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Lamar Jackson continuing to wreck NFL establishment in thrilling fashion

Posted on 11 November 2019 by Luke Jones

Week 10 brought no shortage of excitement with 10 of 12 games decided by a single possession ahead of the marquee Seattle-San Francisco showdown on Monday night.

But none of it — not even the Patrick Mahomes jump pass — trumped Lamar Jackson’s 47-yard touchdown run that was made for Chris Berman’s famous “whoop!” on “NFL Primetime.” As head coach John Harbaugh said after the Ravens’ 49-13 demolition of Cincinnati, “They’ll be watching that run for decades and decades. That’s one that everyone in the country is going to see by tomorrow afternoon.”

It didn’t take nearly that long.

That Jackson’s highlight-reel run reminiscent of Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders — watch some old highlights and tell me you don’t see it — came on a day in which he posted a perfect passer rating says it all about what we’re watching every Sunday. This goes beyond even the 22-year-old’s MVP candidacy that’s strengthening by the week or Baltimore’s growing Super Bowl aspirations, the goal that remains paramount to the 6-foot-2, 212-pound quarterback with thrilling athleticism and good passing acumen that’s still improving.

Playing just 100 miles from where he won the Heisman Trophy at Louisville on Sunday, Jackson continues to wreck the NFL quarterback establishment before our very eyes. Dwelling on long-term sustainability or trying to compare him to any quarterback who’s come before him is really missing the point and much of the fun. We haven’t seen anyone quite like this — certainly not in Baltimore or across the NFL.

A look at the numbers from his first 16 regular-season starts illustrates that point:

He’s been called a “cheat code” and compared to playing Madden, but video games wish they were as fun as Jackson in the flesh. There’s so much substance that accompanies the highlight-reel style, however.

Consider Sunday’s first play from scrimmage when Jackson stood tall with pressure in his face to deliver a 49-yard strike to Marquise Brown. What about evading Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins and keeping his eyes downfield to find Nick Boyle over the middle for 10 yards? He took his hardest hit of the day — in the pocket — as he threw the pretty 20-yard touchdown to Brown on what would be his final play of the afternoon.

The spectacular plays garner the attention, of course, but the down-to-down consistency, good field vision, dramatically improved ball security, and better accuracy — all in his first full year as a starter — support why any lingering thought of “solving” Jackson and this offense borders on silly at this point. Sure, an opponent may devise a game plan to beat him and the Ravens in a given week, but there’s no “figuring out” a quarterback and an offensive system capable of punishing you in so many different ways.

The Ravens now own two of the four biggest margins of victory in the NFL this season. Jackson has produced two of the five perfect passer ratings, becoming only the second quarterback in league history to be perfect twice in the same season. He’s destroyed bad defenses and made game-changing plays at Seattle and against a New England defense that was off to a historic start through its first eight games. Jackson’s unique skill set and intangibles make his offensive teammates better and his defensive teammates grateful that he’s on their side. Opponents are simply left in awe after defeat.

Tough games remain down the stretch, but none are as imposing as their opponents seeing the Ravens on the schedule. The preparation is enough to give opposing coaches insomnia, let alone what awaits on game day. On Sunday, the Ravens improved to 7-2 for the first time since 2012 — the last time they won the Super Bowl — and won their fifth straight game in a season for the first time since 2006, which was the best regular-season campaign in franchise history at 13-3.

This goes beyond 2019, however, as the following sideline conversation between Harbaugh and Jackson showed:

“You know how many little kids in this country are going to be wearing No. 8 playing quarterback for the next 20 years because of you?”

I’m not smart enough to know exactly what the future will bring, but I’m wise enough not to try to put any ceiling on the Lamar Jackson Experience.

What we’re watching in our own backyard is special.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 9 win over New England

Posted on 05 November 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 6-2 for the first time since 2012 after a 37-20 win over New England, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore couldn’t have asked for a better start with 17 points on the first three drives against a team that hadn’t allowed more than 14 points in an entire game. The Ravens gained 133 yards in that first quarter while the Patriots possessed the ball for all of 132 seconds.

2. You knew it couldn’t continue to be that easy when Cyrus Jones muffed the punt early in the second quarter. The Gilman product has been pretty sure-handed with the Ravens, but coughing one up against his original team had to bring back some unpleasant memories that hopefully won’t linger.

3. The defense did strong work holding the Patriots to field goals on the final two drives of the first half, but kicking twice inside the 5 didn’t feel very “Belichickian.” Was it hubris that his defense had figured out the Ravens offense or some telling concern about his own offense?

4. To drain more than 17 minutes from the clock over its last two drives (not counting the final two kneels) speaks to this offense’s ability to crush an opponent’s soul. Lamar Jackson’s conversions to Mark Andrews and Willie Snead in that third-quarter drive were massive when leading by just four.

