While the offseason focus remains on star quarterback Lamar Jackson and how his status will impact the salary cap, free agency, and the draft, the Ravens know improvement from within goes a long way in avoiding wasting cap dollars and leaning too heavily on rookies.
While teams dream of drafting immediate stars, development can be tricky with even some of the better players in team history needing a season or two to find their NFL footing. That said, wasting too much time on a sunk cost can also hurt an organization. As much as teams aim to master the science of drafting and developing players, the human element remains, which is why even the most successful organizations still miss on plenty of picks.
Below is a look at five young players the Ravens need more from in 2023:
CBs Jalyn Armour-Davis/Damarion Williams
OK, I’m cheating here listing two players in one spot — I considered listing Brandon Stephens too — but the state of Baltimore’s cornerback group is in flux beyond three-time Pro Bowl selection Marlon Humphrey. With veteran starter Marcus Peters scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, the Ravens need at least one of these 2022 fourth-round picks to join Stephens as options defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald can use with some confidence. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Armour-Davis was benched after some early-season opportunities on the outside and also had injury concerns, the latter being a big reason why the Alabama product fell to the fourth round in the first place. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Williams struggled in an October audition to be Baltimore’s nickel, which prompted the Ravens to move rookie first-round safety Kyle Hamilton into that role for the second half of the season. You don’t expect fourth-round picks to excel immediately, of course, but depth concerns at cornerback will be unavoidable if neither Armour-Davis nor Williams take a step forward in 2023.
WR Rashod Bateman
While I certainly believe the Ravens will try to make a significant move at wide receiver this offseason, I’m not confident in their ability to do so when considering their limited cap dollars and draft picks and a poor track record at the position that goes back many years. That’s why Bateman’s development remains so important to the success of this passing game. The 2021 first-round pick out of Minnesota has flashed the big-play skills to be a good starting wide receiver and had 226 receiving yards over the first three games of the 2022 campaign before sustaining a foot injury, but availability trumps that potential with Bateman now having missed nearly half of Baltimore’s games over two years. All signs point to the 6-foot-1, 197-pound wideout being ready to go for the bulk of the offseason, but Lisfranc surgery recoveries can be tricky, which is something to keep in mind as he aims to stay on the field and fulfill his lofty potential in his third NFL season.
G Ben Cleveland
Considering John Harbaugh’s excitement level when Baltimore drafted the Georgia offensive lineman in the 2021 third round, you wouldn’t have expected Cleveland to have started just five games over his first two seasons, especially with the Ravens having an open competition for the starting left guard spot in each of the last two training camps. The 6-foot-6, 370-pound Cleveland playing even less in 2022 than he did as a rookie wasn’t an encouraging sign, but that was also a testament to the improved play of veteran Ben Powers, who’s likely to depart via free agency next month. The arrival of former Bulldogs offensive coordinator Todd Monken could be a good sign for Cleveland with the way he performed in Georgia’s offense in 2020, but the pressure is on for him to finally live up to his draft billing. This spring and summer will be massive for Cleveland’s career since there’s likely a job to be won on an otherwise stable offensive line.
DT Travis Jones
The 6-foot-4, 334-pound nose tackle had a solid rookie campaign despite a preseason knee injury that slowed his momentum, so his inclusion on this list is much more about the circumstances of the rest of the defensive line rather than any concerns with his play. Considering the salary cap concerns raised by the contracts of veterans Calais Campbell and Michael Pierce as well as 2023 being a contract year for both Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington, you’d really like to see Jones emerge as an above-average starting-caliber player to anchor the defensive line moving forward and ease the difficulty of those other decisions. For what it’s worth, Pro Football Focus graded him 61st out of 126 interior defensive linemen as he averaged 21.6 defensive snaps per contest in 15 games. You’d like to see a little more pass-rush production, but his opportunities in that department were pretty limited in his rookie season.
OLB Odafe Oweh
Perhaps 2022 would have played out differently for Oweh had he not been recovering from offseason shoulder surgery or been thrust into taking on such a massive workload early on, but it would be difficult to describe his second year as anything but disappointing, especially after so much preseason hype. Though the 2021 first-round pick out of Penn State appeared in every game, he tallied just three sacks and 11 quarterback hits after registering five quarterback takedowns and 15 quarterback hits as a rookie. The lack of production and difficulties setting the edge caused his playing time to decline in late November and December before a late-season surge gave Oweh something about which to feel good entering the offseason. The 6-foot-5, 257-pound edge defender will aim to get stronger and to further develop his pass-rushing moves to live up to the first-round billing that’s not looking so hot through his first two seasons. As an aside, yes, I could have listed David Ojabo with Oweh, but anyone — including the Ravens — expecting meaningful contributions from a raw edge rusher who tore his Achilles less than two months before the draft wasn’t being realistic, which is why I didn’t include the second-round pick on this list.