Baltimore Ravens Preseason 2021: Players to Watch

Baltimore Ravens Preseason

With just two weeks until NFL football returns, the Baltimore Ravens preseason is upon us. This year the preseason has been cut to three games instead of the usual four. This gives head coach John Harbaugh and company a lot to think about early in the season. The Ravens have a number of starting positions up for grabs and strong preseason showings could be the difference between a starting spot and a season on the practice squad.

If a lesser-known Raven wants to make an impact during the regular season, they usually have to start by doing it in the preseason. While there was no preseason due to COVID-19 in 2020, Baltimore will carry a four-year and 16-game winning streak into 2021. Baltimore’s last preseason loss came on September 3rd, 2015 when the Ravens dropped a 20-19 game to the Atlanta Falcons. The winning streak demonstrates a commitment to quality play and dedication to every game the Ravens play.

2021 is a huge year in Baltimore. General manager Eric DeCosta has assembled one of the most talented rosters in the league and is looking for his team to take the next step towards winning a Super Bowl. These are the most important players to watch during the 2021 Baltimore Ravens preseason.

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Six Players to Watch In Baltimore Ravens Preseason

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Rashod Bateman (Rookie) – Wide Receiver

It’s no secret the Ravens have struggled to find game-breaking receiver talent in the first round of the NFL Draft. In fact, they have long failed to develop receivers on their own no matter where they are picked. DeCosta selected Bateman with the 27th-overall pick this past year with the hope of bucking that trend. The former Golden Gopher was named Big 10 receiver of the year in 2019 and will be relied upon early to make an impact in the passing game.

First and foremost, Bateman actually has to play in the preseason for a proper early-season evaluation. After being selected 26th-overall in 2015, Breshad Perriman was not able to play a single preseason game due to a lingering knee injury. The injury lasted deep into the regular season and ended with Perriman missing the entirety of his rookie season. Due to a mix of injuries and inconsistent play, he was never able to break in with the Ravens and live up to his draft first-round status. Marquise Brown also had a rough start to his Ravens career. He suffered a foot injury in Oklahoma’s Big 12 Championship victory in 2018 and missed his first two preseason games due to the lengthy recovery process. Brown had a great rookie season despite the foot injury lingering throughout the entirety of 2019.

DeCosta brought in a ton of receiving talent this past off-season but a strong preseason showing by Bateman would go a long way — even if it is just by staying on the field. Ravens’ wide receivers dropped the highest percentage of balls in 2020 and quarterback Lamar Jackson needs more consistent targets.

Josh Oliver (Third year) – Tight End

Since the selections of Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews in the 2018 NFL Draft, tight end has been a position of great strength for the Ravens. Baltimore’s run-heavy scheme is heavily reliant on two-tight end sets and the ability to physically outmatch their opponents. Andrews has caught the most passes of any Raven since Jackson took over at quarterback in 2018.

Oliver comes over from the Jacksonville Jaguars in an effort to get a second chance at a prominent role in the NFL. Since trading Hurst to the Falcons during the 2020 off-season, the Ravens have been desperately looking for a third-string tight end. Hurst’s 457 offensive snaps from 2019 were spread between Andrews and Nick Boyle in 2020 but when Boyle got hurt, the Ravens desperately needed a player (or multiple players) to fill an incredibly vital role in their offense.

Oliver may not be an established name but he has the potential to be a high-quality third-string tight end for the Ravens. His natural athleticism at 6’5″ could make him a mismatch over the middle of the field and his ball skills make him an easy target in traffic. He has only seen 117 offensive snaps in his career after missing all of 2020 due to injury but could see a lot of usage in the preseason. If he makes some splash plays with his targets, Oliver could be a valuable player in 12 or 13 personnel.

Ben Powers (Third year), Ben Bredeson (Second year), Ben Cleveland (Rookie) – Guard

Starting left guard will be the most important training camp battle for Baltimore going into next season. Bradley Bozeman started each of the Ravens 16 games in 2020 at left guard but will now shift to center — the position he played in college. This leaves Bozeman’s old spot wide open and up for grabs amongst a number of young players.

Powers, Bredeson, and Cleveland will all compete for the job during the Ravens preseason. Powers and Bredeson were both fourth-round picks in 2019 and 2020, and Cleveland was a third-round pick this past April. All three should see a similar amount of snaps in the preseason and will have a chance to start Week 1 against the Las Vegas Raiders.

While Powers should be the favorite to win the job, he is not a lock by any stretch. He started the Ravens final nine games of the 2020 season at right guard but struggled at times in pass protection. The transition to left guard may be an advantage as the majority of Powers’ starts at Oklahoma came at left guard. However, Cleveland should be pushing Powers for the job. He is the most physically imposing of the ‘Bens’ and was very solid in pass protection at Georgia. Bredeson may be a long shot to win the job out of camp but could make the decision very difficult with a good preseason.

Ar’Darius Washington (Rookie) – Safety

The Ravens already have their two starting safeties locked in for 2021. Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliot should reclaim their starting spots from 2020 but the backup safety positions are up for grabs. Anthony Levine and Jordan Richards should make the Ravens 53-man but offer more value as special teamers.

Washington is one of the most intriguing Ravens entering training camp. He was a UDFA signing following the 2021 NFL Draft but was projected by many analysts to go as high as the second round. DeCosta snatched Washington up early post-draft and could be looking to reap the dividends as early as next season. At 5’7 1/2″ 178 lbs, his size likely kept him from being drafted. However, Washington still has great physicality, football IQ, and ball skills.

The Ravens streak of 16 straight seasons keeping at least one UDFA ended last season (with no preseason) but Washington has the best chance of making the roster amongst Baltimore’s UDFAs. He has nickel flexibility and Don Martindale likes players who can do a lot of things. Washington should see reps in multiple alignments this preseason.

Preseason Competitiveness

The preseason may seem meaningless but high-quality play can help set a standard for the Baltimore Ravens. NFL head coaches demand a lot from their players and few coaches reward hard work like John Harbaugh. The Ravens 16-game preseason winning streak shows a commitment to competitiveness. Since the beginning of their streak in 2016, Baltimore has not gone under .500 during a full regular season. They have the fifth-most wins in the NFL over that same time span.

Preseason wins may not count for much but good efforts in the preseason have been one of the reasons the Ravens have had so much success over the last five years. If the players listed above want to have an impact on the regular season, a good preseason performance should set a great standard to follow.

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