Tag Archive | "Hayden Hurst"

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of second preseason game

Posted on 13 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens concluding open training camp ahead of the second preseason game against Green Bay, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Marlon Humphrey was consistently the best player on the field these last three weeks, but his attention to detail also stood out. When he wasn’t taking reps, you’d frequently see the third-year corner reviewing plays on a tablet. He’s on track for a Pro Bowl season if he stays healthy.

2. His practice return brought relief Tuesday, but I believe more every day that expectations for Marquise Brown need to be tempered, especially early in the season. The effects of a foot injury for a speed-dependent player and limited practice time don’t exactly set the rookie up for immediate success.

3. Eric DeCosta deserves praise for fetching a fifth-round pick for Kaare Vedvik, who’s never played in an NFL regular-season game. It was wise not to get greedy knowing a couple misses Thursday could have made potential trade partners quickly reconsider interest. Baltimore’s kicker development is second to none.

4. We’ve spent much time talking about Lamar Jackson as a passer, but John Harbaugh described him as having “very high emotional IQ” to explain his natural leadership qualities and why teammates gravitate to him. There’s no way to quantify that, but it has to help at the quarterback position.

5. Along similar lines, defensive players seem to feed off Earl Thomas, who has picked his spots to show emotion and leads more by example. There’s been an adjustment for him playing in a more complex system than he did in with Seattle, but it’s going to be fun watching him.

6. Hayden Hurst had arguably his best practice of camp Tuesday, looking much more like the player we saw last summer before the foot injury. Besides health, a key for him is maintaining confidence and not letting a rough play linger in his mind, something Mark Andrews seems adept at doing.

7. With Iman Marshall missing three straight practices after appearing to have a thigh issue, many are assuming that could “stash” the rookie on injured reserve. That may prove true, but you hate seeing a young corner miss out on valuable reps with final cuts still more than two weeks away.

8. I wouldn’t have said Michael Floyd was even in the running for a roster spot prior to the preseason opener, but he’s turned in some of his best practices this last week. With Seth Roberts missing time and Brown’s status still spotty, Floyd has some daylight to make a push.

9. The Ravens are smart to play it safe with Marshal Yanda and a lingering foot issue, but I can’t help but think back to him acknowledging how big a factor health will be in determining how much longer he plays. This offensive line desperately needs him at his best.

10. With four cornerbacks missing practice and Maurice Canady only returning to the field Tuesday, how the Ravens line up in the secondary against the Packers could be interesting. It’s a reminder why Baltimore values depth at the position after being so shorthanded there several years ago.

11. I’ll never profess love for preseason football, but at least we’ll get to see Aaron Rodgers. Fans weren’t complaining, but it was a bummer not seeing him play when the Ravens went to Lambeau two years ago. The Packers will again play in Baltimore in the 2021 regular season.

12. If you already have an eye toward the season, 10 of the Ravens’ 16 games come against defenses that ranked in the bottom 10 in yards per carry allowed last season. Yes, it’s a new year, but that’s reason for optimism, even if you’re not yet buying the Jackson hype.

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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Tight ends

Posted on 15 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With the start of training camp beginning in less than two weeks and the preseason opener less than a month away, we’ll look at each Ravens position group before players begin reporting to Owings Mills for the first full-squad practice on July 25.

Cornerbacks
Running backs
Defensive line

We continue with the tight ends, an ascending young group with much upside playing for an offensive coordinator in Greg Roman who very much values the position. According to SharpFootballStats.com, the Ravens offense used two or more tight ends 40 percent of the time in 2018 — the league average was roughly 23 percent — a ratio that remained pretty consistent in the transition from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson at quarterback.

With Baltimore’s offense remaining centered around the run and still having question marks at wide receiver, the tight ends should continue to be featured prominently as both blockers and pass-catching threats. And as Football Outsiders noted defenses using at least five defensive backs nearly three-fourths of the time in 2018 to combat the ever popular three-receiver sets, there’s a potential advantage to be gained for passing offenses employing more tight ends with speed.

