The Ravens were the most outlier team in the league last year when compared to how they normally try and win games under Harbaugh. What I mean by that is this – they threw the football 35.9 times per game in 2021 after throwing the football 25.9 times per game in 2020, due in large part to the massive amount of injuries they had both before the season started (their top three running backs were lost for the season) and during the season (multiple offensive linemen and countless members of their defense, including at all three levels). As such, we should expect this team to regress to their norm moving forward as a team whose identity is built from the run game. That said, they are about to start the season without Gus Edwards and potentially J.K. Dobbins, meaning we could see a backfield led by Mike Davis and newcomer Kenyan Drake. Should that be the case (if Dobbins is held out or is limited in Week 1), we have a very interesting discussion on our hands. Would this team try and run an inefficient rusher and a back that has been with the team for less than two weeks or would they place the game in the hands of their otherworldly quarterback Lamar Jackson?
Let’s start with a recent quote from Harbaugh regarding his backfield. “…if J.K. can go out right now, that would be great. I would be excited. He had a good practice today. If not, we have the guys that will play. So, we’re good either way.” Man, talk about a vote of confidence. If ever there were a quote that said absolutely nothing, that would be it. The most troubling thing, for me, was the addition of Kenyan Drake late in the preseason, which likely signals growing concern surrounding their lead running back heading into the year. That supposition garners additional support via recent videos out of Baltimore practices, showing Dobbins with a noticeable limp following individual drills. Regardless, I think it prudent to operate under the assumption we either see Baltimore without their lead back or see him limited in Week 1, which brings us back to the question of “how do we think Baltimore will try to win this game with a backfield consisting primarily of Mike Davis and Kenyan Drake?” Davis is a career 3.7 yards per carry, having played on five different teams over his eight-year career, while Drake was brought to town at the end of August, just 11 days before the first game of the season. With that exploration in mind, this is a good matchup on the ground for the Ravens. The Jets are fresh off a season where they allowed the most DraftKings points per game to opposing backfields on the backs of 28 total touchdowns allowed to the position, 23 of which came via rushing scores.
The departure of Marquise Brown this offseason leaves Baltimore’s primary pass-catchers as newly anointed alpha Rashod Bateman, dynamic tight end Mark Andrews, and third-year return man Devin Duvernay. Baltimore ran 11-personnel only 43% of the time in 2021, behind only two offenses that played tight ends heavily as wide receivers in Miami and Atlanta. One of the biggest offseason storylines regarding Baltimore pass-catchers is fourth-round rookie tight end Isaiah Likely, who many Best Ball drafters assume will garner a large role to begin the year. That said, Likely is a raw prospect that struggles with blocking technique, a notable development considering the identity of this team. As in, how many snaps are the Ravens truly going to allot to a tight end that is a poor blocker considering typical route participation rates from their TE2 (their TE2 last season were Eric Tomlinson (18% route participation rate), Nick Boyle (28% route participation rate), and Josh Oliver (59% route participation rate))? Regardless, Likely is currently listed as the third tight end on the depth chart and should be considered likely to start the season in a minimal role. James Proche should man the slot in what should amount to a part-time role. The reworked secondary of the Jets appears liable to cede major production to opposing tight ends once more after allowing 15.4 DraftKings points per game to the position in 2021 and bringing in D.J. Reed, Sauce Gardner, LaMarcus Joyner, and Jordan Whitehead this offseason.