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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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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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Eight-time Pro Bowl guard Yanda retires as one of best, toughest Ravens ever

Posted on 10 March 2020 by Luke Jones

After famously encouraging teammates to “embrace the grind” early in what would be the 2012 Super Bowl season, Marshal Yanda is retiring as one of the best and toughest Ravens ever.

The news wasn’t shocking as the 35-year-old had pondered retirement these last couple years and was noticeably more reflective during the 2019 season, but his departure leaves a massive hole Baltimore won’t easily replace in terms of both his elite play and leadership by example.

Some stories about the eight-time Pro Bowl right guard and Iowa farm boy are the stuff of folk heroes — like willingly being tasered three times in the locker room for $600 as a rookie — but the day-to-day consistency of his 13-year career is what made Yanda special. Any offensive lineman would tell you anonymity is a desired trait as it means you’re getting the job done for the guys who touch the ball and star in the highlight shows, but the unassuming Yanda was too great for too long for even the most casual fan not to take some notice after a while.

“For most of your career, most people — including the media, believe it or not — don’t pay attention to those guys up front,” said head coach John Harbaugh last November. “They pay attention to all the other stuff. And the linemen, when they start getting talked about as Hall of Fame players, then all of a sudden, people start watching them. To me, I believe Marshal is doing that at the highest level. He’s playing some of his best football, if not his best football, right now.”

It didn’t come easy, however, for one of only 13 guards in NFL history to be named to eight Pro Bowls.

Unlike other Baltimore greats such as Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs who were drafted in the first round with some hope of greatness from Day 1, Yanda wasn’t selected until the third round in 2007 after beginning his collegiate career at North Iowa Area Community College and working to eventually become a second-team All-Big Ten selection at the University of Iowa. He wasn’t even the first guard drafted by the Ravens that year as then-general manager Ozzie Newsome took Auburn’s Ben Grubbs in the first round, but the organization knew it had added a gamer based on endorsements from longtime Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz, who had previously spent three years as a Ravens assistant.

An early-season injury to Ogden and the subsequent offensive line shuffling threw Yanda into the lineup for 12 starts at right tackle as a rookie. He tore multiple knee ligaments just five games into 2008, a season-ending injury that would also impact his playing time early the following season as veteran Chris Chester fared well at right guard and Yanda was working his way back to full strength. In 2010, offensive line uncertainty again moved him out to right tackle where he’d start all 16 games for the first time in his career.

That stellar play and versatility prompted the Ravens to re-sign Yanda to a five-year, $32 million contract prior to the 2011 season when he could finally call right guard his full-time home and people began taking notice. From there, he’d become the NFL’s best at his position for the better part of a decade, making the Pro Bowl every year other than 2017 when a broken ankle ended his season in Week 2.

The examples of toughness go beyond the “easy money” he made for that locker-room stunt as a rookie and working his way back from the serious knee injury sustained in his second year. Despite undergoing emergency surgery for compartment syndrome in his lower leg in Week 16 of the 2011 campaign, Yanda — also dealing with a painful rib injury — was back on the field the following Sunday to help the Ravens win their first AFC North title in five years and clinch a first-round bye. Instead of succumbing to a season-ending left shoulder injury in 2016, he came up with the idea of moving to left guard, which eased the stress on that arm and allowed him to finish another Pro Bowl campaign. Even upon breaking his ankle in 2017, Yanda walked off the field under his own power.

Aside from overcoming those physical challenges, trying to identify Yanda’s signature play or moment isn’t as easy as with those regularly touching the football or pursuing it every play. An offensive line coach would cite hundreds of examples over the years in which Yanda displayed his masterful technique, but his grit and determination to play through the whistle showed up at a key moment in one of the greatest games in team history.

