Like many coaches, John Harbaugh says he often sees the most growth in NFL players from Year One to Year Two. By then, they have adjusted to the speed of the NFL game, they have spent months in an NFL locker room alongside veterans who can impart lessons about approaching the game as a profession, and they are presumably one year older, stronger and better.
Of course, this year’s crop of second-year players had a rookie experience unlike any other in the 100-year history of the league, with OTAs wiped out, preseason games scrapped and much of the locker room atmosphere altered by the coronavirus pandemic.
Not many players will make the jump quarterback Lamar Jackson did, from midseason backup to starter in Year One to league Most Valuable Player in Year Two, but the Ravens will be counting on a major step forward from most if not all of the 2020 draft class.
Here is a rundown of last year’s class, along with each player’s 2021 prospects:
ILB Patrick Queen (first round, No. 28 overall)
Queen was a plug-and-play linebacker in the middle of the Ravens’ defense, which is a fair expectation from a first-round pick. He started every game — no small feat considering the COVID outbreak that wreaked havoc with the roster for a couple of weeks — and finished his rookie season with a team-best 105 tackles. Queen also made his share of splash plays, including three sacks and a 53-yard fumble return touchdown against Cincinnati.
Queen, though, admitted that sometimes his eyes got him in trouble, as he overcommitted in coverage or otherwise was faked out and ended up in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Pro Football Focus ranked Queen near the bottom of its linebacker rankings.
Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said last year that he loved Queen’s game speed, and he could live with rookie mistakes as long as they were made from playing fast. Those mistakes won’t cut it as a second-year player, though.
Year Two progress for Queen would mean: He leads the team in tackles again and warrants Pro Bowl consideration with improved pass coverage, a few sacks, a couple of interceptions and maybe a defensive touchdown.
RB J.K. Dobbins (second round, No. 55 overall)
After a summer with no preseason games, Dobbins averaged just 23 yards in the first four games. But by the final quarter of the season he had supplanted Mark Ingram atop the depth chart and established himself as the No. 1 back for the foreseeable future. With a combination of balance, vision and burst, Dobbins finished the year with 134 carries for 805 yards, the most among Ravens running backs, including a season-best 160 in the regular-season finale at Cincinnati. His nine touchdowns, all rushing, set a franchise rookie record.
Dobbins also had 18 catches for 120 yards, but his shortcomings in the passing game, both as a receiver and blocker, were on display in the playoff loss to Buffalo.
Year Two progress for Dobbins would mean: He becomes just the second Ravens running back since 2014 to top 1,000 yards for a ground game that again proves to be the best in the league, he tops last year’s nine-touchdown total and he elevates his play in the passing game en route to a Pro Bowl nod.
DL Justin Madubuike (third round, No. 71 overall)
Madubuike sustained a knee injury late in training camp that sidelined him for the first quarter of the season, but he showed power and high upside once he got on the field. Madubuike finished with 19 tackles, one sack and two quarterback hits in 10 regular-season games, averaging 26 snaps a game.
With Brandon Williams, Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe all above 30 years old, the Ravens need young defensive linemen to emerge as the heirs apparent, and Madubuike looks the part.
Year Two progress for Madubuike would mean: He is healthy all season and increases his totals in every statistical category. He is slated for a reserve role behind the Ravens’ veterans up front, but he is able to make a disruptive impact when called upon.
WR Devin Duvernay (third round, No. 92 overall)
Duvernay emerged as the team’s top return specialist, with a 93-yard kickoff return touchdown against Kansas City and an average of 11.5 yards on four punt returns. But considering team officials raved after the draft about his after-the-catch toughness, he had surprisingly little involvement in a passing game that struggled to consistently find a spark.
Duvernay finished with 20 catches for 201 yards, but he had just two catches during the final seven games, including the playoffs. Good things tended to happen with the ball in his hands, and Duvernay should be a bigger part of the Ravens’ passing game in 2021.
Year Two progress for Duvernay would mean: He emerges as the leading slot receiver with Willie Snead gone to Las Vegas, and even with the addition of Sammy Watkins, Duvernay betters Snead’s production last year (33 catches, 432 yards). He also remains a big factor in the return game, with another touchdown.
