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Ravens Predictions for Offseason and 2022

Rashod Bateman at practice
Shawn Hubbard/Baltimore Ravens
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2021 was the wildest Ravens season of my lifetime.

On the field, Baltimore was involved in heartbreaking losses and thrilling victories from start to finish, starting with an overtime loss to Las Vegas in Week 1, finally overcoming the Chiefs, Lamar Jackson’s 400-yard game in a comeback win over Indianapolis to an overtime loss in Ben Roethlisberger’s final game in Baltimore.

Before the games even started, then between games, the Ravens were snake-bitten from the start. Six big contributors were hurt before the season began and never played a regular season snap. Ronnie Stanley came back from ankle surgery to play one game before shutting it down and opting for a second procedure. Marlon Humphrey and DeShon Elliott suffered season-ending injuries. Jackson, Rashod Bateman and a plethora of other contributors missed multiple games. Another mid-season COVID outbreak handicapped the team for another key divisional game.

Simply put, 2021 was a year many Ravens fans will want to quickly forget. As our calendars turned to a new year a couple weeks ago, we can start looking ahead to the months ahead. Here’s what 2022 could look like, with both some predictions and general thoughts on what the near future could look like.

Predictions for 2022

Greg Roman is fired, and his replacement is already in-house

The kids on Twitter and the Dads on Facebook get their wish with their arch nemesis getting the boot. Has there been a more polarizing coach in the history of the Ravens? Perhaps Cam Cameron?

It’s rare a coordinator sticks around with the same team at the same position for four seasons. They’re usually either fired or hired as a head coach somewhere before then. Wink Martindale should break that status quo, but Roman doesn’t seem as fortunate.

I’m personally a fan of Roman, but I still realize he has his faults. He’s arguably the greatest offensive coordinator in franchise history and the architect of an offense that nurtured an MVP quarterback and set multiple rushing records. At the same time, I think the team has reached its ceiling under a Roman offense. It feels like there’s another level the passing game can go to, but it won’t do so under Roman.

As for who steps into the position, the obvious candidates are QB coach James Urban, pass game specialist Keith Williams and wide receivers coach Tee Martin. Harbaugh traditionally promotes from within, and I don’t think that would change here. The team is about to give Jackson a lot of money, so his input will surely be taken in the process too.

Warranted or not, I think we see Roman replaced.

Defensive youth movement

The Ravens defense is about to go under an identity change and a youth movement with 10 draft picks and a bunch of veterans set to hit free agency. Let’s run through all the defenders set to hit the open market this spring:

It feels like the end of one era and the start of another. Of the veterans, I think Houston, Bynes, Fort and Jefferson are the likeliest to return. They’d all be pretty cheap and seem to have at least a year or two left in them. Campbell is rumored to be mulling retirement but could certainly be back if he decides to give it another go and Williams could return if he settles for less money than he’s currently making.

[Related: Ravens 2022 Roster/Salary Cap Preview]

Baltimore has an opportunity to completely overhaul the defense and mold the unit into whatever identity they want as they build around Humphrey, Queen, Oweh, Bowser and Madubuike; they’re the foundation. With 10 draft picks and the possibility for more with a trade down, I think we see at least two lineman and a few defensive backs drafted. Maybe another edge rusher to pair with Oweh if Houston and McPhee leave, too.

We’re on the precipice of a new era of Ravens defense, and this April’s draft will go a long way in reshaping the future of the unit.

A light camp and preseason

Since being hired in 2008, John Harbaugh has been one of the best coaches in the NFL at understanding his weaknesses and being willing to make changes and adapt for the better. When he lost J.K. Dobbins to a season-ending ACL injury in the preseason, he told his starters he wanted to get them just one drive together before the games counted.

He can’t afford to attempt that experiment ever again. Many teams have adopted a strategy of taking starters and key contributors off the field entirely in the preseason, and it’s the right move. The risk of losing key players to injuries in meaningless games far outweighs the possible upside that is getting them a few snaps together.

Harbaugh surely understands this and will respond accordingly. I’ll be shocked if any starter plays much, if at all, in the Ravens’ three 2022 preseason games after what happened last season.

Jackson’s peaks and valleys become more steady

The highs were higher than ever for Jackson in his fourth season, but the lows matched. We saw all the narratives surrounding Jackson broken. He eclipsed 400 yards for the first time, led multiple double-digit comebacks and improved in key areas with his arm.

Then, all of a sudden – as if a switch flipped – his season nosedived. As the cobbled-together offensive line failed to consistently protect him, he struggled to read what defenses were giving him, held the ball too long, took bad sacks and began turning the ball over at an unprecedented rate. Not to mention he ended the season having not rushed for a touchdown since Week 2.

