The Baltimore Ravens have been one of the best teams at developing in-house talent since being established as a franchise in 1996. Prior to the 2021 NFL Draft, the Ravens had the highest percentage of rostered homegrown talent in the entire NFL. Success in the NFL directly correlates to your ability to find impact players in the draft and general manager Eric DeCosta and former Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome have become specialists at modern-day roster building. Having your draft picks become stars is the first natural step in building a contender, and the Ravens have several young players ready for a breakout season.
The simplest example of a breakout Raven is the jump quarterback Lamar Jackson made from 2018 to 2019. As a rookie, Jackson struggled as a passer despite winning six of his eight starts. His ability to run the ball was never in question but he took his play to another level in 2019. In Jackson’s second season, he improved his passing mechanics and led the NFL in passing touchdowns. Head coach John Harbaugh’s commitment to building the offense around Jackson that season set the stage for his quarterback to become maybe the most exciting player in the NFL. He won a unanimous MVP award and helped the Ravens to their best regular-season record in franchise history.
While no one expects a Raven not named Lamar Jackson to win an MVP, Harbaugh will be hoping for a number of players to take the next step in their development next season. These are four breakout candidates for the Baltimore Ravens in 2021.
Four Baltimore Ravens Breakout Candidates
J.K. Dobbins – Running Back
Dobbins is the most obvious breakout candidate for the Ravens next season. As a rookie, he broke numerous rookie rushing records in Baltimore including the rookie touchdown record, and had the most consecutive games with a rushing touchdown in franchise history. Dobbins also led all NFL running backs with at least 100 rushes in yards per carry (6.0 yards per attempt) and trailed only Alvin Kamara in yards per touch amongst running backs. The Ravens have now upgraded their offensive line around Dobbins and he could establish himself as one of the most productive running backs in the NFL next season. He is in a perfect offense that caters to his strength and has the buffer of defenses largely planning to stop Lamar Jackson in offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s run-heavy scheme.
The reason Dobbins is an easy choice to breakout is that he will almost certainly see an increased workload in 2021. Mark Ingram, now a Houston Texan, will vacate 160 snaps in Baltimore’s offense and the majority of those touches should go to Dobbins. In his final six regular-season games of 2020, the rookie running back averaged 82.5 rushing yards, 6.43 yards per attempt, and found the end zone seven times. The recently extended Gus Edwards will still handle short-yardage situations but he does not bring the same versatility that Dobbins does out of the backfield. Baltimore’s run game is the engine of their offense and Dobbins has a chance to ascend into stardom if he has a breakout season in 2021.
J.K. DOBBINS HAVE A DAY pic.twitter.com/sbG0VGGaeU
— PFF College (@PFF_College) January 3, 2021
Devin Duvernay – Wide Receiver
No other receiver on the Ravens has been talked about in the same light as Duvernay over the past two years. Since Harbaugh’s draft night reaction to the Ravens selecting Duvernay, Baltimore’s coaching staff has been very high on the former Longhorn wide receiver. He is already seeing positive reviews during off-season training early in 2021 and is a very popular candidate to emerge as an impact receiver this coming season. With Willie Snead leaving in free agency, the Ravens slot receiver role is vacated and Duvernay will have every chance to take the job.
As a rookie, Duvernay saw action as both a receiver and a returner. His most memorable play came against the Kansas City Chiefs Week 3 when he took a kickoff return 93-yards to the house for his first NFL touchdown. He finished the season with 20 receptions, 201 receiving yards while rushing the ball four times for 70 yards. Duvernay also returned 21 kickoffs with an average of 27.5 yards per return. Roman featured the rookie in the slot, on sweeps, and on screens, however he was seldomly used. His 347 total offensive snaps played only accounted for 34 percent of the offense’s total snaps.
Expect to see Duvernay’s usage increase and his production take a big leap. He is incredibly quick and has the safe hands over the middle teams look for in a trusted slot receiver. Snead saw the field on 535 offensive snaps and those reps are currently Duvernays for the taking. If Roman wants to add another dimension to the Ravens offense, Duvernay is a perfect multi-tool to utilize.
Devin Duvernay led the country in broken tackles on screens😳pic.twitter.com/U7Zdfd6tyP
— PFF College (@PFF_College) March 17, 2020
Patrick Queen – Linebacker
The Ravens first-round pick in 2020 was seen as an easy choice to compete for the Defensive rookie of the Year award last season. However, he had a somewhat up and down year. The traditional stats for Queen were good as a rookie but he mightly struggled in a number of areas. His pass coverage snaps were his biggest issue. Queen finished the season seeing 54 targets in coverage and allowed a completion percentage of 75.9 and a passer rating of 104.4. He also had a problem bringing players down with a suspect 16.5 missed tackle percentage despite making 106 total tackles on the season.
While there were negatives from his first season as a rookie, he made a number of splash plays and showed the dynamic defensive playmaking ability that made him so appealing coming out of LSU. His three forced turnovers (one interception, two forced fumbles) showed his nose for the ball while his three sacks and 10 quarterback hits showed his ability to get to the quarterback on the blitz.
The transition was always going to be difficult for Queen as just a one-year starter in college but he now has the chance to come back to a defense that is relying on him to take the next step. He played 80 percent (858) of the Ravens defensive snaps in 2020 and should naturally improve in 2021 simply by becoming more familiar with the league. Queen has shown he has all of the tools to become the Ravens next great middle linebacker. Now it’s time to put them together in his second full NFL season.
Fruit punch house call!
The chip on @Patrickqueen_’s shoulder grows ever bigger, sleep on him now at your own peril.
It’ll be a mistake. #RavensFlock pic.twitter.com/8AYHpCC4sE
— Nic Mason (@British_Raven19) June 6, 2021
Anthony Averett – Cornerback
Unlike the other players on this list, Averett was not drafted in 2020. In fact, he was actually drafted three seasons ago in 2018 and is playing for a contract in 2021. Averett was selected in the fourth round of the 2018 draft but has probably not seen the field as much as he would’ve liked to this point in his career. He played just 71 snaps as a rookie but has seen his snaps increase every year since entering the league. His 354 defensive snaps, four starts, and 11 games played in 2020 were all new career highs for Averett. 2021 could now be the season in which Averett establishes himself as a regular in the NFL.
The Ravens secondary is one of the deepest in the entire NFL but has dealt with a ton of injuries in 2021. 10 different cornerbacks saw the field for the Ravens in 2021 with Averett being one of the casualties from Week 8 to Week 12. He was also scratched Week 14 against the Cleveland Browns and saw no defensive snaps in the Ravens Wild Card game against the Tennessee Titans. However, with Jimmy Smith soon to be 33 years old and Tavon Young often injured, someone may need to step up in the Ravens cornerback group if the unit thins out.
Averett may not be your prototypical breakout candidate but there is a chance the Ravens end up heavily depending on him improving his play next season. He only allowed one touchdown this past season but simultaneously allowed 33 receptions on just 44 targets and a passer rating of 105.6. If Averett wants to cash in on a contract season, he needs to step up for the Ravens next year.
Quantifying a Breakout Season
Determining what a breakout season is can be tough to measure but an easy variable to quantify is when a player makes their first Pro Bowl. Each of Lamar Jackson, Mark Andrews, and Orlando Brown Jr. made the Pro Bowl as second-year starters in 2019. All three then became synonymous with the identity of the Ravens and have become some of the best players in the NFL at their respective positions. If the Ravens make the jump back to powerhouse in 2021, it will likely because one or more of their younger players breakout and see major improvements in their production.
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