Tied 35-35 in the 2012 divisional round (see below), the underdog Ravens were trying to move into field goal range and faced a second-and-10 from the Denver 45 on the final play of the first overtime. Ray Rice took a hand-off and ran nine yards before being stood up by two defenders, seemingly leaving Baltimore with an uncertain third-and-1 against a Broncos defense that had mostly bottled up Rice late in the game. However, it never came to that as Yanda, nearing the end of a night in which he played 86 total snaps in single-digit wind chills, ran forward from the second level and plowed Rice and the would-be tacklers an additional two yards for the first down. It was the last meaningful offensive play of the game as Justin Tucker kicked the game-winning field goal moments later and the Ravens would go on to win their second Super Bowl a few weeks later.

Joe Flacco and Jacoby Jones owned the night with the “Mile High Miracle,” of course, but Yanda’s late push helped ensure that would be a winning memory and was just one example of his unrelenting will to win.

His Pro Football Hall of Fame fate remains to be seen after playing a position many view as underrepresented in Canton. Former Pittsburgh guard Alan Faneca is still waiting for the call after a 13-year career that included nine straight Pro Bowls from 2001-09, but game-film enthusiasts and football analytics sites have sung Yanda’s praises for years, making him more of a household name than the top interior linemen of previous eras and increasing the likelihood of him receiving a much deserved gold jacket one day. When news broke of his retirement, Pro Football Focus was quick to note how he allowed just one sack in the last 2,331 pass-blocking snaps of his career and just 20 career sacks, a total many guards allow in just two or three seasons.

Yanda could have made his Hall of Fame case more elementary with another Pro Bowl season or two and maybe a second Super Bowl ring as the Ravens come off a 14-2 season led by MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, a thrilling young player the grizzled veteran enthusiastically embraced after having a close relationship with Flacco. Yes, the 6-foot-3, 305-pound lineman easily could have held on for a few more years, but he never played for individual accolades, making the decision admirable as he still ranks as one of the game’s best at his position in his mid-30s. That’s a claim some of the absolute best players in Ravens history can’t make.

“It’s never been about me. I feel fortunate to be a part of this organization, to be drafted here, and the type of success we’ve had in all the games that I’ve been able to be a part of,” Yanda said in early January. “I’m just taking it one day at a time. The most important thing is our next opponent.”

In Yanda’s mind, it was time to walk away if he weren’t fully committed to “embrace the grind” for a 14th season. That journey will now go on without him, but the lessons instilled won’t be forgotten in the same way a 23-year-old Yanda learned what it meant to be a professional from Ogden in the last season of his Hall of Fame career.

For a player many barely noticed in the best possible way week after week and season after season, Yanda sure will be missed.

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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 quarterback Lamar Jackson throws a pass against the New York Jets during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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

Posted on 03 March 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 quarterbacks ranked across the NFL this past season followed by the positional outlook going into 2020:

Safeties
Running backs
Cornerbacks
Wide receivers
Defensive linemen
Tight ends
Inside linebackers
Offensive linemen
Outside linebackers

Lamar Jackson
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 1,068
PFF ranking: fifth among quarterbacks
Skinny: That one could very fairly question the league MVP’s PFF ranking speaks to how remarkable his improvement was in his age-22 season. You’re well aware of his many record-breaking accomplishments by now, but Jackson leading the NFL in touchdown passes despite ranking 26th in pass attempts and ranking sixth overall in rushing despite finishing 23rd in carries will stand out for many years to come.

Robert Griffin III
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 139
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Rarely do you see a backup play so many snaps without there being an injury to the starter or a quarterback controversy, but Griffin appeared in seven games and started one. His skill set and career experiences make him a solid backup and mentor for Jackson, but his play wasn’t a strong statement to be a starter elsewhere as his PFF grade would have ranked next to last among qualified quarterbacks.

Trace McSorley
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 1
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The sixth-round rookie from Penn State showed growth from spring workouts to the preseason where he threw four touchdowns compared to two interceptions, but he was inactive for all games but the regular-season finale, making the coming spring and summer a critical time in his development.

