AFC North - Baltimore Ravens
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Round 1 – Wide receiver, Marquise Brown, Oklahoma
Round 3a – Defensive end, Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech
Round 3b – Wide receiver, Miles Boykin, Notre Dame
It is perhaps fitting that the same year the Pittsburgh Steelers lose Antonio Brown, his cousin arrives in Baltimore as their first-round draft pick. An explosive receiver with great speed and agility, Marquise Brown has the potential to become a true playmaker for a team that has struggled at the position for some time. And while some experts are concerned by his relative lack of strength and slight frame, Brown should be an opening day starter as long as the Lisfranc injury he suffered late in 2018 does not hinder him too much during training camp.
Louisiana Tech defensive end Jaylon Ferguson would end his college career as the NCAA’s all-time leader in sacks with 45, a record formerly held by iconic Baltimore outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, and that level of production is hard to ignore regardless of the standard of competition he faced. How well he will fare against NFL caliber offensive lineman remains to be seen, but he should get his opportunities to make plays as part of the rotation up front. And for all the question marks surrounding his athleticism, his strong hands will serve him well. He may need some time to adjust to the professional ranks, but he should still see action on passing down in 2019.
At 6-foot-4 and around 220 pounds, Miles Boykin has the potential to become a significant matchup problem. Recording a faster 40-time than many expected at the NFL Scouting Combine, Boykin tested well in all areas, even if those traits did not always show up on game day. Blessed with great hands, the young receiver will need to work on his route running and his ability to create separation if he is to become an elite player, but the lack of viable receiving options in Baltimore should mean he will see more than his fair share of snaps as a rookie.
The Ravens were hit by several notable losses this offseason following the departure of pass rushers Za’Darius Smith and long-time veteran Terrell Suggs, as well as inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Eric Weddle. Not only were these players major contributors on defense, they were also team leaders. Losing all four in one year will be tough to overcome, but the Ravens clearly have faith that some of the younger names on the roster can step up this year.
The arrival of veteran safety Earl Thomas from the Seattle Seahawks via free agency should make up for the loss of Weddle, while the addition of former New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram should result in fewer rushing attempt for Lamar Jackson in 2019.
And having lost his job to the rookie quarterback after the bye week last year, Baltimore also waved goodbye to Joe Flacco and his oversized contract via a trade with the Denver Broncos. The Ravens will live and die at the hands of Jackson this year, with Robert Griffin III re-signed to be his backup.
Despite the big-name departures, the star power in Baltimore remains on the defensive side of the ball. Safeties Tony Jefferson and newcomer Thomas forms one of the strongest duos in the league on paper, part of a secondary flush with talented options at cornerback when healthy. Emerging talent Marlon Humphrey looks to be the next in a long line of quality Ravens’ cornerbacks.
Jackson may one day become a top quarterback, but he is far from that right now and perhaps the best players on offense play up front along the offensive line. Names like guard Marshall Yanda and improving left tackle Ronnie Stanley.
But if there is a superstar on the team, it is kicker Justin Tucker, by far the best player at his position in the league. Capable of making kicks from seemingly any range, and with just one extra point miss to his name in 242 attempts, Tucker is as close to automatic as it comes in the NFL.
Given their losses on defense, it is perhaps no surprise to see that many of the experts are down on the Ravens’ prospects in 2019. After going 3-1 in the opening four weeks of 2018, the 1-4 record that followed had head coach John Harbaugh fearing for his future as his team reached the bye week. But once their rookie quarterback was inserted into the lineup, Baltimore would lose just one game the rest of the year, squeaking into the playoffs as the Steelers faltered over the final stretch.
Harbaugh would translate that turnaround into a four-year contract extension this offseason, but it is fair to question whether that was a wise decision by the Ravens given his record since winning the Super Bowl in 2012. Since then, there have been just two double-digit win seasons and one division crown, with only one playoff win from two postseason trips over the last six seasons. And with a depleted defense this year, it is difficult to see Baltimore improving on their 2018 record.
Ultimately, the Ravens will go as far as second-year quarterback Jackson can take them, but he will need to trust him arm more and rely on his feet less if he is to take his game to the next level. Management have done their best to help him out by adding two young receiving prospects via the draft and a proven veteran running back to take share some of the carries, but little has been done to improve their offensive line.
If the young names on defense play can play near the level of their predecessors, a strong secondary should be able to keep most games within reach, but it remains to be seen if a young offense with a new coordinator is able to score enough points to make their efforts count.
The 2019 season could go either way for the Ravens and a win total of 8.5 games seems about right this year. If you have faith in the talents of Jackson, the over is a no-brainer, but for those who question his ability to make the more challenging throws required of an elite passer, the under is sure to look attractive.
Oddschecker spokesperson Pete Watt: “Marquise Brown represents an upgrade in the receiver core, and will give Lamar Jackson a vertical threat.
“Going into his sophomore year it’s likely we’ll see a new side to Jackson’s game with the former Sooner expected to pass more and rely less on his game-breaking rushing ability.
“The addition of Mark Ingram also gives Jackson an agile yet brutal running back to help move the chains.”
Based on the 2018 record of their opponents, Pittsburgh will theoretically have the 19th ranked schedule in terms of difficulty in 2019. They will face teams that accumulated a combined record of 126-128-2 last season for a winning percentage of .496.
A season opener against the New England Patriots is the stuff of nightmares for a team that has only beaten New England once in their last six meetings, even if that one win did come during their last encounter. Potentially challenging games against the Los Angeles Chargers and Rams are mixed in with a number of easier contests against teams like the Miami Dolphins. And while three of their last four games of the year are on the road, they will face the Cardinals, Bills and Jets during that stretch.