good.

That’s how the second-round selection of Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins reinforced the long-term view and identity of the organization, even when there were very fair arguments to select Baylor wide receiver Denzel Mims or Boise State offensive lineman Ezra Cleveland with the 55th overall pick. After all, either of those players would have addressed a greater immediate need for a team that already had a record-setting rushing attack with two 1,000-yard rushers and plenty of depth.

But DeCosta learned his lesson from so many drafts alongside former general manager Ozzie Newsome, his mentor and current executive vice president who drafted at least three Pro Football Hall of Famers and was the architect of two Super Bowl championships in Baltimore.

“These great players would just fall down the board, and we would take them,” said DeCosta, who expected Dobbins to be drafted as early as the late first round. “You prepare yourself for it, and when it happens, you have to be prepared to take the guy. We didn’t really expect it. I don’t think anybody really did. We didn’t anticipate it, but we just had to take him. He’s just a talented guy, and it just made too much sense for us not to take him.”

The truth is that Dobbins probably doesn’t dramatically improve the chances of the 2020 Ravens beyond the possibility of a rash of injuries, an argument that supports taking more players at any position on the field. There’s no questioning Dobbins’ talent and fit running out of the pistol formation, but 2019 Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram gained 5.0 yards per carry and top backup Gus Edwards ran for 5.3 yards per attempt as Baltimore averaged a whopping 5.53 yards per carry — the NFL’s third-highest single-season mark since 1960 — and broke the 16-game season rushing record at 3,296 yards in 2019. In other words, short of Dobbins being the next Jim Brown — the 1963 Cleveland Browns hold the single-season rushing average record (5.74) interestingly enough — there just isn’t much room for the Ravens to be markedly better running the football if we’re being realistic.

That’s especially true if the goal is to decrease carries for quarterback Lamar Jackson, who is truly the special component of this ground game that makes both running backs and the offensive line that much better after setting the single-season quarterback rushing record and gaining 6.85 yards per carry last year. The retirement of eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda doesn’t help the equation either.

But that’s when we come back to the long-term view and identity of this football team, which is to continue to run more often and better than anyone in the league despite Jackson also leading the NFL in touchdown passes last season.

Much like when Ray Rice was selected with the same pick in the 2008 draft and played behind Pro Bowl running backs Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain as a rookie, Dobbins will definitely contribute in his first year. But his real value will come in 2021 as Ingram will be another year older and scheduled to make $5 million and Edwards will be a restricted free agent. At that point, the Ravens will have potentially already paid Stanley and will likely be navigating contract discussions with Jackson and All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey, which could prompt DeCosta to be thriftier at a position like running back with a prime talent like Dobbins ready to assume the primary workload with three years remaining on his rookie contract.

Yes, the draft may allow a team to fill an immediate need or two — first- and third-round inside linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison both could be Week 1 starters this fall — but it’s much more about better positioning itself for the future. Right now, the Ravens are benefiting from an MVP quarterback on a rookie contract and a run-first attack that set all kinds of records a year ago and remains the cheapest offense in the NFL.

But that flexibility isn’t going to last forever, and the Ravens want to maintain both their identity and standing as contenders beyond just the next year or two. That’s why picks such as Dobbins, defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, and wide receiver Devin Duvernay who may not be immediate starters are still so critical to get right for 2021 and beyond.

The Ravens were already a Super Bowl contender entering draft weekend and came out of it confident that they had improved their chances both now and down the line.

“We like the chemistry of the team. It changes every single year,” DeCosta said. “The draft is one mean that we have to improve the chemistry along with free agency and different things.

“It’s an ongoing process that never ends.”

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Baltimore Ravens running back Mark Ingram (21) scores on a touchdown run as Houston Texans cornerback Gareon Conley (22) tries to stop him during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Ingram not scared of competition if Ravens draft running back next week

Posted on 15 April 2020 by Luke Jones

Ravens running back Mark Ingram is already an outlier, but he has no plans of slowing down.

The oldest player in the NFL to rush for 1,000 yards last season — Houston’s Carlos Hyde was the only other over age 25 — the 30-year-old Ingram is entering the second season of a three-year, $15.5 million contract and averaged more than 5.0 yards per carry for just the second time in his career. The 2019 Pro Bowl selection isn’t ready for a diminished role after eclipsing 200 carries for just the fourth time in his nine seasons, but that moderate workload is a likely reason why he’s still going strong at a position with a short shelf life.

