Tag Archive | "Hayden Hurst"

Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews (89) beats out San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (23) to make a touchdown catch in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Baltimore, Md. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Andrews aiming to “take the next step” after Ravens trade Hurst

Posted on 01 April 2020 by Luke Jones

Ravens tight end Mark Andrews admitted he was surprised and disappointed when teammate and close friend Hayden Hurst was traded to Atlanta last month.

Along with veteran Nick Boyle, the 2018 draft picks formed the best tight end group in the NFL last season as the trio combined for 125 receptions, 1,522 yards, and 14 touchdowns. However, Hurst — selected seven spots before reigning MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson in the first round two years ago — sought a larger role and was third in the pecking order with Andrews shining as a 2019 Pro Bowl selection and Boyle being the top blocker in Baltimore’s run-first attack.

That contributed to general manager Eric DeCosta trading the 26-year-old Hurst and a fourth-round selection to Atlanta for a second-round pick and a fifth-round choice in this month’s draft.

“I’m excited for him to get more of an opportunity with Atlanta,” said Andrews, whose 10 touchdown receptions led all tight ends and tied for second in the NFL last season. “I know that he’s going to thrive there. He’s a great player. I love him to death, but it’s exciting for him as well. But, firstly, I’m sad. I know Nick is sad.

“The three-headed monster kind of got broken up a little bit, but again, we’re going to be just fine. Nick and I, we’ll do our jobs. Obviously, we’re going to find someone else to help us out.”

The Ravens still have fullback Patrick Ricard to use as a situational blocking tight end and will continue to evaluate 2019 practice-squad member Charles Scarff and any other options they add this offseason, but Hurst wasn’t your typical third-string option either. He played the same number of offensive snaps as Andrews last season as the Ravens used at least two tight ends on 42 percent of their plays and three tight ends just under 7.5 percent of the time, according to SharpFootballStats.com. And while Andrews has missed only one game over his first two seasons, he played through an ankle injury last year that limited his effectiveness at times, a notable point when weakening depth at a critical position.

Is Andrews capable of hitting another level of production? The numbers suggest yes as the 24-year-old was graded second among all tight ends by Pro Football Focus in the process of leading the Ravens in catches, receiving yards, touchdowns, and average yards per catch (minimum 15 receptions) last season. And he did it without the typical playing time of an elite tight end.

Of the six tight ends to finish with at least 750 receiving yards last season, Andrews finished a very distant last in snaps (457) and played 267 fewer than Austin Hooper, who was fifth in that group. That reflects the remarkable efficiency of the Baltimore passing game and indicates there could be some more meat on the bone as the Ravens offense evolves in 2020.

With Boyle already leading Baltimore tight ends with 769 regular-season snaps last season, the 6-foot-4, 256-pound Andrews is the one you’d expect to assume a larger share of snaps, receiving more opportunities in the passing game in the process. That may not result in the former third-round pick from Oklahoma reaching the same level of Travis Kelce or Zach Ertz in targets as we’re still talking about a unique offense anchored by the run, but Andrews eclipsing 80 catches and 1,000 yards next season would hardly seem out of the question.

Of course, the Ravens are expected to target another impact wide receiver in the draft and offensive coordinator Greg Roman may not lean quite as heavily on the tight end position with the talented Hurst no longer in the picture, but Andrews was on the receiving end of just under a quarter of Baltimore’s targets last year. His chemistry with Jackson was evident in their rookie season and only figures to continue to grow in their third year together.

“I’ve always been someone to want to take the next step and be great each and every year and get better each and every year,” Andrews said. “I think I had a good year last year. It’s all about improving on that. I don’t feel extra pressure because Hayden is gone. Obviously, Hayden helped that group out a ton, but I feel like with the pieces that we have and everything that we’re going to do moving forward, the coaches put me in great situations.”

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marquisebrown4

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Looking at updated 2020 slate of draft picks for Ravens

Posted on 24 March 2020 by Luke Jones

Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta has been busy at the start of the new league year with three trades executed in the last week in addition to a handful of signings.

Baltimore traded tight end Hayden Hurst and a fourth-round pick to Atlanta in exchange for a second-round pick and a fifth-round selection, sent that same fifth-round choice to Jacksonville for five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell, and finally swapped defensive end Chris Wormley and a 2021 seventh-round pick for a 2021 fifth-round pick from Pittsburgh.

