Any analysis of the Ravens’ Super Bowl dreams this season — or any season, really — starts with quarterback Lamar Jackson. So does any ranking of the team’s top players.
After that top spot, though? That’s where it gets complicated. The Ravens, like a lot of teams, have a handful of promising players at important positions, good players at less important positions and potential star players with medical red flags.
Ahead of the start of Ravens training camp this month, The Baltimore Banner ranked the top players on the 2023 roster based on their projected impact. On Monday, Nos. 20-11 were unveiled. Here are the top 10.
10. Kicker Justin Tucker
Tucker’s dominance at the position is nearly unparalleled. Over the past seven seasons, he’s earned first- or second-team All-Pro honors from the Associated Press every year and missed just nine field goal attempts from under 50 yards. Last year, when Tucker went 37 for 43 and finished with his worst field-goal accuracy (86%) since 2015, the Ravens still ranked second in field-goal and extra-point efficiency, according to Football Outsiders.
Under the NFL’s new kickoff rule, however, which stipulates that a fair catch results in possession at a team’s 25-yard line, regardless of where it’s fielded, Tucker’s value could be somewhat diminished. Rather than blasting his kickoffs into the end zone, Tucker has become adept at lofting balls that land near the goal line, allowing the Ravens’ coverage unit to pin teams inside their 20. Tucker’s a creative enough kicker that he could still find an edge under the new rule, but it won’t be easy.
9. Safety Kyle Hamilton
By the end of his rookie season, Hamilton was doing everything for the Ravens, and doing it well. From his role in the slot, the first-round pick blitzed effectively (two sacks, five quarterback hits), held up well in run defense (six run stops, according to Pro Football Focus), blew up wide receiver screens, and showed the versatility in pass defense that made the team’s coverages so difficult to predict. Hamilton finished the year as PFF’s highest-rated safety.
With the departure of Chuck Clark, Hamilton’s expected to become an every-down presence in the Ravens’ defense. He’s also set to take on a more traditional safety role next to Marcus Williams, with fewer snaps at nickelback. The change could limit his snaps in man coverage against wide receivers, whom he struggled to cover at times, but it will also take him out of the box more often, where he was so effective down the stretch in 2022.
8. Running back J.K. Dobbins
After returning from arthroscopic knee surgery in December, Dobbins was one of the NFL’s best running backs, averaging 6.6 yards per carry and 91.8 rushing yards per game over his five appearances, including the Ravens’ playoff loss. When he was on the field, the team’s Jackson-less offense was viable; when Dobbins was missing, the attack looked aimless.
Dobbins’ uncertain future became a minor distraction during mandatory minicamp, which he sat out, much to Ravens coaches’ chagrin. But he’ll have every reason to deliver the best year of his career in 2023, and he’ll have every opportunity to expand his game, most notably as a receiver. In coordinator Todd Monken’s offense, Georgia running backs averaged 4.3 receptions per game over the past two years. Dobbins, meanwhile, has just 25 catches in his 23 career games.
7. Center Tyler Linderbaum
Linderbaum had his issues in pass protection as a rookie, allowing three sacks and 26 pressures, the fourth most among NFL centers, according to PFF. But the first-round pick’s run blocking was as advertised. He finished first at the position in ESPN’s run-block win rate and became nightmare fuel for second-level defenders like Tampa Bay Buccaneers inside linebacker Devin White.
With another year of development, Linderbaum’s pass blocking should improve. And with the array of screens in Monken’s offense, his movement skills should become even more of an asset. But Linderbaum’s most overlooked contributions might come before the snap. If the Ravens pick up the pace on offense, giving Jackson more latitude to change plays at the line of scrimmage or even go hurry-up, Linderbaum’s responsibility for setting the protection against the various fronts Jackson sees every week becomes all the more important.
6. Inside linebacker Patrick Queen
For as much as Queen has struggled early in the past two seasons, his overall production offers a more compelling portrait of his growth at the position. Queen’s win rate as a pass rusher has risen from 8.6% as a rookie to 10.6% in 2021 to an elite 14.1% last year, according to PFF. His missed-tackle rate has fallen from 16.5% to 12.5% to a solid 7.1% last year, according to Pro Football Reference. And he’s coming off a season in which he posted career-best marks in interceptions (two), passer rating allowed (83.1), touchdowns allowed (zero) and yards per target allowed (7.0).
With the Ravens’ financial commitment to inside linebacker Roquan Smith, and their decision not to exercise Queen’s fifth-year option, the 2020 first-round pick is approaching what’s probably his final year in Baltimore. But given Queen’s age (23), durability and comfort in McDonald’s system, his career seems likely to continue on its upward trajectory.