“I’m with a great team that takes care of me, and I feel like I can play this game at a high level – at the highest level – for at least another four or five years,” Ingram said. “I feel like that. I honestly do. My body feels good. I’m moving good. I have nothing really lagging. If I do, I’ll be working on it, rehabbing it, strengthening it up so all my weaknesses are turning into my strengths.

“I just want to be the best, man. I want to be one of the best. When you talk about running backs who had long, prestigious careers, I want to be in that discussion.”

But that ambition after a strong first season in Baltimore comes as many suggest the organization shouldn’t maintain the status quo at the position, especially after a calf injury slowed the veteran in the shocking playoff loss to Tennessee. The Ravens rushed for an NFL-record 3,296 yards, averaged 0.5 yards per carry more than any other team, and had nearly 100 more carries than second-place San Francisco last year, but you still hear the various ideas.

More or fewer carries for Ingram, who finished just 20th in the NFL in rushing attempts.

More carries for Gus Edwards, who averaged 5.3 yards per rush last year.

More touches for Justice Hill, who flashed late in his rookie season.

Fewer rushes for Lamar Jackson despite him leading the league in yards per carry by an extraordinary margin last year and his generational athleticism being what truly makes this offense special.

Some have gone a step beyond those predictable talking points to even suggest that the Ravens take a running back like D’Andre Swift of Georgia late in the first round.

This is when we remind ourselves there’s only one football to go around, especially if you want to see the passing game continue to grow. That’s not to say the Ravens shouldn’t be open to adding young talent at a position so important to Greg Roman’s offense, but any thought of devoting an early pick to an already deep position falls into the category of trying to fix something that isn’t broken, especially with other needs on both sides of the ball.

Ingram says he wouldn’t be surprised to see general manager Eric DeCosta add a running back in next week’s draft. Perhaps even someone like Maryland’s Anthony McFarland on the final day would make sense.

“I don’t think I’ve been in the league a year where a running back hadn’t been drafted or acquired,” said Ingram, who saw New Orleans draft immediate Pro Bowl back Alvin Kamara in the third round of the 2017 draft. “Running back is always a position you try to have depth and quality. If that did happen, that’s just what it is. We’re going to welcome that young running back and try to make him better, try to make the team better. That’s just the gist of it.

“There’s always going to be somebody younger trying to come in. They’re always looking for new talent, new people at every position. Competition is a part of it. You can’t be scared of competition; it breeds excellence. Whatever we do, I’m sure it would be good.”

We know the Ravens offense is unique and conceivably values the running back position more than the more conventional team — though one could argue it’s really Jackson’s presence that makes any back that much better — but the debate centers around the importance of the position relative to the rest of the roster. Earlier this week, Carolina made 2019 Pro Bowl selection and former first-round pick Christian McCaffrey the highest-paid running back in league history after he eclipsed the 1,000-yard marks in both rush and receiving last year.

Showing support for the running back fraternity, Ingram offered his strong endorsement of the deal.

“Why should a running back be treated less than another position? All these other positions get high numbers,” Ingram said. “Why is it that the running back is subject to that? Why does the running back have to be the red-headed stepchild? I think [McCaffrey] deserves that number. His value on the team, his value across the league, his leadership, everything. I think he deserves that, and I think other running backs deserve bigger contracts as well.”

The overwhelming evidence in recent years suggests lucrative contracts for running backs are poor investments, but the Panthers — coming off a 5-11 season — are the latest team to insist their guy will be the exception. In Baltimore, we tend to forget three-time Pro Bowl selection Ray Rice was already in the midst of a sharp decline just two seasons into a five-year, $35 million contract signed in 2012 before the domestic violence incident that ended his NFL career.

Perhaps the best way to avoid the eventual big contract pitfall is having the discipline to avoid drafting a running back so early in the first place, another behavior analytics fail to support. It’s not that running backs don’t matter as much as understanding there will be more than enough value in less heralded options who can thrive in the right scheme and with a good offensive line, which are the biggest keys to the success of a ground attack.

When an undrafted back like Edwards has averaged 5.3 yards per carry over his two seasons in this offense, do you really expect to get the bang for your buck with a first-round running back?

To borrow a phrase from owner Steve Bisciotti, the Ravens should have bigger fish to fry than drafting a running back early next week. Some competition for Ingram and the other incumbents can come later in the weekend.

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Ravens release veteran lineman Hurst, give low tender to center Skura

Posted on 16 March 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens announced the release of veteran offensive lineman James Hurst on Monday, a move that saves $2.75 million on this year’s salary cap.

