Posted in Ravens Thoughts

Baltimore Ravens: 3 most important facets of training camp

By Ronald Toothe

Editor’s note: A lot of news happened today at Baltimore Ravens training camp. We’re on it. In the meantime check out this awesome article

The Baltimore Ravens began training camp this week along with the rest of the NFL. Hopes are high as the team sets their sights on bringing a third Lombardi trophy to Charm City. Despite being one of the most talented rosters in football, however, there are still plenty of improvements to be made en route. Today, let’s break down some of the most important facets of this year’s training camp.

More consistency from Marquise Brown

The Ravens selected Marquise Brown in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, and while you certainly can’t call him a bust, the team will be looking for that true breakout from him in year three. Hollywood finished last season incredibly strong down the stretch and will look to build on that in this year’s camp.

The additions of Rashod Bateman and Sammy Watkins will surely allow more 1-on-1 situations for Brown, which is where he thrives. Cincinnati Bengals safety Jesse Bates made headlines last year in saying

“We know where Lamar wants to go, either No. 15 or No. 89.”

Defenses no longer have the luxury of solely keying in on those two players in 2021. With threats like Bateman and Watkins on the outside, Brown will have ample opportunity to carve up defenses out of the slot. Knowing Lamar Jackson’s love of throwing down the middle of the field, Brown may be on track for his best season yet.


Odafe Oweh making an immediate impact for the Baltimore Ravens

The drafting of Odafe Oweh was a selection that initially divided the Ravens Flock. On one hand, Oweh is a physical freak with all the tools to be an elite pass rusher in the NFL. On the other, his stat line at Penn State didn’t necessarily reflect said physical tools. All reports out of Baltimore so far indicate that the Ravens are excited for Oweh to be an immediate presence. Pass rush is arguably the Ravens’ biggest question mark, so that presence will be needed.

Oweh will have his chance to prove the Ravens right in drafting him from day one. With Ronnie Stanley returning from injury, Oweh will have one of the best tackles in football to line up against. There’s no better way to make an immediate impact than to hold your own against the class of the league. If Oweh is to be a significant piece of the Ravens defense in 2021, it all starts now. This same premise can be applied to fellow rookie Daelin Hayes, albeit with much lower immediate expectations.


J.K. Dobbins becoming an elite NFL running back

It was announced just ahead of camp that running back Gus Edwards was placed on the Covid-19 list. This means that Edwards is forced to miss at least the first 10 days of camp. Behind Dobbins and Edwards is Justice Hill, who’s proven little so far in terms of being a consistent backup. All of this combined means that Dobbins will be the workhorse of the first-team offense in camp.

In 2020 Dobbins was a force down the stretch, averaging well over four YPC over the final eight games (with 8 touchdowns). The flashes have shown that he’s more than capable of being a three-down bell cow in this offense. Especially considering how much stronger Dobbins got as more carries came his way.

Gus Edwards will still play a major factor come the start of the season, but these preseason reps are valuable. In addition to those 10 days, he’ll also need adequate time to return to the proper conditioning before splitting carries. Dobbins may just show the coaching staff during that stretch that he’s the one deserving of the lion’s share of the workload. In this Ravens offense, that may only be 17-20 carries a game. However, Dobbins showed clearly last year that even in a limited role, he can be the best playmaker on the field not named Jackson.

Wrap up

The best time of the year is quickly approaching for us Ravens fans. The boys are back in the building, and we’ll be sipping pumpkin beers on Sundays before we know it. Despite these training camp “things to watch”, the Ravens will still be among the AFC elites in 2021.

NEXT POST: The NFL Covid-19 vaccine policy is a fair rule that makes sense

Lamar Jackson and company have said time and time again that it’s Super Bowl or bust, and the same can be said for the rest of the Ravens Flock. Buckle up guys and girls, the fun is just getting started.

Posted in Ravens Thoughts

Malik Harrison will be the surprise of the Ravens defense

By Ronald Toothe

In 2020, the Ravens filled a pressing need at middle linebacker by drafting a player who many considered the best at the position in Patrick Queen. Much more quietly, they also spent a third-round pick on Malik Harrison the following day. While Queen and his promising talent made most of the headlines last season, Harrison could be the one ready to make the biggest jump in 2021.

