The Ravens are still searching for a title run with former league MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, who enters the final year of his rookie deal. His contract status is a slow-burn story that will only heat up the longer it goes unresolved. The Ravens have vowed to make some changes to their practice and conditioning methods after the team was decimated by injuries in 2021, but they need more than healthy bodies to keep up in what figures to be a ferociously competitive AFC. Jackson must elevate his game as a passer, and the defense must create more havoc in the form of sacks and turnovers.
Despite an 8-9 record and considerable fan discontent, the Ravens retained offensive coordinator Greg Roman, indicating that they intend to plow forward with the run-first approach designed by Roman and led by the dynamic Jackson, the only quarterback in NFL history to record two 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
Jackson, though, has not been able to run from concerns about his passing ability. Last year, he ranked 23rd in passer rating (87.0) and 22nd in completion percentage (.644), and he threw a career-high 13 interceptions despite missing the final four games with a foot injury. And now he has lost his top wide receiver with the trade of Marquise Brown to Arizona.
The Ravens' ground game is expected to be built around Jackson and running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, both of whom missed the entire 2021 season with knee injuries. With those three healthy, the Ravens piled up 3,071 rushing yards in 2020, the third-highest total in NFL history. Without Dobbins and Edwards, the ground game never gained that kind of traction in 2021. The Ravens plan to ease both back during training camp, and after watching Dobbins tear his ACL in the preseason finale, head coach John Harbaugh has suggested that he might change his approach to the preseason.
Road-grading, Pro Bowl fullback Patrick Ricard signed a new three-year deal this offseason, and the running game often follows in his wake.
All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews anchors the passing attack and has been Jackson's favorite target since the duo arrived together as rookies in 2018, but the passing game has a sizeable void with Brown traded away. That puts more pressure on 2021 top draft pick Rashod Bateman, who should take a step forward after a rookie season slowed by preseason groin surgery. Bateman's precise route-running and strong hands should be a good counter to the Cover-Zero blitz, which the Ravens are likely to see often after it appeared to fluster Jackson considerably last season.
GM Eric DeCosta stressed that the offensive line was a top offseason priority after the team allowed a franchise-record 57 sacks last season, and he promptly signed free agent tackle Morgan Moses and drafted Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum in the first round. The status of All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley remains a major question, however. He played just one game last year before being shut down by a complication to an ankle injury that had cost him the final 10 games of 2020. Patrick Mekari, who has started at center, guard and tackle, might be the next man up if Stanley has another setback.
Kevin Zeitler is back at right guard after a standout first season with the Ravens, while the left guard spot figures to be up for grabs. Ben Powers, Ben Cleveland and Tyre Phillips, all of whom started at times in 2021, will compete again in training camp.
Injuries were a major reason the Ravens' perennial top-10 defense slipped to 25th last season — their lowest rating since 1997 — and gave up a league-high 16 plays of 40 yards or more. That cost coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale his job, and he has been succeeded by Mike Macdonald, whose biggest challenge will be generating a consistent pass rush.
Za'Darius Smith backed out of a verbal deal with the Ravens and signed with the Vikings. Tyus Bowser, who led the team in sacks last year with seven, tore an Achilles in the 2021 season finale. His status for Week 1 remains uncertain. Odafe Oweh had five sacks as a rookie and has disruptive speed. Rookie David Ojabo thrived under Macdonald last season at Michigan, but he tore his Achilles at Michigan's Pro Day in March, and it's unclear whether he will play this season. In early July, Baltimore re-signed veteran Justin Houston, who was third on the team last season with 4.5 sacks, to a one-year deal to add another pass rusher.
On the interior, the Ravens let nose tackle Brandon Williams walk as a free agent and brought back Michael Pierce after two years in Minnesota to act as the run-stuffer in the middle of their 3-4 scheme. They also re-signed Calais Campbell, who returns for his 15th NFL season and third in Baltimore. This is the year young interior linemen Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington need to assert themselves. Madubuike was a star in training camp last year, but that didn't always translate in the regular season.
Patrick Queen anchors the 3-4 defense at inside linebacker, and he seemed to thrive after a midseason switch from middle linebacker to the weak side. His pass coverage has been a liability, though, and has kept him being a true three-down player. Veteran Josh Bynes, on his third go-round with the team, could start alongside Queen.
The Ravens invested heavily in their secondary again this offseason, signing safety Marcus Williams to a five-year, $70 million deal and then selecting Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton with their first pick in the draft. They already have a starting strong safety in Chuck Clark, but Harbaugh says there will be plenty of ways to get three safeties on the field. Given the depth, though, Clark could be a candidate to be traded.
Pro Bowl cornerback duo Marcus Peters missed the entire 2021 season with a knee injury, and Marlon Humphrey missed five games with a torn pectoral muscle, but both are expected to be healthy this year. Their return, plus the addition of Williams and Hamilton, should make this a more opportunistic defense. Last season, several potential interceptions clanked off hands.
Behind Peters and Humphrey, though, the Ravens lack proven depth at cornerback. That's a scary proposition considering the schedule includes quarterbacks Joe Burrow (twice), Deshaun Watson (twice), Tom Brady, Josh Allen and Russell Wilson.
The Ravens sent a shock wave through their special teams room by drafting Penn State punter Jordan Stout in the fourth round, which spelled the end for Sam Koch, a 16-year veteran who has played more games for the Ravens (256) than anyone else in franchise history and elected to retire. The Ravens still have Justin Tucker, a weapon that no other team can match, as he proved with his NFL-record 66-yard field goal last season. With a career 91.1 percent success rate (326-for-358), Tucker is the most accurate field-goal kicker in NFL history. The Ravens have found something in wide receiver Devin Duvernay, who didn't return any punts in college but led the league in punt return average last year (13.8) en route to his first Pro Bowl appearance.
Smarting from just the second losing season in Harbaugh's 14-year tenure, the Ravens appear intent on building their team in the mold of the 2019 squad that rolled to a 14-2 record. They want to prioritize the run, with a big, physical line that wins battles in the trenches, and use athletic tight ends to set the tone in the passing game. Defensively, they want to be disruptive and opportunistic, but that all begins with the pass rush, which remains the biggest question mark. For all the personnel additions, though, one thing hasn't changed: This team will go as far as Lamar Jackson can take it.