Reviewing Ravens’ rookie class after 2021 season

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Failing to make the playoffs for the first time since 2017 after a six-game losing streak to finish the season, the Ravens will search for positives to take away from a frustrating year.

Though the 2021 rookie class wasn’t immune to the unrelenting run of injuries that plagued Baltimore over the course of its 8-9 campaign, there were still some encouraging signs for the future. While four draft picks logged more than 350 snaps on either offense or defense, two of general manager Eric DeCosta’s eight selections didn’t make it to September as fifth-round cornerback Shaun Wade was traded to New England and fifth-round fullback Ben Mason was waived at the end of the preseason.

Below is a look at each of Baltimore’s nine rookies to play at least one regular-season snap during the 2021 season:

WR Rashod Bateman
Draft position: First round, 27th overall
Offense snaps: 604 over 12 games
Synopsis: Despite not looking right physically in the spring or summer before eventually undergoing groin surgery in mid-August, Bateman flashed his talents from the day he arrived in Owings Mills and was eventually able to contribute starting in mid-October, catching 46 passes for 515 yards and a touchdown and averaging roughly 50 snaps per game over his 12 contests. However, the frequency with which Baltimore quarterbacks looked his way was inconsistent, leading to him looking like the go-to receiver at times or completely disappearing for large portions of games. The 6-foot-1, 193-pound wideout showed polished route-running ability and good hands, but it was disappointing that he missed so many valuable reps with star quarterback Lamar Jackson, who missed roughly half of Bateman’s games this season. Those two building more chemistry in the coming spring and summer will be critical, but there’s no reason to think Bateman won’t become an even more significant part of the passing game in 2022 and beyond.

OLB Odafe Oweh
Draft position: First round, 31st overall
Defensive snaps: 615 over 15 games
Synopsis: A foot injury sidelined the Penn State product for the last two games of the season, but the 6-foot-5, 251-pound Oweh led all rookie edge rushers in pressures (49), according to Pro Football Focus. His five sacks and 15 quarterback hits ranked second on the Baltimore defense while his three forced fumbles led the team. However, Oweh’s high-impact plays faded over the second half of the season after he registered three sacks, eight quarterback hits, and two forced fumbles over the first five games. Though the 23-year-old must continue to develop his pass-rushing moves to reach his lofty ceiling, his run-stopping prowess showed off a higher floor than most pundits expressed during the pre-draft process. Though Oweh should be more than ready to step into a starting role in 2022, time will tell if he becomes the Ravens’ first dynamic double-digit sack threat since Terrell Suggs.

G Ben Cleveland
Draft position: Third round, 94th overall
Offensive snaps: 367 over 12 games
Synopsis: A concussion cost the 6-foot-6, 357-pound lineman valuable practice time over the summer and a knee injury landed him on injured reserve for several weeks during the regular season, but Cleveland started the final four contests of the 2021 campaign in place of the injured Ben Powers and probably played his best in the season finale against Pittsburgh. The University of Georgia product will still need to win the left guard job this coming summer with the likes of Powers and Tyre Phillips still in the mix, but he’s the early favorite to start if he can complete a healthy spring and summer to improve his footwork and technique.

S Brandon Stephens
Draft position: Third round, 104th overall
Defensive snaps: 744 over 17 games
Synopsis: Injuries to starting safety DeShon Elliott led to Stephens playing more snaps than any Baltimore rookie, but his 11 starts were the mixed bag you’d expect from someone playing a new position after only transitioning to cornerback upon transferring to Southern Methodist in 2019. Though the 6-foot-1, 213-pound defensive back ranked third on the team with 78 tackles, his four pass breakups were underwhelming when considering how often opponents threw against the Baltimore defense. Stephens flashed enough to be optimistic about his second season, but the question is whether the Ravens believe he’ll be ready to step into a starting safety role or view his best fit as a big nickel or dime option. His positional versatility and the immense overall struggles in the secondary would seem to support the latter projection. For what it’s worth, PFF graded Stephens 85th out of 94 qualified safeties.

WR Tylan Wallace
Draft position: Fourth round, 131st overall
Offensive snaps: 84 over 17 games
Synopsis: The rookie wideout ranked sixth on the Ravens in special-teams snaps (278), but he was a non-factor on offense until December and even then caught only two passes for 23 yards on six targets. This coming spring and summer will be big for Wallace’s development with Baltimore having so many other young receivers in the mix.

OLB Daelin Hayes
Draft position: Fifth round, 171st overall
Defensive snaps: four in one game
Synopsis: The 6-foot-4, 253-pound edge defender showed some promise as the potential backup “Sam” linebacker to Tyus Bowser in the spring and summer, but ankle and knee injuries made it a lost season for the Notre Dame product. That became an even more concerning outcome with Bowser having suffered a torn Achilles tendon in the season finale against the Steelers. Needless to say, this will be an important offseason for Hayes.

S Ar’Darius Washington
Draft position: Undrafted
Defensive snaps: seven over three games
Synopsis: The only rookie free agent to make the 53-man roster after a good preseason, Washington saw very limited action on defense and special teams until sustaining a season-ending foot injury in late November. Considering the many injuries in the secondary down the stretch as well as Tavon Young’s $5.845 million scheduled base salary for 2022, the Ravens probably would have liked to have taken a look at Washington at the nickel, the position where the 5-foot-8, 176-pound defensive back fits best at the next level.

TE Tony Poljan
Draft position: Undrafted
Offensive snaps: six in one game
Synopsis: The Virginia product saw limited action as a COVID-19 replacement in the blowout loss to Cincinnati in Week 16 and recently signed a reserve-future contract, which allows him to continue his development in Baltimore.

RB Nate McCrary
Draft position: Undrafted
Offensive snaps: two in one game
Synopsis: Claimed by Denver at the end of the preseason, the Saginaw Valley State product wound up back on the Ravens’ practice squad in late September and played in the first meeting with the Steelers in early December, carrying one time for minus-1 yard. McCrary signed a reserve-future deal to stick with the Ravens, but their reluctance to give him a shot in an underwhelming running back picture didn’t say much for his 2022 standing with J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards coming back from injury.