New Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald Has a 'Ton of Work to Do'
The hiring of new Ravens Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald was announced last night, and reaction is still rolling in.
Here's some of the instant analysis:
"All in all, the hiring of Macdonald is a great one for Baltimore," RavensWire's Kevin Oestreicher wrote. "The Ravens interviewed a plethora of good candidates for their defensive coordinator position, but Macdonald feels like the right choice."
As Smolka noted, Macdonald is taking over a unit that has a rich tradition, but also one that is in transition.
"Unlike many of the previous Ravens defensive coordinators, Macdonald isn't inheriting a star-studded defense well stocked with Pro Bowlers and dotted with a future Hall of Famer or two," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "The Ravens have Pro Bowl-caliber corners coming off season-ending injuries in [Marlon] Humphrey and Marcus Peters, a few talented young players still trying to gain their footing in the NFL in [Patrick] Queen, Odafe Oweh and Justin Madubuike, and questions at all three levels of their defense.
"The Ravens' defensive tradition makes this a coveted job, but there is a ton of work to do. [Head Coach] Harbaugh is taking a leap of faith that Macdonald will be able to pull it all together."
Zrebiec said a defensive overhaul feels like a must for the Ravens to get back to being one of the AFC's top teams.
"The Ravens have grown old in certain spots and lack depth and elite playmaking ability in others," Zrebiec wrote. "With a list of free agents that includes Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, Justin Houston, Pernell McPhee, L.J. Fort, Anthony Averett, Jimmy Smith and DeShon Elliott and a few potential salary-cap cuts as well, it's all but certain the Ravens defense will have a decidedly new look in 2022."
That said, Zrebiec doesn't expect the Ravens' defensive philosophy to change under Macdonald, who joined the Ravens as an intern in 2014 and spent six seasons as a defensive assistant before working specifically with defensive backs and then inside linebackers.
"Harbaugh is an ardent believer in maintaining an aggressive defense," Zrebiec wrote. "Macdonald will undoubtedly have his own wrinkles and ways of doing things, but he's spent much of his coaching career in Baltimore. Those factors don't foreshadow a dramatic shift in scheme and style."
Macdonald, 34, returns to Baltimore after a highly successful one-year stint as Michigan defensive coordinator under Jim Harbaugh. In Macdonald, the Ravens are getting a rapid riser in the coaching ranks who has earned a reputation as a quick study, superb communicator and innovative thinker.
"Still, there is an obvious risk factor involved in the Macdonald hire that shouldn't be dismissed. He has exactly one year of defensive coordinator experience, and that was at the college level," Zrebiec wrote. "As good as things went for Michigan last year - Macdonald was part of a defensive turnaround that helped yield a long-awaited victory over Ohio State and a berth in the College Football Playoff - he's taking a significant step forward.
"You couldn't have blamed Harbaugh if he went with a more veteran hand during what's an extremely important time for the organization. That he didn't shows just how much belief he has in Macdonald's coaching potential."
Could Michigan Edge Rush Prospect Be Reunited With Macdonald and Oweh?
Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski named one surprise prospect that each team could target in the upcoming draft. For the Ravens, it's Michigan edge rusher David Ojabo.
Sobleski explained that selecting Ojabo would be a surprise because upgrading the offensive line figures to be the Ravens' top priority.
However, would Ojabo really be a surprise considering his ties to the Ravens? If Ojabo was drafted by Baltimore, he'd see two familiar faces in Macdonald and Oweh.
Ojabo thrived in Macdonald's system last season, recording 11 sacks and 12 tackles for loss in 13 games. Ojabo and Oweh, who both are of Nigerian descent, were high school teammates at Blair Academy.
"Ojabo presents immense potential as a fantastic athlete still learning his trade," Sobleski wrote. "His fluidity off the edge is as good as anyone in the class, which could drive him up draft boards. If the Michigan product is still available with the 14th overall pick, he'll probably be too tempting not to select."
Ravens' Acquisition of Kevin Zeitler Named One of 2021's Best Free Agent Signings
Pro Football Focus named the best and worst free agent signings of 2021, and the Ravens' acquisition of veteran guard Kevin Zeitler was among the best.
Zeitler, 31, signed a three-year deal reportedly worth $22 million in March. He proved to be a stabilizing presence on an offensive line beset with injuries and inconsistency, as he started all 17 games.
Zeitler, who played with the Bengals, Browns and Giants before coming to Baltimore, said last month that he believes this was the best season of his career.
"Zeitler had been one of the better guards in the league for the Bengals and Cleveland Browns before a stint in New York caused him to hit free agency after the worst season of his career," PFF's Sam Monson wrote. "The Ravens relied on the experience of facing him for years within the AFC North and signed him to a three-year contract, where he bounced back immediately to something akin to his career baseline.
"Zeitler finished the season with a 76.4 PFF grade - more than 10 grading points higher than his last year in New York. He allowed one sack and 17 pressures all season and was a significant upgrade on a line that was trending in the wrong direction."
Rashod Bateman Is Ravens' Top Candidate to Break Out In 2022
Rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman showed flashes during an injury-shortened season of why the Ravens made him their top 2021 pick, so it's no surprise that PFF named him as Baltimore's top candidate to have a breakout season in 2022.
"Bateman attacked the ball in contested scenarios in college, and that translated to the NFL - he caught 10 of his 15 such targets as a rookie," PFF's Anthony Treash wrote. "The 2021 first-round pick has stated how the 'IQ of the game' was the biggest adjustment for him his first year in the NFL. Bateman had a tough time effectively separating on the outside in the NFL, but given his collegiate dominance with his releases and route-running, there's reason to believe he takes a big jump in 2022 with a clean bill of health and stable quarterback situation."
Russell Street Report's Taylor Lyons also thinks Bateman is in line for a breakout in 2022. Lyons is predicting Bateman reaches 1,000 receiving yards next season.
"Bateman racked up 515 yards on 46 catches in 12 games as a rookie. That's roughly a 730-yard pace over 17 games, but that includes games with zero, one and two catches. I'm willing to bet those don't happen in year two," Lyons wrote. "Not to mention he was working his way back from groin surgery after missing most of his rookie training camp and preseason, which would have been valuable."
Devonta Freeman Was Ravens' Unsung Hero
There's no question the Ravens missed running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, who both suffered season-ending injuries in the preseason.
However, veteran Devonta Freeman did a solid job after signing with the Ravens several days before their season opener. NFL.com's Nick Shook named Freeman as the Ravens' unsung hero.
Freeman, 29, a two-time former Pro Bowler, was coming off a season with the Giants in which he was limited to five games due to a high ankle sprain and hamstring injury. He finished the season with 172 yards rushing and a career-low 3.2 yards per carry.
In 16 games with the Ravens, Freeman led the team's running backs with 576 yards and posted his best per-carry average (4.3 yards) in a season with at least 100 attempts since 2017.
"Baltimore benefitted from Freeman's relative resurgence, watching him gain 13 first downs against stacked boxes (per Next Gen Stats) and keeping its offense alive despite the losses," Shook wrote. "Freeman even scored a game-winning touchdown in Chicago that helped the Ravens stay in the playoff race at the time. Freeman's far from the Pro Bowl talent he was in Atlanta, but he can still contribute, playing an important part in Baltimore's banged-up offense in 2021."