No matter what team you are, progressing from year to year is how you stay competitive in the NFL. The Baltimore Ravens are coming off of a franchise-best 14-2 record in 2019 and boast one of the best rosters in all of football. They sent a league-high 12 players to the Pro Bowl last season and all but the retired Marshal Yanda are returning in 2020.
However, the Ravens aren’t a team to rest on their laurels. From year to year, the Ravens have been able to consistently develop talent in-house rather than spending large on the open market in free agency. This year, general manager Eric DeCosta made a larger splash than usual but will be relying on a number of key players to make the jump from contributor to star. Baltimore is an organization that banks on hitting on numerous draft picks every season.
Last season some of the biggest contributors to the Ravens success were players in the second year of their rookie contract. 2018 first-round selection Lamar Jackson elevated his quarterback play to an elite level on his way to an NFL MVP but there were a number of players that made the jump with him. After a promising rookie season, tight end Mark Andrews finished first in touchdown receptions and fifth in receiving yards while center Matt Skura and right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. took strides from being starting offensive lineman to Pro Bowl-caliber players.
If the Ravens are to replicate their 2019 success in 2020, they need a number of younger pieces to step up. These are the potential candidates to break out for the Ravens in 2020.
Baltimore Ravens Breakout Player Candidates 2020
Marquise Brown – Wide Receiver
Brown is already a popular candidate around the league to break out in year-two as an NFL pro and it’s not without good reason. The Ravens 2019 first-round pick gathered the most targets amongst Ravens wide receivers as a rookie. He and Jackson have developed obvious chemistry in the one year they’ve played together and will both be looking to accelerate each other’s growth in 2020. Brown finished 2019 with 46 receptions for 584 yards and seven touchdowns.
What makes Brown such an easy breakout candidate for next season was the promise he showed playing through injury as a rookie. After suffering a foot injury in Oklahoma’s 2018 Big 12 Championship victory, he was forced to play the entire 2019 NFL season with a screw in his foot. According to Ian Rapaport, removing the screw “eliminates any complications moving forward for Brown’s foot.” Now finally healthy, he’s looking to establish himself as a true number-one receiver and one of the most prolific deep threats in the NFL. Brown hit a top speed of 20.33 MPH Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins but admitted that he believes he is a lot faster.
While Brown might not be a big receiver, he showed he offers more than just speed. His great hands were on display when he made one of the prettiest catches of the NFL playoffs against the Tennessee Titans and according to Pro Football Focus, his 134.4 passer rating when targeted led all wide receivers with 50 or more regular-season targets. Brown is easily the best wide receiver in the Ravens high powered offense and should have a big season in year-two.
Justice Hill – Running Back
The Ravens drafted a running back in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft but the player to watch in the backfield next season was a fourth-rounder the year prior. Hill was the Ravens 113th overall pick in 2019 and is the one running back on Baltimore’s roster that offers a different dimension with his skillset. He was the fastest running back at the NFL Combine in 2019 and showed an ability to consistently catch the ball back at Oklahoma State.
With Mark Ingram leading the charge last season, Hill was seldomly utilized. He rushed the ball just 58 times for 225 yards, caught eight passes for 70 yards and added two touchdowns. As a rookie, Hill played in every game but saw more than five touches in just five of his 16 games. However, when speaking on Hill earlier in the off-season, head coach John Harbaugh said he expects Hill to take a big jump this year. The Ravens are likely set to carry four tailbacks on their roster in 202o but Hill is the only one of the four that has shown burner ability. He has more speed than any other back on the roster and provides a true change of pace as opposed to the rest of the room.
Hill might be fighting an uphill battle for playing time in 2020 but if he gets on the field, he could have a huge impact on third down. Gus Edwards will likely continue to handle the short-yardage situations but with Ingram now 30 years old, Hill could gather a lot more playing time on third down. Hill was a favorite of the Ravens staff when he was picked a year ago and they won’t be giving up on him just a year into his pro career.
Jaylon Ferguson – Outside Linebacker
If there is one position on the Ravens roster that needs a breakout star, it’s off the edge. Baltimore’s outside linebackers were maybe the biggest weakness of their team a year ago and saw little in the form of reinforcements this off-season. The unit was completely reshaped prior to the 2019 season and very little stuck throughout the season. Perhaps the only bright spot was Ferguson.
A third-round pick of the Ravens in 2019, Ferguson came to the Ravens after leaving college as the all-time NCAA Division I career sack leader. He didn’t produce as much as he would’ve liked as a rookie (2.5 sacks in 14 games) but the Ravens coaching staff began to come around to him more as the season grew on. After playing just 81 snaps from Week 3 to Week 6, Ferguson started and played over 60 percent of defensive snaps in every game from Week 7 on. He also added a quarterback hit in the Ravens lone playoff game. Ferguson finished the season with 31 combined tackles, 2.5 sacks, nine quarterback hits and six tackles for loss.
Entering 2020, Ferguson’s role should only expand. Baltimore did not add a pass rusher through the draft and the only player pushing Ferguson for the second starting outside linebacker job is veteran Pernell McPhee. Matt Judon made the jump from 4.0 sacks and 10 quarterback hits as a rookie to 8.0 sacks and 19 quarterback hits in his second year. Ferguson could see a similar jump next season.
Chuck Clark – Safety
While a lot Ravens fans may know about their former-fourth round starting strong safety, the majority of the NFL does not. Clark was thrust into a starting role after former-Ravens safety Tony Jefferson tore his ACL Week 5 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. From there, he played one of the most polished roles of anyone in an elite Ravens secondary. Clark made the jump from starting two games and playing 24 percent of defensive snaps to starting each game from Week 6 on, and finishing the year playing 76 percent of defensive snaps. His PFF grade of 73.0 was the highest of his career.
Marcus Peters was definitely the biggest key to the turnaround of the Ravens secondary but Clark’s play saw a spike at the same time as Peters did. When the two started together, Baltimore’s secondary numbers took a huge uptick. From Week 6 on, the Ravens secondary ranked first in each passing defense, total defense, and passer rating allowed. Clark finished the season with 75 combined tackles, one interception, two forced fumbles, and a 75.1 passer rating when targetted.
Now entering 2020, Clark will be relied on heavily as one of the foundations in the secondary. Due to his great play in 2019, DeCosta extended the 25-year-old this summer. The former-sixth round pick signed a three-year(s)/$19 million extension back in February. Clark is now a vital part of the best position group on the Ravens and will get the chance to show why he belongs next season. He could see his play jump from quality-starter to elite-safety if he is to improve on a great 2019 season in 2020.