The 28-year-old was suspended for the first four games of the 2020 season for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy last month, a development that had jeopardized his future in Baltimore. Hurst was entering the third season of a four-year, $17.5 million contract, but he played a career-low 195 offensive snaps and made only two starts last season, making his 2020 base salary of $4 million rather steep for a reserve.

Regarded by most as a below-average starting option, Hurst did bring game-day value as a versatile backup able to play multiple spots along the offensive line. The 2014 undrafted free agent from North Carolina made multiple starts at both tackle spots and at left guard over his six seasons with the Ravens.

The move comes less than a week after the retirement of eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, making it even more obvious that general manager Eric DeCosta will need to strengthen his depth along the offensive line.

In other offensive line news, the Ravens placed the right-of-first-refusal tender on restricted free-agent center Matt Skura, who continues to work his way back from a major knee injury suffered in late November. The tender is worth a projected $2.1 million and gives Baltimore the right to match any offer sheet executed by another team.

Speaking to media after Yanda’s retirement press conference last week, Skura reiterated his hope that he’d be ready to return to action during training camp. However, his uncertain health as well as the solid play of undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari down the stretch last season likely prompted the Ravens to give Skura the low tender rather than the more expensive second-round amount.

Skura has started 39 games over the last three seasons and established himself as Baltimore’s starting center in 2018.

The Ravens also tendered exclusive-rights free-agent running back Gus Edwards, a move that was only a formality after the primary backup to Mark Ingram averaged 5.3 yards per carry last season.

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Baltimore Ravens running back Mark Ingram (21) scores on a touchdown run as Houston Texans cornerback Gareon Conley (22) tries to stop him during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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How did Ravens running backs stack up to rest of NFL in 2019?

Posted on 14 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 running backs ranked across the NFL this past season followed by the positional outlook going into 2020:

Safeties

Mark Ingram
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 532
PFF ranking: eighth among running backs
Skinny: The Ravens couldn’t have asked for more in the first season of a three-year, $15 million contract as Ingram became the first Baltimore running back to rush for 1,000 yards since 2014 and was selected to his third career Pro Bowl. Not only was Ingram terrific as a rusher at 5.0 yards per carry, but he provided veteran leadership for a very young offense and excelled in pass protection.

Gus Edwards
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 415
PFF ranking: 29th among running backs
Skinny: The 238-pound back was always going to have a reduced role from the moment Ingram signed last March, but he still improved his yards per carry to 5.3 in his second season. Though not the well-rounded back that Ingram is, Edwards picked up a first down on 34.6 percent of his carries, easily making him one of the best short-yardage options in football last season.

Justice Hill
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 237
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The rookie shows good speed and agility, but he saw no more than 22 offensive snaps in a game until playing 50 in the playoff loss with Ingram ailing and the Ravens down multiple scores in the second half. You’d like to see Hill get more opportunities in his second year, but there’s only one football to go around with two stout backs ahead of him and 1,200-yard rusher Lamar Jackson at quarterback.

Patrick Ricard
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 349
PFF ranking: first among fullbacks
Skinny: An afterthought as a healthy scratch by the end of 2018, the hybrid defensive lineman became the best pure blocking fullback in the league this past season, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl and a contract extension through 2021. Ricard’s ability to play on defense as well as to line up at fullback, tight end, or as an extra offensive lineman will continue to make him valuable to the game-day roster.

2020 positional outlook

With a record-setting offense running an NFL-high 54 percent of the time in 2019, the Ravens are always on the lookout for ways to strengthen their offensive backfield, especially if a dynamic talent slips to them in April’s draft. However, the trio of Ingram, Edwards, and Hill matched with an MVP dual-threat quarterback leaves the running game in very strong shape going into 2020. His age suggests Baltimore should keep an eye on Ingram as he enters his 10th NFL season, but this past year marked just the fourth time he’s cracked 200 carries, meaning he’s arguably fresher than the typical 30-year-old running back and also no stranger to a backfield timeshare if Edwards and Hill getting more touches proves to be optimal for 2020. The Ravens may not duplicate their NFL-record 3,296 rushing yards, but Ingram and Edwards offer a high floor, Hill brings a higher ceiling, and Jackson has the generational ability to continue making this the best running game in football by a wide margin.

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Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Matt Judon (99) reacts while holding a smartphone after an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Baltimore. The Ravens won 28-10. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Examining Ravens’ 2020 class of free agents

Posted on 15 January 2020 by Luke Jones

The start of free agency is just under two months away with the Ravens entering the offseason sooner than anticipated after a franchise-record 14-2 regular season that ended with shocking disappointment in the divisional round of the playoffs.