What we’ve seen so far

Malik Harrison first burst onto the scene as a member of the Ohio State Buckeyes in 2018, wherein his first season as a full-time starter he compiled 81 tackles. Harrison was a brick wall for Urban Meyer’s defense and translated that over to a similarly successful 2019 with 75 tackles, 16.5 of which were behind the line of scrimmage.

Bleacher Report analyst Matt Miller’s draft profile featured Harrison as a pro comparison to former Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower. Miller also said he was “a blast to watch and is a wrecking ball against the run game.”

It’s hard to argue, given performances like the ones he had at Penn State in 2019 and vs Northwestern in 2018. Perhaps most promising is that those biggest performances came when the lights were on bright. Big Ten championships, ranked match-ups, no stage was too big for Malik Harrison at Ohio State.

Related Post: Baltimore Ravens: Ranking Depth at each position group

Harrison’s success in one of the toughest conferences in college football has already begun to translate to the pros. In 2020 we started to see his potential as his playing time increased. In week 8 at Indianapolis, Harrison was arguably the best player on the Ravens defense with 11 tackles. Two weeks later vs Tennessee, he recorded another 7 tackles and his first career tackle for loss.

Harrison’s biggest contributions came around the line of scrimmage. Harrison was everywhere, whether it was blowing up a screen pass or shading down the line of scrimmage to blow up zone runs. The Ravens team lineage is loaded with hard-hitting middle linebackers, and Harrison is next in line.

What we’ll see going forward

The middle linebackers will be relied on heavily in 2021 to help jam up the run game. This plays right into the biggest aforementioned strengths of Harrison’s game. The interior defensive line is still performing at a high level, but father time is undefeated. Calais Campbell is in the twilight of his career, and Brandon Williams is in the last year of his contract. Derek Wolfe re-signed earlier this off-season as well, but he’s no spring chicken either (with all due respect). Harrison taking a step forward this season will make the workload much more bearable for those older veterans.

Despite re-signing L.J. Fort earlier this off-season, the flashes we’ve seen have already warranted Harrison taking the bulk of the reps alongside Queen. Fort is a great rotational veteran to have, but Harrison is the future. His skill set will cause nightmares for opposing backs.

There are of course improvements still to be made in Harrison’s game. He’s never been known as a natural when it comes to dropping back in the pass. Another year under Wink Martindale’s watchful eye could certainly help in that department though, as could his variety of different schemes. Given the massive talent the Ravens have in the secondary, those deficiencies are easier to mask for now.

It’s no secret that the Ravens’ Super Bowl window is open now. They have one of the most electric talents in football at quarterback and numerous elite players around him. The 2020 Buccaneers defense surged towards a title thanks largely to the studs in the middle of their defense.

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens: Top 3 keywords for the 2021 season

The Ravens might just have their own version of that tandem in Harrison and Queen. If Malik Harrison can take yet another step forward in 2021, Baltimore’s championship dreams only become closer to reality.

Posted in Uncategorized

Baltimore Ravens: The best is yet to come for Anthony Averett

By Ronald Toothe

Coming into the 2021 season, the Baltimore Ravens secondary unit is one that is the envy of almost every other team across the league. With elite starting corners like Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters manning the outside, and young up-and-comers like Brandon Stephens and Shaun Wade looking to make their mark from the jump, there’s sure to be plenty of energy and excitement around this bunch. However, one man who you could say has been lost in the fold, however, could also be primed for his best season yet, is Anthony Averett.

Averett is coming off his most productive season yet for the Ravens, in which he started four games and accrued seven pass deflections. The prior two seasons in much more limited playing time he only combined for four total, which shows that he’s more than ready to take on an even bigger share of the workload, as he began to in 2020.

He’s yet to secure that first career interception, which is likely high up on his list of goals for this season as he continues to look for ways to make an impact. Averett also came close to doubling his number of tackles in 2020 as compared to 2019, which shows that he’s also no stranger to the physicality the Ravens love to have in their defensive backfield.

