The Ravens’ 2020 draft class ended last season with a combined 37 starts, 119 appearances and over 3,400 snaps for a playoff team. What it didn’t have was a normal beginning.
“Those guys didn’t have any rookie minicamp, they had no [organized team activities], no minicamp,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. ”They had a very short training camp. Gosh, it’s so much for these guys.”
There was nothing normal about an NFL season upended by the coronavirus pandemic, and no league demographic was more affected than its first-year players. When inside linebacker Patrick Queen started the Ravens’ season opener against the Cleveland Browns in September, it marked his first game against another team since LSU’s national championship game against Clemson eight months earlier.
Year 2, defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale told season-ticket holders last month, is when “the game slows down” for players. As top picks like Queen and running back J.K. Dobbins established themselves throughout the 2020 season, other Ravens rookies faced steeper learning curves, tougher roads to the field. They’d had only so many practices, and so there was only so much film to self-study. It’s hard to learn by doing when it’s tough to do anything.
With the Ravens regrouping for practice this week, Harbaugh’s optimistic that progress will come. “I expect those guys to be a lot better at the end of these sessions than they are going in, and they feel the same way,” he said of the team’s young players. Queen and Dobbins, the headliners of last year’s rookie class, are projected to start in 2020. Here’s a look at some of the Ravens’ other top contributors ― a quartet of third-round picks ― and what might be next.
DT Justin Madubuike
What he did well: Defend outside-zone runs
Combine a revved-up motor, good contact balance, impressive lateral agility and a high football IQ, and you have the kind of defensive lineman who can blow up the outside-zone runs the Tennessee Titans, Browns and others use to devastating effect. Madubuike, taken No. 71 overall in 2020, had the most impressive game of any Ravens defensive lineman in the team’s wild-card win in Tennessee, controlling blockers as a play-side defender and eluding them when he was in back-side pursuit of running back Derrick Henry (18 carries for 40 yards).
Madubuike has only average length and size for the position, but he’s strong enough to hold up against double teams. When he slipped one against the Titans, it was so quick, it looked like a magic trick. One second, he was anchoring against a tackle-guard double team, his center of gravity low enough that he briefly kneeled. The next, he was splitting the two linemen, springing out of the block like a jack-in-the-box and stopping Henry for a 1-yard gain.
What’s next: Build on pass-rush success
Madubuike had just seven quarterback pressures last season, according to Sports Info Solutions, fewer than Calais Campbell (28), Jihad Ward (12) and Derek Wolfe (nine) and barely more than Brandon Williams (six) had. The encouraging part? Madubuike registered two pressures in Week 14 against the Browns’ NFL-best offensive line last season, then followed up with another two pressures in Week 15 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
A week later, he notched his first (and only) sack of the season, whooping New York Giants rookie guard Shane Lemieux and bringing down quarterback Daniel Jones despite a missed holding penalty. With his quickness, Madubuike could be a dangerous partner for stunts next season with rookie edge rusher Odafe Oweh. As an individual pass rusher, though, he’ll have to earn respect by punishing guards left to handle him one-on-one.
WR Devin Duvernay
What he did well: Make people miss
Next to quarterback Lamar Jackson, Duvernay was the Ravens’ most dangerous open-field runner last season. The No. 92 overall pick finished fifth in the NFL among qualifying players in kickoff return average (27.5 yards), and with enough attempts to qualify, Duvernay’s punt return average (11.5 yards) would’ve finished tied for second. Nine of his 21 kickoff returns went for at least 25 yards, highlighted by his 93-yard score against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3.
Duvernay’s offensive output was less consistent — he finished with fewer catches (20) than kickoff returns (21) — but his dynamism as a ball-carrier wasn’t diminished. He had 5.9 yards after the catch, among the NFL’s better marks and the highest for a Ravens wide receiver with multiple catches last year. He also had four carries for 70 yards, including 5.8 yards after contact per rush, according to Pro-Football-Reference.
What’s next: Get open downfield
Duvernay was so productive after the catch partly because it was in the Ravens’ game plan to give him space. Just how often did Roman scheme up quick-hitting screens and shovel passes for Duvernay? Nine of his 20 catches came behind the line of scrimmage. Opportunities elsewhere were sparse, with just one reception of at least 20 air yards and just two between 10 and 19 air yards. In an offense where Jackson’s average completion was 6.6 yards downfield, Duvernay’s catches averaged 4.2.
Duvernay doesn’t need Davante Adams’ footwork to find a role in the passing offense. In his final season at Texas, he was a frequent target on wide receiver screens, catching 42 for 250 yards, according to SIS. But he was also a weapon on slants (14 catches for 275 yards), corner routes (nine catches for 195 yards) and out routes (10 catches for 119 yards). Diversity in patterns can only help. The more predictable his usage is, the easier he’ll be able to game-plan against.
What he did well: Tackle
Harrison’s defensive role grew and shrunk throughout the Ravens’ season — 21 snaps in the season opener, 49 in Week 11, a combined 24 over the final three weeks of the regular season — but his tackling never wavered. A solid tackler at Ohio State (12.1% missed-tackle rate in 2019, according to Pro Football Focus), Harrison was an ever-reliable rookie, missing just two of his 46 tackle attempts (4.3% miss rate), according to PFR.
While Harrison never seemed totally comfortable operating as a weak-side inside linebacker, special teams coordinator Chris Horton came to rely on his dependability. Harrison, the No. 92 overall pick, led the Ravens with 10 special teams tackles and finished behind only safety Jordan Richards and inside linebacker Chris Board in special teams snaps.
What’s next: Hone passing-down skill set
Harrison averaged about 11 first-down snaps per game last season — and just over one third-down snap per game. If the Ravens weren’t lining up with some combination of seven defensive linemen and linebackers, Harrison probably wasn’t playing. In obvious passing situations, Chris Board was the Ravens’ preferred third-down partner for Queen, even more so than L.J. Fort.
For a bigger role, Harrison has to build on the blitzing ability he showed at Ohio State or be more reliable in pass defense. He allowed 111 yards, 14 completions on 18 targets and a passer rating of 110.9 when targeted in coverage last season, according to PFR. Too often, Harrison was overaggressive against the run, costing him on play-action passes. He also could be a liability in space against shifty running backs.
What he did well: Show his potential
Phillips had a rough first year. Most rookie offensive linemen do. He started at right guard to open the season, struggled and hurt his ankle. When he recovered, he moved over to right tackle, where his struggles continued. According to Pro Football Focus, Phillips allowed six sacks and graded out as the Ravens’ worst offensive lineman.
He showed some flashes, though. While Phillips often struggled to keep defenders at bay with his long arms, one of his best physical attributes, he looked comfortable as a puller and a second-level blocker. At a well-built 6 feet 5, Phillips has starting potential at both guard and tackle. He just needs to develop the framework further.
What’s next: Learn from his mistakes
If Phillips has any shot at overtaking Alejandro Villanueva for the right tackle job, pass blocking has to be an offseason priority. Against the Browns in Week 14, he was fully or partly responsible on back-to-back second-quarter sacks, both times unable to stay in front of his man. In the postseason, he allowed a sack on a bull rush to an undersized Titans lineman, and appeared to flub his assignment on the promising drop-back before the Buffalo Bills picked off Jackson’s goal-line pass.
If Phillips’ future is instead at guard, as the Ravens indicated it would be after they took him No. 106 overall, he has to consistently show he has the the strength to displace tackles as a run blocker and the strength to anchor against them in pass protection. Phillips also struggled with his awareness, from picking up loopers on stunts and twists to coming out of his stance when the ball is snapped.