2020 positional outlook

Is there a better quarterback situation in the NFL when you have the reigning MVP under inexpensive team control for the next three seasons? Like virtually any other team with an elite quarterback, the Ravens would likely be in deep trouble in the event of a long-term absence for Jackson, but having two reserves with the athletic traits to be able to operate this unique run-first offense eases some concern about a shorter-term injury. While we’ll ponder all offseason whether Jackson can still hit another level in his development — a terrifying thought for the rest of the league — it will be interesting to see if McSorley will seriously challenge Griffin for the backup spot with the latter under contract and scheduled to make a $2 million base salary in 2020. That’s very reasonable for a No. 2 quarterback, but the Ravens didn’t keep McSorley on the 53-man roster for what amounted to a redshirt year if they didn’t think he could be the primary backup of the future, whether that’s for the coming season or 2021.

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DeCosta expecting “big jump” from young Ravens wide receivers

Posted on 25 February 2020 by Luke Jones

After pushing through a painful foot injury to tie the Ravens’ rookie record for touchdown catches in a season, wide receiver Marquise Brown hopes to have a clean bill of health for his second campaign.

According to NFL Network, the 2019 first-round pick recently had a screw removed from his surgically-repaired left foot in hopes of eliminating any future discomfort stemming from the Lisfranc injury Brown sustained late in his final season at Oklahoma. That injury and subsequent surgery forced the 22-year-old to miss spring workouts, the start of training camp, and occasional practices during his rookie season, but the speedy Brown still led all Baltimore wide receivers with 46 catches, 584 yards, and seven touchdowns.

That’s why general manager Eric DeCosta believes the best is yet to come.

“We’re excited to see what this offseason’s going to be,” DeCosta said at the scouting combine in Indianapolis on Tuesday. “I think coming off the injury that he had, which was a significant injury, to see how he rebounded week to week and played in the games and made big plays all throughout the year, that was exciting. We’re excited about that. Receivers typically make a big jump from their first to second season. We think that’s going to happen with ‘Hollywood.'”

Brown’s NFL debut couldn’t have been better as he became the first player in league history to notch two touchdowns of 40 or more yards in his first career game. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound wideout wouldn’t post another 100-yard receiving game until the playoff loss to Tennessee — his 126 receiving yards were the second most by a Raven in postseason history — but his play-making ability was a rare bright spot in that disappointing defeat.

DeCosta says a full offseason to be able to work with MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson and veteran slot receiver Willie Snead on the timing and intricacies of Baltimore’s passing game will help Brown take his game to the next level. That’s a scary thought for opposing defenses after Brown ranked second in the league in passer rating when targeted last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

“He’s got a great work ethic. He’s explosive,” DeCosta said. “I think you all saw his hands, his ability to catch the ball in traffic and make contested catches for a little guy. He’s got a great attitude.”

DeCosta also expressed optimism for fellow 2019 draft pick Miles Boykin, who finished with a modest 13 catches for 198 yards and three touchdowns in 16 games. Including the postseason, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound rookie played just under 500 snaps and was an effective blocker, but he caught only four passes over the final nine regular-season games before making three receptions for 29 yards in the playoff loss.

The Ravens are expected to explore additional options at wide receiver in free agency and the draft, but they want to see Boykin continue to develop and become a bigger contributor in 2020.

“He made some big plays for us throughout the course of the year,” said DeCosta, citing four catches of 18 or more yards. “We expect him to improve quite a bit with an offseason. He’s a big and strong and fast, physical guy. Great attitude. The second year for most receivers is critical, and we think he’ll make a big jump.”

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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 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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Extending Stanley should be one of Ravens’ top offseason priorities

Posted on 10 February 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens tried to get the left tackle position right for a long time after Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden’s retirement more than a decade ago.

University of Maryland product Jared Gaither flashed some early promise before fizzling out due to injuries and work ethic concerns. Michael Oher was a versatile gamer, but he was better at right tackle, which wasn’t what the Ravens envisioned for their 2009 first-round pick. Veteran Bryant McKinnie played well in 2011 and had a terrific 2012 postseason run, but the 30-something was never a long-term solution. The lucrative contract awarded to former Jacksonville first-round pick Eugene Monroe after a half-season of good play in Baltimore was a disaster.

