by Garrett Downing & Ryan Mink
Downing: The defense was the strength of the team last year, particularly at the end of the season after the trade for linebacker Roquan Smith. The unit has lost some valuable players this offseason in defensive end Calais Campbell and safety Chuck Clark. Last year's sack leader, Justin Houston, and starting cornerback, Marcus Peters, also remain unsigned, and it's unknown if they'll ultimately land back in Baltimore. The Ravens have to replace the production of some key pieces, and they'll be counting on second-year players such as Kyle Hamilton, Travis Jones, and David Ojabo to take on additional responsibility in their second seasons. Baltimore's defense finished last year ranked as the No. 11 defense in the league (324.3 yards per game allowed), but the unit was the third-best in the league after the addition of Smith (288.8 ypg). My expectation this year is for the defense to be somewhere between those two rankings. This is still an incredibly talented defense that can be a top-10 unit, and that's where I expect it to fall.
Baltimore's offense ranked No. 16 in the NFL last year (338.8 ypg), and the group was able to do that without Lamar Jackson for the final five games of the season. With Jackson and Rashod Bateman healthy, the additions of wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers, and Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken now at the helm, I think the Ravens will have a top-10 offense this season. They'll put up more yards and be more of a high-flying offense than we've seen the past few seasons. With Jackson signed, a talented backfield, a dangerous group of receivers, and one of the best tight ends in football, the Ravens have all the tools to be a top-five offense.
My prediction is for the Ravens to have a top-10 offense and defense this year, but for the offense to finish a notch or two higher in the final rankings.
Mink: I agree that Flowers will have the biggest impact of anyone in the rookie class. As for the second biggest, I'll go with the team's second draft pick, linebacker Trenton Simpson.
While Patrick Queen will remain the starter next to Smith, and Queen is in position to have another strong season, Simpson will carve out a role. What that will look like exactly remains to be seen, but I expect that Baltimore will use him some as a blitzer, perhaps even off the edge, and in some coverage situations. The Ravens used Malik Harrison on 23% of the defensive snaps last year. While Simpson is a different player than Harrison, he could have a similar helping of snaps on his rookie plate.
The Ravens do have a need for more pass rush help, particularly someone who can reduce and rush from the defensive line. That would suit fourth-round pick Tavius Robinson well, considering he stood up and put his hand in the dirt at Ole Miss. However, I think Simpson is a little more ready to contribute immediately after starring at Clemson the past three years.
Downing: Yes, I certainly think it's possible that the Ravens will not have a wide receiver top 1,000 receiving yards. Over the last five years, the Ravens have only had one wide receiver top 1,000, which was Marquise Brown in 2021. Tight end Mark Andrews also topped 1,000 receiving yards in the 2021 season, setting the single-season franchise record with 1,361 receiving yards. The Ravens will likely throw the ball more with Monken, which will give the pass catchers more opportunities to put up big numbers. But with the offseason additions of Beckham, Flowers and Nelson Algholor, the Ravens also have more weapons than in past years, and there's only one football.
If the Ravens end up without a 1,000-yard receiver, that doesn't mean the offense will struggle. The group could just share the wealth. It's difficult right now to predict who will lead the team in receiving yards, and a big piece of that depends on the health of Beckham and Bateman. The Ravens have more weapons at their disposal with this receiving corps, and Jackson is excited to spread the ball around to his talented group of targets.
Mink: Just when we thought the DeAndre Hopkins to the Ravens buzz was dead, it was given new life this week when Hopkins said it would "be an honor" to play with Jackson and listed him among the quarterbacks he'd love to catch passes from.
However, that's all just talk. It doesn't seem like a forgone conclusion that Hopkins goes anywhere this offseason, and I don't think Baltimore would be the landing spot anymore after the other moves at the position. As Garrett just said, the Ravens already have so many targets to spread the ball to.
While I think Hopkins is a fantastic player, I think he would be a very expensive luxury item at this point and I wouldn't want some of the other receivers, such as Flowers, to get buried behind another veteran. The Ravens already spent a lot of capital, both in free agency and the draft, to upgrade at wide receiver. Let's enjoy what we have.