Baltimore Ravens: Why Nick Boyle and Pat Ricard are so vital
Don’t forget Nick Boyle, Patrick Ricard when discussing Ravens line
If Lamar Jackson, Ronnie Stanley and Greg Roman are the three most critical figures in the effectiveness of the Ravens offense — and, yeah, they are —, then who would be fourth?
Mark Andrews, the man who busts seams of enemy defenses and seems to relish in the schoolyard-game that breaks out when Jackson gets flushed out of the pocket and tries to make something happen downfield? Marquise Brown, the electric second-year receiver who is counting on a healed foot and seemingly endless offseason workouts to take his game to a new level?
Orlando Brown Jr., the up-and-coming stud at right tackle who doesn’t allow defensive coordinators to flip their pass rushers to take advantage of a weak link? Mark Ingram, the seasoned vet who brings attitude and flat-out talent from the running back position?
Nope. You are all wrong. Every single one of you. The correct answer is Nick Boyle — he of the 934 receiving yards and two touchdown catches over the first five years of his career. You see, Boyle is the sixth offensive linemen for one of the top running teams in the history of the National Football League. His flexibility, underrated talent and apparent glee at knocking opponents into different congressional districts makes him an indispensable piece for this team going forward.
Yes, in today’s NFL we tend to think of tight ends as bigger wide receivers who line up off the ball or slightly more athletic offense linemen who can provide a safety outlet on third-and-short or in the red zone. Yes, there are some unicorns like George Kittle who can seemingly do whatever he wants to do on a field, but the tight-end position has become more of a specialist-filled role.
Consider last year’s Ravens. Andrews was the receiving tight end, Boyle was the blocker and the now-departed Hayden Hurst did a little of both, right? That was how most people saw it, and they really did fill those roles well. But did you know that Andrews played roughly 41 percent of the Ravens snaps last season? Or that Hurst also played about 41 percent? Nick Boyle, he of those 934 receiving yards and two touchdown catches over the first five years of his career, played 70 percent of the team’s offensive snaps.
That’s a lot of usage. With Hurst gone, and three not-yet-proven tight end prospects in Charles Scarff, Jacob Breeland and Eli Wolf vying for a spot on the team, look for Boyle to see a few more targets this year, as well. He has shown to have reliable hands, and is a difficult man to bring down (when he’s not trying to hurdle would-be tacklers). With Jackson’s affinity for throwing to the middle of the field, it is natural to assume Boyle will get his hands on more balls.
That being said, it is Boyle’s ability to move into motion, settle in as a member of the backfield, next to a tackle, in the slot or out wide that forces defenses to make decisions on the fly with their setups. The Ravens play a ton of option on offense, and having Boyle move a defender from snap to snap affords Jackson more basic intelligence work before he has to make a decision. This is akin to shooting a flare over an enemy’s position to see how it react’s — any real-time information is good information.
That helps both practically and mentally, and can help the Ravens turn into a six-man line against light defensive packages, or a wide-open attack when looking at base defenses. In addition, Boyle is excellent downfield on the move, as many of Jackson’s long runs last season featured 86 giving someone a ride into a concession booth.
You want to know what else is cool about this flexibility that Boyle gives Roman and company? They also have Pat Ricard, a mismatch in the making who should see a significant uptick in use this season with Hurst’s departure. Ricard brings a defensive tackle’s mentality to the blocking game because… well… he’s a defensive tackle. Not a bad one at that, in terms of shooting gaps and gaining penetration.
Ricard has also shown a feel for attacking holes when he is in blocking mode. He also has an impressive ability to move off one block for another, more-pressing need. This is also one of my favorite traits of Stanley’s — and he’s an All Pro tackle. That speaks well for the future progression in Ricard’s blocking game, as technique, understanding of the scheme and spatial awareness all play a role in a blocker’s effectiveness.
The Bottom Line:
With Boyle and Ricard, along with Andrews, Roman has a bevy of moving pieces he can tweak and slide to cause defenses to adjust before the ball is even snapped. That allows everything else to begin each play with a bit of a head start, particularly in terms of the option game on the ground and play-action in the pass.
If the Ravens have a successful offense this season we will hear the names “Jackson” and Brown” and “Andrews” and maybe “Duvernay” from the media’s lips all year. But you can believe Boyle and Ricard will be somehow involved in the action, as well. And defensive coordinators will be spending a ton of time trying to figure those guys out, too.