5. Earl Thomas played his best game as a Raven as he recorded a quarterback hit and grabbed his first interception since the opener. However, his best play came late in the second quarter when he broke up a Tom Brady pass intended for Julian Edelman at the goal line.

6. Marquise Brown didn’t post big numbers in his return from an ankle sprain, but his diving third-down reception and his catch and run for 26 yards set the tone on that opening drive. He wasn’t at full speed, but his presence is important for this offense to continue to thrive.

7. The rotation at inside linebacker was about what we expected, but Patrick Onwuasor reminded why he’s more effective playing the weak-side spot. He tied for the team lead with eight tackles, recorded a sack on a blitz, and forced the fumble returned for a touchdown by Marlon Humphrey.

8. Sunday was five seasons in the making for Nick Boyle, who caught his first career touchdown. Boyle is the constant in a tight end room that’s changed plenty since he was drafted in 2015 — three rounds after Maxx Williams — so it was cool seeing him enjoy the celebration with teammates.

9. Not only did Brandon Carr see extensive work at safety in the dime and quarter packages when Chuck Clark moved to linebacker, but he often played deep as Wink Martindale moved Thomas around the field. Carr, 33, rolls with the punches and embraces whatever the defense needs from him.

10. In addition to the conservative decisions to kick short field goals, New England committed four penalties that gave the Ravens first downs, headlined by a neutral-zone infraction turning a short field goal into a touchdown on the opening drive. A few of those flags were back breakers.

11. No team has advanced to the Super Bowl without the benefit of a first-round bye since the 2012 Ravens. At 6-2, the goal is no longer to simply win an underwhelming AFC North. Several tough opponents remain, but securing the first weekend off in January is more than doable.

12. Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, and Lenny Moore being in the building was special and highlights how incredible Baltimore’s football history is. Seeing Reed watch from the sideline reminded me of the legendary Johnny Unitas watching the new Ravens years ago. Sunday night was an electric atmosphere.

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Sunday night

Posted on 02 November 2019 by Luke Jones

The question has been asked since the final seconds ticked away in the Ravens’ statement win at Seattle two weeks ago.

How will Baltimore attack a New England defense that’s given up an absurd 7.6 points per game and third-down conversions just 15.6 percent of the time this season? The Patriots defense has scored as many touchdowns (four) as it’s allowed all year. Easy schedule or not, you just don’t see those kinds of amazing numbers in the modern NFL that panders to offense.

A Bill Belichick defense tries to take away what an opponent does best, forcing its offense to play “left-handed.” But no one makes a defense look like it’s playing with two left feet quite like Lamar Jackson, creating one of the most fascinating matchups of the season.

You can bet on Belichick and the Patriots showing Jackson something he hasn’t seen in his first full year as a starter, but New England hasn’t faced anyone quite like the 22-year-old, making New England’s streak of 21 straight wins over rookie or second-year quarterbacks less relevant.

“We’ll see how good they are once we play them,” Ravens tight end Nick Boyle said. “I mean I don’t think they’ve seen anyone like our offense or like Lamar — special player. But they’re a good team, and we really need to bring our ‘A’ game and make sure we’re on everything.”

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the first time since 2016 and the 10th time overall in the regular-season series with the Patriots enjoying an 8-1 mark. The Ravens are just 1-3 against New England in Baltimore, but they’re 3-6 overall against the Patriots in the John Harbaugh era, which includes a 2-2 record in the postseason.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Mark Ingram will rush for 100 yards for the first time since Week 3. Recent opponents have committed to stopping the Baltimore running game between the tackles, which has led to Jackson running wild off the edge while Ingram has averaged just 3.2 yards per carry over the last three games. One of the Patriots’ biggest strengths is their discipline, which will keep Jackson from dominating with his legs. However, their relative weakness has been stopping the run as Buffalo and Cleveland — the only good ground games New England has faced — both averaged more than 6.0 yards per carry. The Patriots have a good front, but it isn’t dominant enough to contain both Jackson and Ingram.

2. A trick play will lead to a Patriots touchdown. New England leads the league in points scored, but 25 takeaways mask what’s been a mediocre start for an offense ranking 16th in yards per game, 23rd in rush offense, 18th on third down, and 23rd inside the red zone. Meanwhile, the Ravens are coming off their best defensive showing of the season against Seattle. The defensive communication and discipline have improved in recent weeks, but there are still many new parts to this group and Tom Brady and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels are aware of that. With two receivers — Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu — capable of throwing the ball, the Ravens must be on alert for trickery.