With the draft only a month away, the Ravens are scheduled to have nine picks overall and seven in the top 150 spots. This could mark the sixth time in the last seven years Baltimore makes at least six picks in the top 150 selections. With lucrative contracts on the horizon for the likes of MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley, and All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey, DeCosta must continue to inject young and cheap talent into organization.

The following are the picks the Ravens currently own in the 2020 draft:

Round 1: 28th overall
Round 2: 55th overall
Round 2: 60th overall
Round 3: 92nd overall
Round 3: 106th overall (compensatory)
Round 4: 129th
Round 4: 143rd overall (compensatory)
Round 5: 170th overall
Round 7: 225th overall

Just for fun, below is a look at past players selected by the Ravens at each of those spots (or as close as possible) over the years:

28th overall: G Ben Grubbs (29th), 2007
Skinny: The first round will probably be too early for the Ravens to draft an interior lineman in the wake of Marshal Yanda’s retirement, but Grubbs was a five-year starter and made a Pro Bowl before moving on in free agency, the kind of result with which you’re perfectly content with a late first-round pick.

55th overall: CB DeRon Jenkins, 1996; RB Ray Rice, 2008; TE Maxx Williams, 2015
Skinny: This slot has produced quite a range of outcomes with Rice being one of the better players in team history and Jenkins and Williams not living up to expectations. Two second-rounders were dealt to move up for Lamar Jackson, but recent Ravens players picked in this round have been underwhelming.

60th overall: G/OT Kelechi Osmele, 2012
Skinny: Seeing action at three different positions, Osemele started every game he played in his four years with the Ravens before breaking the bank with a big-money deal in Oakland. Finding an offensive lineman of this quality in this part of the draft would be a major success.

92nd overall: C Casey Rabach, 2001
Skinny: Rabach didn’t step into a full-time role until his last season with the Ravens after being stuck behind veteran center Mike Flynn, but he would go on to be a six-year starter for Washington. That makes him a pretty decent pick in the big picture.

106th overall: WR Marcus Smith, 2008
Skinny: Smith appeared in just 21 games over three seasons with Baltimore and is one of the many Day 3 wide receivers selected by the organization not to work out over the years. Considering the hype surrounding this year’s batch of receivers, the Ravens could take a swing at the position here.

129th overall: G Edwin Mulitalo, 1999; OLB John Simon, 2013
Skinny: One of the best fourth-round picks in team history, Mulitalo was a starter for parts of eight seasons and formed a dominant left side of the line with Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden. Despite lasting just one year in Baltimore, Simon has played seven NFL seasons and has 19 career sacks..

143rd overall: DT Aubrayo Franklin (146th), 2003; S Dawan Landry (146th), 2006; OLB Matthew Judon (146th), 2016
Skinny: Franklin would play 11 seasons in the NFL despite a nondescript four-year run with the Ravens, but Landry and Judon are two of the organization’s great late-round stories. Finding multiyear starters this late in the draft is far from the norm, but the value is terrific when a team hits.

170th overall: TE Nick Boyle (171st), 2015
Skinny: Few would have believed Boyle would still be going strong as a critical cog in the offense after twice being suspended for performance-enhancing drugs in his first year in the NFL. Boyle has outlasted Crockett Gillmore, Williams, and Hurst, who were all drafted much earlier than the Delaware product.

225th overall: RB Anthony Allen, 2011
Skinny: Many seventh-round picks don’t even make it out of their first training camp, but Allen played 21 games over two years with the Ravens and was a decent special-teams contributor for the Super Bowl XLVII team. You’re not likely to do much better at this late stage of the draft.

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Tennessee Titans tight end Jonnu Smith (81) makes a touchdown catch against Baltimore Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr (39) during the first half an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

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Carr’s option declined by Ravens as new league year quietly begins

Posted on 18 March 2020 by Luke Jones

Starting every game over the last three seasons to continue his amazing streak since entering the NFL in 2008, defensive back Brandon Carr apparently won’t be back with the Ravens.

The organization declined its option that would have paid Carr $6 million for the 2020 season, making him a “non-compensable” unrestricted free agent. The Ravens will not be eligible to receive a compensatory pick for Carr, who will turn 34 in May and signed a four-year, $23.5 million contract in 2017 after previously playing for Kansas City and Dallas.

