To win the AFC North, to earn the conference’s top seed, to become a Super Bowl favorite, the Ravens needed really good players. And, phew, do they have a lot of them.
Seven standouts were named Pro Bowl selections last week, headlined by quarterback and NFL Most Valuable Player favorite Lamar Jackson. A few just missed the cut for honors. A handful more are linchpin players without much starry buzz.
But after Jackson, which pieces are the team’s most indispensable? Ahead of the start of the NFL playoffs this weekend, The Baltimore Banner ranked the Ravens’ most important players. The criteria was subjective, looking not only forward (Are they primed to step up in the playoffs?) and back (What did they show in the regular season?) but also around (How important are they to the depth at their position?).
It was hard to stop at the 10 most important. So here’s 20.
20. FB Patrick Ricard
Ricard has played just 39% of the Ravens’ offensive snaps this season, his lowest share since 2019, but the fullback remains an additive presence under coordinator Todd Monken. With Ricard on the field this season, the Ravens have averaged more yards per play and posted a higher success rate than when he’s off the field, according to TruMedia. Ricard’s especially valuable on play-action drop-backs, capable not only of selling the run fake but also blocking elite edge rushers.
19. RG Kevin Zeitler
Zeitler has graded out as Pro Football Focus’ top-rated guard in pass protection since November, with no sacks and just six pressures surrendered. Ben Cleveland has impressed over the past two weeks at right guard, but the Ravens will need Zeitler (knee/quadriceps) healthy for the playoffs. The AFC is loaded with Pro Bowl-level interior rushers, from the Kansas City Chiefs’ Chris Jones to the Buffalo Bills’ Ed Oliver to the Miami Dolphins’ Christian Wilkins.
18. K Justin Tucker
The Ravens haven’t played in a lot of close games this year, but in narrow home losses to the Indianapolis Colts and Cleveland Browns, a miss by Tucker might’ve been the difference between victory and defeat. In the playoffs, he could take on outsize importance; since Jackson’s arrival in Baltimore five seasons ago, Tucker has accounted for 39.1% of the Ravens’ postseason scoring. After a slow start this season, the seven-time Pro Bowl selection has finally rounded into form, making 15 of his past 16 field goals and all 22 extra-point attempts since Week 11.
16/17. RB Gus Edwards and RB Justice Hill
Neither has run the ball exceptionally well this season — Edwards (4.1 yards per carry) and Hill (4.6) finished slightly above average in rushing yards over expectation, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats — but each running back has important, defined roles in the offense. Edwards is the red-zone warhorse, with 12 of his 13 rushing touchdowns this season scored from 4 yards and in. Hill is the emerging third-down threat, with a career-high 28 catches for 206 yards. If they can avoid fumbles, the Ravens’ running game should be in good shape. If one gets hurt, the options behind them are dicey.
15. WR Rashod Bateman
The 2021 first-round pick is getting open like a WR1 should — just look at PFF and ESPN’s tracking data. The next step is converting that separation into production. Bateman has just 32 catches for 367 yards and a touchdown this season, but he had a season-high four catches for 54 yards in Week 17 against the Dolphins. If Bateman and Jackson can improve their chemistry on downfield shots — they’ve combined for more interceptions (two) than completions (one) on their 12 deep targets — the Ravens’ passing game could hit another level.
13/14. LT Ronnie Stanley and RT Morgan Moses
If a week of rest and recovery can get the Ravens’ banged-up bookend tackles closer to the form they showed at the end of last season, their offense could be tough to stop. But injuries to Stanley’s knee and ankle and to Moses’ upper body have made that an uphill climb. Stanley has allowed four sacks and 39 quarterback pressures this season, according to PFF, both career highs; Moses has given up four sacks over the past six games after giving up just one over the first eight weeks. The Ravens have turned to a functional tackle rotation to ease their burden, starting drives with Patrick Mekari and Daniel Faalele every so often, but the athletic drop-off can leave the offense compromised. The Ravens need Stanley and Moses in good shape; the NFL’s best teams tend to have game-wreckers at defensive end and outside linebacker, and an unpressured Jackson is an elite Jackson.
12. TE Isaiah Likely
Likely has turned into one of the NFL’s most dangerous tight ends since Mark Andrews hurt his ankle in Week 11. Over the last seven weeks of the regular season, Likely was tied for eighth at the position in receiving yards (322), second in receiving touchdowns (five) and second in yards per catch (15.3). With Andrews’ timetable for a return to action uncertain, Likely should remain one of Jackson’s top targets over the middle. Especially if he can keep making highlight-reel, one-hand catches and jump-ball grabs.
11. CB Brandon Stephens
Only one NFL cornerback was picked on more often in coverage this season than Stephens, according to NGS. The trouble for opposing quarterbacks was that Stephens usually won his matchup. Among the 95 most targeted defensive backs in 2023, Stephens ranked 24th in coverage success rate. He allowed just two touchdowns, had two interceptions and recorded 11 pass defenses. In Stephens’ four combined matchups against the Cincinnati Bengals’ Ja’Marr Chase and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ George Pickens, he allowed just five catches on nine targets for 43 yards and a touchdown. Ronald Darby and Rock Ya-Sin are more-than-capable backups, but Stephens has elevated his game this season.
10. WR Odell Beckham Jr.
Beckham had a modest-for-him 2023: 35 catches for 565 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games. But when he signed his one-year, $15 million deal in the spring, the hope was that the 31-year-old’s play would peak in the winter. At his introductory news conference in April, general manager Eric DeCosta called Beckham “probably the best player on the field” at Super Bowl LVI, where a torn ACL ended a productive postseason run for the Los Angeles Rams. Beckham, finally healthy, has flashed his game-breaking ability at points this season. The Ravens may need every bit of it to get over the postseason hump this month.