Below is a look at the tight ends who stand out for various reasons:

The Man — Mark Andrews
Skinny: The 2018 third-round pick didn’t look like he’d make much impact after a hamstring injury slowed him last summer, but Andrews was one of the NFL’s best rookie tight ends with 34 receptions for 552 yards and three touchdowns and emerged as Jackson’s deep threat down the stretch. According to Pro Football Focus, Andrews ranked fifth among tight ends at 2.01 yards per route run with only George Kittle, Travis Kelce, O.J. Howard, and Zach Ertz ahead of him. With Jackson’s passing strength being over the middle, Andrews may have more 2019 upside than any pass catcher on the roster.

Old Reliable — Nick Boyle
Skinny: The Ravens paid a steep price with a three-year, $18 million contract that included $10 million guaranteed to re-sign someone without a career touchdown or a single season of more than 213 receiving yards, but that speaks to how they value one of the league’s best blocking tight ends. Baltimore is expected to play its top three tight ends extensively, but Boyle remains atop the depth chart with the ability to essentially serve as a sixth offensive lineman — PFF graded him as the ninth-best run-blocking tight end last year — while showing just enough receiving ability to keep defenses honest.

Under Fire — Hayden Hurst
Skinny: Placing Hurst in this category is tough after a stress fracture in his foot cost him the end of the preseason and the first four games of his rookie year, but a first-round pick turning 26 in August simply must produce this fall or the “bust” label will be thrown out there very quickly. His 13 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown in 12 games were underwhelming, but Hurst’s foot still wasn’t healed by the end of the season and required an extra month of rest. He added 20 pounds in the offseason to be able to play stronger, and he showed his potential last summer before being sidelined. He knows the pressure is on.

Up-and-Comer — Andrews
Skinny: The Ravens would love to include Hurst in this category as well, but Andrews receives the nod with the best season by a rookie tight end in franchise history.

Sleeper — Charles Scarff
Skinny: After four tight ends played at least 275 offensive snaps last year, Baltimore would probably like to keep a fourth at the position with the 6-foot-5, 249-pound rookie from Delaware looking the part as a blocking option to replace Maxx Williams. However, Hurst and Andrews figure to play more snaps than they did as rookies and the roster crunch at other positions may lead the Ravens to simply use an offensive lineman or fullback-defensive tackle Patrick Ricard as an extra blocking tight end if necessary.

The Rest — Cole Herdman
Skinny: The 6-foot-4, 238-pound rookie free agent totaled more than 1,000 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in his career at Purdue, but he wouldn’t figure to have a path to a 53-man roster spot without injuries at the position or really surprising as a blocker.

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Boykin returns, H. Hurst sits for Ravens’ final open OTA

Posted on 06 June 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Their two high-profile rookie wide receivers working on the practice fields was a welcome sight for the Ravens in their final week of organized team activities.

Marquise Brown hasn’t yet returned to practice as he continues rehabbing his surgically-repaired foot, but the first-round pick completed agility work on the far field and caught passes from the Jugs machine, encouraging signs for his anticipated practice debut at the start of training camp next month. Third-round selection Miles Boykin was a limited participant in Thursday’s voluntary workout after being sidelined with a hamstring injury sustained early in the spring. The Ravens are counting on the speedy Brown and the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Boykin to bring diverse play-making ability to a developing passing game.

Boykin’s return, however, was offset by the absence of 2018 first-round pick tight end Hayden Hurst, who had performed well in each of the first two OTA days open to reporters. Baltimore hopes to have him back on the field for next week’s three-day mandatory minicamp that concludes spring workouts.

“He tweaked his hamstring about two weeks ago,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “Then, he kept, not tweaking it, but he was pushing it so hard that I finally pulled him out. Let’s get this thing ready for minicamp, and we’ll be fine.”

