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Baltimore Ravens

Ravens rookie projections: How Tyler Linderbaum, Isaiah Likely and others could boost the 2022 offense

For weeks, the Ravens wondered how the NFL draft would unfold: Who would be available, and when? Which teams could be trade partners? Where would the greatest value be?

Now, with rookie minicamp over, the Ravens can turn their attention to less abstract and perhaps more fun questions: Who from a much-lauded draft class can help, and how?

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On offense, at least one top pick, center Tyler Linderbaum, projects as a starter. But all five offensive players could have important roles by season’s end. Based on data from Sports Info Solutions and Pro Football Focus, as well as schematic considerations, here’s a look at how they might fit in.

C Tyler Linderbaum

Linderbaum was expected to land in a zone-running offense, where his elite lateral movement could be better optimized and his smaller frame could be better hidden. Instead, he fell to the run-heavy Ravens, who under coordinator Greg Roman have sampled zone concepts (in which linemen block a certain area) but have mainly feasted on gap concepts (in which linemen target certain defenders).

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The Ravens “run everything,” Harbaugh said after Linderbaum was drafted, and team officials believe his athleticism unlocks every block in their playbook. The most obvious boost might come comes to the Ravens’ zone schemes, which have been ordinary over the past two years. They finished with just 5 yards per carry off the concepts in 2020 and 4.3 yards last season, both below their season-long average.

Linderbaum could also be a weapon as a puller in the Ravens’ power-running game. Bradley Bozeman was one of the NFL’s more active pulling centers last season, but his average ability in space — and injuries to the Ravens’ rushing attack — limited the team to just 35 yards on his 17 designed pulls. If Linderbaum can hold up in pass protection as well as he did at Iowa, he could quickly develop into one of the NFL’s most versatile centers, a rookie capable of opening up the offense in new ways.

“He’s just really a tremendous athlete, knows how to play the position, knows how to get his body in the right spot, and then he just consistently works at maintaining his blocks,” Ravens director of player personnel Joe Hortiz said. “You’ll see it when they show highlights; he’ll block three guys in one play. He’s a lot of fun to watch. And like [general manager] Eric [DeCosta] mentioned, he’s kind of a consensus guy with all the scouts and coaches. Everyone saw him the same way. You just put the film on and it’s obvious he can play anywhere.”

OT Daniel Faalele

Faalele’s block-out-the-sun size is unique. He checked in at 6-8 and 384 pounds at the NFL scouting combine, and said Saturday that his ideal playing weight is about 375 pounds. According to draft database MockDraftable, only five offensive tackle prospects since 1999 have weighed at least 370 pounds. Only one has also been taller than 6-6: 2017 fourth-round pick Zach Banner (6-8, 353 pounds). Even former Ravens tackle Orlando Brown Jr., Faalele’s most common comparison, weighed just 345 pounds at the NFL scouting combine.

Faalele’s massive frame is an asset in his run blocking, as he graded out well in both gap and zone schemes for Minnesota last season. Faalele also had one of the country’s lowest blown-run-block rates. In pass protection, he allowed just one sack and two quarterback hits in 301 pass-block snaps. Hortiz said Faalele is a more polished pass blocker and less physical run blocker than Brown was when he entered the NFL. But Faalele, like Brown, will likely have to wait for a starting job.

“He’s going to play this year, there’s no doubt about it,” Harbaugh said. “The guy is big. He can move. He has good feet. I was just watching the tape just now. He’s moving his feet really well, and yet he has so much to learn. He has to go to work every day to get better, but I anticipate him playing football for us this year.”

TE Charlie Kolar

The Mark Andrews comparisons make sense, too. At least the college versions do. Both were prolific Big 12 Conference tight ends; Kolar’s 158 catches since 2019 are tied for the most among Division I tight ends. Both were matchup nightmares in the slot; Kolar had 511 yards when aligned there last season, and 215 yards lining up at tight end. And both were knocked for their blocking ability during the predraft process.

But Kolar’s most promising similarity might be where he was most productive. His 588 receiving yards over the middle of the field in 11 games last season were the second most by a Big 12 tight end since 2016 — behind only Andrews’ 710 yards in 14 games in 2017. Kolar isn’t as smooth a route runner as Andrews, but he knows how to leverage physical mismatches, outmuscling defensive backs and then boxing them out on intermediate routes. He also rarely wasted his targets, with just five drops on 174 catchable passes over his career.

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With Andrews’ heavy usage, Kolar’s role could be limited as a rookie, especially in the slot. But Kolar’s measurables hint at his potential as an in-line tight end. Among players at the position, he ranks in the 93rd percentile in arm length and height, 81st in wingspan and 62nd in hand size. The skinny-legged Kolar is just 252 pounds, and a bulkier body might sap his speed. But his straight-line acceleration is already impressive, having run a 4.62-second 40-yard dash at Iowa State’s pro day.

TE Isaiah Likely

Like Kolar, Likely profiles as an “F” tight end, most often deployed in the slot and potentially as an H-back. At Coastal Carolina, he picked on safeties and cornerbacks as a second-level blocker, where he could use his size, speed and striking ability to clear a path for the Chanticleers’ exotic run game. But Likely’s leaner build isn’t ideal for an in-line tight end. He could struggle to set the edge against defensive ends and outside linebackers, especially early in his career.

As a receiver, Likely’s role in the Ravens’ heavier personnel groupings will be interesting. At Coastal Carolina last season, which favored spread looks, he was far more effective in one-tight-end formations (4.2 yards per route run and 16.8 yards per catch) than in two- or three-tight end sets (2.5 yards per route run, 11.1 yards per catch).

Next to Andrews, though, Likely should be a complementary piece, not a redundant one. While Andrews can dominate from the slot, Likely had 547 receiving yards last season when he lined up as a tight end. He could add a new dimension to the Ravens’ play-action game, not only threatening linebackers and safeties vertically with his burst off the snap but also stressing defenses horizontally as an against-the-grain target in the flat. He forced 10 missed tackles last season, among the nation’s best at the position.

RB Tyler Badie

It’s not hard to imagine what Badie might look like in the Ravens’ offense. The staples of Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz’s scheme — presnap motion, shotgun-heavy alignments, a reliance on play-action — are staples in Baltimore under Roman. All but 23 of Badie’s 1,604 rushing yards last season came out of shotgun formations. He was also almost equally productive in zone schemes (6 yards per carry) and gap schemes (5.9 yards per carry).

If both J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards enter the season healthy, Badie’s role as a rookie could be situational. Harbaugh hinted that with the arrival of the athletic Linderbaum, the Ravens could run more screen passes, which they’ve all but ignored with Jackson at quarterback. Badie had 54 catches for 330 yards and four scores last season, his third straight year with at least 300 receiving yards, and screens drove much of that success. In 2019 and 2021, he had 18 and 25 such catches, respectively, for 207 yards and 151 yards.

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“I think he’s got that versatility [with] his receiving ability,” Hortiz said. “He’s quick and fast out of the backfield. He’s got really natural hands, catches the ball clean, so I think that potential exists, but you also like him as a runner. You don’t want to just pigeonhole him as a third-down back, because you watch him run inside, and you watch him bounce and cut things up into the teeth of the defense, and he runs with good pad level and balance and determination. So he’s going to come in and compete, and he’s going to do whatever he can do to get on the field and help us out.”


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