3. Lamar Jackson will throw for 180 yards and a touchdown to Mark Andrews with no turnovers. The Patriots play more man coverage — and play it better — than anyone in the league, but a secondary turning its back to Jackson is a dangerous proposition when he breaks free from the pocket, which is why opponents are forced to play more zone against him. Zone coverage creates the throwing lanes a more accurate Jackson has taken better advantage of this year. New England is also very good playing zone and opportunities for big plays against a terrific pass defense will be sparse, but Jackson’s improvement protecting the ball has been the most overlooked part of his progress this year.

4. James White will catch a touchdown and be Tom Brady’s leading receiver. With Marlon Humphrey likely to travel with Edelman, Brady will need to look elsewhere for consistent completions with White ranking second on the team with 42 catches for 358 yards. Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort have brought stability at inside linebacker, but that’s still an area of the defense opponents should try to exploit. New England must rely on scheme more than ever without dynamic talent at the skill positions, so look for White to find space underneath thanks to some creative looks and formations. Of course, if the toe injury that landed White on Friday’s injury report is an issue, all bets could be off here.

5. A late takeaway and superior special teams will help the Ravens hold on for a 20-17 win. Neither of these teams is built to play from behind, making it critical for Baltimore to stay on schedule and have a lead entering the fourth quarter when the ground game can impose its will. But special teams will also loom large in a tight game with Football Outsiders ranking Baltimore first in efficiency and New England ranking an uncharacteristic 26th and having just signed new kicker Nick Folk this week. Justin Tucker is a perfect 16-for-16 on field goals this season and will once again be a difference-maker in a close tilt. The Ravens are the more rested team and are 9-2 coming off their bye under Harbaugh, which will give them another edge in handing the Patriots their first defeat of 2019. What more could you ask for in the first Sunday night game played in Baltimore since 2012?

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 28 September 2019 by Luke Jones

There are always a few pivotal games that stand out in any season with Sunday’s tilt between the Ravens and Cleveland certainly shaping up to be one.

A win gives Baltimore a full two-game lead over every other AFC North team and drops the Browns to 1-3 with the accompanying “same old story” thoughts. However, a Ravens loss would pull Cleveland even in the division and put the winner of Monday’s Pittsburgh-Cincinnati game just one game behind.

With two more division games to immediately follow for the Ravens, Week 4 could help put them on a path to win the AFC North going away or provide a major jolt for the Browns.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Browns face off for the 41st time in the regular season with Baltimore holding a lopsided 30-10 advantage and a 19-3 mark under John Harbaugh. However, 10 of the last 15 meetings have been decided by a single possession, including both halves of last year’s split between the division foes.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. The Ravens will commit their first turnover of the season. Only six teams have forced fewer turnovers than Baltimore, but Harbaugh’s team is the only one in the NFL without a giveaway, which reflects Lamar Jackson’s growth in his first full year as a starter. Of course, some luck has been involved as well with the Ravens recovering both of their fumbles this season and Jackson getting away with a few passes that could have been intercepted last week. The law of averages will finally catch up to them.

2. Odell Beckham Jr. will catch a touchdown and Marlon Humphrey will register an interception matched up against each other. With Jimmy Smith out with a knee injury, Humphrey traveled with Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins for much of last week’s game, a strategy that should continue against the talented Beckham. Baker Mayfield has targeted his star wideout 30 times in three games and will continue throwing his way, which will give Humphrey chances to get his hands on passes. It’s worth noting the third-year corner was limited with a hip issue this week, however.

3. Jackson will throw touchdown passes to Nick Boyle and Seth Roberts. The Browns will try to copy Kansas City’s plan to take away deep shots to Marquise Brown, which should create underneath chances for others. That reality coupled with Mark Andrews’ lingering foot issue will make it important for Jackson to look beyond his top two pass-catching targets. Boyle’s first career touchdown is long overdue, and Roberts’ playing time is trending up with Miles Boykin struggling early. Cleveland is likely to be without three starters in its secondary, which sets up for Jackson to have a good game.

4. Myles Garrett will register multiple sacks for the third time in four weeks. Harbaugh admitted his offensive line hasn’t yet seen a defensive front this talented, which will set up some intriguing battles. Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. will have their hands full with Garrett and Olivier Vernon on the edges, but defensive tackles Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi could also create some problems against the run and pass. Even more play-action and run-pass options than usual are in order to keep the Cleveland rush in check, but Garrett will continue his monster start to 2019.

5. Some strong running from Mark Ingram in the fourth quarter will help the Ravens preserve a tight 26-20 win. The body of work for each team so far and the home-field advantage suggest a Baltimore win, but the 1-2 Browns are already feeling pretty desperate with three more games against winning teams immediately following Sunday’s contest. The talent is still there for Cleveland and Mayfield is a better quarterback than he’s shown to be so far this season, but the likely absences of Browns cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams will keep the Ravens offense a step ahead. Baltimore will start 3-1 for the third time in the last four years and eighth time in the Harbaugh era.