9. C Tyler Linderbaum
Harbaugh last month called Linderbaum the NFL’s best center, and his recent Pro Bowl selection suggests the evaluation’s not far off. The 2022 first-round pick is the Ravens’ only offensive lineman to rank among ESPN’s highest-graded pass blockers, and he’s flashed his elite mobility as an open-field blocker in their run game. Linderbaum’s most important responsibility, though, might come before the snap, when he has to help organize the Ravens’ protection against defenses inclined to blitz Jackson. The Ravens also can’t afford to have any errant shotgun snaps, which have sidetracked the offense — and put Jackson in harm’s way — over his playoff career.
8. ILB Patrick Queen
Queen does a lot for the Ravens’ defense — his career-high 133 tackles are proof of that — and does it well. He blitzes to get after the quarterback, blitzes to set teammates up for sacks, shoots gaps as a front-side run defender, tracks down ball carriers as a weak-side run defender, shadows running backs in man-to-man coverage and blankets receivers over the middle in zone coverage. The Ravens will need Queen’s sideline-to-sideline speed to help corral scrambling threats like the Bills’ Josh Allen and the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes.
7. CB Marlon Humphrey
Humphrey has not been the Ravens’ best cornerback this season, but he’s still their most talented. During a five-game stretch from Week 6 to Week 10, he allowed just five catches on 11 targets for 24 yards, according to PFF. In a starring Christmas Day performance against the San Francisco 49ers — still the Ravens’ biggest obstacle to a Super Bowl title — Humphrey had an interception, gave up just one catch and set the edge aggressively as a slot defender against a smashmouth rushing offense. Most of the NFL’s top receivers in these playoffs are in the NFC, but the Houston Texans’ Nico Collins, Browns’ Amari Cooper, Miami’s Tyreek Hill and Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs will all be eager to prod Humphrey for weaknesses, especially if his calf injury lingers.
6. DL Justin Madubuike
Madubuike tied for 23rd in the NFL with 64 quarterback pressures, according to PFF, behind only outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (71) in Baltimore. And after a 13-sack regular season, he could be poised for an even more impressive postseason. The first-time Pro Bowl selection has an uncommon physique and motor — “He’s shredded,” inside linebacker Roquan Smith said — that could make drop-backs difficult for worn-down guards and centers. Plus, the pending free agent will be playing for a big payday, whether it’s in Baltimore or beyond.
5. WR Zay Flowers
Flowers’ on-field influence goes beyond his receiving ability, which is considerable. The first-round pick did, after all, lead the Ravens in receptions (77), targets (108), receiving yards (858) and 20-plus-yard catches (12). Just as important, though, is the rookie’s speed, which stresses defenses before the snap when the Ravens motion him across the field. A healthy Flowers opens the offense up vertically and horizontally. He can line up out wide and in the slot. He can run under deep shots or take quick hitters to the house. And he usually has a good touchdown celebration (or two) ready.
4. OLB Jadeveon Clowney
Clowney tied a career high with 9.5 sacks this season, and he should have had a handful more. The former No. 1 overall pick has the fifth-highest pass rush win rate among NFL edge rushers, according to ESPN, despite drawing a double-team on a quarter of his snaps. He’s brought a no-holds-barred physicality to the position, punishing quarterbacks who’ve stayed in the pocket for one beat too many. Every Super Bowl-caliber defense needs at least one premium pass rusher; Clowney is the closest thing the Ravens have to it.
3. ILB Roquan Smith
If Jackson is the face of the franchise and the engine of the offense, Smith is the voice of the locker room and the heart of the defense. He hits hard and speaks plainly, bringing a focus to a unit that flummoxes quarterbacks with its disguised coverages. Smith’s impact on the Ravens’ run defense and coverage is immense. He finished sixth in the NFL in tackles (158) and second on the Ravens in run stops (24), according to PFF, and the Ravens ranked fifth in DVOA against passes over the middle, according to FTN. His arrival in a midseason trade in 2022 transformed Mike Macdonald’s defense. “He came in and brought a different type of energy, a different type of leadership,” safety Geno Stone said.
2. S Kyle Hamilton
Hamilton is the Ravens’ do-everything sensation. Get after the quarterback? He had three sacks in one game and averaged a quarterback pressure every 2.6 pass rush snaps, according to PFF. Blanket receivers in coverage? He led all NFL defensive backs in success rate when targeted, according to NGS. Take on blockers as a run defender and screen stopper? Few slot defenders are better. Hamilton, who tied tight end Todd Heap as the youngest Pro Bowl selection in franchise history, is the first Raven since Ray Lewis and Jamie Sharper to record double-digit tackles for loss (10) and passes defensed (13) in a single season. The more he does for the Ravens — and the list seems to expand by the month — the harder their defense is to solve.
1. QB Lamar Jackson
Who else could it be? Eight months after signing an NFL-record contract extension, Jackson is the front-runner, once again, for MVP honors. When the award is announced next month, he should join elite company; only Jim Brown, Brett Favre and Patrick Mahomes had won their second MVP by age 27. Jackson’s evolution as a passer has powered a Ravens offense that enters the playoffs as dynamic as any. In his first year under Monken, Jackson set career highs for completion percentage (67.2), passing yards (3,678) and yards per attempt (8.0). He hasn’t lost his trademark elusiveness or elastic athleticism, either. His scrambles and off-platform throws have sparked one big play after another, and his running ability powers the NFL’s most productive ground game.