Most valuable player, most improved, worst play and everything in between – Boston Herald


As the Ravens turn from playoff disappointment in Cincinnati to plans for 2023, it’s time to take a last look at their standout performers, and a few of their disappointments, from the past season.

With quarterback Lamar Jackson finishing another season on the sideline and a long string of tense, low-scoring games down the stretch, the 2022 Ravens did not overwhelm NFL fans with obvious heroes or unforgettable highlights. Their home fans seemed exasperated with them as often as not. But they were not boring.

Here are a few superlatives to put a period on the whole, messy tale:

Most Valuable Raven: Marlon Humphrey

Baltimore media members voted for Roquan Smith as the team’s Most Valuable Player, understandable given the linebacker’s immediate and immense impact on the Ravens’ defense after he arrived via trade from the Chicago Bears. But Smith played just 10 games in Baltimore. Humphrey played all 18, including the playoffs, and was on the field for almost every defensive snap after his 2021 season was cut short by a pectoral injury.

Humphrey would be a delight to coach. He’s not the No. 1 cover cornerback in the league, but he’s in the top tier. He shifts seamlessly to the slot whenever asked. He tackles with aplomb, forced four turnovers this season and even added three sacks. He always shows up in terrific condition and rarely misses a practice. The Ravens extended him for almost $100 million to be one of their cornerstones, and he was just that in 2022. As they try to build an even nastier defense for 2023, with Smith now locked up on a five-year extension, they will know they can count on Humphrey.

Most improved: Ben Powers

Inside linebacker Patrick Queen was an excellent candidate on the other side of the ball, wiping away concerns that his lapses in coverage and as a tackler might always overshadow his playmaking. But Queen was a first-round pick in 2021. Powers was a fourth-round pick who always seemed in danger of falling behind some larger, flashier candidate to start at left guard. He was the incumbent after 2021, but fans always seemed so eager to hand his job to Ben Cleveland or Tyre Phillips. Powers would not have it. If he could not blow coaches away with his tools, he would become the one they trusted.

He played every offensive snap in the opener, every offensive snap in the season-ending playoff loss and every offensive snap in between. His pass-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus was easily the best of his career and the second best in the league at his position. “Ben has probably improved as much as anybody on our team,” Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said. So there you have it. If there’s a problem, it’s that Powers might have played his way into a free-agent offer the Ravens cannot comfortably match. Who could have foreseen that two years ago?

Best rookie: Kyle Hamilton

This could go to either of the team’s first-round picks. Tyler Linderbaum stepped in as a Day 1 starter at center and graded as one of the elite run blockers at his position. He could be headed for a Pro Bowl sooner rather than later. Hamilton, meanwhile, grew from a confused newbie whose snaps plummeted over the first five weeks to one of the most important players on the defense by the end of the season. Critics might ding him for playing nickel back instead of the safety position for which he was drafted No. 14 overall, but Hamilton was always a unique prospect. His size and acceleration in tight spaces make him a formidable defender near the line of scrimmage, even as a pass rusher coming off the edge. If his ability to stick with wide receivers and rangier tight ends is still a work in progress, he compensated by making so many plays that a traditional safety might not. He was the Ravens’ top-graded defender, per Pro Football Focus, and forced a pivotal fumble in their playoff loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Hamilton’s progress will be fascinating to chart. He frequently shared the field with safeties Chuck Clark and Marcus Williams, because the Ravens did not have a standout nickel cornerback and wanted to get their best defensive backs in the game. If they let the durable Clark go, will Hamilton thrive at strong safety, or will his early difficulties in coverage resurface? Will he continue to be a force — almost a third inside linebacker — as a pass rusher and run defender? “I’m open to everything and anything,” he said as he cleaned out his locker at the end of Year 1.

Most missed: Rashod Bateman

Bateman saw his last action in the eighth game of the season. Not coincidentally, the Ravens’ top stretch as a passing team coincided with the second-year wide receiver’s only string of healthy games. Bateman needs to become a more reliable target, but he averaged 19 yards per catch, offering a glimpse of how potent he might become, especially if a new offensive coordinator tunes up the team’s aerial attack.

Coach John Harbaugh said Bateman has recovered from his Lisfranc injury enough to resume running at full speed sometime soon, so he should have several healthy months to ramp up for training camp. We knew the Ravens were undermanned at wide receiver going into the season, which meant the spotlight on Bateman, the team’s 2021 first-round pick, was that much brighter. It will be equally bright next summer as he tries to put his injuries behind him and give the Ravens a legitimate deep threat.

