The Baltimore Ravens are primed for a major bounce-back season after injuries ravaged their roster and derailed a promising season in 2021. While a lot of the hype surrounding the team’s anticipated return to prominence and dominance has circulated around their improvements on defense, specifically their secondary, the offense also received some much-needed reinforcements.
They’re getting back their top three running backs who suffered season-ending injuries last preseason and added more depth at the position, they upgraded and added depth on the offensive line, and bolstered their pass-catching corps in the draft and undrafted free agency.
Most importantly, they’re getting back a fully healthy and bulked-up Lamar Jackson. The former unanimous league MVP missed the final four games of the season last year and the Ravens didn’t win another game, losing six straight to finish with a sub .500 record for the first time since 2015.
Many skeptics have called into question whether General Manager Eric DeCosta did enough to surround Jackson with the requisite weapons to take the team to the next level and advance past the division round for the first time in a decade.
He traded former first-round wide receiver Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown to the Arizona Cardinals fresh off his first 1,000-yard receiving season and has yet to bring in a notable addition at the position. However, they still have First-Team All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews headlining a passing game that heavily features his position group.
When asked about whether he views the tight end trio of Andrews, veteran Nick Boyle, and standout rookie Isaiah Likely as a three-headed monster, Jackson said “Hell yes” but urged fans, pundits, and future opponents not to sleep in their underrated talent at wide receiver behind 2021 first rounder Rashod Bateman as well.
“Along with that, we’ve got our receivers on the outside too,” Jackson said in a press conference on August 13, 2022. “It’s going to be a dangerous offense,
He says that the collection of talent that includes third-year pros Devin Duvernay and James Proche, a pair of former undrafted free agents, and some intriguing undrafted rookies are a hungry bunch eager to prove themselves as playmakers.
“They’re getting active each and every day, they’re getting better each and every day, they listen, they always want to get better each and every day,” Jackson said. “I just like it; they’ve been dogs out there. They’re aggressive with catches [and] making contested catches.”
Undrafted rookie Shemar Bridges joined Likely in stealing the show in the Ravens’ preseason-opening win over the Tennessee Titans with a standout performance that featured multiple contested catches and finished with him leading the team in receiving yards.
Makai Polk Continues to Turn Heads
Bridges isn’t the only undrafted rookie wideout that has been heating up as of late. The former Mississippi State standout who led the SEC in receptions last season with 105 and finished the year with a team-leading 1,048 yards and nine touchdowns impressed in the season opener as well and has been stacking impressive practices in training camp.
“Makai has had a good camp,” head coach John Harbaugh said in a press conference on August 13, 2022. “He flashed, really, from Day 1. He’s a very fast, very athletic guy. He had a couple plays [and] mixed it up in there a little bit blocking, and it was a good start for him.”
He led the team in receptions against the Titans and finished second in receiving with 48 yards. His most impressive play came on a one-handed catch he made down the right sideline for a 23-yard gain with a defender tight in coverage.
Polk followed up a strong NFL debut with a standout practice two days later on August 13, 2022. He will continue to be in the mix for the final spot or two on the receiver depth chart with Bridges, fellow undrafted rookie Slade Bolden, and other unheralded contenders Jaylon Moore and Binjimen Victor.
It All Starts Up Front
Deficiencies on the offensive line that were a result of injuries and a lack of quality depth doomed the Ravens’ offense down the stretch in 2021 and prevented them from consistently having answers for heavy pressure packages and all-out blitzes. With that in mind, DeCosta and Co. went to work this offseason to ensure the unit was vastly improved and fortified.
He had the foresight to sign former first-round offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James to a two-year deal last spring although he had just suffered a torn Achilles prior to his release from the Denver Broncos. The nine-year veteran is healthy and appears to be a more than capable swing tackle that can play at a high level on either end of the line.
They double dipped at right tackle with the signing of nine-year veteran Morgan Moses to a three-year deal and the selection of Daniel Faalele in the fourth round of this year’s draft out of Minnesota.
The addition of first-round rookie center Tyler Linderbaum allows offensive coordinator Greg Roman even more schematic flexibility in his already creative blocking schemes in the run game. He will also add more juice to the screen game with his agility and mobility in space as a lead blocker.
Jackson said he feels “pretty good” about the talent and depth of the team’s offensive line across the board and is “looking forward” to playing behind them.
“We’re stacked right now at the offensive line position,” he said. “Those guys have been working their tails off, and they’re looking pretty good, so I’m ready for the season.”