Whither now, Baltimore?
The 2023 NFL offseason appears eerily similar to the 2022 NFL offseason for the Ravens, albeit with fewer injuries and roster positions to flesh out. The lingering issue of QB Lamar Jackson’s will-he-or-won’t-he contract status remains unresolved while the team and Jackson supposedly negotiate for Jackson’s professional future. This obviously stands to impact the rest of the roster financially, so team officials have been loath to offer any details about those negotiations and how they’re proceeding. The team has a number of other free agents to address, including several older potential cap cuts and dwindling holdovers, and it appears their work is just beginning.
It’s been well-established that the Ravens struggle when Jackson isn’t available, and that was again supported with reams of evidence in 2022. Jackson missed the final five games of the season with a PCL sprain, forcing the team to again turn to backup QB Tyler Huntley, whose mostly-underwhelming performances did little to excite any fan optimism while generating a 2-3 record and adding a playoff loss to his resume. The Ravens fared better at RB, as injury returnees J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards resumed activity and provided some much-needed ground support. Backup RBs Justice Hill and Kenyon Drake came through in some clutch moments, particularly Drake, who added life to a few lifeless fourth quarters and converted many key third downs. The wide receiver room was nearly a bust overall, as presumed #1 WR Rashod Bateman lasted only seven games and 15 catches before again being placed on IR, lending credence to the idea that Baltimore first round-drafted wideouts are destined for failure. WR/KR Devin Duvernay added some key moments, but most of his contributions were felt in the return game until he too ended his season on IR in Week 16. WR Demarcus Robinson, a training camp pickup, was the team’s most productive wideout, with 48 receptions – proof positive the Ravens need to (again) do something to address the position. TE Mark Andrews posted another excellent year with 73 catches and 5 TDs to lead the team, and rookie TE Isaiah Likely added 36 catches in a solid first effort. The offensive line was much healthier and productive in 2022, with rookie C Tyler Linderbaum proving to be as good as his pre-draft reports indicated and LT Ronnie Stanley finally returning to form after nearly two years of inactivity.
A tale of two seasons, really – analysts can look at the Ravens defense before the addition of ILB Roquan Smith in Week 9, or after, when nearly every defensive metric for the team improved significantly. Prior to Week 9, the defense had surrendered four fourth-quarter leads, all leading to losses, with most of the blame falling on a defense that appeared fully off balance, unable to rush the passer or stop the run effectively, and with poor scheming and deployment issues. After Smith’s acquisition, run support became almost an afterthought, as Smith collected 162 total tackles, 3 INTs and 4.5 sacks in a potential Defensive Player of the Year effort had the team progressed further in the playoffs. The defensive line struggled after an injury to DT Michael Pierce in Week 3 ended his season, but seemed to again pull it together after Smith arrived, mostly on the back of venerable DE Calais Campbell, who again showed his willingness to contribute to the team in any way possible. DT Justin Madubuike posted his best year in Pierce’s absence, and rookie DT Travis Jones appears primed to break out in his second year. Aside from Smith, the LB corp was mixed. MLB Patrick Queen proved more valuable as a “JOAT” (Jack of All Trades) LB by lining up at any LB position at any time and using his trademark speed to disrupt numerous plays in the backfield (9 tackles for loss). Edge rushers Odafe Oweh, Tyus Bowser and David Ojabo alternately disappointed and shined in spots, but the best pass rusher on the team was again veteran OLB Justin Houston with 9.5 sacks. The secondary improved significantly over 2021, with CB Marlon Humphrey returning to Pro Bowl form and injured CB Marcus Peters’ return to the lineup. Free Agent S Marcus Williams was excellent in limited play, leading the team with four INTs in ten games, and rookie S Kyle Hamilton showed steady improvement all season, creating expectations he’ll seize the starting role from veteran Chuck Clark in training camp, assuming Clark isn’t released or traded prior to then. Depth was again an issue in the secondary at times, particularly at CB, and the Ravens are expected to address this prominently in the 2023 draft.
Perennial Pro Bowl K Justin Tucker has run out of accolades at this point. Given his track record of excellence and eventual Hall of Fame berth, there’s little left to say. Rookie P Jordan Stout was somewhat inconsistent, but showed the leg strength and directional kicking ability that made the team acquire him in the first place. KR/PR Devin Duvernay was excellent until his injury in Week 15, adding a kickoff return for TD and establishing good field position for the at-times challenged offense.
Unclear. As mentioned above, much depends on Jackson’s contract status. The Ravens still need to ensure a solid draft, as they can afford few mistakes in a potentially depth-stripped roster. GM Eric DeCosta has no shortage of difficult decisions to make.