Breaking down the dollars

On top of his desire to help the Ravens win football games, the biggest factor that points to Anthony Averett gunning to be a strong defensive presence comes in the form of contracts, on numerous fronts. For starters, Averett is coming into the last year of his rookie deal with the team.

The Ravens drafted the aforementioned Stephens and Wade in April, which could be seen as them at least having a contingency in place should Averett be gone in 2022. The truth of the matter is though, Wink Martindale and company love having as much depth as possible in this facet of the team. A strong campaign in which he builds on the success we saw in 2020 could very well lead to the Ravens having no choice but to bring Averett back for a second, more lucrative deal.

The other contract aspect to keep an eye on in terms of Averett’s future is that of Jimmy Smith, who signed a one-year extension back in January and recently made it known that he won’t play anywhere else but Baltimore in his career. Smith has been one of the mainstays for the Ravens defense for almost a decade, but unfortunately, the injury bug is one he’s been unable to avoid for the majority of that tenure.

With 2021 potentially being his last year on the team, the Ravens would be smart to start planning who his successor will be at the third corner spot now. Giving Averett more consistent playing time in that role will show Martindale exactly what he has to offer, and whether or not he’s worthy of taking the said role.

Baltimore Ravens bottom line:

2021 is undoubtedly going to be the most important year of Anthony Averett’s career. In terms of the team respecting Jimmy Smith enough to give him every chance to lead the pack behind Humphrey and Peters, some aspects are entirely out of his control. However, what is in his control is how he performs in camp and how undeniable he makes himself in the eyes of the coaching staff and front office.

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens: Ranking Depth at each position group

There’s no question that Averett will receive a second contract in the league but in terms of where and for how much, well, that could be entirely up to him and his play. He can make a strong case for that to be in Baltimore, for much more money, if he takes another step forward in 2021.

Posted in Ravens Thoughts

What the Ravens signing Ja’Wuan James could mean moving forward

By Ronald Toothe

Earlier today, Adam Schefter reported that the Ravens have signed former Denver Broncos offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James to a two-year deal, worth up to $9 million dollars. While initially that number may seem a bit eye popping, this is a deal laden with incentives (as Ian Rapoport noted on the Pat Mcafee Show moments later). At it’s base, this deal looks much more like a two-year $3.5 million dollar payout.

James made headlines earlier this off-season after rupturing his Achilles away from the Broncos team facility. As a result, the team decided to release him and void his guarantees. While not an ideal ending in Denver, ultimately this move may benefit James by landing in Baltimore.

What does this mean for Ravens going forward?

The Ravens signing of James indicates that the offensive line is priority number one for Eric Decosta and company. James likely won’t see the field this year but could be a key cog going forward for that group. When healthy, James is one of the more talented tackles in the league. Even after signing Alejandro Villanueva earlier this off-season, tackle depth is one place where the Ravens could really use some help, now they have it.

This signing could also indicate how much the Ravens think Villanueva has left in the tank. While he still performed well for Pittsburgh over the last few seasons, the Ravens are preparing for all scenarios. Should a drop off occur at any point next season for the veteran tackle, the team now has an instant replacement to compete for his starting job in 2022.

Related Post: Ravens offensive line face lift key to 2021

This move also tells us one of two things about Tyre Phillips and the line depth in general. A.) He’s not the integral depth piece they thought he could be after being drafted in 2020. Or B.) Decosta is just looking to bring in as many talented players up front as possible.

After seeing what happened in Buffalo during January’s playoff loss, and the consistency issues overall following Ronnie Stanley’s injury, perhaps this move is one that says “injuries won’t be the reason we fail in the trenches”. The Ravens’ Super Bowl window is now, James helps assure one injury won’t derail an entire season for 2022 and potentially beyond.

There’s always a catch

On paper, this is a solid addition for the Ravens in the league’s most dynamic rushing offense. With almost every signing though, comes a risk factor. Ja’Wuan James has only played a full season twice in his career, with the last instance coming in 2016. He also played 15 games in 2018 but followed it up with a knee injury that cost him all but three games the following year.

In 2020, James opted out of the NFL season due to Covid concerns, and then came to the aforementioned Achilles tear this off-season. His last consistent stretch of playing football was almost three years ago, and every injury he’s dealt with recently has been a lower-body injury. James also missed half of 2017 with a hamstring injury.

These types of injuries are difficult for offensive linemen. Larger frames mean more strain on those body parts. The fact that they’re all different injuries causes a bit more concern as well. It’s more than appropriate to wonder what lower-body injury could be next for James.

Wrap up

Overall, and as always, only time will tell whether this was a smart move by the Ravens’ front office. Luckily, the financial risk involved is almost pennies on the dollar, so it’s a low risk-high reward.

NEXT POST: Gus Edwards has a chance to build his legacy

If Ja’Wuan James can stay healthy following his rehab, his career could be revitalized as a Raven. If not, well, no harm no foul.

Posted in Hot Take of the Week

Ravens are still the class of the AFC North

By Ronald Toothe

There’s a shift currently taking place in the AFC North. It’s a shift that has brought with it an influx of incredible young talent to all four teams over the last few seasons.

In Cleveland, it started with Myles Garrett in 2017 and continued with the addition of franchise cornerstones like Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, and Denzel Ward.

In Cincinnati, second-year QB Joe Burrow will have his chance to wreak havoc on opposing defenses with his old college teammate Ja’Marr Chase for years to come.

Even in Pittsburgh, despite their old guard slowly leaving piece by piece, they’ve managed to stay strong by drafting new stars like TJ Watt, Chase Claypool, and Diontae Johnson.

While the balance of power going forward could be as fragile as it’s ever been, fear not, for the AFC North will still be the Ravens division to win for years to come.

Of all the other three teams’ additions to their rosters since 2017, Eric Decosta and company have been right there with them every step of the way. For as much as the Flock can be frustrated at times when a player like Miles Boykin or Jaylon Ferguson doesn’t provide the immediate boost, we’d like, the hits have far outweighed the misses.

Marlon Humphrey, Tyus Bowser, Chuck Clark, Lamar Jackson, Mark Andrews, DeShon Elliott, Bradley Bozeman, Marquise Brown, Patrick Queen, J.K. Dobbins. All of these players have been drafted in the last four seasons. This is crazy to think about given how integral each one has been to the Ravens’ success already.

Ravens fans already know that this team has numerous different standard-bearers in place for the future though. The question is, how do they stack up with the rest of the division going forward?

Cleveland rocks?

Pundits on television and in print media have been quick to say that the Browns will be the kings of the north for years to come following 2020. The only problem with that hot take, is that we’ve heard it for going on four years now.

Cleveland has certainly taken monumental steps forward over these last few years and does deserve much more respect than they’ve garnered in the past, but a playoff win against a broken down Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t make them instant Super Bowl contenders or divisional favorites.

It’s hard to argue the talent the Browns have accrued over the last few seasons. Nick Chubb is in the conversation of the best pure running back in the league, and Myles Garrett has shown that he’s probably the best defender in football not named Aaron Donald.

Baker Mayfield really began to show why the Browns took him first overall in 2018 after last Thanksgiving as well, putting together the best stretch of his pro career thus far. He only threw one interception during that span, indicating that his gunslinger approach may be a much more calculated one going forward.

Paper vs. reality

Even despite all of the “on paper” talent the Browns have though, the current Mayfield-led iteration of the team still holds a 1-4 record vs the Lamar Jackson-led Ravens. Both of their key wins last season (vs Tennessee, vs Pittsburgh in the playoffs) were almost blown after getting out to huge leads early on in the ballgame.

They also stubbed their toe against lesser teams like the Raiders and Jets during what was still a crucial playoff push at the time, games where elite teams get the job done. Going forward the Browns will likely be the biggest thorn in the Ravens side, but anyone who says it’s their division to win is doing so just for the sake of the potential “I told you so”.

From LSU to Cincinnati, the new Tiger Kings?

The Bengals have a whole lot of work still left to do and more additions to make, but make no mistake about it, they’re not as far off as one would initially think. Their 2021 draft was quietly among the best in the league as of now (which is easy to say while players are still in shorts and helmets of course).

