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Leapin’ Ravens

Daelin Hayes
Photo Credit: Baltimore Ravens
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Three players who could make a big jump this season in Baltimore

The Ravens rookie class is receiving its fair share of bouquets from the football world, and with good reason. You can debate positional value until you’re blue in the face, and with some merit, but the fact remains — the Ravens added talent to their roster, and should be a better team in the long run because of it.

There is a ton of optimism coursing through the purple veins of much of the Flock regarding this class, as well as those members of the Walking-Wounded Brigade from last year who are expected to be returning from injury. But there are a few other young players I could see taking a significant step up this season.

Or, let me say instead, will be presented with an opportunity to take a step up this season. Last year’s two first-rounders, Rashod Bateman and Odafe Oweh, are fully expected to take a leap this season, so there will be plenty to write about with them as the season nears. This is more of an exercise to look at some guys who might be a little below the radar.

James Proche

A summer star since he’s entered the league, Proche has impressed practice-watchers with his sure hands and ability to use his body to gain position against defenders. He has generated a plethora of “oohs and ahhs” for highlight-reel catches in training camp, but simply hasn’t gotten a lot of play during his first two regular seasons.

But there should be more opportunities for Proche this coming season, barring the Ravens grabbing a veteran or two to prop up their receiving crew. And in his few opportunities to this point, Proche has flashed.

Over his first two seasons, Proche has only been targeted 23 times, but 17 of them were completed — good for a 73.9-percent catch rate, per Pro Football Reference. A lot of attention is being placed on his 2020 draft classmate Devin Duvernay this season, but the latter’s Pro Bowl form as a returner could be something the Ravens hierarchy doesn’t want to jeopardize, given their affinity for special teams.

It could be Pro time this season.

[Related Article: Ravens Have Invested Plenty in WR]

Daelin Hayes

Before we start with Hayes, let me admit a bias I hold here. As a lifelong Notre Dame fan, Hayes was one of my favorites to ever suit up in South Bend. He was a team leader, battled back from shoulder injuries and played his best ball during his final season with the Irish. Those are my kind of guys.

Once again, Hayes was bitten by the injury bug during his rookie campaign with the Ravens last season, and didn’t get on the field very much, playing in one game and generating exactly as many statistics as I did from my couch — albeit, presumably, with less potato chip crumbs on his shirt.

But the Ravens have a need at the edge this season, especially with rookie David Ojabo’s recovery still a question mark, and not a lot of clarity yet on the status of Tyus Bowser as he continues his own injury rehab. If he can stay healthy, Hayes should be able to steal some snaps.

What he probably won’t provide is much of that pass-rush that Ravens fans covet so much. What he can provide is good edge-setting, and an ability to do well in coverage. Hayes could make a mark in sub packages this season and carve out an important role for himself on this team.

If, if, if he can stay healthy.

Brandon Stephens

I was not a fan of the pick when the Ravens drafted Stephens in the third round of last year’s draft. For one, I wasn’t all that familiar with him outside of hearing his name in some draft podcasts. For another… I just didn’t like the pick. It’s really that simple.

I do now.

And I apologize to the Ravens brain-trust on this one.

Stephens showed a ton of positional versatility during his rookie campaign. The college running back-turned-corner ended up playing a ton of safety for the Ravens last year, along with covering the slot and basically weaving his way through the muck in run defense. He totaled 78 tackles last season and broke up four passes. Yes, injuries got him on the field probably more than the Ravens anticipated.

But he showed he belonged out there, as well.

The additions of veteran safety Marcus Williams and first-round pick Kyle Hamilton probably keep Stephens from getting a lot of starting reps in that traditional safety role, but fear not. This Swiss Army Knife-type player can get on the field a ton this season, and I believe a year of experience will result in Stephens generating turnovers and blanketing problem match-ups.

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