Running back Kenneth Dixon was also present and working after not being on the field for either of the previous two Thursday sessions open to media. The fourth-year veteran made it clear to reporters at the start of practice that he hadn’t been dealing with an injury, directing an expletive at anyone who had reported as much.

Others present for the voluntary workout who missed last Thursday were left tackle Ronnie Stanley, cornerback Brandon Carr, defensive tackle Gerald Willis, and linebackers Otaro Alaka and Alvin Jones.

A total of 13 players were not participating in the voluntary workout, a list including Brown, Hurst, wide receiver Seth Roberts, guards Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis (shoulder), safeties Earl Thomas and Tony Jefferson (ankle), linebackers Matthew Judon and Pernell McPhee, defensive tackle Michael Pierce, and cornerbacks Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, and Cyrus Jones.

Along with Judon, Pierce is entering the final year of his rookie contract, a time when many players around the NFL choose to forgo voluntary workouts to keep themselves healthy and sometimes even send a message to management.

“I can’t wait to see him back here and just to be playing alongside my brother again,” defensive tackle Brandon Williams said. “I expect big things out of him. I told him, ‘Let’s get paid this year. Let’s go out there and ball out and get the bag.’ Everybody wants that second contract, so let’s get him one.”

No missing McCoy

Thursday was the first time Harbaugh was available to reporters since six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy spurned interest from the Ravens and Cleveland to sign a one-year deal with Carolina.

After telling McCoy he felt like he’d always been a Raven during his free-agent visit last week, the 12th-year head coach expressed great confidence in his current defensive line that must replace the interior pass-rush ability of free-agent departures Za’Darius Smith and Brent Urban. The Ravens were hoping to add someone who’s collected six or more sacks in six straight seasons.

“He’s a good player. We went after him, tried to get him, and he didn’t want to be here,” Harbaugh said. “He wanted to be somewhere else. I’ll move on and forget about him until we play him. And I don’t think we play Carolina, do we? So, I’m not worried about him.”

“As far as our defensive line, I think it’s the same thing I said about the linebackers. I’m not worried one bit about any of our players on defense or offense. I’m not worried at all. We have a great roster. We have a young roster.”

Former Navy coach visits Ravens

Former Navy and Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson was a visitor at Thursday’s practice and talked shop with the Ravens coaching staff in the afternoon.

Harbaugh expressed admiration for the retired coach and noted that Johnson used the same triple-option offense his father Jack Harbaugh ran at Western Kentucky. Johnson, 61, led the Midshipmen from 2002-07 and coached at Georgia Tech for the last decade before announcing his retirement last November.

“It’s always an opportunity to learn football,” Harbaugh said. “We’re sometimes teaching, always learning, and we have a chance to learn and ask a lot of questions and to expand what we’re doing, get a couple ideas maybe here and there, and a couple of ways to say things here and there and all of that.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on second week of OTAs

Posted on 31 May 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winding down their second week of organized team activities, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Following an underwhelming practice from the offense consisting of mostly underneath passing and few highlights, John Harbaugh fairly noted the defense should be ahead of the offense right now with the latter installing a new system. Patience is warranted, but skepticism is understandable with such a young group.

2. Earl Thomas wasn’t tested much, but he definitely has a presence on the practice field that reminds a little of Ed Reed. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how he impacts a defense that already played plenty of single-high safety looks using an older Eric Weddle last year.

3. Patrick Onwuasor received endorsements from Harbaugh and Steve Bisciotti this week and has been more vocal in C.J. Mosley’s old role. The fourth-year linebacker said he continues to stay in touch with his former teammate, which is a valuable resource to have.

4. Most assume Kenny Young will receive the starting nod next to Onwuasor, but don’t sleep on Chris Board. The former rookie free agent has gotten a share of first-team reps this spring as well. We’ve seen similar stories before at this position, and that’s not to discredit Young’s ability.

