AFC North Preview – Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens entered the 2023 offseason coming off a second consecutive frustrating finish to their season. Lamar Jackson’s late-season availability was a huge reason for both of those disappointing finishes. Lamar finally got his money despite that, locking him in as Baltimore’s franchise quarterback. Greg Roman has also been shown the door to the delight of many Baltimore fans. This Ravens season preview will assess if the moves they made were enough to get back to postseason success.
Draft Analysis: B
It was well-known going into the offseason that Lamar Jackson was unhappy with his receiver situation. The Ravens promptly took Zay Flowers in the 1st round, in what was presumably an attempt to appease their quarterback. Flowers is an intriguing receiving prospect, who plays much more physically than his small stature would suggest. His tape on the perimeter shines, where he can showcase his straight-line speed and ability to set defenders up at the top of his routes. Flowers is somewhat reminiscent of a young Steve Smith; he looks like a slot receiver but plays like an alpha. Early reports, however, are that Baltimore plans to utilize Flowers primarily out of the slot instead of out wide. Leave it to the Ravens to misuse a promising young receiver taken in the 1st round. Jordan Addison, who went the very next pick, would have made more sense if Baltimore was desperate for a slot man.
Getting Trent Simpson late in the 3rd round may end up being one of the steals in the draft. Simpson is a new-age linebacker that can cover and chase down ball carriers in space. The Ravens got a great scheme fit that solidifies a position that was already a roster strength. Building such an identity in the NFL contributes more to winning than simply being adequate at every position. The rest of the class was the normal array of depth picks that likely won’t make an early impact. This class gets a solid grade, with the potential for more if Flowers is schemed up correctly.
Season Outlook: 10-7 (Wild Card)
There are quite a few red flags in terms of the direction the Ravens are heading on offense. When Baltimore was clicking early in Lamar’s career, they used the biggest offensive line in the league and Lamar’s otherworldly rushing ability to pummel smaller defenses that had been designed to stop the NFL’s plethora of pass-heavy offenses. Lamar’s passing efficiency ballooned in that period due to defenses having to play 9 in the box with a spy. At no point though has the tape suggested that Lamar is truly even close to a league average pocket passer.
Lamar has now gotten to that point in his career where he can publicly dictate how he wants to play even if it’s not necessarily the style that would make him successful. He got Baltimore to fire Greg Roman in favor of Todd Monken. Monken last coordinated in the NFL under the legendary Freddie Kitchens, never forget. The Ravens also allocated a large portion of their available funds to bring in a potentially washed Odell Beckham Jr. This feels eerily like what transpired in Denver a season ago with Russell Wilson calling the shots. The Ravens are betting everything over the next few seasons that Lamar can “cook” with the ingredients he requested.
At other positions on offense, the Ravens have a very talented starting unit on paper. The offensive line should benefit from a fully healthy Ronnie Stanley returning to form. Ben Cleveland at left guard is really the only position of concern on an otherwise stout offensive line. At the skill positions, Baltimore is still waiting for JK Dobbins to take that next step as a franchise back. He once again showed flashes at the end of last season but needs to finally put a full campaign together. Mark Andrews at tight end continues to anchor the Ravens receiving corps, despite investing heavily at receiver in the offseason. It will be worth watching to see if the Ravens start to force the ball away from Andrews in 2023 in hopes of appeasing their new stable of wideouts.
The best group of off-ball linebackers in the NFL lead the Ravens defensively. Adding Simpson to a unit that features Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen further fuels that identity. If that wasn’t enough sideline-to-sideline coverage, Baltimore also features Kyle Hamilton emerging as a do-it-all safety. A solid corner group, led by All-Pro Marlon Humphrey, rounds out a great secondary.
If there is a question on defense, it’s where the pass rush is going to come from. Justin Madubuike leads returning defenders with an uninspiring 2022 sack total of 5.5. Baltimore seemingly did nothing this offseason to address the issue either. They must be hoping that David Ojabo can make an immediate impact in what is essentially his rookie season following a pre-draft injury or that Odafe Oweh finally makes good on his immense potential. If Baltimore finds a semblance of a pass rush, this unit should be a top 5 defense in the league.
Post Schedule Release Prediction: 7-10
This underwhelming simulation came down to having very little faith in the direction of Baltimore’s new-look offense. The AFC is so deep top-to-bottom that even an upper-echelon defense doesn’t guarantee an above .500 finish. Baltimore is going to have to consistently score points. John Harbaugh probably deserves more credit in terms of his ability to keep Lamar and the offense on track, but all the rumblings in the media make it sound like this is Lamar Jackson’s team now. Using Denver from last season as a comp, that likely won’t be a good thing.
**The post-schedule release prediction is based on a single simulation, with each game on the schedule picked only once. Difficult schedules to begin a season tend to lead to higher deviations between the season outlook and simulation results. Take a hypothetical team projected to have a season outlook of 8-9. If that team projects to start 1-5 due to a brutal opening stretch, it can derail their whole season. Coaches on losing teams tend to lose locker rooms faster and players on those teams tend to lose motivation. Teams that play an underachieving team later in a season, would likewise get a boost in their win rate.
Main Photo: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports