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The Baltimore Ravens are improved heading into 2018 - but it might not be enough

GiveMeSport | Updated: 2018-08-14 19:56:41

Welcome to our NFL season preview specials. Over the course of August, we'll be taking a look at every single team in the National Football League and how they're shaping up before the start of the new season.

Yesterday's preview, the first of the bunch, saw us take a look at an Arizona Cardinals team that is entering 2018 with a new head coach, a new man under center, a whole new offensive gameplan and a returning David Johnson.

Today, it's the turn of a team who won one game more than Arizona in 2017 and has a lot less turnover. Welcome to the 2018 season preview of the Baltimore Ravens. 

2017 Recap

It was a 9-7 record for the Ravens in 2017, very respectable. That equated a second place finish in the always fierce AFC North, finishing runner-up to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Playoff reach was in the Ravens grasp all the way up until the final minutes of the regular season, however. Needing a win against the Cincinnati Bengals to make it to the postseason, the Ravens were well on their way to making it.

Holding a 27-24 lead going into the final minute, Andy Dalton uncorked a deep ball to the galloping Tyler Boyd who hauled in a touchdown with just 44 seconds left on the clock.

There'd be no miracle drive and the Ravens came up empty-handed, with the Bills making it to the playoffs in their place. 

The Ravens were very strong on defense last year, with CJ Mosley, Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle all gaining Pro Bowl spots. And they had to be, with Joe Flacco's wide receiving corps limited to the ghosts of Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin. Thankfully, Alex Collins emerged as a legit RB1 to help ease the load on Elite Joe. 

FREE AGENCY MOVES

That ghost receiving corps I mentioned earlier, well it's gone and replaced by three "upgrades" at the position. Flacco's main target is likely going to be Michael Crabtree, with former Cardinals man John Brown and ex-Saint Willie Snead also buzzing around the offense. Ben Watson is also out, with the Ravens TE reps looking set to be split between Max Williams, Nick Boyle and rookies Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews. 

For all the change and turnover on the offensive side of the ball, Baltimore's excellent defense only has to deal with the departure of Lardarius Webb and will again likely have to ball out every single game if the Ravens want to make the playoffs in 2018. 

DRAFT HAUL

Hayden Hurst - TE, South Carolina. 1st round, 25 overall.
Lamar Jackson - QB, Louisville. 1st round, 32nd overall.
Orlando Brown Jr. - OT, Oklahoma. 3rd round, 83rd overall.
Mark Andrews - TE, Oklahoma. 3rd round, 86th overall.
Anthony Averett - CB, Alabama. 4th round, 118th overall.
Kenny Young - MLB, UCLA. 4th round, 122nd overall.
Jaleel Scott - WR, New Mexico St. 4th round, 132nd overall.
Jordan Lasley, WR, UCLA. 5th round, 162nd overall.
DeShon Elliott - S, Texas. 6th round, 190th overall.
Greg Senat - OT, Wagner. 6th round, 212th overall.
Bradley Boseman - C, Alabama. 6th round, 215th overall.
Zach Sieler - DE, Ferris State. 7th round, 238th overall.

Fans Eye View

In all our 2018 previews we'll be speaking to a fan to get their opinion on the current state of the team. Representing the Ravens is Shane Richmond from @UKRavens. Check them out on Twitter and give them a follow. Here are their thoughts...

GMS: How would you rate the Ravens' off-season?

It’s been pretty good. We had an exciting draft - obviously Lamar Jackson made headlines but we also picked up two promising tight ends and a couple of late-round WRs. Our passing game has been stagnant for a while, so they need plenty of options. They join free agent wide receivers Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead and John Brown.

Affordable free agents have been let go for a reason, obviously, but if just one of the three plays well, that will be huge. Meanwhile, last year's D has returned intact and - touch wood - there have been no major team injuries so far.

GMS: What’s the general opinion of the job the head coach is doing?

