If a successful NFL draft class produces a couple of starters on cheap contracts, the Ravens’ 2022 group is already ahead of schedule. Two rookies, center Tyler Linderbaum and punter Jordan Stout, are expected to start in Week 1, and two more, safety Kyle Hamilton and tight end Isaiah Likely, could get starter-level snaps.
Expectations for the class were high well before Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta turned one first-round pick into two on the draft’s opening night. The buzz grew after he took outside linebacker David Ojabo, a first-round talent, in the second round and defensive tackle Travis Jones, a top-50 prospect, in the third round. An impressive preseason only confirmed the group’s talent. And now?
“It remains to be seen, I would say, but I really do think that they’ll contribute a lot,” coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. “It’s a lot of guys in the class, and we still have some guys to come back [from injury]. … There’s still pieces to that thing that aren’t even out there. But, again, I expect a lot from those guys and I really think they are going to have a good year, but they have to go out and do it.”
Life in the NFL isn’t easy for a rookie, but neither is life in the AFC. Here’s a look at how the Ravens’ first-year players can contribute this season — and what might hold them back.
Safety Kyle Hamilton
Best-case scenario: Hamilton’s tackling ability and range in coverage make him a staple in the Ravens’ nickel and dime packages (five and six defensive backs, respectively) and a standout on special teams. His chameleonic skill set helps unlock the Ravens’ defense, forcing quarterbacks to account for him as a blitzer, deep safety and tight end blanket. Hamilton gets Lin-Manuel Miranda to tweet about the Ravens again.
Worst-case scenario: Hamilton’s unexpected tackling issues carry over into the regular season, hurting a defense that’s struggled in recent years to limit damage after the catch. In coverage, offenses find a way to isolate him against quicker, faster receivers, making him more of a liability than an asset on passing downs.
Center Tyler Linderbaum
Best-case scenario: Linderbaum has a Creed Humphrey-like rookie year and emerges as one of the NFL’s best centers. His quickness and technique open up the Ravens’ zone-running game. Despite his size, he holds his own against the bigger nose tackles on the Ravens’ schedule. And, maybe most importantly, every shotgun and pistol snap he delivers to quarterback Lamar Jackson is catchable.
Worst-case scenario: Linderbaum’s Lisfranc (foot) sprain limits his effectiveness or, worse, sidelines him for part of the season. His smaller frame and limited wingspan makes him an easy target for bull-rushing nose tackles. There are growing pains as he adjusts from Iowa’s traditional, under-center offense to the Ravens’ diverse playbook and shotgun-heavy approach.
Outside linebacker David Ojabo
Best-case scenario: Ojabo returns by the middle of the season and develops into a dangerous designated pass rusher. Fully recovered from a torn Achilles tendon, he pairs with Odafe Oweh to give the Ravens two of the NFL’s fastest edge rushers and one of the league’s best high school reunion stories. Ojabo shows the strip-sack ability that made him so dangerous at Michigan under coordinator Mike Macdonald.
Worst-case scenario: Ojabo’s not ready to play until 2023.
Defensive tackle Travis Jones
Best-case scenario: Jones overcomes his preseason knee injury to play early and often on a deep defensive line. He’s stout enough against the run to stand in for Michael Pierce as a two-gap nose tackle and explosive enough to earn snaps on passing downs. Jones finishes the season with a handful of sacks, raising hopes that he could be the Ravens’ answer to Cameron Heyward. Teammates quit ribbing him about Connecticut football.
Worst-case scenario: Jones’ knee sprain lingers throughout the season, limiting his playing time and hurting his development. His strength can’t compensate for his inconsistent technique, and he gets stuck behind Calais Campbell, Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington in the competition for interior pass-rush snaps.
Offensive tackle Daniel Faalele
Best-case scenario: Faalele, a right tackle throughout his college career, cross-trains at left tackle, boosting his value as a reserve lineman. He stays healthy, improves his flexibility and hones his pass-blocking technique, putting him on track to start in 2023. Somehow, some way, the Ravens find a way to get him a touch near the goal line.
Worst-case scenario: An injury to Morgan Moses forces Faalele into action prematurely, and the Ravens’ woes at right tackle return. Faalele struggles with his footwork against speed rushers and with his balance as a run blocker. His confidence plummets heading into the offseason.
Cornerback Jalyn Armour-Davis
Best-case scenario: Armour-Davis, dogged by injuries throughout his college career, makes it through his first NFL season unscathed. He contributes on special teams and gives the secondary an overqualified fourth or fifth cornerback, helping the Ravens hold up against spread passing attacks like the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills’.
Worst-case scenario: Injuries strike again, hindering Armour-Davis’ development and depleting the Ravens’ depth once more at a snakebitten position.
Tight end Charlie Kolar
Best-case scenario: Kolar returns from injured reserve in October, fully recovered from sports hernia surgery, and works his way into a deep tight end rotation. His 6-foot-6 frame makes him a jump-ball threat in an offense that finished 14th last season in red-zone touchdown rate. With the help of Nick Boyle, Patrick Ricard and the Ravens’ strength coaches, Kolar improves his blocking and starts to realize his potential as an in-line tight end.
Worst-case scenario: Like wide receiver Rashod Bateman last year, Kolar has to wait until the offseason to fully recover from his preseason surgery. With the emergence of Isaiah Likely and the return to health of Boyle, he rarely sees the field and struggles to develop a connection with Jackson.
Punter Jordan Stout
Best-case scenario: Stout doesn’t need long to prove he’s one of the NFL’s better punters. He flips the field with 60-yard bombs, pins opponents deep in their end with perfectly weighed punts and befuddles returners with a Sam Koch-esque range of kicks. As a holder, he doesn’t mess things up for kicker Justin Tucker.
Worst-case scenario: Stout’s booming leg does more harm than good, outkicking his coverage every now and then and compromising the Ravens’ lane integrity. As a holder, he does mess things up for Tucker.
Tight end Isaiah Likely
Best-case scenario: Likely’s preseason form carries over into the regular season, where he earns more than 50% of the offensive snaps. With All-Pro Mark Andrews attracting double teams, Likely becomes a go-to receiver for Jackson. His understanding of zone coverages earns him regular targets, and his slippery ability as a ball carrier makes him the Ravens’ most dangerous weapon after the catch. Likely puns abound during Ravens broadcasts.
Worst-case scenario: Likely’s shortcomings as a blocker make him a liability on early downs and near the goal line for the run-heavy Ravens. In obvious passing situations, he’s not dynamic enough to earn regular snaps over Andrews, the team’s top option in the slot, or wide receivers Devin Duvernay and James Proche II.
Cornerback Damarion ‘Pepe’ Williams
Best-case scenario: Like Armour-Davis, Williams helps out on special teams and fortifies the secondary as a reserve cornerback. Unlike Armour-Davis, he continues to cross-train at safety, giving the Ravens another versatile defensive back entering 2023.
Worst-case scenario: Williams’ smaller frame and average athleticism limit his contributions on special teams and on defense. He’s a victim of the Ravens’ weekly roster squeeze and is rarely activated on game day.
Running back Tyler Badie
Best-case scenario: Badie impresses on the practice squad and makes his way onto the 53-man roster by season’s end. He earns time on special teams and the occasional carry on offense. Finally running behind a starting-level offensive line, Badie shows his potential as an NFL-level running back.
Worst-case scenario: Badie languishes on the practice squad and enters his second season in Baltimore on the roster bubble.