5. Hayden Hurst is a bit of a forgotten man, but his foot injury forced him to rest for an additional month at season’s end last January. Now healthy and having added 20 pounds, he caught a deep post throw from Jackson Thursday and says he’s “on a mission” this year.

6. The spring always brings at least a couple interesting stories about players’ offseason workout regimens as Mark Andrews aimed to improve his blocking by practicing on his older brother. That had to make for some interesting family gatherings.

7. It’s tough to really gauge line play in non-contact settings, but Willie Henry batted down a Jackson pass during an 11-on-11 drill. He’s just one of a few defensive linemen whose playing time would be impacted by a potential Gerald McCoy signing.

8. Jaleel Scott received praise for his offseason work earlier this spring, and he flashed Thursday with a long touchdown catch from Robert Griffin III and another contested catch for a score in a red-zone drill. The 6-foot-5 wideout will need more of that to secure a roster spot.

9. With James Hurst never inspiring confidence as the backup left tackle, 2018 sixth-round pick Greg Senat is someone to monitor after an essential redshirt year on injured reserve. The 6-foot-6, 305-pound former college basketball player carries some intrigue despite being green.

10. It was interesting to see Jackson under center a decent bit after the Ravens were in the shotgun or pistol an NFL-high 93 percent of the time from the time he became the starter in Week 11 last year. He also mostly worked from the shotgun or pistol at Louisville.

11. Speaking to season-ticket holders, Bisciotti reiterated Jackson won’t be running the ball 20 times per game, which reflects the Ravens sharing the desire of many to keep the young quarterback healthy. Eight to 10 carries per contest feels like a general sweet spot in an evolved, more balanced offense.

12. At a time of year with little restraint for optimism, I appreciated Bisciotti’s honesty in admitting he has no idea what to expect from rookie wide receivers Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin, citing how first-year injuries impacted Travis Taylor and Breshad Perriman. He also labeled Chris Moore a “breakout candidate.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts approaching start of free agency

Posted on 07 March 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens preparing and bracing for the start of NFL free agency next week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The re-signing of Nick Boyle even after Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews were selected early in last year’s draft signals how important tight ends will remain despite much chatter about the redesign of the Baltimore offense. Expect an abundance of “12” personnel to continue.

2. The Ravens were able to keep Boyle off the market so close to free agency and reports suggested there being much interest in his services, but I’m still not convinced another team would have made him a top-15 tight end in terms of average annual value. He wasn’t cheap.

3. Boyle deserves credit for bouncing back from two performance-enhancing drug suspensions to establish himself as a legitimate NFL player. He was on shaky footing just a couple years ago before maximizing opportunities that might not have been there without injuries to others.

4. Opinions remain split on the lengths to go to keep C.J. Mosley — I’m torn myself — but saying he shouldn’t make as much as Luke Kuechly’s $12.359 million average annual value ignores his deal being nearly four years old and the salary cap increasing by over 31 percent since 2015.

5. I have little doubt Eric DeCosta will find a replacement for Eric Weddle with superior physical tools and the potential to offer better individual play, but accounting for his football intellect and how it impacted the defense will be difficult, especially if there are other veteran departures.

6. I’ll continue to bang the drum about the wide receiver position — shocking, I know — but it’s hard to be encouraged by the list of projected free agents and the salaries they’ll likely command. Hey, Ryan Grant is available again.

7. Terrell Suggs hitting the market wouldn’t be a bad thing for him or the Ravens. Either he’ll gain peace of mind before re-signing or be able to choose between more money and extending his legacy in Baltimore. My guess is this turns out more like Ray Lewis than Ed Reed.

8. With Weddle’s release to save $7.5 million in salary cap space, the Ravens probably have enough room to not be forced to do anything with Jimmy Smith before the market opens. His $15.85 million cap figure remains problematic, but DeCosta has options that could even stretch into the spring.

9. As DeMarcus Lawrence, Frank Clark, Jadeveon Clowney, and Dee Ford all received the franchise tag, I couldn’t help but think of Za’Darius Smith with dollar signs in his eyes.