The Ravens currently have an estimated 2020 salary cap commitment of just over $166 million to 41 players (not including pending free agents or players recently signed to reserve-future contracts), according to OverTheCap.com. The 2020 salary cap has not been officially set, but it’s projected to rise from $188.2 million in 2019 to an estimated $200 million.

General manager Eric DeCosta seems likely to create additional cap space by extending, renegotiating, or terminating the contracts of a few veteran players. That list could include the likes of safety Tony Jefferson, offensive lineman James Hurst, and defensive back Brandon Carr, who all have 2020 cap numbers that may exceed how the Ravens value their services at this point. Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley is a logical candidate for a long-term contract extension as he’s set to carry a $12.866 million cap figure in his fifth-year option season.

Below is a look at Baltimore’s 2020 class of free agents:

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The Ravens will have the opportunity to extend any of the following unrestricted free agents before they may officially sign with any team beginning March 18 at 4 p.m.

LB Josh Bynes The 30-year-old was one of Baltimore’s best in-season signings in recent memory and graded sixth among linebackers by Pro Football Focus, but long-term solutions will be explored.

DT Justin Ellis The 350-pound run-stopping lineman was a healthy scratch in three of the last four regular-season games, but the status of other defensive linemen may help his chances for a return.

OL Hroniss Grasu His second stint with Baltimore led to him being a game-day reserve late in the season, but you’d expect the Ravens to aim to improve their interior offensive line depth.

OLB Matthew Judon The Pro Bowl selection will be paid lucratively by someone, but does the lack of depth at this position force Baltimore to step outside its financial comfort zone to keep him?

DB Anthony Levine – Though still a special-teams standout, the 32-year-old played in just 17 percent of defensive snaps as his particular role in the dime package diminished in 2019.

OLB Pernell McPhee A torn triceps ended what had been a productive start to his ninth NFL campaign, so McPhee returning in a situational role at a cheap price seems plausible.

WR Chris Moore – The 2016 fourth-round pick hasn’t developed into the deep-threat wide receiver some hoped he would be, but he’s been one of Baltimore’s best special-teams players since his arrival.

ILB Patrick Onwuasor Considered an ascending player poised for a 2019 breakout, Onwuasor struggled at the “Mike” and saw his role diminish as the year progressed, leaving his future in doubt.

DT Domata Peko The 35-year-old left open the possibility of playing a 15th NFL season, but Baltimore would probably prefer more youth and long-term upside for this position group.

DT Michael Pierce Pierce worked his way back into shape after well-documented weight problems in the spring and is in line for a substantial payday despite not having a standout contract year.

DB Jordan Richards Until being deemed a healthy scratch in the playoff loss to the Titans, Richards was a regular on special teams and only turns 27 later this month.

WR Seth Roberts He ranked third among Baltimore wide receivers in snaps and blocks well, but his costly drop in the first half of the playoff loss reinforces the need for more play-making ability here.

OT Andre Smith Signed as a depth piece last week, the former Cincinnati Bengal and 2009 first-round pick has 98 career starts under his belt and probably isn’t in the organization’s long-term plans.

CB Jimmy Smith In an ideal world, Smith would re-sign as part of an outside trio including Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey, but his likely asking price and injury history are deterrents.

WR/RS De’Anthony Thomas – He showed little as a returner and was flagged for blocking after calling a fair catch in the playoff loss, a costly penalty he committed more than once this season.

S Brynden Trawick An elbow injury limited him to just six games, but the 30-year-old is a good special-teams player, which always leaves the door open for a return to Baltimore.

DE/OLB Jihad Ward Coaches and teammates spoke highly of the 25-year-old edge defender this season, making his return to be part of the rotation quite possible at a reasonable price.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The following players have accrued three years of service and have expiring contracts. The Ravens can tender each with a restricted free agent offer, but other teams may then sign that player to an offer sheet. If that occurs, Baltimore has the right to match the offer and keep the aforementioned player. If the Ravens elect not to match, they would receive compensation based on which restricted tender they offered that player.

There are three different tenders — the values won’t be set until the 2020 salary cap is finalized — that can be made: a first-round tender ($4.407 million in 2019) would award the competing team’s first-round selection, a second-round tender ($3.095 million in 2019) would fetch the competing team’s second-round pick, and a low tender ($2.205 million in 2019) would bring the competing team’s draft choice equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted. For example, a restricted free agent selected in the fifth round would be worth a fifth-round pick if given the low tender. If a player went undrafted originally and is given the low tender, the Ravens would only hold the right to match the competing offer sheet and would not receive any draft compensation if they chose not to.