5. Safety Marcus Williams
The Ravens struggled to defend deep passes last season, but not because of their primary deep safety. Williams had the highest interception rate of his career, finishing with four picks in just 11 games; allowed a passer rating of 71.1 in coverage, according to PFR, the lowest mark of his career; and didn’t give up a completion longer than 22 yards, according to PFF — also the best mark of his career.
If not for the wrist injury that sidelined him for two months, Williams might have earned the first Pro Bowl appearance of his career. In defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald’s system, his communication with Hamilton will be crucial as they help disguise the Ravens’ presnap looks. An improved pass rush could limit Williams’ workload in center field, but it could also free him up to make trouble elsewhere.
4. Tight end Mark Andrews
After a record-breaking 2021, Andrews had a disappointing (for-him) 2022. All he did was finish third among tight ends in both receiving yards (847) and catches (73), and seventh in touchdowns (five). Knee and shoulder injuries limited Andrews to 15 games and a career-low 11.6 yards per catch, but not, apparently, his ability to uncover from defenders. According to ESPN, his “open score” was the highest by any tight end in the history of the receiving metric, which dates to 2017.
Andrews’ growth as a blocker was also notable. He graded out as PFF’s fourth-highest-rated tight end there and, according to Sports Info Solutions, finished the season without a single blown block. Andrews’ ability to line up anywhere on the field — as an isolated outside receiver, in the slot, as an in-line tight end, even under center — should make him hard to double-team, especially with the new weapons in the Ravens’ passing game. Even if Andrews doesn’t have the route-running freedom he did under former offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Monken’s success at Georgia with star tight end Brock Bowers bodes well for his new role.
3. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey
Humphrey had a strong, if strange, 2022. His passer rating in coverage, according to PFF, was an impressive 74.5. He didn’t allow a single touchdown catch. And only one cornerback, Denver Broncos star Patrick Surtain II, was targeted at a lower rate. But Humphrey also was called for five penalties, forced just four incompletions on 74 targets and gave up 586 yards overall — more than Marcus Peters.
Humphrey, primarily an outside cornerback (73.5% of his coverage snaps), was most effective last year when aligned in the slot. He allowed just 0.77 yards per coverage snap, according to PFF, the sixth-best mark in the NFL last season among cornerbacks with over 100 snaps inside. The part-time role also highlighted Humphrey’s ability as a blitzer; he had three sacks and four quarterback hits in 2022, both career highs. With the hire of defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson, who helped turn the Philadelphia Eagles’ secondary into one of the NFL’s best, Humphrey could climb another rung on the NFL’s cornerback pecking order this season.
2. Inside linebacker Roquan Smith
The Ravens’ defensive turnaround last season can’t be explained by simply pointing to their trade for Smith. But the unit’s before-and-after splits are stark. Through Week 8, the Ravens ranked 15th in defensive efficiency, 10th in pass defense efficiency and 22nd in run defense efficiency, according to Football Outsiders. In the 10 weeks after Smith’s arrival, they ranked third, ninth and second, respectively. In terms of expected points added per play, the defense shot up from 21st to 10th over the same periods, according to RBSDM.com.
Smith, the NFL’s highest-paid off-ball linebacker, fits the modern prototype for the position. The first-team All-Pro is strong enough in run defense that the Ravens can bottle up ground games with light boxes, reliable enough in coverage that he sees mainly check-downs, and athletic enough as a blitzer to keep offensive lines and quarterbacks honest. If the Ravens’ defense is only as dependable as its signal-caller, it certainly won’t hurt to have Smith back after a full offseason in Macdonald’s system.
1. Quarterback Lamar Jackson
Four years ago, Jackson had one of the greatest individual seasons in NFL history, a 43-touchdown, 14-win campaign recognized with unanimous league Most Valuable Player honors. But he enters 2023 with perhaps the highest ceiling — and the highest floor — of his professional career.
On paper, Jackson’s supporting cast has never been better. A top-10, if not top-five, offensive line. A Pro Bowl tight end. Two recent first-round picks and a former All-Pro at wide receiver. Two running backs who’ve never rushed for less than 5 yards per carry in a season. A new offensive coordinator with fresh passing-game concepts.
Everything is in place for a resurgent season. The distraction of Jackson’s long-unresolved contract negotiations — gone, replaced with the certainty of $185 million in guarantees. The frustration of being considered a run-first quarterback — fading fast, with Jackson joking about throwing for 6,000 yards this season. If he can stay healthy, all of Jackson’s dreams will be within reach in 2023.