10. DeCosta lamenting young players lost in recent years gained attention, but who are all these individuals? Kelechi Osemele comes to mind and maybe Rick Wagner, but who else based on the contracts they received elsewhere? I’d contest the shortage of young players warranting a second deal was the bigger problem.

11. There’s plenty of intrigue with the Ravens’ offseason, but I can’t help but be fascinated by Pittsburgh’s current turmoil and Cleveland coming off a seven-win season and sporting over $80 million in cap space. The AFC North could look very different this coming season.

12. Boyle’s new contract was positive news worthy of recognition, but omitting his name in the release announcing the press conference led to negative reaction when fans later learned it wasn’t a bigger name like Mosley. That wasn’t fair to Boyle and could have been avoided by just being direct.

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Ravens re-sign tight end Boyle to three-year deal

Posted on 07 March 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have retained a key cog in offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s run-blocking schemes.

Tight end Nick Boyle signed a three-year extension worth a reported $18 million with $10 million guaranteed just days before he was set to become an unrestricted free agent. Several reports suggested there were multiple teams interested in the 2015 fifth-round pick’s services, but the Ravens value tight ends as much as anyone in the NFL at this point, making it a priority for general manager Eric DeCosta to prevent Boyle from hitting the open market.

“I didn’t want to go to another team. I don’t think [my wife] Kristina did either,” Boyle said. “I think we love it here. We love the relationships. Is it interesting to see where I can go [in free agency]? As long as I thought it was fair and something that we wanted here, I would just come back here.”

Boyle, 26, caught 23 passes for a career-high 213 yards last season, but it was his run-blocking ability that helped key a second-half surge that resulted in the Ravens winning their first AFC North championship since 2012. He led all Baltimore tight ends with 651 offensive snaps played.

After being suspended twice for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy in his first two seasons — head coach John Harbaugh described it as a “double down on dumb” after the second ban was announced in 2016 — the Delaware product established himself as a vital component of the offense in 2017 by catching a career-high 28 passes and starting 11 games. That meaningful role continued last season even with the Ravens drafting tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews as Boyle started 13 games and cemented his reputation as one of the better blocking tight ends in the NFL. Pro Football Focus graded Boyle sixth in run blocking among tight ends with at least 200 snaps on rushing plays.

“I think he’s an all-around tight end,” Harbaugh said. “I would say he’s the best blocking tight end in the league; there’s no question in my mind about that. He sets the edge. He sets the tempo. He’s a physical presence out there, but he’s definitely an underrated talent in the passing game, and you’ve seen that when he gets an opportunity to catch passes and run routes. He makes those plays.”

The Ravens reportedly hosted former New England tight end Dwayne Allen on a free-agent visit earlier this week, which likely helped push negotiations with Boyle to a completed deal. Baltimore tight end Maxx Williams is also scheduled to hit the free-agent market next week.

In 48 career games, Boyle has made 75 receptions for 613 yards and has yet to catch a touchdown, something his critics have pointed out in the wake of the contract news.

“I see it all the time. They’ll say, ‘Nick Boyle, who?’” said Boyle as he laughed. “It’s fine. That’s a huge thing like, ‘Oh, paying this guy a lot, and he didn’t get a touchdown.’ Whatever they want to say, they can say. It’s not hurting my feelings.

“But I have a lot of pride in what I do. Whether it’s catching a pass or having a really key block on a certain play, I think I get the same satisfaction out of it.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts from Greg Roman’s press conference

Posted on 19 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With Greg Roman meeting with the media for the first time since his promotion to offensive coordinator, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The theme from Tuesday’s press conference was the “reimagining” of the Ravens offense “from the ground up” with Roman even comparing the process to a brand new coaching staff joining a team. That seems telling after so many questioned the sustainability of the post-bye offensive system last year.

