Why It Could Be Time to Sell High on the Ravens

Given the turnover on the roster and coaching staff, it may be time to sell high on the Baltimore Ravens.

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Listen – I’m as big a fan of Lamar Jackson as the next guy. I have nothing but respect for John Harbaugh and the job he’s done for the last 15 years. Really, that’s somewhat rare in today’s NFL. As far as longevity go, it’s Harbaugh and Mike Tomlin pretty much. But, I think it’s time we had a long hard look in the mirror when we’re talking about the 2024 Baltimore Ravens. Maybe it’s recency bias. Maybe it really is hard to undo all the team did well last season in a single offseason. But, I don’t think there’s any way we can just safely assume that this team is getting back to an AFC Championship right now. Don’t shoot the messenger – let’s just look at the evidence.

For one, us fans tend to downplay the importance of coaching turnover. My guess is that, by and large, we just don’t get a thorough enough glimpse into the process throughout the year to get a more educated feel for the depth of a coaching staff. We generally just assume that if the head man is still around and the quarterback’s good, not much will change. But, I don’t think that’s enough here with this Ravens team. Losing Mike Macdonald as defensive coordinator is going to be a critical blow for a squad that was among the best in the league. Macdonald is the head man in Seattle now, a huge get for that franchise. He’s known for his ability to communicate and instruct. That Ravens defense was fun to watch in 2023, hallmarked by a propensity to disguise, confuse, and pressure out of the same front and look.

The system may stay the same under new DC Zach Orr, and that’s all well and good. But, the secret sauce for any coaching staff is buy-in and communication. Orr may have the buy-in, but is he the communicator that Macdonald is known to be? If he isn’t, how successful is the unit going to be? I tend to think there will be a drop off, at least early in the season, as Orr and the defense continues to jell together. Even losing a guy like Dennard Wilson to the Tennessee Titans should have an impact. If the defense isn’t a well-oiled machine that’s the byproduct of good coaching and clear communication, what is it going to look like?

For another, let’s look at the roster turnover. Namely, the offensive line loses Kevin Zeitler and Morgan Moses in favor of a youth movement. Tyler Linderbaum is a cornerstone piece and has quickly ascended to one of the best centers in the game. Ronnie Stanley is a proven left tackle when healthy. Then, you’re talking about steps up from Andrew Vorhees at guard (who I liked coming out of the draft, mind you, minus the injury history) and rookie Roger Rosengarten (who I also liked) at right tackle. It’s not that I don’t like these players. It’s that this unit takes time to jell. It’s pretty rare for offensive linemen to come in and be successful right away, much less mid-to-late round picks. Ultimately, I’d bet on this group for the long term (I’m also a fan of Julian Pearl too). But, this could be another component of this Ravens team that takes some time to get going.

Then, there’s the question of who’s going to make the plays! Zay Flowers is a dawg. In any other offense, in any other landing spot, this guy would turn into a bona fide star receiver. I liked the Steve Smith comp in the draft. I love it after seeing flashes throughout his rookie season. He’s only going to get better, but under Todd Monken, I can’t help but wonder what his production ceiling looks like. Without him, you’re relying yet again on Mark Andrews, who has been fantastic but injury-prone, and a bunch of guys who aren’t proven. Ravens fans surely hope for another herculean effort from Derrick Henry, but he’s no spring chicken, and at times in 2023, he looked like he was beginning to lose a step. In that offense, the combo of Henry and Jackson (shoutouts to Keaton Mitchell and Rasheen Ali too) may be all that matters. If that’s the case, I’d circle back to my concerns over the offensive line and ask, “is running the ball going to be as easy for this team as we think?”

The defense had one of the best linebacking duos in the league in 2023 in Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen. It’s fun to watch that defense because of how much having two stud linebackers like that can unlock the rest of the unit. The San Francisco 49ers operate similarly. However, the Ravens let Queen walk in free agency, and all signs point towards Trenton Simpson stepping up to fill that role. Personally, I see it as a downgrade and am curious as to what exponential impact not having Smith and Queen running it back will have on that defense. Is David Ojabo going to step up? There are some interesting young pass rushers on the roster, but if that core that plays at our around the line of scrimmage isn’t the same, what happens with the rest of the defense?

Finally, we have to talk about the competitiveness of the AFC North. The Cincinnati Bengals have been media darlings this offseason with the return of Joe Burrow imminent, but they’re not even the team I’d be worrying about the most if I were a Ravens fan. The Steelers have been the butt of many a joke this spring because of their quarterback room, but around whoever it is, be it Russell Wilson or Justin Fields, there’s a roster that’s ready to make a run. The Browns have one of the most underrated coaching staffs in the league. If they can get some semblance of consistency at quarterback, they’re going to be a tough out. This team is going to have to withstand some serious lumps if it wants to compete in this division where it seems like it’s anyone’s game and whoever wins it will be battle-tested enough to go on a run in January.

Look – the Ravens have some attractive cornerstone pieces. Jackson is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. You won’t see me knock him as a “running quarterback.” The dude can do it all at a high level in the NFL despite what the haters will say. I’ve mentioned my love for Linderbaum and Flowers, but they also have young cornerstones on defense in Kyle Hamilton (who I had as the best player period coming out of that draft class) and Justin Madubuike. Brandon Stephens was steady…dare I say even underrated in 2023. Marlon Humphrey is…well..Marlon Humphrey. And, I love the additions of Nate Wiggins and TJ Tampa to the secondary in the draft.

The Ravens have done well to build their roster through the draft, but given the turnover of the roster and the coaching staff, this could be a bit more of a rebuilding year than we initially anticipated. By the end of the season, it could be sunshine and rainbows for this team having figured it all out under one of the best head coaches in the game, but my concern would be the team getting their feet beneath them and seeing September and October come back to bite them. There are simply too many questions for this team that can only be answered through game reps for me to confidently project them as a contender right now.

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Stoney Keeley is the Editor in Chief of The SoBros Network, and a Dogs Playing Poker on velvet connoisseur. He is a strong supporter of Team GSD, #BeBetter, and ‘Minds right, asses tight.’ “Big Natural” covers the Tennessee Titans, Nashville, Yankee Candle, and a whole wealth of nonsense. Follow on Twitter @StoneyKeeley.

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