ILB Malik Harrison (third round, No. 98 overall)
Harrison started Week 1 as a rookie, though he ultimately ceded the starting job to veteran L.J Fort in part because of coverage ability. Harrison finished with 36 tackles on defense and seven more on special teams, appearing in all 18 games, including the playoffs.
The Ravens opted not to pick up Fort’s option, then re-signed him a couple of weeks later, so Harrison will have to compete to prove he belongs on the field more than the roughly 16 snaps a game he played as a rookie. He’s among the players who would most benefit from a full, non-pandemic-altered offseason.
Year Two progress for Harrison would mean: He appears in every game again, improves in coverage and sees more action as a three-down defender en route to 60-plus tackles and a couple of turnovers.
OL Tyre Phillips (third round, No. 106 overall)
Despite not having any training camp and never having played the position in college, Phillips started Week 1 at right guard. He later started at right tackle after Ronnie Stanley’s season-ending injury prompted Orlando Brown Jr. to move to the left side. Phillips, who spent three weeks on injured reserve, produced one of the more unusual highlight-reel plays of the year with his 22-yard fumble-rumble against Jacksonville.
Phillips was a starting left tackle at Mississippi State, though the Ravens have always projected him as a guard, and the 6-foot-5, 330-pounder would clearly benefit from a full offseason as he continues to develop at a position he says he never played before the Senior Bowl. The signing of free agent Kevin Zeitler has changed the equation at right guard, but Phillips still figures to contribute up front.
Year Two progress for Phillips would mean: He finds his way into the starting lineup again, either at right tackle if Orlando Brown Jr. is traded away or even at left guard if Bradley Bozeman shifts to center. Regardless, he continues to develop as an NFL guard and is a capable fill-in at multiple spots.
OL Ben Bredeson (fourth round, No. 143 overall)
Bredeson struggled to crack the offensive line rotation last year, appearing in fewer than 50 offensive snaps. A left guard throughout his standout career at Michigan, he found his path to that spot blocked by the solid play of Bradley Bozeman, and the fact that he played zero offensive snaps in a 40-14 win against Jacksonville spoke to his place on the depth chart.
Year Two progress for Bredeson would mean: He is in the mix for the starting left guard spot, which could happen if the Ravens don’t find a plug-and-play center and shift Bozeman from left guard to center, a position he played at Alabama.
DT Broderick Washington (fifth round, No. 170 overall)
Washington struggled to make an impact as a rookie, and he was a healthy scratch in six of the final seven games, including the playoffs. Washington averaged roughly 20 snaps in the eight games in which he played, and he totaled two tackles.
The Ravens return virtually everyone from their defensive front again this year, including reserve Justin Ellis, who was re-signed to a one-year deal, so Washington’s path to a starting spot again faces hurdles.
Washington is also dealing with legal trouble after being arrested and charged with several offenses, including felony destruction of property, in Virginia in March.
Year Two progress for Washington would mean: He feels more at home in the Ravens’ system and earns a larger role, positioning Washington for a starting job in 2022 if the Ravens move on from Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams. Washington also has to put his legal troubles behind him. When the distraction outweighs the production, Harbaugh won’t hesitate to make the distraction go away.
WR James Proche (sixth round, No. 201 overall)
Proche had a limited — and yet bizarrely dramatic — role on offense as a rookie. His three targets produced one catch and two interceptions — both of which were returned for touchdowns by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Proche’s sure-handedness as a punt returner was one reason the Ravens traded up to grab Proche in the sixth round. He capably handled the job early in the season (8.6-yard average on 23 returns), but he was inactive late in the year as the Ravens turned to Devin Duvernay for all return duties.
Year Two progress for Proche would mean: Proche again asserts himself as the team’s No. 1 punt returner and has more of an impact as a receiver, with 15 to 20 catches and a couple of touchdowns.
S Geno Stone (seventh round, No. 219 overall)
Stone could never crack the Ravens’ rotation at safety last year, spending time on the 53-man roster and the practice squad before spending five weeks on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Stone was released in December and signed by the Houston Texans, but he was re-signed by the Ravens this spring. With a lack of depth at safety, Stone has a chance to earn a roster spot this summer.
Year Two progress for Stone would mean: First, he sticks on the 53-man roster all season. Then he establishes himself as a top backup to Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott while carving out an increasingly larger role on special teams, which is where many reserve safeties — including Clark — have cut their teeth.
Photo Credits: Kenya Allen/PressBox