But the Ravens finally nailed it with the sixth overall pick of the 2016 draft, selecting Ronnie Stanley out of Notre Dame. It wasn’t a flashy choice as future Pro Bowl selections Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, and Jalen Ramsey had just come off the board with the previous three picks and Baltimore had given Monroe a five-year, $37.5 million contract with $17.5 million guaranteed only two years earlier, but the 6-foot-6, 315-pound Stanley was rock solid from Day 1 and has only gotten better.

That was obvious in 2019 as Stanley took his above-average game to another level, earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl — he was a second alternate in 2018 — and being a first-team All-Pro selection in his fourth professional season. Pro Football Focus graded him as the best left tackle in the NFL, first among all offensive tackles in pass blocking, and 10th among all offensive tackles in run blocking. Stanley’s overall PFF grade steadily improved over his first three seasons before rising to an elite level, the kind of bump many had wanted to see as he moved a year closer to free agency.

“He has improved in everything he does,” said offensive coordinator Greg Roman after Stanley was named to the Pro Bowl in December. “I think a big part of that is improving every aspect of his preparation. The knowledge he’s accrued over the last couple of years, he’s a very intelligent young man. He’s really putting it to use. His consistency this year has been outstanding, which makes him deserving of that honor.

“He’s a constant work in progress, but run, pass, communication, assignment, technique, everything, he’s just really pushing the envelope every day on. It’s really showing on the field, and he’s a very important, key contributor to what we do.”

The focus of any offseason is understandably on new additions and a team’s own free agents scheduled to hit the open market, but that doesn’t mean extending Stanley, who remains under contract through 2020, isn’t a top priority by the time the Ravens kick off their 25th campaign in Baltimore this fall. Even if eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda returns for a 14th season, Stanley’s superb play and leadership shouldn’t be taken for granted with the rest of the starting offensive line all 26 year old or younger. And despite dealing with some nagging injuries at different points, Stanley has missed just three games due to injury — two because of concussions — over the last three seasons combined.

But he won’t come cheap. It’s difficult to quantify just how much MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson helps his offensive line by putting dual-threat stress on defensive fronts, but Stanley surrendered only six pressures all year and had a pass-blocking win rate of 98.7 percent, according to PFF. Those numbers trumped his peers by such a margin that dismissing his elite play solely because of Jackson’s presence would be patently unfair.

In other words, Stanley’s representation has every right to ask that he become the highest-paid left tackle in the NFL, especially since he won’t even turn 26 until next month. If you’re looking for a negotiating starting point, Tennessee and Taylor Lewan agreed to a five-year, $80 million contract that included $34 million fully guaranteed in the summer of 2018 when the left tackle was also entering his fifth-year option season, had two Pro Bowls under his belt, and was a year older than Stanley is now.

With the salary cap having risen more than $20 million since 2018 and the NFL entering the final year of its current collective bargaining agreement, the Ravens allowing Stanley to hit the open market next offseason could yield a similar result to last March when the New York Jets turned the market on its head by giving ex-Raven C.J. Mosley an $85 million contract with a $17 million average annual value, numbers that demolished the previous bests at the inside linebacker position. Stanley is set to make $12.866 million this season after general manager Eric DeCosta exercised his fifth-year option last spring.

Of course, it takes two sides to make a deal, but the Ravens doing everything they can to lock up a franchise left tackle to continue protecting their MVP quarterback in the midst of his rookie contract sounds like a no-brainer. It will be expensive, but Baltimore can’t afford to risk losing such a key piece to its record-setting offense, especially with Yanda walking away sooner than later.

Stanley isn’t Ogden — no one playing today is — but he’s the closest the Ravens have come at left tackle since the Hall of Famer hung up his cleats more than a decade ago. That’s just not the kind of player you let go after searching for him for so long.

