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Clock is ticking for Ravens’ 2019 draft class to show it can help lead team to the top | COMMENTARY

The Ravens’ 2019 draft class made solid contributions last year as the the team had its best regular season ever, but more improvement is needed this season if the Ravens want to win a Super Bowl title.

Four players from the eight-member class made at least moderate contributions, especially wide receiver and first-round pick Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. But others, such as fellow receiver Miles Boykin (third round), outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson (third) and guard Ben Powers (fourth), have to be more productive.

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At least those players have some time. Draft picks taken in the later rounds usually get three or four years to develop before they are waived, but some from last year’s class, such as running back Justice Hill, cornerback Iman Marshall and defensive tackle Daylon Mack, might not have that luxury.

They are on the clock.

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The Ravens have not been shy in letting everyone know that they need to get more out of their receivers to improve the deep passing game and take pressure off the running game and quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Jackson made significant progress in Year 2, so it’s likely he’ll make reasonable strides in 2020. All the progress reports on Brown point to him building on last year, when he caught 46 passes for 584 yards and seven touchdowns despite being slowed by a foot injury.

So, that brings us to Boykin.

The Ravens selected two receivers in the draft last month in Texas’ Devin Duvernay and SMU’s James Proche, but it’s highly unlikely that they will make a significant impact this season. It’s one thing to be a first- or second-round pick, but Duvernay was taken in the third and Proche in the sixth.

That’s why there is pressure on Boykin. At 6 feet 4 and 220 pounds, he is fast and will attack the ball, but he needs to show more consistency and big-play ability than a year ago. Last season, he caught 13 passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns, but gradually disappeared as the season went on.

Ferguson is in a similar situation. When he was selected in the third round, some considered him the top pass rusher in college football, but he had only 31 tackles, including 2½ sacks, in 2019 with the Ravens.

There were some whispers around NFL circles comparing Ferguson to a young Terrell Suggs, the Ravens’ former Pro Bowl outside linebacker. But the only thing they have in common so far is their position.

As a rookie, Suggs had more moves, more explosion and quicker change of direction. Last year, Ferguson relied basically on power, and that’s good enough at Louisiana Tech, but not in the NFL. That has to change this year because the Ravens need a top pass rusher to play opposite of outside linebacker Matthew Judon.

Plus, the Ravens added Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell during the offseason. He’ll draw some double teams, as well as Judon, which should leave Ferguson with a lot of one-on-one opportunities.

He has to win those, and Powers needs to do the same at right guard. It’s a gift when a rookie gets to sit a year and watch a potential Hall of Fame player like Marshal Yanda. Well, that present is gone because Yanda announced his retirement last month.

The Ravens signed former Seattle Seahawks guard D.J. Fluker and drafted offensive linemen Tyre Phillips (third round) and Ben Bredeson (fourth) to compete with Powers, but ideally they want Powers to win the job. Fluker has experience but is about to enter his eighth year. Powers would fit in well with a young offensive line built around tackles Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr.

Powers fits the Ravens’ job description: a big, powerful run blocker. But in the past two postseasons, the Ravens have been hurt by offensive linemen who struggled pass blocking. Last season, Powers was stiff and didn’t bend well at the knees.

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Maybe that has changed.

But at least Brown, Boykin, Ferguson and Powers are in the mix. Hill, Marshall and Mack have tougher battles.

Hill closed last season with promise after a slow start. He started to emerge as the “change-of-pace” back and a weapon out of the backfield on passing situations behind starter Mark Ingram II and backup Gus Edwards.

But once the Ravens selected Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins in the second round in April, that meant that one of the other ball carriers will be packing their bags soon. It might not be this year, but there is going to be an odd man out.

Hill will be a little nervous when training camp starts, and Ingram should be a little antsy once the season is over.

Marshall, a fourth-round pick out of USC, was on injured reserve for the first nine games last season and inactive for five others. He just happens to play on a team loaded with cornerbacks, including Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Tavon Young, Jimmy Smith and Anthony Averett.

Mack, a fifth-round pick taken No. 160 overall, has it just as hard. He was inactive for eight of the team’s first nine games and then was put on injured reserve for seven games with a knee injury.

He is big and has good explosion but is stuck behind Campbell, Derek Wolfe and Brandon Williams on the depth chart. The Ravens also drafted a pair of interior linemen in April, taking Texas A&M’s Justin Madubuike in the third round and Texas Tech’s Broderick Washington Jr. in the fifth. The only player from the 2019 class that might get less playing time than Mack or Ingram is quarterback Trace McSorley, who was taken in the sixth round out of Penn State and has to back up Jackson and Robert Griffin III.

But the Ravens’ past two draft classes have been special so far. And if the 2019 group can continue to trend upward, it might push the team into the Super Bowl.

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