With the 2021 NFL Draft approaching, it is a time for optimism around the NFL. This is no different for the 2021 Baltimore Ravens.
After three straight 10-win seasons ending with playoff berths, the Ravens have high expectations entering 2021. While Baltimore had a quiet free agency, they made under-the-radar moves to angle themselves toward Super Bowl 56.
4 Reasons to be Excited about the 2021 Baltimore Ravens
1 | Lamar Jackson
The 2019 MVP came back to earth in 2020, but his December stretch was as good, if not better than his 2019 season. Lamar Jackson is far from the usual quarterback in the modern era, but he has been a dynamo in his career with the Ravens. Detractors will jump to Jackson’s playoff performances, for good reason, but Jackson and the Ravens cannot fail in the playoffs unless Jackson plays at a high level in the regular season.
A look at the traditional passing metrics underrates Jackson. Jackson does not accumulate passing yards at the rate of his peers, but this overlooks the pure volume of the Baltimore passing attack. The Ravens finished last in the NFL in passing yards because they were the most pass-averse team in the NFL, not because of their inefficiencies. Jackson earned a 99.0+ passer rating in 2020, a better assessment of his season than his passing yard tally.
Even if Jackson grades out as an average passer in 2021, he is the ultimate equalizer in the running game, and he is a major reason why the Ravens have the two most efficient rushing seasons since the merger. A dominant rushing attack helps the passing attack by opening play-action while also putting the Baltimore defense in a more advantageous position.
Speaking of the rushing attack …
2 | J.K. Dobbins, not Mark Ingram
With all due respect to Mark Ingram, J.K. Dobbins is a significant improvement. For the first half of the 2020 season, Ingram took the majority of the snaps. While his surface numbers seem reasonable (4.2 yards per carry, for example), context matters. Ingram was flanked by Jackson, artificially boosting his efficiency. Additionally, Ingram had the benefit of a full-strength offensive line with Ronnie Stanley healthy for September and October. Star run blocker Nick Boyle was also healthy for Ingram’s starts.
While Dobbins had the benefit of being in the same backfield as Jackson, he had to run behind a blocking unit that was missing a premier left tackle and one of the best run-blocking tight ends. Regardless, Dobbins was hyper-efficient. He averaged 6.0 yards per carry to lead all players not named Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray. For the season, Dobbins had an 82.0 PFF rushing grade, and he was one of the top 10 elusive running backs (among those with 100 touches). Dobbins is the real deal.
3 | Offensive Line Fortifications
By the end of the 2020 season, Baltimore had one good offensive lineman (Orlando Brown) and one semi-competent offensive lineman (Bradley Bozeman). The revolving doors at center, right guard, and right tackle often forced Jackson to run for his life while also eroding rushing lanes.
Even if Ronnie Stanley and new acquisition Kevin Zeitler are not superstars, they don’t need to be. They need to be competent. As of writing, the Ravens still employ Brown, so he will slide over to right tackle. Including Bozeman, Baltimore will have four competent offensive linemen to begin the season with the chance to draft another in the upcoming draft.
For the most part, good offensive lines avoid mistakes. Five players working in unison, even if they aren’t stars, will help the offense.
4 | 2020 Draft Class
Joining the aforementioned Dobbins, Baltimore has Patrick Queen, Justin Madubuike, Devin Duvernay, and Malik Harrison entering Year 2. Queen and Harrison had their fair share of struggles in the middle of the Baltimore defense in 2020, but they are progression candidates based on talent alone. They don’t have to be superstars, but if they play competent football, Baltimore will have a sturdy defense.
Duvernay had 24 offensive touches in 2020, producing 271 total yards and 11 first downs. Duvernay should be the starting slot receiver after the departure of Willie Snead in free agency. He has legitimate track speed and vice-like hands. Duvernay should be the No.2 option on third downs behind Mark Andrews. Expect Duvernay to garner much more than 34% of Baltimore’s offensive snaps in 2021.
Madubuike, perhaps the most likely player in the entire class to develop into a superstar, had a quiet rookie season. He had one sack, two tackles for loss, and only 10 total pressures. His PFF grade of 70.3, while solid, is not hiding any elite play. However, a deeper look at Madubuike’s best games puts the Texas A&M product on a potential breakout path. Madubuike played 305 snaps in 2020 with 31 coming against the Cleveland Browns on Week 14’s Monday Night Football. Madubuike posted a 90.4 grade, bolstered by a 77.0 run-defense grade (his second-best) and an 85.0 pass-rushing grade (his best). He also tallied four pressures.
In perhaps the other most important game of the season, Madubuike showed up. In 23 snaps against the Buffalo Bills in the playoffs, Madubuike posted his best run-defense grade of the season with an 80.3.
When Baltimore needed production, Madubuike stepped in and produced. It also does not hurt for his mentors to be former All-Pro Calais Campbell, Super Bowl champion Derek Wolfe, and Pro Bowler Brandon Williams.
The 2021 Baltimore Ravens may not win the Super Bowl, but there are reasons to think Baltimore has one of the highest ceilings moving into 2021 and beyond.
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