The free agent acquisition of Trey Hendrickson to pair alongside Joseph Ossai from Texas could be one of the most overlooked pass rush duos in football, but will certainly help what’s been a rough defensive unit for the Bengals over the last few seasons.

The major key to their success going forward will be keeping QB Joe Burrow upright. They began focusing on this with the drafting of Jackson Carman out of Clemson (along with two others later in the draft: D’Ante Smith and Trey Hill), who will provide some much needed protection for the young signal caller.

Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd could very well be the most well-rounded receiver group in the league down the line with a player like Burrow slinging the rock, they just need the time in the pocket to make it happen.

2021 likely isn’t the year the Bengals will be competing for a playoff position, but if Burrow is able to make it through the season and continue building what was already becoming great chemistry with the young guys around him, they’ll be far from the easy win on the schedule that we’ve come to know going forward.

Closing the Steel curtain on the old guard

Surprisingly enough, the team in the least enviable position in the AFC North going forward is the one that took home the divisional crown in 2020: the Steelers. Each AFC North team has their quarterback of the future, while Pittsburgh willingly signed up for another ride with a 39 year old coming off of total elbow reconstruction.

What was once one of the most feared offensive lines in football has become more and more a shell of itself over the last few seasons, with the biggest shifts coming this off-season. After the retiring of Maurkice Pouncey, and Alejandro Villanueva coming over to anchor the right side of the Ravens line, their current situation up front leaves much to be desired.

In an article for Trib Live, Chris Adamski writes,

“J.C. Hassenauer and B.J. Finney are options at center. Second-year player Kevin Dotson is penciled in as the new starter at left guard, and Zach Banner is expected to serve as the starting right tackle in 2021 despite never having started and finished an NFL game on the offensive line. Also, Chuks Okorafor is slated to take over for longtime starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who signed with the rival Baltimore Ravens. And another rookie, tackle Dan Moore, was added via a fourth-round draft pick.”

Now, it may be unfair to completely write off the linemen they have coming in given that most of them haven’t had the chance to step up. However, given the consistency they’ve had and the chemistry they built in the process over the last decade, it’s hard to be confident that a brand new group like this can keep Ben healthy through an extended season.

Other issues for the Steelers

Not to mention, they spent this year’s first round pick on a heck of a running back from Alabama in Najee Harris, but if the offensive line is causing him to meet defenders at the line of scrimmage on a regular basis it may as well still be James Conner back there.

The defense will still be among the better units in football, but even that side of the ball has seen its fair share of losses. Bud Dupree chose to head for greener pastures in Tennessee, Mike Hilton the same to Cincinnati, and Steven Nelson was deemed a cap casualty and released. They didn’t address those holes until day three of the draft, so it’ll take a mighty effort from Watt, Heyward, and company to replicate their prior success.

Wrap up

Overall the AFC North is improving in a lot of ways, but the Ravens have managed to stay ahead of that curve every step of the way. We’ve got some exciting divisional match-ups to look forward to in the coming years, and probably a lot of Sundays spent on the edge of our seats as a result.

NEXT POST: The Ravens don;t need Julio Jones to make it work

It wasn’t too long ago that people considered the AFC North to be the true class of the NFL, and should the new young crop of talent across the board live up to their full potential, it won’t be long before that again becomes a reality.

Posted in Uncategorized

2021 Baltimore Ravens: Camp battles

By Ronald Toothe

Ravens fans, before we dive into the meat and potatoes of this article, I’d first like to take a moment to express my thanks to Chris Schisler and my excitement in being here at the Purple and Black Nest.

How we got here

While all of us would’ve loved to continue growing the Ravens Flock community that we established at our old company, sometimes life doesn’t work out as you planned. Whether it’s in our professional lives or our personal lives, all we can do during our time on this floating rock in outer space is roll with the punches and embrace every new opportunity.

With that said, this new journey you’re all taking with us is one full of those opportunities. We now have the freedom to bring you all types of new, exciting Ravens content in a multitude of different mediums.