Broadly positive. He almost always puts out a competitive team, regardless of injuries or roster gaps. London last year was a notable exception. Harbaugh seemed to blame the trip and pledged never to come back, which many UK fans found petulant and ungrateful.

[Harbaugh] seemed to assume that all the Ravens fans at Wembley were travelling supporters, overlooking the growing fanbase here.

Still, his job is to win games, not popularity contests. I’d like to see him groom more young coaches, though, instead of relying on old heads who’ve been around the block too many times.

GMS: What are your thoughts on the Ravens offense?

Joe Flacco has some weapons, at last! We don’t know which additions at WR or TE will pan out but there are enough options to justify excitement. Alex Collins has the chance to cement the starting role at HB after a breakout year last year.

The line is in flux, which is a concern, but our coaches have a good record of improving offensive line players, so we can be hopeful. Plus, apparently, there are wacky two-QB sets to look forward to. It’s possible that none of the above will come good but there’s reason for optimism.

GMS: Give us your take on the state of the defense?

They were good last year and every player is back, except Lardarius Webb, who was down to a fringe role anyway. There is a new defensive coordinator, Don Martindale, and the players seem confident that he will address the deficiencies of Dean Pees, who he replaces. Mostly that means putting players in their natural roles, which should help them play faster. Inside LB is still a concern and the pass rush needs to be better but the foundations are in place.

GMS: What’s your deepest concern for 2018?

Probably that the passing game fails to improve despite all the new players. As mentioned above, we have enough new talent to be optimistic but none of it is proven. Will they get their communication and timing down in pre-season? Will the free agents work in our system? Will the rookies be able to contribute in their first year? It’s all unknowns at the moment.

GMS: Give us a name to watch out for...

It has to be Lamar Jackson, doesn’t it? After years of the Ravens offense being justifiably derided as one of the league’s dullest, there’s talk of Jackson coming in several times a game. He promises explosiveness, athleticism, and unpredictability.

His role this season is undoubtedly as a wild card but it will be interesting to see how he matures. He’s intended to be the franchise quarterback when the Flacco era ends - whenever that turns out to be - so this is a look at the future.

GMS: And finally… your crystal ball prediction for the season?

I’m expecting an improved performance that plants firm roots for 2019, rather than a miraculous transformation. I’d say 9-7 again but squeaking into the wild card round this time.

2018 SCHEDULE

Week 1: vs Bills
Week 2: @ Bengals
Week 3: vs Broncos
Week 4: @ Stealers
Week 5: @ Browns
Week 6: @ Titans
Week 7: vs Saints
Week 8: @ Panthers
Week 9: vs Steelers
Week 10: Bye Week
Week 11: vs Bengals
Week 12: vs Raiders
Week 13: @ Falcons
Week 14: @ Chiefs
Week 15: vs Bucs
Week 16: @ Chargers
Week 17: vs Browns

THE FANTASY OUTLOOK

Just like always, no one's drafting Joe Flacco. Now we've got that out of the way - let's take a look at the Ravens' potential in fantasy this season. Alex Collins has jumped up an entire round in ADP, now going at 3.11 in standard scoring. He's a risk at that price, especially seeing as Harbaugh refuses to commit to him as the lead back. Depending on how risk-averse I'm feeling on draft night, I'd probably go with Jay Ajayi who's available near that price.

I'm lowkey expecting a Top-24 finish from Michael Crabtree this year so his ADP of 7.05 is very tempting, especially in standard scoring leagues where TDs matter so much more. 

Let's just go ahead and leave the TE group alone as we have no idea who will come out and top and it almost certainly won't even matter with how spread out the snaps will likely end up being.

OUR PREDICTION

I think the Ravens will be better in 2018, with more of a threat on the offensive side of the ball, but not enough to significantly move the needle. 9-7 sounds about right, I expect their win total to be between 8-10 games this year so we'll stick with the figure in the middle. 

What do you think about the Ravens' chances this season? Let us know either in the comments below or on Twitter, where you can find us @GMS_NFL.

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