Despite playing 76 percent of Baltimore’s defensive snaps last season, Carr saw his role change, transitioning from outside cornerback to the nickel and eventually the dime safety spot down the stretch. The 6-foot, 210-pound defensive back finished with 49 tackles, two sacks, and six pass breakups last season and was graded 52nd among 113 qualified corners by Pro Football Focus.

Carr’s 192 consecutive starts is the longest active streak among NFL defensive players and second to only quarterback Philip Rivers (224). Highly respected in the locker room and very active in every community in which he’s spent time, Carr was the Ravens recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award this past year and was the team’s nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year in each of the last two seasons.

“You know how this business goes. Prepare for anything,” said Carr about his status after the playoff loss to Tennessee. “But most definitely, this has been one of the best rides I’ve been on. The organization is hands down the best that I’ve been a part of, both on and off the field. It’s been an amazing three years.

“We’ll see what happens after this, but I’ve been blessed to play this game for 12 [years], and it was just an incredible run this year.”

His departure wasn’t a major shock as he was projected to be no better than the Ravens’ No. 4 cornerback and third safety, but defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s affinity for using the dime package will leave general manager Eric DeCosta needing to add more depth and versatility in the secondary. Veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith remains an unrestricted free agent as the market has apparently been slow to develop, leaving open the possibility for his return to the Ravens.

DeCosta also declined tendering restricted free-agent guard Parker Ehinger and exclusive-rights free agents Randin Crecelius and Fish Smithson, moves that were anticipated.

The organization formally announced the Hayden Hurst trade two days after agreeing to send the 2018 first-round pick and a fourth-round selection to Atlanta for second-round and fifth-round choices in this year’s draft.

“Hayden is a talented, emerging player in this league and a high-character individual for whom we have a lot of respect,” DeCosta said in a statement. “We are grateful for the contributions he made to our team and for the role he played in our success the past two seasons. We feel this is a mutually-beneficial deal, and we wish Hayden the very best in Atlanta.”

Not counting the Sam Koch extension, the Hurst trade was the only reported move announced by the Ravens Wednesday afternoon as NFL teams remain in a holding pattern due to the coronavirus pandemic. Free agents aren’t permitted to visit a club facility or another location to meet with team personnel, and club personnel — including the team’s medical staff — may not travel to any location to meet with or conduct medical examinations for a free agent.

That means the acquisitions of Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell and run-stopping defensive tackle Michael Brockers and the re-signings of edge defender Jihad Ward and defensive tackle Justin Ellis are technically still pending. The NFL and NFL Players Association are currently working on protocols to address these unprecedented obstacles.

“We continue to make the well-being and safety of our organization and community top priorities during this critical public health situation,” DeCosta stated. “In compliance with a recent memo sent by the NFL Management Council, we will withhold official announcement of any personnel moves until prospective players have safely executed a physical examination and signed a contract.

“Despite these circumstances, we are excited about the steps we’ve taken — and will continue to take — to improve our team during this free agency period. We look forward to announcing our moves at the appropriate time.”

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decostaharbaugh

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on first wave of free-agent activity

Posted on 17 March 2020 by Luke Jones

With Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta making a number of moves at the start of the new league year, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Spending $21 million guaranteed for Michael Brockers is steep — I wasn’t endorsing big money for Michael Pierce either — but another strong run-stopping lineman quells concerns against the run. He’s just not going to offer a ton as a rusher after posting the same PFF pass-rush grade as Brandon Williams last season.

2. Calais Campbell has played at least 70 percent of his team’s defensive snaps every season and at least 77 percent in each of the last five campaigns, per Pro-Football-Reference.com. Scaling back his workload a bit — he’ll be 34 in September — could make him even more disruptive for Baltimore.

3. The Ravens held joint practices with the Los Angeles Rams in 2018 and Jacksonville last summer, giving them a closer look at their future acquisitions on the defensive line. Campbell and Brockers were far from unknowns, of course, but extra information in the evaluation process never hurts.

4. We’re still waiting on breakdowns of these deals, but the dollars committed to Campbell and Brockers as well as the franchise tag for Matthew Judon will leave DeCosta needing to create space on the salary cap beyond Brandon Carr’s option decision. Remember franchise-tag situations are fluid.