You’ll soon start seeing more and more familiar faces here at the Purple and Black Nest. People who only want to bring you what you deserve. That’s the BEST Baltimore football content consistently. So thank you all for sticking with us, the love we put into what we do has been exceeded only by the love shown to us by all of you over the last few weeks. The Ravens Flock truly is the best fan base in all of sports, and I for one can’t wait to see what the future holds.

The Ravens opened up their OTAs this week in force, with 80 players in attendance including former MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson. It’s clear that the team is highly focused on silencing the critics in 2021, and bringing another championship to Baltimore in the process.

The work truly starts now for the Ravens, and there’s bound to be plenty of storylines coming out of camp as we head into the Summer months. Many of those storylines will be in the form of positional battles for starting jobs, so let’s take a look at some of the key matchups fans should be keeping an eye on.

Left Guard: Ben Powers vs Ben Cleveland

Kicking things off is a battle of the big men to determine who will flank Ronnie Stanley on the left side of the offensive line.

At the end of last season, Ben Powers showed a lot of promise filling in after Stanley’s injury forced an offensive line reshuffle. The running game began to look even more like it did when it was smashing records in 2019, and Powers was a big part of that. Even given the massive human being who will be competing with him for the job, Powers will have every opportunity in camp to take the role as the incumbent.

Speaking of that massive human being, Ben Cleveland is a player that John Harbaugh has gone on record as saying was one of his favorites in this entire draft. A mean mauler with a physical stature only comparable to The Mountain in Game of Thrones, Cleveland spent his college career pushing defensive linemen around in the toughest conference in football at Georgia.

Now he has his shot to be a professional starter and do the same thing for Lamar Jackson and company, and the smart money would bank on him being the opening day starter for the Ravens.

Ravens Number 4 receiver/Number 2 slot: Devin Duvernay vs Tylan Wallace

This battle will likely stay the same whether the Ravens trade for Julio Jones or not, although the playing time that goes along with it will inevitably decrease in a pretty massive way.

Assuming the Ravens stick with who they have, Devin Duvernay will have stiff competition for a larger target share in this offense coming off his rookie year. His contributions in the return game were massive for Baltimore last year, finishing 9th in the league in kick return yards with a touchdown.

While that kind of production and potential assures he’ll have a role on the 2021 Ravens, it could also motivate the coaching staff to have him focus more exclusively on that role while giving their fourth-round draft pick the majority of the reps.

Tylan Wallace did a little bit of everything during his time as a member of the Oklahoma State Cowboys, but his skill set very much lends itself to that of a consistent slot receiver in the pros.

A scrappy competitor who runs crisp routes while displaying great body control, Wallace is just the type of receiver Lamar Jackson needs over the middle on those tough 3rd and 7 type scenarios late in ball games. He’s not the type of player who will break off 50-yard chunk plays consistently, but he’s more than capable of being an added security blanket for this offense.

Ravens Slot Corner: Tavon Young vs Shaun Wade

Tavon Young is coming off two straight season-ending injuries, but after signing the richest nickel corner contract in football just two years ago the Ravens will give Young every opportunity to maximize their investment in him. His talent is certainly undeniable, but the name of the game in 2021 for Tavon Young is not his ability, but his availability. As long as he can be out there on the field, he’ll likely be the clubhouse leader to take back his starting job.

Shaun Wade out of Ohio State would love nothing more than to usurp that position from Young though, as somebody who scouts thought would be an easy first-round selection heading into last season.

Wade had an up-and-down 2020. A combination of a turf toe injury and a switch to the outside corner position caused his stock to fall all the way into the fifth round. Make no mistake though, in his two seasons as the starting slot corner for the Buckeyes, Wade was the best player on the field more times than not. He has all the athletic potential in the world to translate that success to the next level. Tavon Young won’t be handed this job, and as his contract comes towards its end perhaps the Ravens would like to look to the future at the nickel.

Next Post: Nest Talk: Keep underselling the Ravens offense

As we head into the Summer months, more competitions are likely to take shape as the Ravens continue to build the 2021 team. These are just a few to really take note of as we progress through this week into the rest of the offseason team activities, and all three will be crucial to the success of the Ravens this year.