I think we’ll see the peaks and valleys become more steady in his fifth season, and it will mostly be due to simply getting his guys back. He’ll have his running backs back and his offensive line should be revamped. Outside the usual contributors of Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown, he’ll have a number of other young receivers at his disposal, too. Rashod Bateman looks like a star in the making, Devin Duvernay found his niche, James Proche produced when called upon and Tylan Wallace began to contribute over the season’s last few weeks. For the first time in years, wide receiver is not a need going into an offseason.

Jackson will have the best group of pass catchers he’s ever had in 2022 and, at least on paper with everyone healthy, the offense has potential to be the best and most balanced ever in the Jackson-era.

Bateman breaks out… at Hollywood’s expense

For the first time, a Jackson-led offense has proven it can support two 1,000-yard receivers. He’s never even had one before, but has now shown two is possible. That being said, I’ll predict Bateman joins the 1k club in 2022, but at the expense of Brown.

Bateman racked up 515 yards on 46 catches in 12 games as a rookie. That’s roughly a 730-yard pace over 17 games, but that includes games with zero, one and two catches. I’m willing to bet those don’t happen in year two. Not to mention he was working his way back from groin surgery after missing most of his rookie training camp and preseason, which would have been valuable.

For Brown, his hot start to the season died out once Bateman was introduced. Brown topped 90 yards receiving three times to go along with five touchdowns in five games with Bateman out. After Bateman debuted, Brown scored just one touchdown in the final 11 games, only exceeded 90 yards once and ended the season on a five-game streak of fewer than 50 yards.

If this is a sign of what’s to come, Bateman is in line for a big year two while Brown is slated to take a back seat in year four.

Queen, Madubuike finally put it all together

Patrick Queen and Justin Madubuike have more in common than you’d think. Both are obviously second-year defenders, and both are key pieces the defense will build around moving forward. Both also seem to have had similar career arcs to date, showing flashes of excellence at times but being unable to string it together into stretches of consistently great play. Queen jumps off the screen with his tackles for loss, but still struggles in coverage and misses the occasional tackle he should make. Madubuike can look like Aaron Donald when he blows up plays from the snap but will then disappear for multiple drives.

In year three, I think it’s time we see the two put it all together and play to their potential, and there’s reason to believe that will occur. Queen’s second half turnaround has changed the trajectory of his career. At the minimum he’s a capable weak side linebacker that excels in chasing down runners from the backside and stuffing runs. If he took anything away from his time playing next to Josh Bynes, he should replicate what Bynes was able to do.

For Madubuike, he’ll likely graduate from a rotational piece and become the team’s top defensive lineman if Williams and Campbell don’t stick around. He’ll be forced to take a step forward.

BAL gets back at CIN with series split, CLE and PIT take a backseat

The Bengals got the best of the Ravens in 2021, sweeping the two game series with an average margin of victory of 22 points, and it sets up what should be a great rivalry for years to come between two of the best QBs in the AFC and tons of stars at offensive skill positions and on defense.

Conversely, Pittsburgh and Cleveland will take a backseat of sorts in the division for at least the near future. Both franchises have uncertainty with their QBs; the Steelers looking like they’ll need a new one and the Browns in a conundrum of whether or not to pay theirs. You can’t compete in a division with Joe Burrow and Jackson with below-average QB play, so I expect them to be less competitive until they do. We already began to see it unfold this year.

It’s Baltimore’s and Cincinnati’s division for now.

2022 Record: 12-5, 1st place in the AFC North

The Ravens seem like the likeliest team to go from worst to first in 2022. The offense has the chance to be a juggernaut with health and an improved line and the defense will be rebuilt.

A last-place schedule is going to give the Ravens a path to getting back to the top of the division. Diving deeper into the record, a 4-2 record in division – going 3-1 combined against Pittsburgh and Cleveland – doesn’t feel too unrealistic.

Baltimore catches a few breaks elsewhere in their 2022 schedule. Tampa Bay and New England, probably their two toughest games, are on the road. But they’ll get Miami, Buffalo and Denver at home. The schedule features some bottom feeders in Jacksonville, both New York teams, Carolina and Atlanta, which is worlds easier than the gauntlet that 2021’s schedule proved to be. Fourteen of Baltimore’s 17 games were against teams that won eight or more games.

They were on an 11-win pace before injuries derailed the season. 2022’s schedule isn’t as tough and the injury bug can’t hit this hard again.

Right?

Leave some of your 2022 predictions in the comments.

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