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Testaverde reflects on Jackson breaking record, his time with Ravens

Posted on 06 February 2020 by Luke Jones

You’re more likely to find former Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde on the golf course than in front of a TV watching football these days, but he’s a fan of what NFL MVP Lamar Jackson accomplished in 2019.

The first starting quarterback in franchise history and 1996 Pro Bowl selection spent just two of his 21 NFL seasons with Baltimore, but Testaverde shared fond memories of his time with the Ravens and offered admiration for Jackson and his record-setting offense in an interview with WNST.net in Miami last week.

“I love it. I really thought they’d be here [for the Super Bowl] this week. I really did,” Testaverde said. “I thought he did a great job.”

The 56-year-old last played with the Ravens in 1997 and retired from the NFL after the 2007 campaign, but his team record of 33 touchdown passes in the inaugural 1996 season had stood until Jackson threw 36 to lead the Ravens to a franchise-best 14-2 record this past year. Jackson became just the second Ravens quarterback to be selected for the Pro Bowl as Testaverde received the nod after setting career highs in touchdown passes (33) and passing yards (4,177 yards) in an otherwise forgettable 4-12 season for Baltimore in 1996.

From one Heisman Trophy winner to another with South Florida ties, Testaverde was happy to see his single-season touchdown record fall to Jackson, an electric dual-threat quarterback whose playing style couldn’t be more different than the traditional 6-foot-5 pocket passer with limited mobility. Testaverde played for seven different teams in his career and scored the first touchdown in Ravens history on a 9-yard run at old Memorial Stadium in a 19-14 win over Oakland.

“At one time, somebody told me I held records in Tampa, Baltimore, and with the Jets. I don’t really follow football anymore,” said Testaverde, who quipped that he now thinks more about his golf swing than anything related to the game he played. “Unless somebody tells me what my stats are, I don’t really know what they are. I was actually watching some NFL football and watched a little bit of one of the shows that shows all the different games. The announcer said, ‘Oh yeah, Lamar Jackson just tied Vinny’s record.’ So, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s pretty cool.'”

Living in Tampa, Testaverde may not pay close attention to football anymore, but he called his two seasons with the Ravens “some of the best times” of his career playing for the late Ted Marchibroda and a city that was starving for the NFL’s return after a 12-year hiatus. The former Miami Hurricane said he still has his helmet with the original Ravens logo and keeps in touch with a handful of former teammates from those years.

Asked to reflect on the impressive tradition established as the two-time Super Bowl champion Ravens will enter their 25th season in Baltimore in September, Testaverde said the fans’ enthusiasm was evident from the start of that first training camp in Westminster.

“The city supported us, and we felt it. It was like, ‘Man, we are ready to go,'” Testaverde said. “I remember the first day we went to practice and we had a walk-through. Normally, walk-throughs are just that. We’d walk through the plays to get ready for the regular practice so when we go full speed, we kind of have an idea of what everybody is doing, especially during those first few days when guys are unfamiliar with the plays still.

“That first walk-through, guys were running full speed. Coach Marchibroda was like, ‘We’re going to be great because these guys go full speed!’ His mind was blown; my mind was blown. I was like, ‘Guys, we’re going to get hurt.’ We’ve got no pads on, and we’re hitting each other.”

Despite enjoying retirement away from the spotlight of the NFL, Testaverde still has ties to football as son Vincent Jr. — also a quarterback — just signed with the British Columbia Lions of the CFL after spending last summer with the Buccaneers and enjoying a brief time with the XFL’s Tampa Bay Vipers.

The longtime NFL quarterback made clear he isn’t doing much heavy lifting in preparing his son for professional football. A once-strong right arm responsible for 275 touchdowns, 267 interceptions, and 6,701 passing attempts in a long NFL career is officially worn out.

“I throw lefty when I have a catch with my son,” said Testaverde as he laughed. “I’d get sore from holding a clipboard right now.”

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