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Four takeaways from the Ravens’ 2020 draft class

Four takeaways from the Ravens’ 2020 draft class

For a lot of reasons, the Ravens’ 2020 draft class has earned rave reviews. 

With a draft class of 10 that filled most major needs on the roster, the Ravens found some great value picks throughout the draft. They bolstered the middle of the defense, added to the wide receiver corps and reshaped the depth of the offensive line. 

Here are four takeaways from the Ravens’ draft weekend. 

Biggest weakness addressed

The Ravens’ biggest weakness entering draft weekend was the inside linebacker position. They addressed that need with authority in the first two days. 

Baltimore added Patrick Queen with the 28th pick in the draft and then double-dipped at linebacker with Ohio State linebacker Malik Harrison at the 98th overall selection. The duo gives the Ravens two of the best inside linebackers from the class and the potential to be flexible with how they use their new linebackers.

“Both of those guys have played on the edge of the defense,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Both of those guys have rushed inside quite a bit. You can kind of stereotype them a little bit. You have a big thumper, and you have a sideline-to-sideline speed guy. But really, they’ve both done both, and I’m sure that we can do whatever we want. They can be one of those guys we can play in the MIKE, (or) we can play in the WILL.”

Just a week ago, the team’s two starting linebackers were L.J. Fort and then one of Jake Ryan, Chris Board or Otaro Alaka. Now, they’ve completely remade their linebacking unit to have speed, power and youth at the top of the depth chart.

 

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Reshaped defensive front

When the Ravens faced the Titans in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs, their starting defensive line consisted of: Chris Wormley, Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams. The depth was Justin Ellis, Domata Peko Sr., Jihad Ward and Patrick Ricard. 

When the first regular season game rolls around, at least two of the starters will be new and the depth will be completely overhauled. 

The Ravens added Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe in free agency, then drafted Justin Madubuike out of Texas A&M in the third round and Broderick Washington of Texas Tech with the 170th pick. 

With Madubuike and Washington now on the right side of the roster bubble simply by virtue of being recent draft choices, there’s a chance that of the seven defensive linemen the Ravens carried into their game, just two will remain (Williams and Ward) for the 2020 season.

Justin Ellis signed a one-year deal but could be ousted by second-year Daylon Mack, who also finds himself on the bubble. 

The Ravens didn’t, however, add an edge rusher in the draft. While that means good news for Jaylon Ferguson and Tyus Bowser, there are still questions to be had about the team’s pass rush. That could be aided, in part, by an increased presence on the interior of the line.

Baltimore will have some decisions to make up front, but that’s a good problem to have. 

Interior offensive line competition

While the turnover on the offensive line isn’t nearly as drastic as on the defensive side, the most jarring absence will be that of Marshal Yanda, who retired at the end of the season. 

To replace him, the Ravens’ added Tyre Phillips of Mississippi State with the 106th pick and Ben Bredeson of Michigan with the 143rd pick. Phillips played tackle in college but the Ravens have told him he will compete for that right guard spot as well. 

Phillips and Bredeson will be the newcomers to compete with Ben Powers, Matt Skura and Patrick Mekari for the center and right guard positions. Skura is recovering from a devastating knee injury and his status is unknown for the start of the 2020 season. Mekari played well in place of Skura after his injury, but has only a handful of games under his belt. Powers played in just one game last season, his rookie campaign. 

Bredeson is known as a technician and played four seasons as a starter for the Wolverines under Jim Harbaugh, while Phillips was a big and physical run blocker for the Bulldogs. 

The Ravens won’t find Yanda’s level of play in that group, but there’s a good chance they can find a good mix in that mashup of linemen. 

New weapons for Lamar Jackson

Earlier in the offseason, general manager Eric DeCosta said his goal was to make the Ravens’ offense, ‘un-defendable.’ 

Friday and Saturday, they added three skill position players to try and make that statement true. 

First, and most notably, the team added J.K. Dobbins with the 55th overall pick. The Ravens rushed for more yards than any team in NFL history last season and now have one of the draft’s best running backs in the fold. 

“This was a guy that was, in my opinion, one of the very best in college football this year,” DeCosta said. “He's a very talented guy with electric skills and played at a very high level in a really good conference (on) one of the best teams in college football, so we're excited to get him. He fits us, and I think he's going to be a guy that is going to be a dangerous player for us and give us the depth to do what we like to do.”

As for what that means for the running back group, it likely signifies a reduction in Mark Ingram’s touches. The Ravens didn’t spend a second-round pick on Dobbins to keep him stapled to the bench. They could keep four running backs instead of three quarterbacks, like the team did last season, but Gus Edwards and Justice Hill’s spots on the roster are now firmly up for debate. 

Then, the Ravens picked two sure-handed wideouts in Devin Duvernay (Texas) and James Proche (SMU) in the third and seventh rounds, respectively. 

Duvernay and Proche didn’t drop many passes last season in college. And while Duvernay adds speed — 4.39 40-yard dash speed, in fact — to the receiving corps, neither receiver tops 6-feet tall. 

The Ravens feel that both can play on the outside, but with 6-foot-4 Miles Boykin still on the team, they’ve got a big target already in camp. 

They might not have acquired a big red zone threat to go up and get contested balls, but they’ve certainly added receivers that can impact the game from the slot and on the outside if necessary.