With less-heralded restricted free agents, the Ravens often elect to forgo a tender and will attempt to re-sign them at cheaper rates.

The original round in which each player was drafted is noted in parentheses:

OL Parker Ehinger (fourth) – The 27-year-old was active in four of the last five regular-season games, but signing him to anything more than a league-minimum deal would be surprising.

C Matt Skura (undrafted) – The second-round tender seemed likely for the starter before a serious knee injury in late November, but the Ravens gambling with the low tender isn’t impossible now.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

These players have less than three years of accrued service and can be tendered a contract for the league minimum based on their length of service in the league. If tendered, these players are not free to negotiate with other teams. The Ravens usually tender all exclusive-rights free agents with the idea that there’s nothing promised beyond the opportunity to compete for a spot. Exclusive-rights tenders are not guaranteed, meaning a player can be cut at any point without consequence to the salary cap.

OL Randin Crecelius After spending 2018 on the practice squad, the former rookie free agent sustained a concussion early in training camp and was placed on IR at the end of the preseason.

RB Gus Edwards The second-year backup to Mark Ingram averaged 5.3 yards per carry and would start for plenty of teams around the league, making him a great value to the organization.

DB Fish Smithson The 25-year-old Baltimore native was signed late in the preseason and ended up on IR just a few days later.

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Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) runs against the Baltimore Ravens during the first half an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following playoff loss to Tennessee

Posted on 14 January 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens seeing their season come to an end in a shocking 28-12 divisional-round playoff loss to Tennessee, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Those wondering how Baltimore would handle playing from behind couldn’t have liked the answer, but perception wasn’t helped watching Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City erase a 24-point deficit like it was nothing and Russell Wilson nearly bringing Seattle back at Lambeau. Improvement there is the next step for this offense.

2. Lamar Jackson was the first to say he didn’t play very well, but drops were a big problem as you could point to as many as seven passes that should have been caught — even if some weren’t on target. Another impactful wide receiver would be ideal in Jackson’s continued development.

3. I’m not sure why Gus Edwards received so few touches with Mark Ingram not 100 percent, but the last drive of the first half (13 dropbacks) and the fourth quarter (27 dropbacks) really skewed the run-pass ratio on which many are dwelling. Still, Greg Roman seemed out of sorts.

4. Committing to run is tough when gaining 38 yards on the first 22 first-down plays. However, as Twitter user @Yoshi2052 noted, there wasn’t a designed run on first down after the 9:03 mark of the second quarter. Baltimore netted one yard or worse on 24 of 40 first-down snaps. Yuck.

5. Tennessee’s 217 rushing yards were the fourth most allowed by the Ravens in team history. A run defense ranking 21st in yards per carry allowed (a franchise-worst 4.4) and 19th in efficiency benefited from playing with big leads all season. Upgrades at inside and outside linebacker are in order.

6. It was a tough time for Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon to have one of his worst games. His missed tackle on a Ryan Tannehill third-down scramble extended the Titans’ first touchdown drive, and he missed another on Derrick Henry’s soul-crushing 66-yard run in the third quarter.

7. Sorry, I’m not going to knock John Harbaugh for doing what he did all year on fourth-and-1 situations after the Ravens went 8-for-8 in that department during the regular season. You’re going to bust sometimes at the Blackjack table, and it just happened at the worst possible time — twice.

8. The Titans were set up on a short field for three of their four touchdowns, but the Baltimore defense offered no sudden-change impact or resistance inside the red zone. The Ravens just couldn’t make the game-changing play on either side of the ball all night.

9. Few Ravens players stood out against Tennessee in positive ways, but Marquise Brown reminded once again why his future is bright with an offseason to now get his surgically-repaired foot 100 percent. His slight stature will always be a concern, but some unique ability is there.

10. Special teams offered no favors with a Brynden Trawick hold and a silly De’Anthony Thomas foul for blocking after calling a fair catch backing Baltimore up on second-quarter drives. The latter may have been the difference in needing to settle for a field goal before halftime.

11. After dominating with a 7-1 record and an incredible plus-159 point differential on the road this season, the Ravens fell to 3-4 in all-time home playoff games. They obviously earned the top seed with a 14-2 record, but home-field advantage probably wasn’t all that critical for this particular team.

