We whip out the crystal ball to see what Ravens will rise to the top in 2021
A new chapter in the NFL’s vibrant history is set to write itself this fall, and the on-paper Ravens are in that top tier of teams with legitimate aspirations of closing this particular chapter bathing in a shower of confetti.
Winning a Super Bowl is hard. It takes sustained excellence throughout a season just to make it to the playoffs, and, if your team is fortunate enough to make it that far, their reward is having to take on another superior team in a winner-take-all clash in front of the world’s eyes. Win, and you advance. Lose, and you are endlessly mocked on social media and the pinhead shows on all-sports cable television channels.
At the end, there is only one who can call the season an unqualified success, and 31 other teams spend their entire offseason trying to hunt that team down. A contender needs health in key positions, some stone-cold plays in times of extreme duress and coaching that puts the players in the best possible position to win.
And you need players. Really, really good players who excel as individuals in the framework of the team’s schemes. Some of these individual performances are expected, as superstars usually do superstar things. Some are unexpected leaps by previously-unheralded players. Some are just random flukes that catch fire and play above their heads for one glorious stretch of brilliance.
Let’s take a look at some Ravens I expect to stand out this coming season.
MVP — Lamar Jackson
The NFL is a quarterback league, and to have a consistent shot at chasing a ring you need sustained excellence from your quarterback — particularly one with a league MVP on his resumé. Jackson is one of the most electric playmakers the league has ever seen, and that is not breathless hyperbole. Even his detractors fear his ability to run and make plays happen with his superior athleticism.
Yes, the Ravens offensive line has been beat up this summer, making early-season cohesion a bit of a struggle. Same goes for the receiving unit. And, now, the running back room. It’s certainly not ideal.
But all of this should result in putting more on Jackson’s plate, and giving him a greater chance at taking over games, especially early in the year. If he’s a success, and I’m betting he will be, he’s a no-brainer choice for team MVP, and probably in the running for another league honor.
Offensive Player of the Year — Marquise Brown
The Ravens have added some shiny new tools to the receiving package, including rookie first-rounder Rashod Bateman and veteran free agent, Sammy Watkins, both of whom have struggled with the injury bug. Brown has, as well, but he has developed both on- and off-field chemistry with Jackson, and that goes a long way.
Yes, tight end Mark Andrews will probably be Jackson’s most-targeted option, but I think Brown has a breakout campaign this season. Think 1,100 yards and eight-plus touchdowns for the speedy Brown.
Defensive Player of the Year — Calais Campbell
Campbell had a nice first season with the Ravens last year, with some dashes of dominance sprinkled in (watch the Eagles game if you want to see three hours of borderline abuse). Sure, Campbell is a year older. And, sure again, the Ravens don’t run a prototypical, four-man rush defense that lets him get upfield nearly every down, but I think we’re going to see a different level of dominance this season for Campbell, with added comfort in the system and hopefully better health across the board.
This is more of a hunch, obviously, but I suspect Campbell creates mayhem up front all season.
Rookie of the Year — Rashod Bateman
Before the off-season, I would have pegged Ben Cleveland, simply because I was kind of under the general assumption he would step right into that left guard position from the start and find immediate success in Greg Roman’s offense. But injuries, and an improved Ben Powers, have put the brakes on that, at least temporarily.
The rookie receiver has had his own injury struggles this season, and will miss at least the first three games of the season, but if he is an integral part of an improved passing attack by the end of the season, he is going to be the easy choice here.
I believe he will.
Fast Riser — Patrick Queen
There were some hiccups for the first-rounder last year, particularly in terms of coverage and gap responsibility. But there were also flashes. Tremendous, exciting flashes.
Queen’s athleticism is impossible to ignore, and he showed off an ability to run sideline to sideline — a trait that will usually result in big total tackle numbers. As he gets more and more comfortable with the system, and the things he can do within that system, look for his mistakes to lessen and his splash plays to increase.
Fellow second-year defender Justin Madubuike also is on my radar for this, but I feel Queen is simply going to be on the field more this season. Hence, he’s my pick.