As head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, John Harbaugh has consistently made rookies earn their spot. Rookies don’t have a free pass to the starting lineup in Baltimore; they have to make it painfully obvious that they belong on the field. It’s called the rookie tax. A great example of this is the 2018 season. Orlando Brown Jr. was the best option at right tackle and it took Harbaugh a while to give the job to him. Ravens fans can certainly think of many others in recent years.
The 2022 Ravens rookie class may be as protected from the rookie tax as any other group of Ravens rookies has been. Kyle Hamilton was taken with the fourteenth overall pick. He’s expected to play and be a difference-maker right away. Hamilton is the reason Chuck Clark is now on the trading block. Starting Clark over Hamilton would be a stick-in-the-mud choice, even for Harbaugh. Hamilton is going to see the field early and often.
The Ravens also drafted Tyler Linderbaum in the first round. He’s a plug-and-play starter. That was the entire point of taking Linderbaum with the 25th overall pick. The Ravens addressed two major needs with their first two picks. They don’t have the luxury of patience. The first-round picks happen to be fundamental parts of the plan.
The next pick is David Ojabo, an edge rusher recovering from an injury from his Pro Day. Ojabo won’t be ready at the beginning of the season, and it’s possible that he won’t become available for the Ravens until November. When he gets into the action he’ll be weaved into an already established rotation and the Ravens won’t force too much too early. That doesn’t count as a rookie tax. On top of that, Ojabo is defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald’s guy from Michigan, which can’t be a bad thing for him. Three picks in and there’s nobody Harbaugh can really be stingy with as a rookie.
In the third round, the Ravens selected Travis Jones, a 6’4” 325-pound defensive tackle from UConn. Jones may not get top billing on the defensive line, but he has to get involved. He offers much more than both Michael Pierce and Broderick Washington in terms of athleticism. Calais Campbell is going to be on a snap count as the elder of the defensive front, while we don’t really know if we can expect to see Derek Wolfe back in action.
Jones has a chance to be the future star of the defensive line. Under the new direction of Macdonald, the defense may be looking for more penetration into the backfield from their defensive tackles. This would bode well for Jones and Justin Madubuike. Jones may not be a starter, but he should see the field plenty. He also should expect to be on the field as a nose guard in passing situations because he’s known for pushing the pocket. The rookie tax continues to be defeated.
That leaves us with the fourth-round picks and later before Harbaugh can think about making life hard on a rookie. One fourth-rounder who will be an immediate starter is the new punter in town Jordan Stout. Sam Koch just announced his retirement, so now the job is Stout’s by design and default. That’s five players Harbaugh has to rely on right away.
Jalyn Armour-Davis and Damarion Williams are both cornerbacks who will be fighting for the same role. They both are trying to be the nickel back, a position that’s become crucially important in a league with great slot receivers. Here’s the thing though: with Anthony Averett and Tavon Young both playing for other teams, both fourth-round picks are absolutely needed for the roster. If they can play, they will play. The Ravens also were reminded last year that you can’t have enough defensive backs.
If anybody is going to be subject to the rookie tax it’s probably going to be tight end Charlie Kolar. Nick Boyle is one of the best blocking tight ends in football. Isaiah Likely, another rookie tight end, isn’t competing with Boyle’s role nearly as much. Because Likely is more of a big slot receiver than a hand in the dirt, next to the tackle tight end, he may escape the rookie tax easier than Kolar.
That being said, we don’t know the situation with Boyle’s injury. The Ravens just restructured his deal, and Boyle may never be the same. If that’s the case, Kolar just got his path to playing time in a tight end heavy offense called by Greg Roman.
Daniele Faalele was drafted in the fourth round too, and he’s not necessarily in line for a fast start. This has less to do with the rookie tax and more to do with the fact that he’s a bit of a project. In all honesty, I wasn’t crazy about Faalele in this draft class. He’s huge but his footwork and his balance leave a lot to be desired. With Morgan Moses, Ja’Wuan James, and swing tackle Pat Mekari ahead of him, Faalele is a pick for the future more than anything.
The only other rookie from the draft class is Tyler Badie. Badie was taken in the sixth round as a running back from Missouri. Badie will be behind J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards no matter what happens with the newly signed Mike Davis. Badie is fighting for the third running back spot by default. It’s hard to accuse any coach of putting on a rookie tax for making a sixth-round pick wait. This is especially true at a position as front-loaded as this one.
Baltimore will have to use their rookies in the 2022 season. There’s no getting around it. It’s something to remember when the Ravens release their first depth chart during training camp.
Harbaugh can say whatever he wants…the situation dictates that the rookies get involved early.