Who are the most important Baltimore Ravens players not named Lamar Jackson?
Most NFL teams are simply a quarterback-injury away from sliding down a ramp into a deep pool of oblivion.
Does anybody believe the Chiefs are a favorite to win next year’s Super Bowl with Matt Moore taking snaps? Do the Seahawks win four games with Geno Smith behind center? Are the Steelers contenders with Mason Rudolph leading the way? And with all due respect to Robert Griffin III, while I believe the Ravens can win a game or two if he needs to start, I do not see the purple-and-black covered in confetti at the end of the season if Lamar Jackson is out for any real extended period of time. Do you?
Injuries are part of football, and teams that stay healthy often have the best opportunity to advance far each season. While the Ravens have accumulated great depth up and down their roster, there are a few spots that could cause concern if certain players get shelved for a good chunk of the season. Let’s take a look at three players — not named “Lamar Jackson” — who play critical roles for this team that could capsize the Ravens’ season if they are knocked out of play.
Marlon Humphrey, cornerback
The Ravens have great depth in their defensive backfield. I recently Tweeted that between Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young, it is conceivable that the Ravens have four of the top 64 cornerbacks in the entire NFL. That is an embarrassment of riches, and there is great depth.
Humphrey is the rare player in the NFL who can cover an opponent’s lead receiver wherever he lines up — out wide, in the slot or standing on top of the press box. He is also insurance for the team in that slot position in case Tavon Young struggles to make it back from last year’s injury or gets banged up again. If Young gets hurt, Humphrey moves inside and Peters and Smith man the outside. If Peters gets hurt, Humphrey and Smith take the outside. And so on.
But Humphrey, in addition to being one of the team’s true play-makers on defense, is that chess piece that affords endless positional flexibility, and allows Don “Wink” Martindale to basically dial up whatever insane blitz is on his wacky mind at any given time. Lose Humphrey, and things can turn bad very quickly for the back end of this defense.
Ronnie Stanley, tackle
Stanley is rightfully in that conversation as best left tackle in the league, which makes him nearly impossible to replace right off the top. He can be left one-on-one with some of the best pass-rushers in the NFL, allowing the Ravens tight ends and backs to get out in routes instead of helping him out, and he has vastly improved as a run blocker.
The tight ends and quarterback get a ton of credit for the Ravens offense, and rightfully so, but the offensive line is also a significant factor. With the team’s one major offseason loss this season being star guard Marshal Yanda, the line not only lost its best player over the past decade, but also its leader. Stanley is the clear replacement for that role going forward, as well.
If Stanley goes down, the options are pretty thin. R.J. Prince? Rookie Tyre Phillips? Orlando Brown Jr. moving over from the right, creating another problem on that side of the field? Losing Stanley creates lesser performance at both left tackle and right guard this season from a year ago, and that can end things quickly for the 2020 Ravens.
Mark Andrews, tight end
The Ravens have Nick Boyle waiting in the wings, and I am a huge fan of Boyle’s work. I believe he and San Francisco’s George Kittle are the two best run-blocking tight ends in the league, and Boyle has shown that he has reliable hands in the passing game, along with being an absolute bear to try to tackle, particularly for defensive backs.
But the loss of Hayden Hurst does impact this team as of now. When Andrews missed time last season, Hurst was able to come in and make some plays — most notably, against Buffalo and in the early portion of the Steelers game. The Ravens were also effective in 13 alignment (one running back, three tight ends) last season because of the myriad ways they could attack, both on the land and in the air.
Losing Boyle or Andrews would severely hamstring the offense, but Andrews’ ability to exploit seams in zone coverage and destroy opponents in man-to-man can not be easily replicated by anybody on the roster. Maybe the additions of rookies Devin Duvernay and James Proche would give Jackson more options inside that could aid in an absence of Andrews.
But right now — that is a maybe. Andrews has developed into a certainty. You just can’t lose certainties in this league.