With all fan passes for both training camp and the July 31 stadium practice claimed in under 24 hours last week, there’s no shortage of excitement as the Ravens ramp up preparations for the 2021 season later this month.
But with that enthusiasm comes great expectations for a franchise that’s won 25 regular-season games over the last two years. The Ravens will not only be aiming to make the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, but a deeper January run is in order after back-to-back exits in the divisional round. In the eyes of many, it will be Super Bowl or bust as a talented roster becomes more and more expensive.
Ahead of the start of training camp next week, we’ll take a look at a position group for the 2021 Ravens every day:
Projected depth chart entering training camp: Lamar Jackson, Trace McSorley, Tyler Huntley
Why to be impressed: Jackson is one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks and arguably the league’s most exciting player with it being no coincidence that Baltimore owns a 31-8 record since he became the starter midway through the 2018 season. His extraordinary athleticism at the quarterback position drives a unique offense and has already provided a career’s worth of highlight plays, and 68 touchdown passes in 37 career starts rain on the fiery hot takes from Jackson’s loudest critics. In a pandemic-disrupted season regarded as a step back after his historic MVP campaign in 2019, the 24-year-old still rushed for 1,000 yards for a second straight year and threw 26 touchdowns, the fourth-highest single-season total in Ravens history. Jackson has set an incredible standard at such a young age.
Why to be concerned: Jackson’s underwhelming playoff past will remain a hot topic regardless of how the regular season goes, but the more immediate issue this summer is the backup quarterback competition between McSorley and Huntley, who own as many combined NFL starts as anyone reading this right now. Even if injury concerns for Jackson are generally overblown, any quarterback — especially one carrying the ball roughly 10 times and throwing 25 to 30 passes per game — missing a game or two is a distinct possibility, meaning McSorley or Huntley could be called upon to help the Ravens win a game that may have serious implications in the race for the No. 1 seed and the AFC North. McSorley has an extra year in the program and was second on the depth chart during spring workouts while Huntley shows much athletic upside and flashed in limited snaps late last season, making this one of the more interesting summer battles to monitor. Whether or not the Ravens elect to carry three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster for the fourth straight year adds another layer of intrigue to the competition.
Big question: Will Jackson and the passing game ascend to a new level in 2021?
Lost among the nonsensical takes and subjective quarterback rankings that gain more traction on social media are reasonable critiques about Jackson’s passing efficiency outside the numbers and when the Ravens are forced to play off-schedule, weaknesses that have been exposed against tougher competition in January. According to Football Outsiders, just 25.4% of Baltimore attempts last season were sideline passes from the pocket, which was the lowest rate in the league and well below the NFL average of 35.0%. The Ravens didn’t go all in acquiring a Hall of Fame talent like Julio Jones, but the additions of veteran Sammy Watkins, first-round pick Rashod Bateman, and standout right guard Kevin Zeitler as well as the hiring of receiver coaches Tee Martin and Keith Williams were clear signals that the organization recognized the need for the passing game to improve. Though offensive coordinator Greg Roman will also be under the microscope, the rest falls on Jackson to use his new weapons effectively, combat those reasonable criticisms, and make his loudest critics look even dumber, especially as a nine-figure contract extension looms sooner than later.
Prediction: As we again overanalyze every Jackson throw, decision, movement, and breath this summer, Huntley will win the No. 2 job as the Ravens ultimately keep three quarterbacks on the roster.