5. DeCosta received good value for Hayden Hurst, but I still view the trade as a “bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” for now. Many have called Hurst a dispensable “third-string” tight end without acknowledging he played as many snaps as Mark Andrews last year. We’ll see.

6. Tyus Bowser, Kamalei Correa, Maxx Williams, Timmy Jernigan, and Arthur Brown were the Ravens’ last five second-round selections, reminding how frequently these picks sound better than they actually turn out. Of course, their last two were traded to move up for Lamar Jackson. Draft ammunition is certainly valuable.

7. You’d have to think Matt Skura was likely to receive the second-round restricted tender before his serious knee injury last November. With the logistical challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic, however, teams probably won’t be as motivated to explore an offer sheet with a rehabbing restricted free agent.

8. Speaking of that uncertainty, the NFL confirmed the start of the offseason program would be delayed indefinitely, which will impact rookies and veteran newcomers alike. That reality makes the Ravens even more fortunate not to lose Greg Roman or Wink Martindale to a head gig elsewhere.

9. The release of James Hurst became a much stronger possibility when he was suspended for the first four games of 2020, but the Ravens could now use a young offensive tackle to back up Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown and develop. Competition for 33-year-old Andre Smith is in order.

10. A day later, I still can’t comprehend how anyone could look at Houston’s return for DeAndre Hopkins as anything but organizational malpractice. That’s a trade that would be mocked in fantasy football leagues. Poor Deshaun Watson.

11. The Ravens will play in Foxboro in 2020. It will definitely be weird without Tom Brady on the opposing side, but Johnny Unitas was traded to San Diego, Joe Montana went to Kansas City, and Peyton Manning ended up in Denver.

12. I’ve felt conflicted about the NFL conducting free-agent business despite the current state of the world, but it’s good having some distractions and reminders of the normalcy we want, like having football season this fall. Take care of yourself, your loved ones, and the many others around you.

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hurst

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Ravens sending tight end Hurst to Atlanta for second-round pick

Posted on 16 March 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens weren’t done making trades prior to Wednesday’s start to the new league year as former first-round tight end Hayden Hurst will be sent to Atlanta for a second-round pick.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, general manager Eric DeCosta will trade Hurst and a 2020 fourth-round pick to the Falcons in exchange for a second-round selection and a fifth-round choice in next month’s draft. The Ravens will reportedly receive the 55th overall pick, the second of Atlanta’s two picks in the second round.

The news of the pending deal comes months after the first rumors and speculation began about Hurst’s future as the 2018 first-round pick from South California was outplayed over the last two seasons by Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews, a third-round selection in that same draft. Hurst has hinted at wanting a bigger role in the Ravens offense after catching nearly 77 percent of his targets — tops among Baltimore’s non-running backs — and finishing third on the team with 349 receiving yards. Atlanta will now be hoping for big-time production from Hurst while two-time Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper was nearing a lucrative free-agent deal with Cleveland on Monday.

In a vacuum, the Ravens are receiving perfectly fine value for a tight end halfway through his rookie contract and entering his age-27 season, but Hurst arguably provided more value than his numbers indicated after playing just over 500 snaps last season and serving as an insurance policy for Andrews. With Hurst graded as the NFL’s 14th-best tight end by Pro Football Focus last season, the Ravens will now need to add another option behind Andrews and top blocker Nick Boyle in an offense anchored by its tight ends. After catching just 13 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown while dealing with a foot injury as a rookie, Hurst snagged 30 passes and two touchdowns while playing in every game last season.

It’s also worth noting the Ravens haven’t had much success with second-round picks in recent years, but DeCosta could use the choice as ammunition for other moves. It’s easy to get caught up thinking about the best outcome with an unknown draft pick, of course, but the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Hurst still served an important role, even if not living up to his draft billing. The 25th overall pick in 2018, Hurst now becomes one of the rare first-round picks in team history not to finish his rookie deal in Baltimore.

Following the pending acquisition of Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell and the Hurst trade, the Ravens are now slotted to have nine picks in next month’s draft: a first, two second-rounders, two third-round selections, two fourths, a fifth, and a seventh-round choice.