2. Roman went out of his way to mention how the staff was incorporating college elements, ranging from how modern players learn offensive systems to formations and even the calling of plays at that level. That’s interesting for a staff that doesn’t have a ton of recent college coaching experience.

3. Beyond improving his ball security, the greatest offseason focus for Lamar Jackson will be refining his fundamentals and mechanics as a passer, according to Roman. The coordinator opined that certain elements may not have been emphasized very much during his college career.

4. Asked what he likes about Jackson as a passer, Roman praised his field vision and compared it to that of Steve McNair, whom he worked with in his first stint with the Ravens from 2006-07. He said that kind of feel can’t be coached and gives Jackson a higher ceiling.

5. Like John Harbaugh last month, Roman didn’t disclose many details about Jackson’s offseason football plans, but he noted how this is essentially his first true offseason after he went through the pre-draft process last year. It’s a critical one for Jackson to make that fundamental jump.

6. When discussing his play-calling, Roman mentioned not wanting to leave “popcorn on the ground” for the opposing defense to be able to call out their plays. I don’t believe that was a dig at Marty Mornhinweg, but I couldn’t help but think about the playoff loss when he said it.

7. Speaking of the popcorn comment, Roman compared adjusting Jackson’s speed to a pitcher striking you out in the first couple at-bats and said the rebuilding of the offense was like kneading dough and putting together IKEA furniture. He had no shortage of interesting analogies, which I appreciated.

8. To no surprise, Roman mentioned “a strong, powerful” offensive line as the most important element in building an offense around Jackson. You’d have to think upgrading at left guard or center — ideally, both — remains a priority.

9. On the same day Hayden Hurst indicated he finally had the screw removed from his foot that stemmed from his August surgery for a stress fracture, Roman expressed excitement about both him and fellow tight end Mark Andrews and how creative he wants to be with their usage.

10. Echoing Eric DeCosta from last month, Roman mentioned wanting wide receivers with strong blocking ability and a “tough guy” element. That’ll be an emphasis in the draft and free agency, but I feel the need to express hope that they’ll find one or two also possessing the position’s traditional traits.

11. For those dreaming of a Le’Veon Bell signing, Roman preferring a “stable” of running backs and saying a receiving-minded back isn’t a top priority would probably make it unwise to hold your breath for the pursuit of the Pittsburgh Steeler free agent. Not that I expected it anyway.

12. I’m unsure how this is going to go with a “reimagined” offense driven by the run in an NFL leaning so heavily on the pass, but I respect trying to go against the grain for a competitive advantage. How big a passing jump Jackson makes remains the biggest key, however.

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How did Ravens tight ends stack up to rest of NFL in 2018?

Posted on 11 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, but where did their players stack up across the NFL in 2018?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl 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 extensively enough to form any type of an authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you watch the offensive line of the Detroit Lions this season? What about the Oakland Raiders linebackers or the San Francisco 49ers cornerbacks?

That’s why I appreciate the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus while acknowledging these rankings shouldn’t be viewed as infallible or the gospel of evaluation. I can respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when most of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis.

Below is a look at where Ravens tight ends ranked at their positions followed by the positional outlook going into 2019:

Offensive linemen
Linebackers

Nick Boyle
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 651
PFF ranking: 23rd among tight ends
Skinny: The 6-foot-4, 270-pound Delaware product is limited as a pass catcher, but his blocking ability has been vital to Greg Roman’s blocking schemes over the last two seasons. His strengths are likely to be valued more by the Ravens than more pass-happy teams, making the free agent a good bet to return.

Mark Andrews
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 414
PFF ranking: 13th among tight ends
Skinny: Despite dealing with nagging injuries over the summer, Andrews quickly became Baltimore’s best receiving tight end and finished with 552 receiving yards, a team record for a rookie tight end. His ability to go over the middle and gain yards after the catch makes him a vital weapon for Lamar Jackson.

