The Professor’s 2021 NFL Preview: AFC North – Baltimore Ravens

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TheProfessor_NFL-Preview-Ravens

Baltimore Ravens

Team Projection

TeamPoints ForPoints AgainstGames FavoredPythagorean Expected Wins
BAL441.433181710.96

Though losing a young, quality tackle such as Orlando Brown Jr. is not an ideal situation, Baltimore did an excellent job of reconfiguring their offensive line around his trade request. Not only did the Ravens lure tackle, Alejandro Villanueva, away from the rival Steelers at the reasonable price of 7 million per year, but they also had one of the league’s better free agent signings when they grabbed guard Kevin Zeitler after the New York Giants cut the veteran. The additions of Villanueva and Zeitler did not hurt Baltimore in the compensatory pick formula, and their signings allowed the Ravens to use the draft capital gained in the Brown trade to build the team in other areas.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley is set to return this season, and Baltimore also returns starting left guard Bradley Bozeman, center Patrick Mekari, who took over the starting role midway through the season, and Tyree Phillips, a physical presence who saw time at both right guard and right tackle last season. Throw in third-round pick Ben Cleveland, who will add to the competition at guard, and this line is poised for a big year in Baltimore’s run-heavy scheme.

The Ravens also added potential upgrades at receiver in veteran Sammy Watkins and rookie first-round pick Rashod Bateman. That may not matter if they elect to revert to last season’s early experiments in expanding the passing game, which did little to sync the run and pass game, but reports out of OTAs were that offensive coordinator Greg Roman plans to do more with quarterback Lamar Jackson under center, which would allow the Ravens to employ more of the play-action opportunities created in the various versions of the Shannahan system, which seems like a very promising plan, particularly given the speed tight end Mark Andrews and wide receiver Marquise Brown bring on crossing routes from their respective positions. Throw in the return of Nick Boyle and the potential for Josh Oliver to get his career going after two injury-plagued seasons with Jacksonville, and Baltimore could also have the ability to incorporate more of the tight end-heavy packages they employed in Jackson’s 2019 MVP campaign.

On defense, the losses of edge rushers Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue could be more than offset by the addition of Penn State product Jayson Oweh, who had one of the more stranger pre-drafts profiles I’ve ever seen. Oweh, an athletic freak, didn’t have any sacks in 2020, but analysts regularly neglected to mention that Penn State’s shortened season only allowed him to play in 7 games and that he posted 5.5 sacks in 2019. Any basic examination of pass rush production shows that offensive line play is far more consistent than defensive line play and that it is not uncommon for sacks to come in bunches when they do come. Given Eric DeCosta and Ozzie Newsome’s track record drafting pass rushers during their lengthy tenure in Baltimore, Oweh strikes me as a good bet for Defensive Rookie of the Year, particularly on a defense as talented as this one.

Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters should continue to form the premier corner tandem in the league, and if veteran Jimmy Smith, who has dealt with nagging injuries the past few seasons, is unavailable to fill his duties on the outside in the nickel package for any stretches, the Ravens have rookies in third-rounder Brandon Stephens and fifth-rounder Shaun Wade who could potentially step in. Humphrey’s elite versatility would allow the rookies to line up in the slot or outside based on their strength, which could be critical for Wade, an Ohio State product who was a highly touted prospect as a slot defender in 2019 before struggling on the outside in 2020.

The analysts insisting the Ravens can’t win a game in the playoffs with this run-heavy offense were forced to abandon that narrative last season, and those same folks are likely to move on to the narrative that Baltimore can’t win big in the playoffs until the Ravens prove them wrong. Perhaps that is the case, though I try to avoid such dismissive opinions, particularly as there is a sample size limited to two Baltimore teams who have tried to win with this type of style in my memory. Either way, Baltimore has been pretty darn successful over the past two seasons and is set up to continue posting strong results in 2021.

QB Passing Projections

PlayerQBRkGPComAttComPercYPAPassYdsPassTDINTPPRAvg
Lamar Jackson317346.75190.677.453866.129.81123.52

QB Rushing Projections

PlayerQBRkGPCarriesYPCRushYdsRushTDCarryShareRushTDShrPPRAvg
Lamar Jackson317184.361105.66.330.530.423.52

Skill Projections, Rushing

PlayerPosRkGPCarriesYPCRushYdsRushTDCarShrRushTDShrPPRAvg
J.K. DobbinsRB7017176.55.00882.68.129.239.29.78
Gus EdwardsRB9817163.45.00817.04.127.020.07.94
Justice HillRB2511763.14.04254.72.210.410.42.26
Patrick RicardRB342017.60.000.00.02.90.0NaN

Skill Projections, Receiving

PlayerPosRkGPTgtCnvRecYPRRecYdsRecTDTgtShrRecTDShrPPRAvg
Mark AndrewsTE441764.179.312.891022.98.323.828.111.28
Marquise BrownWR631763.673.812.55926.07.322.424.810.20
J.K. DobbinsRB701774.526.66.09161.70.06.90.09.78
Gus EdwardsRB981785.020.19.15183.70.04.60.07.94
Rashod BatemanWR1621764.135.912.10434.33.110.810.74.72
Sammy WatkinsWR1791761.225.414.00355.03.98.013.24.21
Nick BoyleTE1951770.232.88.10265.83.49.011.43.71
Devin DuvernayWR2131777.632.29.73313.51.28.04.03.21
Miles BoykinWR3021756.19.211.12102.61.53.25.11.40
Josh OliverTE3081764.911.48.80100.71.13.43.61.31

About the author:

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Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.

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