ESPN recently released its NFL future power rankings, which project how all 32 teams stack up for the next three years, and the Ravens landed in the top spot. Jeremy Fowler, Louis Riddick, Seth Walder and Field Yates, all of whom contribute to ESPN’s NFL coverage, participated in the exercise.
The four considered five main categories – quarterback, the rest of the roster, drafting, front office and coaching — and offered scores out of 100 points in each category. These scores were weighted in terms of importance; the roster score accounted for 30 percent of a team’s overall score; the quarterback and coaching, 20 percent, and the draft and front office, 15 percent. The Ravens finished first with an overall score of 89.4, and the Kansas City Chiefs ranked No. 2 with a score of 89.0.
Fowler and Yates joined Glenn Clark Radio to discuss why ESPN thought so highly of the Ravens. Fowler has covered the NFL for ESPN since 2014 and appears as an analyst on “SportsCenter.” Yates joined ESPN as an NFL insider in 2012 and is a host on the Fantasy Focus Football podcast.
“When we were going through this process, me and my colleagues entered information into a spreadsheet, but it was not done amongst each other,” Yates said July 22. “I entered the information and I ranked the teams in each category, and I had no idea who would come out on top or at the bottom.”
One of the main reasons Baltimore ranked No. 1, according to Fowler, was their talent on both sides of the ball coming off of a 14-2 season. The Ravens improved their defense this offseason by trading for former Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell, and he’s expected to be a key contributor up front for Baltimore.
“There’s playmaking at really every spot, and then you go and upgrade with Calais Campbell, who might only have one or two years left but most consider him a top-10 interior guy,” Fowler said July 21. “… I think he’ll have a bigger year than he’s had in Jacksonville because of the way they’ll use him.”
Campbell spent three seasons with the Jaguars from 2017-2019 and was named to three Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro in 2017. He led Jacksonville to the AFC championship game during the 2017 season by anchoring the league’s No. 2 defense.
The Ravens also have arguably the top cornerback duo in football in Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters. Both were named first-team All-Pro defensive backs in 2019 and were key contributors to a top-five defense. Baltimore is boasts versatility defensively no other teams can, according to Fowler.
The Ravens also have some key pieces on offense led by reigning MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson. He threw for 3,127 yards and 36 touchdowns while setting the single-season rushing record for a quarterback (1,206 yards). Entering last season, there were questions about Jackson’s ability as a passer, but Yates said he proved the doubters wrong.
“If I’m a Ravens fan, there’s nothing to be upset at right now,” Yates said. “… If there’s some criticism toward Lamar Jackson every once in a while, I would actually sort of savor that because last offseason people were saying there’s no way he can be a full-time, developed, finished, polished passer, and he went on to become the second unanimous MVP.”
Last spring, Baltimore drafted Marquise “Hollywood” Brown in the first round out of Oklahoma. Brown finished his rookie season with 584 yards and seven touchdowns, and Yates believes he’s a player to watch out for this season. Brown will lead a receiving corps that also includes Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay, James Proche and Willie Snead.
“Hollywood Brown is an interesting player for me. In order for him to be a really, really great player he’s going to have to be an outlier,” Yates said of the 5-foot-9, 170-pound Brown. “There’s not a long list of guys at his stature between 165 [and] 175 pounds that have been consistently dominant players. Some people draw the DeSean Jackson comparisons. The best of DeSean Jackson was really good, but one of the themes of DeSean Jackson’s career is the hit or miss.”
While the immediate future looks bright in Baltimore, there’s a growing list of players who are due for contract extensions. The Ravens may not be able to afford to keep everyone, but Fowler said that they know what they’re doing and that fans should trust that they will make the right choices.
“They shouldn’t be concerned in the sense that the Ravens’ method works,” Fowler said. “… They’re not going to overpay for certain guys.”
One of the players Baltimore will need to make a decision is linebacker Matthew Judon, who will play under the franchise tag this year. He finished 2019 with 9.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. Fowler said Judon’s situation reminds him of former Ravens linebacker Za’Darius Smith, who signed with the Green Bay Packers in 2019 after putting up similar numbers as Judon.
The biggest name who is due for an extension soon is Jackson. He’s under contract for two more seasons — and the Ravens hold a fifth-year option — but he can sign an extension after the 2020 season. Depending on what happens this season, Yates believes Jackson could potentially ask for a contract similar to what Patrick Mahomes just signed. Mahomes signed a 10-year extension potentially worth more than $500 million.
“If the Ravens win the Super Bowl next year and Lamar Jackson is maybe not a unanimous MVP but is as close to as dynamic as he was last season, the number is for whatever he feels like,” Yates said. “The question Lamar’s going to have to ask himself is do I want to do a lifetime contract like Mahomes or a four-year contract that, let’s say, pays me $185 million.”
For more from Fowler, listen to the full interview here:
For more from Yates, listen to the full interview here:
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