Maxx Williams
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 374
PFF ranking: 16th among tight ends
Skinny: Williams never lived up to the potential the Ravens envisioned when they moved up to take him in the second round of the 2015 draft, but he carved out a role with his strong blocking over the last two years. He could be the odd man out, however, as he hits the free-agent market at the same time as Boyle.

Hayden Hurst
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 275
PFF ranking: 33rd among tight ends
Skinny: A foot injury derailed the beginning of the first-round pick’s rookie season, but he began to look more comfortable down the stretch, posting a season-best 43 receiving yards in Week 17 over Cleveland. Hurst will be 26 in August and has much to prove after an underwhelming 2018 campaign.

2019 positional outlook

The emergence of Andrews makes this group look better than it has in quite some time as the Oklahoma product was already looking the part of an above-average tight end with big-play ability. If Hurst can become the player the front office envisioned when he was selected last April, the Ravens will quickly have one of the NFL’s better duos at this position. Re-signing Boyle should be a priority with the continuing emphasis on the running game, but Andrews and Hurst improving as blockers would go a long way in making the offense more dynamic and unpredictable. It wouldn’t be surprising to see general manager Eric DeCosta add another blocking-minded tight end to the mix with a Day 3 draft pick in April since both Boyle and Williams are scheduled to hit the open market.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 27-24 loss at Kansas City

Posted on 11 December 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens having their three-game winning streak snapped in a 27-24 loss to Kansas City, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Depending on your perspective, an overtime defeat to the AFC’s best team can be viewed as a moral victory or the “same old Ravens” with a highly-ranked defense wilting late, but it’s tough not to lament a missed opportunity with Pittsburgh losing and other wild-card contenders winning.

2. After the defense did an impressive job against Patrick Mahomes for much of the game, his fourth-and-9 wizardry was more a greater of him being the best player on the field than a colossal collapse from the Ravens like last year against Cincinnati. Sometimes you just have to accept that.

3. Playing in one of the most difficult road environments in the NFL, Lamar Jackson showed poise and ranked fifth in ESPN’s total QBR metric for Week 14. A limited passing game remains a concern, but the rookie made some key throws, none bigger than his go-ahead touchdown to John Brown.

4. Matt Judon was the best Raven on the field as he registered a sack, five quarterback hits, and 10 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. His second-half surge has been critical for both the present and future with Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith scheduled to become free agents.

5. Between Marlon Humphrey being late lining up over Tyreek Hill and Eric Weddle failing to tackle Hill to prevent the first down, I found Kansas City’s third-and-19 conversion late in the first half to be a bigger gaffe than the aforementioned fourth down. It led to a Chiefs touchdown, too.

6. It’s difficult to predict how much change this roster might endure this offseason, but improving at the safety position figures to be fairly high on the priority list. It wasn’t a stellar day for Weddle or Chuck Clark, who at least recorded Baltimore’s first interception in over two months.

7. Kenneth Dixon was as impressive running the ball as he’s looked since his rookie season, rushing for a touchdown and 59 yards on just eight carries. You just keep your fingers crossed that he’ll stay healthy now.

8. Perhaps Jackson’s most impressive play of the game was his scramble drill resulting in a dump-off to Dixon for a 21-yard reception on a first-and-20 situation early in the second half. That play would have been a sack or incompletion for all but maybe a couple quarterbacks in the league.

9. Remember how mediocre the special teams were in the first half of the season? The Ravens now rank fifth in Football Outsiders’ latest season ratings. Cyrus Jones’ return ability has played a big role in that, but the rest of the group has tightened up as well.

10. The Ravens didn’t attempt a pass on first down until the first play of the second half and did it just five times total. Why’s that unusual? One of the biggest cries from the analytics community is to pass more frequently on first down. Again, zigging while everyone else zags.

11. Suggs played a season-high 70 snaps and registered a half-sack, another quarterback hit, and a pass breakup. The 36-year-old has played well of late, but that workload has to be concerning. Meanwhile, Tyus Bowser saw only 14 snaps and Tim Williams was essentially a healthy scratch.