12. While some opine about rust, is it possible blowing out Pittsburgh without Jackson in Week 17 left the Ravens feeling a bit too invincible going into the bye week as the world sang how great they were? It’s all conjecture, of course. The best team doesn’t always win. 

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) celebrates his touchdown run against the New England Patriots with offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley (79) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Ravens-Titans: Five predictions for Saturday night

Posted on 10 January 2020 by Luke Jones

There was a time when Ravens-Titans was the best rivalry in the NFL.

Divisional realignment all too quickly separated these old AFC Central foes, but Baltimore and Tennessee met three times in the playoffs in a nine-year period with each of the encounters memorable. We all remember Ray Lewis, Eddie George, Ed Reed, and Steve McNair, but even lesser names such as Anthony Mitchell and Gary Anderson elicit a reaction from both fan bases to this day.

We’ll see if Saturday’s divisional-round meeting provides the next instant classic or simply serves as another checkpoint for 14-2 Baltimore’s Super Bowl aspirations after a 12-game winning streak to close the regular season. An upset win would send the Titans to their first AFC Championship appearance since the 2002 season while the Ravens aim to advance to the conference championship for the first time since 2012 and host the AFC title game for the first time in franchise history.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the fourth time in the postseason with Baltimore holding a 2-1 edge and the road team prevailing each time. The Ravens and Titans are tied 10-10 in their regular-season history with Harbaugh’s team winning the most recent meeting, a 21-0 shutout in Nashville last season.

Below are five predictions for Saturday night:

1. Lamar Jackson will become the fourth quarterback in NFL history to rush for 100 yards in a playoff game. Trying to predict what happens with Mark Ingram and his lingering calf injury is tricky, but there’s no questioning Jackson’s involvement in the ground game after he carried the ball 11 or more times in eight games this year. Titans coach Mike Vrabel quipped the best way to slow Jackson is to tie his shoelaces together, but it’ll be interesting to see how the 23-year-old comes out of the gate in the biggest game of his life after three weeks off. It makes sense for Greg Roman to throw in an extra designed run or two early on to help his young quarterback settle in, but Jackson will play like the MVP.

2. Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown will each score for the Titans. The Tennessee offense isn’t as diverse as Baltimore, but it isn’t devoid of unique talent with the 2019 rushing champion and a 1,000-yard rookie receiver who finished second in the NFL in yards per catch (20.2). With the Ravens using nickel and dime packages so often to play to their strength in the secondary, it’ll be interesting to see how Wink Martindale balances the need to contain Henry while not allowing Brown or Corey Davis to get loose for Ryan Tannehill to take play-action shots. The Ravens rank 21st in yards per carry allowed and 19th in run defense efficiency, but an early lead would really neutralize Henry’s impact.

3. Marcus Peters will intercept a pass to stall a Tennessee drive. In a similar way to how Tannehill helped transform a stagnant Titans offense into one of the NFL’s best units, the acquisition of the ball-hawking Peters was the biggest factor in the dramatic improvement of the Ravens defense from the first month of the season. With Peters and a healthy Jimmy Smith on the field, Baltimore allowed 200 net passing yards only once in the final eight regular-season games. The Titans rank first in the NFL in red-zone touchdown percentage, but the Ravens are third in red-zone defense, meaning something will have to give. Three of Tannehill’s six interceptions this season came inside the red zone.

4. Hayden Hurst and Nick Boyle will catch red-zone touchdowns. Tennessee will be without top cover linebacker Jayon Brown due to a shoulder injury suffered last week, which is bad news for a defense that’s already had its problems covering tight ends this season. However, the effectiveness of Pro Bowl selection Mark Andrews will be something to monitor as he continued to be limited with a right ankle injury this week and hasn’t appeared to move very well during practice time open to reporters. Even if Andrews isn’t 100 percent, Hurst and Boyle are very capable of making plays in the passing game and could take advantage of the Titans devoting more attention to the top option at the position.

5. A fast start will neutralize Tennessee’s game plan and propel the Ravens to a 30-16 win. As I wrote earlier this week, Baltimore starting strong could be the difference between a comfortable blowout and a game that goes down to the wire with the way the Titans like to play and their confidence level after a big win in New England last week. You always wonder how a team will respond after extensive time between meaningful games, but the culture created by an accomplished head coach should alleviate concerns of potential rust or coming out flat. The Ravens are the best team in the NFL, have the league’s MVP, and enjoy home-field advantage while Tannehill and the Titans have been a good story in the second half of the season that will come to its conclusion on Saturday night.

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