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Marquise Brown is ready to make big second-year leap for Ravens after bulking up 20 pounds

Marquise Brown is ready to make big second-year leap for Ravens after bulking up 20 pounds

Marquise Brown was hardly himself in his rookie season.

Not only did he have a Lisfranc injury in his foot that hampered his health all season long, but he also played portions of the year at less than 160 pounds. 

On the surface, his numbers didn’t take a hit. He was second on the team in targets (71), receptions (46), yards (584) and touchdowns (seven), but he had more to offer than what he showed in 14 games last season. 

This offseason, he added 20 pounds of muscle and, as he said Wednesday on a Zoom call with reporters, is up to 180 pounds. His foot is feeling better. And Marquise Brown is himself once again.

“I feel I got bright days ahead,” Brown said. “I feel 100 times better than I did last year. So, all I got to do now is focus on the plays, focus on the stuff that I’m supposed to focus on, instead of focusing on my feet and trying to stay healthy.”

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Brown’s added weight was the product of a mindset he had about trying to allow himself to undergo the rigors of an NFL season easier than he had a year ago. 

Whenever Brown would catch a pass, he would scurry out of bounds or dive forward to could avoid a hit. While that was certainly a product of the weight he played at and his desire to protect himself, it also had to do with his injured foot, too. 

He wasn’t able to run as fast as he did at Oklahoma, and he still isn’t quite at that speed, either. 

“Sometimes, I would try to make a cut that my foot wasn’t able to make, and I would go down,” Brown said. “Or sometimes, I just know that I’m not going to be able to make that move, so I’ll go down. It was more about getting the yards that I could get, get down, get ready for a next play. It was better for me to be in the game than to be out the game.”

Brown feels better now, and not only that, his teammates have taken notice, too.

“I could tell he put on a lot of weight,” Willie Snead said. “He’s put on a good amount of weight, and you can tell he’s solid now. I know the first thing he said coming into the building is, ‘I’m trying to block somebody. I’m trying to set the tone in the run game, man.’ I could just tell by his build that he took that part seriously.”

The Ravens sent him a GPS tracker while he trained in the offseason, so that while he added the weight, he didn’t lose any of his patented speed. Brown said he’s been able to keep his speed, despite the increased weight now on his 5-foot-9 frame. 

As the team’s top wide receiver, Brown will have an increased workload in his second season not only due to his progression with quarterback Lamar Jackson, but also the Ravens’ desire to pass the football more than they did a year ago.

It's for that reason the Ravens will put a lot more weight on his shoulders this year, as expectations for the organization are sky-high entering the upcoming season.

In that regard, it’s probably a good thing Brown will be a bit bigger in 2020.

“What people fail to realize, when I was at ‘OU’, I was 173-170, so I honestly just gained about 10 pounds,” Brown said. “I actually lost weight last year. To me, I feel back to normal, sort of to say. I feel like myself.”

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Tom Brady is ready to 'embrace the challenge' of starting over in Tampa Bay

Tom Brady is ready to 'embrace the challenge' of starting over in Tampa Bay

Even for the greats, the NFL offseason is a grind.

For the first two decades of his career, Tom Brady called New England home. Over that span, he's had just one head coach, Bill Belichick, and three full-time offensive coordinators: Charlie Weis, Bill O'Brien and Josh McDaniels.

Year in and year out, things remained relatively the same in New England. But with Brady leaving behind the only NFL franchise he's known for Tampa Bay this offseason, the quarterback has had to tap into a different mental state this offseason, one he hasn't been in for nearly 20 years.

"It’s been different having the opportunity with this time to move and, for example, study my playbook," Brady said Thursday via Zoom in his first media session of training camp. "I mean, I really haven’t had to do that in 19 years. You forget, 'Man, that is really tough.' Like all the different terminologies and you’re going back a very long time in my career to really put the mental energy in like I did."

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For any quarterback, switching teams is a difficult task, even for greats like Brady. However, the move this offseason has been even more difficult due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, which effectively eliminated all organized offseason activities across the league.

Training camp has started league-wide, but teams are still a couple of weeks away from real, padded practices. Right now, clubs are mainly doing walkthroughs and installs, working on things that would have already been taught during minicamp and OTAs in a regular offseason.

For Brady, that's also been a difficult adjustment.

"Mentally, that has been the thing that obviously has its challenges and I think you couple that with the coronavirus situation it became even more difficult," Brady said. "I think conversations we probably would have had in April we are having now. I think that part is a bit challenging too."

However, the six-time Super Bowl champion is hoping to embrace the challenges of this pandemic-riddled offseason, rather than to use it as an excuse.

"The only thing you can do is adjust to the situation the best way you can, put as much time and energy in now as we can into it and I think the reality is the clock is ticking on everybody," Brady said. "We’re going to have to work as hard as we can and not waste any minutes of any day trying to get used to one another, embrace the challenge and see it as an opportunity to see what we can become."

And while the quarterback is still in the process of learning Bruce Arians' offensive system in Tampa, Brady reminded us in typical Brady-fashion that he's not worried about the challenges that come with it.

"Mentally, I feel like I have all the ability," Brady said. "I’ve seen every defense. There’s no play I haven’t run. There’s no defense I haven’t seen."

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