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jimmysmith

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Twelve Ravens thoughts approaching start of free agency

Posted on 05 March 2020 by Luke Jones

With the start of free agency now less than two weeks away, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Ravens knew Marshal Yanda was returning for 2019 by last year’s combine, so Eric DeCosta saying in Indianapolis last week that he hadn’t spoken to the 35-year-old since the Pro Bowl didn’t sound encouraging. A resolution before the start of the new league year would make sense.

2. With player voting on the new collective bargaining agreement now underway and lasting a week, we should start to see more movement on at least some minor signings. Even the announcement of compensatory picks has seemingly been held up by CBA uncertainty.

3. Jimmy Smith hitting the open market to determine his value makes sense for both sides. When healthy, the 10th-year veteran remains a starting-caliber cornerback deserving of starter money, realities that may not add up for the Ravens since he’d be their No. 3 outside corner.

4. Even if the Ravens are able to draft an inside linebacker such as Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray or LSU’s Patrick Queen in the first round, a veteran signing in the mold of a Josh Bynes still makes plenty of sense with L.J. Fort also still in the mix. You want options.

5. I’m interested to see how the Matthew Judon situation plays out, but Pro Football Focus isn’t as enthralled with this year’s free-agent edge rushers as much as others. We know these guys are going to get paid one way or another, but bang for the buck remains the real question.

6. Fellow 2016 first-round pick Laremy Tunsil recently firing his agent is a reminder that extending Ronnie Stanley won’t be easy or cheap as you’d expect both guys to want to be the NFL’s highest-paid left tackle. Neither will want to blink without his team making a very lucrative offer.

7. The Ravens have selected a cornerback in the fourth round or earlier in five straight drafts, a trend you’d expect to continue even if Smith re-signs or Brandon Carr’s option is picked up. The shaky development of Anthony Averett and Iman Marshall makes that more apparent.

8. The idea of trading Hayden Hurst makes little sense. It would cost nearly $3 million in additional dead money and weaken a critical position group. What would a team have to offer to motivate you to do that? Even a relatively early Day 2 pick is a “meh” for me.

9. I really like Daniel Jeremiah’s work and his insight shouldn’t be ignored given his history with the organization, but the Ravens taking a running back in the first round would be a tough sell. There’s only one football to go around, and this team barely got Justice Hill involved as it was.

10. Coaching title changes will always remind me of Dwight Schrute from “The Office,” but Harbaugh keeping last season’s staff intact will prove to be one of the biggest wins of the offseason and is a credit to how the 13th-year head coach and the organization treat their people.

11. Former first-round pick Matt Elam was waived by the XFL’s DC Defenders after only four games and hasn’t played in the NFL since 2016. Other first-round disappointments like Travis Taylor, Kyle Boller, and even Breshad Perriman at least continued their NFL careers elsewhere.

12. This has nothing to do with the Ravens, but bringing in a 43-year-old Tom Brady feels more like a move to create buzz — hello, Las Vegas Raiders — than to win. I wouldn’t bet on Brady playing elsewhere working particularly well, but I have been wrong before and will be again.

 

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decostaharbaugh

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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 tight end Mark Andrews (89) beats out San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (23) to make a touchdown catch in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Baltimore, Md. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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How did Ravens tight ends stack up to rest of NFL in 2019?

Posted on 21 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 tight ends ranked across the NFL this past season followed by the positional outlook going into 2020:

Safeties
Running backs
Cornerbacks
Wide receivers
Defensive linemen

Mark Andrews
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 503
PFF ranking: second among tight ends
Skinny: The Pro Bowl selection became of the NFL’s best at his position in his second year, setting a single-season team record for touchdown catches by a tight end (10) and finishing just three receiving yards shy of Todd Heap’s franchise mark for a tight end (855). When you lead your team in catches, receiving yards, and touchdown grabs and are Lamar Jackson’s favorite target, you’re in a great spot.

Nick Boyle
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 795
PFF ranking: 11th among tight ends
Skinny: The Ravens paid a steep price to re-sign Boyle in contrast to how more conventional offenses might have valued him, but he responded with career highs in catches (31), receiving yards (321), and touchdowns (two) while remaining one of the league’s best blocking tight ends. The 27-year-old isn’t flashy, but he serves as a linchpin for an offense that set an NFL record with 3,296 rushing yards.

