Ravens coach John Harbaugh has been Nelson Agholor’s biggest advocate this offseason, eager to point out how hardworking, overlooked and underappreciated the team’s other free-agent wide receiver signing has been. Ask Harbaugh about Odell Beckham Jr., and you might also get praise for Agholor.
“He is so talented,” Harbaugh said recently on “The Adam Jones Podcast.” “I knew he was a good player, but I didn’t really understand the talent level quite [enough] until you’re around him and you see him in practice.”
On Tuesday, at the Ravens’ last open practice before next week’s mandatory minicamp, reporters finally saw what Harbaugh’s seen throughout offseason workouts and organized team activities. With the Ravens’ top wide receivers missing — Rashod Bateman and rookie Zay Flowers were absent, while Odell Beckham Jr. remained out — Agholor stood out as quarterback Lamar Jackson’s top target.
Against an almost equally depleted Ravens secondary, the 2015 first-round pick worked every area of the field for catches. In the Ravens’ first 11-on-11 period, Agholor got open on a crossing route for a red-zone score. In the next period, he settled into a soft spot between the Ravens’ linebackers and safeties and made a nearly full-extension grab of a Jackson pass.
Agholor ended practice with one of the best catches of the Ravens’ three open practices, a contested back-shoulder completion from Jackson about 25 yards downfield in which he elevated over rookie cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly. On the next play, Agholor caught another back-shoulder throw on a fade route.
“He’s been on point,” Harbaugh said after practice. “He’s been here pretty much every day. He’s missed a few days here and there for personal reasons, but he’s a talented guy. Former first-round pick; he looks it. Rangy, big catch radius — all things you saw today [that] I feel like he’s been doing all along.”
Agholor, 30, struggled to live up to expectations after signing a two-year, $26 million contract with the New England Patriots. He followed his breakout 2020 season for the Las Vegas Raiders, when he had a career-high 896 yards and eight touchdowns, with a 473-yard season in 2021. In Agholor’s final season with New England, he finished with 362 receiving yards, his fewest since his rookie year, and just 137 yards after Week 4.
Agholor signed a one-year, $3.3 million contract with the Ravens in late March, before the team signed Beckham or drafted Flowers. If the Ravens’ wide receiver room makes it through the preseason unscathed — an unlikelihood, given the group’s injury history — Agholor might enter Week 1 slotted at fourth on the depth chart, if not fifth, behind Devin Duvernay.
However the rotation shakes out, the Ravens are on solid ground, better suited to handle shakeups out wide than they’ve been in years. If the Agholor who flashed Tuesday can show up in September, he could have to settle for being an overqualified WR4. This being Baltimore, he could also find himself in a more prominent role before long.
“I’m excited when they all get here to see that and see the [wide receiver] competition,” offensive coordinator Todd Monken said last month. “I’m excited to get started, but there is only one ball.”
Harbaugh said after practice that he doesn’t expect any no-shows at minicamp next week, though some players could be sidelined with injuries.
Attendance at the Ravens’ voluntary OTAs has been far from perfect. On Tuesday, the offense was missing its top three wide receivers — Flowers was sidelined by what Harbaugh called a soft-muscle “tweak” that shouldn’t limit him next week — along with Dontay Demus, the undrafted rookie from Maryland who impressed last week.
Running back Gus Edwards, who has been limited to workouts with athletic trainers at the Ravens’ open practices, will be “partially ready” for minicamp, Harbaugh said, and “fully ready” for training camp in late July.
J.K. Dobbins, a pending free agent who tweeted last week about his hopes of staying in Baltimore “till the end of my career,” missed his third straight open practice.
“We want him back [next season], but who knows the future?” Harbaugh said. “Nobody knows the future. I know J.K., when he gets back here, will be determined, excited. He will work hard, his energy will be high. I know he’ll be in great shape, because I know who he is as a person, and I expect great things out of him this year.”
Left tackle Ronnie Stanley and right guard Kevin Zeitler were missing for the third straight week. Fullback Patrick Ricard, meanwhile, again watched from the sideline, as did tight end Mark Andrews, who reported for OTAs last week.
On defense, the Ravens were missing defensive tackle Travis Jones (second straight absence); inside linebacker Patrick Queen; outside linebacker Tyus Bowser (third straight); cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey (third straight), Damarion “Pepe” Williams (third straight), Jalyn Armour-Davis, Kevon Seymour and Trayvon Mullen; and safety Marcus Williams, among others.
Speed it up
The Ravens were one of the NFL’s most deliberate presnap offenses last year, often using most of their 40-second play clock to get set and snap the ball — and sometimes not snapping it at all.
With Monken replacing Greg Roman as play-caller this offseason, the Ravens seem intent on picking up the pace. During one 11-on-11 period with Jackson at quarterback Tuesday, The Baltimore Banner timed the duration between plays. Unofficially, four of Jackson’s six plays were snapped after about 25 or 30 seconds, while the other two were snapped after about 31 to 33 seconds — plenty of time for Jackson to tinker with the play call, if he’d needed to.
“We’ve had a lot of one-on-one sessions in terms of just how we’re going to operate and how the quarterbacks need to operate,” Harbaugh said. “I think you saw today, the communication is probably better than what you saw last week, so we’ve just got to keep building on that.”
- Fullback Ben Mason was an unlikely offensive standout Tuesday. He beat rookie inside linebacker Trenton Simpson in coverage for a red-zone score in the back of the end zone. (Simpson raked the ball free, but the official ruled that Mason had completed the catch.) In the next 11-on-11 period, Mason got open on a short out-breaking route before catching back-to-back check-downs. He added another reception later in 11-on-11 work. Mason, a fifth-round pick of the Ravens in 2021, hasn’t appeared in a game over his two NFL seasons. Nor was he a productive receiver at Michigan, where he had just three catches for 32 yards. But if Mason’s development continues this offseason, he could challenge for a roster spot.
- OTAs are always rife with experimentation. For Harbaugh, that means evaluating 6-foot-8 tackle Daniel Faalele at left guard. “We’re just going to try to give him every opportunity to see kind of where he flashes,” Harbaugh said. “Right now is a great time. I wanted to see what he looked like … at left guard, and he looked good. He could stay a little more square and things like that, but his feet look good, his hands look good, he’s able to punch quickly with his hands and react pretty quickly in there, so I wouldn’t rule him out as a potential left guard.”
- Isaiah Likely led the way for an active and productive tight end group. His strong day started with a highlight-reel catch in the end zone. After running a quick-developing fade route against undrafted rookie cornerback Jeremy Lucien, he secured a diving grab of a Josh Johnson pass for a touchdown.
- Outside linebackers Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo again showed off the best pass-rush moves of the session. Oweh had an interior pressure after an apparent “hump” move — shedding an off-balance blocker with the swat of his inside arm — while Ojabo slipped by right tackle Morgan Moses later when he turned an outside speed rush into an inside spin move. “Those guys are locked together, and here’s the best thing about those guys now: They’re helping each other,” first-year outside linebackers coach Chuck Smith said. “When they’re lined up out there, they’re communicating. Ojabo might need this, or he might ask ‘Dafe’ this. They come off because they talk the same language, from the standpoint of football language.”