by Ryan Mink & Garrett Downing
Mink: If I were a betting man (I'm too cheap), I would bet the Ravens' offensive line will be (from left to right) Ronnie Stanley, Ben Cleveland, Bradley Bozeman, Kevin Zeitler and Alejandro Villanueva.
This really comes down to left guard and center because the Ravens just inked Villanueva to a two-year deal worth a reported $14 million to be their right tackle and Zeitler will be the right guard. Stanley is obviously the left tackle as long as he's ready to suit up by Week 1, as has been previously projected.
I think Cleveland-Bozeman at left guard and center gives the Ravens their best starting five, even though it's somewhat of a position switch for both since Cleveland was a right guard at Georgia and Bozeman has been at left guard in the NFL. However, Cleveland said he's taken reps on the left side and hardly seemed to think it would be a problem, and Bozeman was a college center at Alabama.
It's not easy for any rookie to be an instant starter, but many Ravens have done it many times before and Cleveland's sheer size (6-foot-6, 357 pounds) gives him an advantage. Even as he continues to develop and learn the ropes, Cleveland will still be able to maul defenders with his brute force. As a rookie in 2018, Orlando Brown Jr. was helped by his sheer size and length when he took over at right tackle early in the season. Guard is probably easier than tackle to start at immediately.
I also like Bozeman at center, not only because it was his natural position, but because he's a steady and smart player who has a strong grasp of the scheme and familiarity with his teammates. The fourth-year veteran can be the glue between the new guys.
That starting lineup would make Tyre Phillips the key swing tackle (who can also play guard), as well prove two interior reserves in Patrick Mekari and Ben Powers who have starting experience and more position versatility. Veteran tackle Andre Smith, Ben Bredeson, and Trystan Colon-Castillo would be competing for a ninth roster O-line spot.
Downing: This is a great question and something I've spent pondering since the Ravens took Bateman in the first round. The honest answer is that it's really hard to say before we've even seen Bateman or Watkins take the field for a practice. So let's start with that caveat.
But the Ravens took Bateman with the 27th-overall pick for a reason. They want him to make significant, immediate impact on this offense. It's clear the Ravens want to elevate the passing game and adding Bateman to the equation gives them a highly talented player to make that happen. The competition between Bateman and Watkins will be interesting to watch during training camp, and I'm eager to see how NFL-ready the rookie is. Watkins also has some questions around him - particularly regarding his ability to stay healthy - and that will factor into this question as well.
My expectation right now is that Watkins and Marquise Brown will open the year as the starting receivers. Second-year wideout Devin Duvernay will be a key option in the slot. Bateman should still get significant playing time as the Ravens rotate him with the other three receivers, and his role will only grow if he proves himself early.
Mink: The wide receiver battle is always a fun to watch, but this may be the best year yet. Eric DeCosta has stockpiled the room with young talent, drafting six wide receivers over the past three years. That means, with Watkins on board, one of the six wideouts DeCosta picked won't make the 53-man roster unless the Ravens keep seven wideouts (unlikely).
We can assume Brown, Bateman and Watkins are all locks. Duvernay appears primed for a bigger role after flashing his potential last year as a third-round rookie. That's four. Five and six would come down to Miles Boykin, James Proche II and rookie Tylan Wallace. I'm not positive that the Ravens expected to draft two wide receivers this year, but DeCosta said Wallace's talent was just too good to pass up in the fourth round. That pick created the logjam.
Boykin has been an excellent blocker, but if Wallace or somebody else could fill that role and Boykin doesn't take a step forward as a pass-catching threat this offseason, he could end up on the outside looking in. Duvernay replaced Proche as the team's punt returner midway through last year, which left Proche without a role considering he hardly saw an offensive action. He needs to win back the returner job and show he can contribute on offense. Wallace will also have to earn his spot on the roster as a rookie. It's a good problem to have, and after so many years with not enough wide receiver talent, DeCosta wasn't going to pass up a chance to have too many. There's a lot of time between now and roster cuts, so we'll see how it shakes out.
Downing: I like it. The former first-round pick was a quality player during his two years in Baltimore and a great fit in Greg Roman's tight-end centric offense. Hurst is still under contract this season with the Atlanta Falcons, but he'll be an unrestricted free agent in 2022 because the Falcons decided not to pick up his fifth-year option (unless he re-signed with the Falcons for cheaper). His performance this year in Atlanta will dictate what kind of contract he gets in free agency, and he could be a nice addition if the price is right. A big factor here will be what Hurst wants. He wanted to get traded last season to a more pass-heavy team where he had a chance to be a featured target. If that's a priority for him next year in free agency, and the Ravens still have Mark Andrews as the top tight end, then Hurst may opt to go in another direction.