Most disappointing: Odafe Oweh

Oweh could not be blocked in training camp, and new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald did not hesitate in saying the second-year outside linebacker had star potential. So it’s difficult to view Oweh’s final stat line — three sacks and 11 quarterback hits, both lower than his rookie totals — as anything other than a letdown. He went from playing more than 80% of the Ravens’ defensive snaps in the first five weeks of the season to falling behind veterans Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Houston in Macdonald’s edge rotation. He described his season as “discouraging” in early December.

If we’re looking for a silver lining, Oweh raised his game over the last six weeks, shifting inside on some snaps and saving his best performance of the season for the team’s playoff loss to the Bengals. After it was over, he said he had not had a full offseason because of shoulder surgery, so he’s looking forward to his preparations for 2023.

Sleeping giant: Isaiah Likely

Likely would be the first to say he kept himself off the field with dropped passes and other mental lapses. But when the Ravens needed their rookie tight end to step in for an injured or resting Mark Andrews, he reminded us why he was the star of training camp. His six catches and 77 yards helped the Ravens rally for a key midseason win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he was the team’s top threat in the regular-season finale against the Bengals with eight catches for 103 yards.

Likely beats linebackers and safeties downfield, makes acrobatic grabs against tight coverage and fights for yards after the catch. Given their paucity of pass-catching talent, the Ravens need to find ways to unlock his production when he’s on the field with Andrews, even if that means lining him up in sports typically occupied by wide receivers. Likely vowed to come back as a more consistent receiver, but the Ravens need to do their part by feeding him in his second season.

Best individual game: Lamar Jackson’s five-touchdown evisceration of the Patriots

Given the Ravens’ offensive woes in the second half, we might forget just how hot Jackson was in the early weeks of the season. He had thrown for 318 yards and three touchdowns in the home opener only to watch the Miami Dolphins wipe away his great work with a 28-3 fourth quarter. He and the Ravens needed to get back on track against a Patriots defense that would finish the season third in Football Outsiders’ DVOA.

Well, the Patriots found no answer for Jackson, who threw for 218 yards and a season-high four touchdowns and added 107 rushing yards on 11 carries. He scored on a 9-yard keeper with three minutes left in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach. At that moment, fleeting as it turned out, he appeared ready to chase a second MVP award.

Best play: Gus Edwards’ third-down conversion in Pittsburgh

There’s no Jackson spin move or 66-yard field goal from Justin Tucker to blow away the competition in this category. A few defensive and special teams stops — Hamilton’s strip against the New England Patriots, Malik Harrison’s block of a potential game-tying field goal against the Cleveland Browns — stand out.

But we’re going to cheat a bit and go with a series of plays. The Ravens clung to a two-point lead in Pittsburgh with undrafted rookie Anthony Brown filling in for Jackson and a concussed Tyler Huntley at quarterback. They needed a first down to clinch the game, and the Steelers knew they would try to bull straight ahead. Edwards gained 6 yards off left tackle on first down, forcing Pittsburgh to use its second timeout. Edwards ran right on second down but was halted for a gain of just one. After a final timeout, the Steelers would have more enough seconds to drive for a game-winning field goal if they stopped the Ravens on third down. Brown again handed to Edwards, who drove forward off right tackle. He needed 3 yards and picked up 6.

This moment epitomized much of what was good about the 2022 Ravens. They were playing without Jackson on the most hostile field possible with their postseason destiny beginning to feel tenuous. The Steelers knew what was coming, and the Ravens, with their excellent offensive line doing some of its best work, still put the victory away using straight power and tenacity.

Worst play: Tyler Huntley’s fumble

The biggest no-brainer on the list. Huntley was on his way to a career-defining game when he attempted to vault over the Bengals’ front for a go-ahead touchdown in the wild-card round of the playoffs. As Huntley reached for the goal line, however, Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson met him in the air and knocked the ball free. Instead of taking a serendipitous bounce for the Ravens, it plopped right into the hands of Cincinnati defensive end Sam Hubbard, who chugged 98 yards for the decisive score in a 24-17 game.

Huntley was devastated afterward, acknowledging that the fumble would haunt him for months to come. Fans couldn’t believe offensive coordinator Greg Roman called a sneak instead of handing the ball to Edwards or J.K. Dobbins. Dobbins shared their outrage. Harbaugh defended the call but said Huntley should have burrowed low instead of leaping. The Ravens had outplayed and outhit the defending AFC champions for the better part of 60 minutes, but they could not survive the 14-point swing.


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