Hayden Hurst
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 503
PFF ranking: 14th among tight ends
Skinny: Coming off an injury-plagued rookie campaign and overshadowed by Andrews, the 2018 first-round pick calmed some of the talk about him being a bust by catching just under 77 percent of his targets — the best among Baltimore’s non-running backs — and finishing third on the team in receiving yards (349). Hurst caught the Ravens’ lone touchdown in the playoff loss to Tennessee.

2020 positional outlook

When considering quality, depth, age, cost efficiency, and contract status, tight end is probably the Ravens’ best position group as this unique trio remains under contract for the next two seasons and makes a significant impact in both the passing and running games. Much offseason discussion has been focused on beefing up the wide receiver position, but one could argue there’s more production to extract from the tight ends since Andrews dropped a team-high seven passes, the efficient Hurst was targeted only 39 times, and even the blocking-minded Boyle took a step forward as a receiver. Despite battling through a nagging ankle injury down the stretch, Andrews missed only one game while Boyle and Hurst played in all 16. Considering how important this position group is to their offensive success, the Ravens will want to see that kind of health duplicated next season.

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Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown scores against the Los Angeles Rams during the first half of an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

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How did Ravens wide receivers stack up to rest of NFL in 2019?

Posted on 18 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 wide receivers ranked across the NFL this past season followed by the positional outlook going into 2020:

Safeties
Running backs
Cornerbacks

Marquise Brown
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 646
PFF ranking: 42nd among wide receivers
Skinny: Though not close to 100 percent from a Lisfranc injury suffered at the end of his final season at Oklahoma, the first-round pick tied the team record for touchdown catches by a rookie (seven) and provided a deep threat for MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson. According to PFF, Brown’s 134.4 passer rating when targeted led all wide receivers with at least 50 targets in the regular season.

Willie Snead
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 760
PFF ranking: 101st among wide receivers
Skinny: Despite catching a career-high five touchdowns, Snead saw his receptions and receiving yards drop to roughly half of where they were last season. A slot receiver isn’t going to be a major factor in a passing game that leans so heavily on tight ends over the middle, but Snead isn’t afraid to block and fill a complementary role, a reason why Baltimore extended his contract through 2020 in late October.

Seth Roberts
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 576
PFF ranking: 83rd among wide receivers
Skinny: The lasting image of the pending free agent could be the drop of a potential touchdown when Baltimore trailed 14-0 in the playoff loss to Tennessee, but it had mostly been an inconsequential season for Roberts until that miscue. A capable blocker and targeted just 35 times in the regular season, Roberts had the second-highest receiving grade among Baltimore wide receivers, per PFF.

Miles Boykin
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 493
PFF ranking: 99th among wide receivers
Skinny: The rookie third-round pick was the talk of training camp, but he was unable to carry that momentum into the regular season as he caught only 13 passes and just four over the final nine regular-season games. Boykin needs to improve his route-running ability in the offseason, but his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame still provides optimism for the future.

Chris Moore
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 167
PFF ranking: 101st among wide receivers
Skinny: Moore all but disappeared in the offense in his fourth season and registered a career-low three catches for 21 yards in a contract year. The 2016 fourth-round pick is a good special-teams player, which is his ticket for continuing his NFL career in Baltimore or somewhere else.

Jaleel Scott
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 17
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: A strong preseason landed Scott on the 53-man roster, but he was active for just three games and made his only catch against Pittsburgh in Week 17. The Ravens like his 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame, but this figures to be a make-or-break summer for the 2018 fourth-round pick.

De’Anthony Thomas
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 3
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The return specialist carried the ball one time and wasn’t targeted as a receiver.

2020 positional outlook

When pondering a record-setting offense that featured three tight ends in its top five for receptions, trying to assess the wide receiver position is more complicated than simply looking at the numbers. It’s no secret that another impactful wide receiver would be ideal, but you run the risk of trying to fix something that isn’t broken by drastically messing with the identity of the offense, which centers around the run game and the deployment of tight ends Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst, and Nick Boyle. The playoff loss to the Titans confirmed the need for the Ravens offense to be able to play better off schedule, something a receiver with the ability to make plays on the outside would help. Despite his slight stature, a fully healthy Brown looks like a great bet to take another step forward in his second season. Boykin’s development and Snead’s presence remain important, but a veteran acquisition or another early draft pick is in order if the Ravens want Jackson and this explosive offense to continue to progress and evolve.

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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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