MVP: Lamar Jackson
It’s been a rollercoaster of a first half of the season for the Ravens. That applies to Lamar Jackson, too, but the highs have been higher than we’ve ever seen from the fourth-year QB. He’s answering all the questions that surrounded him for years, becoming more accurate outside the numbers and proving he can lead a comeback, while his tight end and number one receiver are having career seasons. Most importantly, he has a team with a league-high 15 players currently on injured reserve at 5-2, firmly in the race for the division and a top playoff seed. I strongly doubt any other signal caller could be doing more with less than Jackson.
DPOY: Calais Campbell
The 14-year veteran is experiencing a career season in what could be one of his last. Going into the bye week, Calais Campbell leads the defense in tackles for loss, is third in QB hits and is first on the defensive line in tackles. Among defensive linemen league wide, he’s tied for eighth with 17 hurries and tied for 11th in TFLs, is PFF’s fifth highest graded interior defender and the Ravens’ highest graded defender. Campbell has been one of the league’s best run defending linemen and an above average pass rusher, too, and has unequivocally been the team’s best on that side of the ball.
Anthony Averett, Chuck Clark and Odafe Oweh deserve some love as well. Averett has been the team’s, and one of the league’s, best corners, Oweh is on the path to being an elite pass rusher for years to come and Clark is the glue that holds the defense together.
Best rookie: Odafe Oweh
Through the draft process, Odafe Oweh was seen as more of a project than a guy that could make an instant impact. Those assessments couldn’t be farther from the truth. His 18 pressures on the season are second most among all rookie linebackers and 13th most league wide, and his three sacks are second among rookie linebackers and also 13th league wide. He’s only 22, already one of the league’s best pass rushers and firmly in the defensive rookie of the year race.
Best second-year player: Devin Duvernay
Two years removed from the 2020 draft, and it’s not looking like one that will produce many high-end contributors. The class has been full of disappointments, whether it be Patrick Queen’s shortcomings, Justin Madubuike’s inability to consistently take the next step, or none of the day three picks becoming anything of value. Queen has turned it around a little as of late, Madubuike has shown flashes and James Proche has made plays in a limited role, but Devin Duvernay takes the award for best sophomore. He’s become a solid number three receiver and one of the NFL’s best return men.
This would have easily been J.K. Dobbins’ award to lose.
Best moment: Oweh forced fumble to seal win over KC
It was the loudest M&T Bank Stadium has been this season in the first home game with a full crowd in 20 months, and it sealed a victory over a team that was (at the time) thought of as the class of the AFC that the Ravens have failed to overcome for years. The rookie coming up with the biggest play of the game to finally get over the Chiefs has easily been the best moment of the season to date no matter how much the Chiefs try to make that win look worse as they continue to spiral.
Honorable mentions include Justin Tucker‘s record-setting, game-winning 66-yard field goal in Detroit and the epic comeback over the Colts.
Biggest loss to injury: Ronnie Stanley
The list of injured players is excruciatingly long, so there’s a lot to choose from for this. That being said, the All-Pro left tackle is the most significant. Ronnie Stanley’s loss was the first of many dominoes to fall that led to the offensive line being shuffled up as much as it has.
Marcus Peters was another big loss, but Averett has filled in well. J.K. Dobbins hurts too, but behind this offensive line I’m not sure he would look like himself anyway.
Biggest surprise: Patrick Mekari
Patrick Mekari had only played right tackle for one half of one game last season, a loss in a monsoon up in New England. Inserting him as the starter at the position made a lot of folks uneasy about the trajectory of the line, but he held the position down with six weeks of solid play and was playing like one of the best right tackles in the NFL before going down.
Averett and Josh Bynes have a case for this nod as well. Bynes is in his third stint with his team in his mid-30s and still a difference-maker at middle linebacker, and Averett is second in the NFL in pass breakups, has more interceptions than touchdowns allowed while being the most targeted player in the league.
None of these three started the season in the spots they now find themselves, but they’ve stepped up to the challenge and then some.
Biggest disappointment: Alejandro Villanueva
There are a few worthy candidates for this one. Patrick Queen has not taken the next step and was moved to the weak side in favor of Bynes, Madubuike hasn’t taken a step forward either after lots of preseason hype and Ty’Son Williams went from looking like a diamond-in-the-rough find to fourth on the depth chart. That said, the most disappointing has to be Alejandro Villanueva. He was awful at right tackle and has been subpar since moving to the left side, his natural position.
With a grade of 61.6, he’s PFF’s 52nd highest graded tackle. He’s now the team’s top option at either tackle spot, surely not a situation in which the team is happy to find itself.
Most likely to break out after the bye: Rashod Bateman
Rashod Bateman looks like a stud through his first two career games. Coming out of the bye and as the season continues, his usage and compatibility with Jackson should only increase. Queen would be another good choice for this. Since moving to the weak side playing next to Bynes, he’s posted his best two games of the season, has not missed a tackle and looks a lot more comfortable. If that remains his role, he can easily turn his season around.
Most likely to be extended next: Anthony Averett
The members of the loaded 2018 draft class are in their fourth season and final years of their rookie contracts, and a number of them are worthy of keeping around. Jackson is obviously the most likely to eventually get done, but we’ve heard no update on negotiations and it seems like Jackson feels no pressure to get it done any time soon. That leaves the other three big contributors from the class — Averett, Bradley Bozeman and DeShon Elliott — up next.
Of the three, Elliott seems like the least likely to be brought back if the team views Stephens as the free safety of the future.
Bozeman has been solid in his transition to center, but the Ravens historically are fine with letting offensive linemen walk in free agency. The cornerback depth is very spotty beyond this year, so Averett seems like the most logical choice for the team to pursue keeping.
I hope Elliott and Bozeman stay, they just don’t seem as likely as Averett.
Most impactful return from injury in waiting: Derek Wolfe
Derek Wolfe was designated to return from injured reserve a few days ago, meaning he’ll be activated sometime over the next few weeks. The defensive line is struggling to start the season. Brandon Williams has been ineffective, Madubuike hasn’t lived up to the preseason hype and Campbell, although playing well, has way too high of a snap count for how old he is. Wolfe’s return will take some of the load off Campbell’s shoulders, get Williams off the field more and maybe help Madubuike string together the flashes he occasionally shows.
Other returns from injury that will help are Nick Boyle, who should help out both tackles, Sammy Watkins, who I’m interested to see work with Bateman, and Mekari, who likely won’t return until the last few weeks of the regular season.