12. Many hoped Jackson playing quarterback might jump-start fellow first-round pick Hayden Hurst, but the rookie tight end failed to register a catch for the second straight week. This shouldn’t be shocking given his early-season foot injury and the recent history of rookie tight ends, but it’s no less disappointing.

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 03 November 2018 by Luke Jones

Rarely has a Week 9 game felt so important for the Ravens.

A win over Pittsburgh snaps a two-game slide and leaves Baltimore in solid shape in the AFC North entering their much-needed bye week. A loss leaves the Ravens under .500 at the bye for the fourth straight year and needing to win five of their final seven games just to finish with a 9-7 record — familiar territory — while outside talk of wholesale changes will only grow louder in the off-week.

They understand what’s at stake, but focusing too much on the big picture is a slippery slope, especially when playing against the Steelers.

“When you worry about the outcome of things before it has actually happened, that’s when you start making mistakes,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “That’s when you start playing tentative.”

It’s time to go on the record as these division rivals meet for the 50th time — counting the postseason — with Pittsburgh owning a 27-22 advantage. Including the playoffs, the series is tied 12-12 in the John Harbaugh era with 17 of those contests decided by a single possession. A victory would give the Ravens their fourth season sweep of the Steelers in their 23-year history.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. First-round rookies Hayden Hurst and Lamar Jackson will each score a touchdown. Hurst grew up a Steelers fan and was drafted by the Pirates, making him eager to make his mark after sitting out the first meeting. The Ravens must start seeing a return for their first pick in this year’s draft, and Pittsburgh has struggled to defend tight ends this season. Meanwhile, a good Steelers run defense and multiple injuries along the offensive line should compel offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to use Jackson more than usual to gain yardage on the ground and keep some pressure off Flacco.

2. Flacco will be sacked a season-high five times behind a patchwork offensive line. The 11th-year quarterback has played some of his best football against Pittsburgh over the years, but the absence of Ronnie Stanley and James Hurst leaves the Ravens in a tough spot against a defense that has 24 sacks in 2018. Baltimore will use plenty of max protect, but that will allow the Steelers to devote more attention to John Brown. The key to moving the ball will be quick throws over the middle of the field, but Pittsburgh rushers T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, and Bud Dupree will still be licking their chops.

3. The Baltimore defense will force its first second-half turnover since Week 4. The consensus message from players and coaches this week was that the takeaways will come, but the Ravens have only seven through their first eight games and really could have used one trying to protect a 10-point fourth-quarter lead against New Orleans or to spark a comeback against Carolina. Wink Martindale’s defense did a good job confusing Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the first meeting and will need more of the same to set up a struggling Baltimore offense on a short field.

4. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Vance McDonald will catch touchdowns for the Steelers. Much like the Steelers defense, the Ravens are most vulnerable over the middle, which is problematic against Smith-Schuster in the slot and a capable pair of tight ends in McDonald and Jesse James. That area of the field is even more concerning as inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Tony Jefferson deal with injuries. A returning Marlon Humphrey makes you feel better about keeping Antonio Brown from wrecking the game, but the linebackers and safeties must rebound from a poor showing in Carolina.

5. The banged-up Ravens will suffer their third straight loss in a 23-17 final. Harbaugh expressed confidence Friday that his offensive line is healthy enough to win the game, and I fully expect his team to battle after last week’s clunker against the Panthers. However, Jermaine Eluemunor being trusted to block Flacco’s blindside is a scary proposition, and this offensive line hasn’t been effective enough in the run game to alleviate pressure in the pocket. On the flip side, the Ravens defense is also banged up and facing a Pittsburgh offense averaging just under 30 points per game. Playing at home will help, but 10 of the 24 Ravens-Steelers contests since 2008 have been won by the visitor and these teams have been moving in opposite directions since Week 4. I just haven’t seen enough of an “it” factor from the Ravens to believe they’ll overcome their current injuries and get the job done against a tough foe.

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