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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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Former Ravens second-round pick agrees to deal with Arizona

Posted on 02 May 2019 by Luke Jones

Former Ravens tight end Maxx Williams has found a new football home in Arizona.

The 2015 second-round pick from Minnesota announced Thursday on his official Twitter account that he was joining the Cardinals, ending an injury-riddled four-year run in which he never reached his full potential in Baltimore. According to Arizona Sports 98.7 in Phoenix, the 25-year-old agreed to a one-year deal with his new team.

The Ravens originally drafted Williams to replace Dennis Pitta, who was seven months removed from a second devastating hip injury that had left his career in great doubt. General manager Ozzie Newsome moved up in the second round — in a trade with Arizona coincidentally — to make Williams the first tight end drafted in 2015, but various injuries limited him to just 42 games in four seasons. The most serious was a knee injury that cost him most of the 2016 season and required a rare cartilage surgery that impacted his speed and agility, leading Williams to become more of a blocking tight end than the play-maker the Ravens originally envisioned.

Williams caught 32 passes for 268 yards and a touchdown as a rookie, but he caught just 31 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns over his remaining time in Baltimore. The Ravens drafting tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews last year and re-signing blocking tight end Nick Boyle — a fifth-round choice in the 2015 draft — earlier this offseason made it unlikely Williams would return even though the organization had expressed some interest in re-signing him.

Pro Football Focus graded Williams as the 16th-best tight end in the NFL last year with his blocking ability being the primary reason why. The terms of the deal have yet to be revealed, but the Ravens will hope Arizona pays Williams enough to qualify in the compensatory pick formula, which would give general manager Eric DeCosta a third compensatory pick in next year’s draft.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of annual league meetings

Posted on 22 March 2019 by Luke Jones

With NFL teams convening in Phoenix next week for the annual league meetings, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Eric DeCosta has roughly $16 million in salary cap space with the draft a little over a month away. That leaves the flexibility to make another moderate signing or two while leaving the necessary space for the rookie draft class and in-season moves.

2. The Ravens were certainly interested in Justin Houston, but the two-year, $24 million deal he received from Indianapolis would have been difficult to absorb without restructuring deals or cutting another player, actions the organization prefers to avoid.

3. I still believe a $9.5 million salary and $15.85 million cap number are risky for someone who’s played more than 12 games in a season only twice in his career, but it’s clear Jimmy Smith is still valued. He remains a trade chip if they can address another need, however.

4. Robert Griffin III always seemed among the most likely of the free agents to re-sign. He hit it off with Lamar Jackson and had a nice preseason, but we’re talking about someone who was out of the league entirely in 2017. A deal made too much sense for both sides.

5. No one expected Brent Urban to sign in the opening hours of free agency, but I’m surprised there hasn’t been more interest in the 5-technique end. I figured he’d be looking at a contract similar to the four-year deal New England gave Lawrence Guy two offseasons ago.

6. With so much reported outside interest in Nick Boyle before he re-signed with the Ravens, teams wanting to add a blocking tight end should sign Maxx Williams, who would be a fraction of the price and interestingly received better blocking grades from Pro Football Focus in fewer snaps last year.

7. The lack of movement on Urban and Williams is likely complicating DeCosta’s free-agent strategy as the Ravens are currently slated to receive only one 2020 compensatory pick. There’s not a remaining unrestricted free agent who’s worth forfeiting a third-round pick to sign.

8. Much focus has been on the need for edge rushers, but Za’Darius Smith and Urban were vital parts of the inside pass rush. A healthy Willie Henry would help, but interior pressure is more important than ever with quick throws so prevalent today to try to neutralize edge defenders.

9. Jerry Rosburg’s retirement is a significant loss as his units have finished in the top five in Rick Gosselin’s revered special teams report and have ranked sixth or better in Football Outsiders’ special teams DVOA in seven straight seasons. The pressure is on successor Chris Horton.

10. With Terrell Suggs and Joe Flacco officially gone, only six players remain who were with the organization during Super Bowl XLVII and Anthony Levine was on injured reserve at the time. Only eight remain under contract from the Ravens’ last playoff win over Pittsburgh in January 2015.

11. As Mark Ingram noted after news of Griffin’s deal surfaced, the Ravens now have three Heisman Trophy winners on their current roster. That’s definitely a rare occurrence, but the late 1980s Los Angeles Raiders quickly came to mind with Marcus Allen, Tim Brown, and Bo Jackson.

12. Congratulations to former Ravens coaching intern Lori Locust for earning a full-time NFL coaching position with Tampa Bay. This interesting story describes her journey to now work for Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians, who has advocated for more diversity in coaching in recent years.

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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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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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