With the Baltimore Ravens set to open training camp in just under three weeks, there are a few key battles to keep an eye on as we inch closer to Week One.
Before we get started on the offensive battles, the Baltimore Ravens have zero wiggle room in terms of cap space. The team recently brought back veteran pass rusher Justin Houston. According to Ravens Salary Cap expert Brian McFarland, the Ravens sit just under $3.3 Million dollars in cap space. So the prospect of adding a veteran wide receiver or running back is most certainly off the table.
There are a few positions that are set in stone. Lamar Jackson is the unquestioned starting quarterback barring injury. Mark Andrews is “TE1”. The battle at the tight end position will be for the coveted spots behind Andrews. Kevin Zeitler is secured at the right guard position. When ready to return, Ronnie Stanley is the starting left tackle. Rookie center and first-round pick Tyler Linderbaum will be entrenched at center. Now, for the battles.
Protecting Lamar Jackson is the number one priority heading into the 2022 NFL season. Last season, the offensive line was in shambles more often than not. Alejandro Villanueva was a turnstile and had Jackson running for his life all year. Left guard was a revolving door of starters for the duration of the year. At different points in the year, Ben Cleveland, Tyre Phillips, and Ben Powers took snaps at left guard. This year, “LG” will be the only position that will be a battle until the last day of camp.
When minicamp opened, fourth-year guard Ben Powers was running with the first team. Much to the surprise of man, myself included. Powers will be in direct competition with returning jack-of-all-trades lineman Patrick Mekari, Tyre Phillips, and Ben Cleveland. If you’d have asked me who was the front-runner for left guard this year, Mekari would have been my pick. Ben Powers appears to have an early edge for snaps. Head coach John Harbaugh is notorious for keeping the fans and media on their collective toes.
Free agent offensive tackle Morgan Moses will be the starting right tackle when Ronnie Stanley is ready to go. Moses has experience playing left tackle and was above average while playing the position. If Ronnie Stanley isn’t ready for the opener, Moses will be ready to go. Backup tackle Ja’Wuan James is recovering from a torn Achilles in 2020 and should be ready to contribute to the team. Rookie fourth-round pick Daniel Faalele will be the right tackle of the future but has steep competition to see snaps in year one.
The competition along the offensive line will be fierce and will be of utmost importance to keeping Lamar Jackson upright and paving running lanes for the running backs.
The Baltimore Ravens backfield was a mess in 2021. Veterans Devonta Freeman and Latavius Murray were serviceable but were not brought back to compete for roster spots in 2022. Ty’Son Williams was not resigned after a tumultuous 2021 campaign that featured flashes of greatness and a propensity for being in Harbaugh’s doghouse. Justice Hill tore his Achilles and missed the 2021 year. Starter JK Dobbins and thumper Gus Edwards tore their ACLs during the preseason and subsequently missed the 2021 season, too.
The team addressed the position during free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft. The Ravens selected Tyler Badie in the sixth round out of Missouri. Badie figures into the team’s plans as a scat-back and special teams contributor. Badie was drafted to essentially replace Justice Hill on the roster. Hill is coming off a major injury and Badie can do everything Hill can plus return kicks and punts. With Devin Duvernay slated to be “WR2” this coming season, Badie will be essential to the Ravens.
Veteran free agent running back Mike Davis comes to Baltimore after a stint with the Atlanta Falcons. Davis is a notable upgrade over the aforementioned Freeman and Murray. Davis has the skillset the Ravens value. The linebacker-esque ball carrier is a north-and-south runner that is safe with the football and is a stout pass protector.
When asked about the health of JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards, coach Harbaugh was evasive, as usual. To err on the side of caution, JK and/or Gus will start the year on the P.U.P. list. The battle between Justice Hill and Tyler Badie looms large. Justice Hill may find himself looking for a new home if he hasn’t bounced back to pre-injury form. Tyler Badie will certainly push Hill for snaps on special teams this summer. Mike Davis should have a clear path to the 53-man roster as long as Edwards is on the shelf.
Mark Andrews is the best tight end in football. It’s safe to say his spot is secured. Veteran tight end Nick Boyle is recovering from a broken leg last year. From the reports in the media after the latest minicamp, Boyle looks to be in fantastic shape and ready to go for 2022. The Ravens double dipped at the position in round four of the 2022 NFL Draft. The Ravens selected Charlie Kolar out of Iowa State and Isaiah Likely from Coastal Carolina University.
Isaiah Likely has been an absolute shining star during all of minicamp. The 6foot4 245-pound pass catcher was all over the field. The media has sung his praises almost universally. Likely has even caught the attention of star quarterback Lamar Jackson. He has shown the explosiveness and athleticism that he was known for in college during his first professional offseason.
Charlie Kolar is a more traditional tight end in terms of skill set and build. He has deceptive speed and soft hands. Kolar has a tendency to find the soft spots in the middle of zone defenses. Standing at 6foot6 and 255 pounds, Kolar will be used in a lot of run-heavy personnel sets with the occasional play-action looks. Kolar has drawn comparisons to former Raven Dennis Pitta for comparisons.
The Ravens figure to carry all four of the aforementioned tight ends. With Boyle recovering from injury, the prospect of playing time for both rookies is high.
Not to be forgotten, fullback Patrick Ricard will be heavily featured in the offense. He filled in for Boyle admirably in Nick’s absence. Second year tight end/fullback Ben Mason figures to have his work cut out for him to make the team. New England picked him up from our practice squad in 2021 after failing to make the team. If Boyle has any setbacks, Mason could reasonably make the roster if Boyle misses time.
Heading into training camp, all eyes are on this group. Baltimore did NOT draft a wide receiver in the 2022 NFL Draft. 2021 first-round pick Rashod Bateman enters year two as the top wideout for the Ravens. After having core muscle surgery last offseason, Bateman didn’t make his debut until the midway point of 2021. Bateman is looking to have a breakout year as “the man” after Baltimore traded Marquise Brown to the Arizona Cardinals on the first night of the NFL Draft. After Bateman, the competition is deep.
Third-year wide receiver/kick returner Devin Duvernay seems primed for a Deebo Samuels-like breakout year now that Brown is no longer a Raven. If utilized properly, Duvernay could see touches as a running back, wide receiver, and return man. Fellow third-year wideout James Proche is looking to maintain consistency and build upon the flashes he showed in year two. Second-year receiver Tylan Wallace will be gunning for more reps at wide receiver. Wallace saw the field mostly on special teams in 2021. Tylan was a high first-round/low second-round prospect a few years back before his ACL tear. Wallace will push Proche and Duvernay for reps.
After the four receivers previously mentioned, there was a noticeable drop-off in notoriety. Binjimen Victor has been a perpetual fringe practice squad player for the last few seasons. Undrafted rookie wideouts Makai Polk, Devon Williams, and Slade Bolden amongst other fresh faces will compete for one or two open spots in the wide receiver corps.
Bolden has garnered attention for his route running and ability to catch anything thrown his way. Makai Polk and Devon Williams are of similar build and skill sets. It will be interesting to see who ends up edging out the rest in training camp. The ability to play all phases of special teams will be pivotal to any of the rookies making the 53-man roster come Week One in New York.