This is part one of a four part series for all four teams in the AFC North.
It is the rookies versus the veterans this year in the AFC North. Rookie head coaches Freddie Kitchens for the Cleveland Browns and Zac Taylor for the Cincinnati Bengals will be looking to battle playoff experienced coaches Mike Tomlin for the Pittsburgh Steelers and John Harbaugh for the Baltimore Ravens this season.
With Ben Roethlisberger nearing the end of his career and Andy Dalton’s future in question, can Baker Mayfield as well as Lamar Jackson compete for the AFC North crown in their sophomore years in the NFL?
With preseason training camps underway, each AFC North team has questions to answer on both sides of the football. I will give my opinion on two questions for each team (one concerning the offense, one concerning the defense) to keep an eye on during the regular season this year.
- How will Lamar Jackson perform under new offensive coordinator Greg Roman this season and can Marquise Brown as well as Justice Hill become dynamic play-makers in the Ravens offense?
When Greg Roman was the offensive coordinator of the 49ers during their NFC Championship run from 2011-2013, Lamar Jackson was on his way to becoming a four star recruit at Boynton Beach High School in Florida. Four years later, Roman returned to Baltimore after working as an assistant under head coach Brian Billick in 2006 and 2007 while Jackson was finishing his career at the University of Louisville after winning the Heisman Trophy in 2016. Last season, Roman coached one of Lamar’s favorite targets in tight end Mark Andrews and this year, Greg will have full control of the Ravens offense as he will try to mold Jackson like he did with Alex Smith as well as Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco.
With the additions of Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram from the Saints and wide receiver Michael Floyd from the Redskins, Lamar Jackson could have a productive sophomore season after leading Baltimore to the playoffs last year. But, the Ravens also used the NFL Draft to grab two more players who are looking to make their own impact on Baltimore’s offense this season.
In the first and fourth rounds of this year’s NFL Draft, the Ravens selected wide receiver Marquise Brown from Oklahoma (1st) and running back Justice Hill from Oklahoma State (4th). After beginning his career at College of the Canyons in 2016 (a junior college in Santa Clarita, California), Brown become an explosive receiving threat for the Sooners and earned first team All-American honors last season while Hill was a three star recruit out of Booker T. Washington High School in 2015 (a 70 mile drive from Oklahoma State), but became the only Cowboy freshman running back to rush over 1,000 yards in a season and earned first team All Big 12 honors in 2017 as well as 2018.
However, Marquise Brown will have to battle with Michael Floyd, Willie Snead IV, and rookie wide receiver Miles Boykin from Notre Dame for playing time this year while Hill will primarily be Mark Ingram’s backup at the start of the season, but could battle for the No. 2 spot with returning rookie sensation Gus Edwards in the preseason.
- Will Jaylon Ferguson be a great replacement for Terrell Suggs and is Don Martindale ready to put his mark on the Ravens defense this season?
When Terrell Suggs earned his sixth Pro Bowl selection in 2013 with the Ravens, Jaylon Ferguson was becoming one of the top high school prospects in his state of Louisiana while attending West Feliciana High School. But, last season, Suggs led the NFL’s 2nd ranked defense into the playoffs while Ferguson won the C-USA Defensive Player of the Year award and left Louisiana Tech as the all-time career sack leader in NCAA history with 45 sacks. After playing 16 years with the Ravens, Suggs signed a free agent contract with the Cardinals this off-season before Baltimore used their 3rd round selection to draft Ferguson with the 85th pick.
With Ferguson’s dual threat ability as an edge rusher and outside linebacker, Don Martindale has the chance to repeat his defensive success from last season despite losing Suggs and Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley in free agency this off-season. But, despite using the NFL Draft to replace one of his top linebackers, Martindale also has other key players returning from last year along with another big off-season acquisition.
After working as the defensive coordinator at Western Kentucky under head coach Jack Harbaugh (the father of John Harbaugh) from 2000-2003, Don Martindale earned his first coaching stint in the NFL as a linebackers coach for the Oakland Raiders before becoming the defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos in 2010. But, after taking a year off from coaching, John Harbaugh hired Martindale in 2012 to serve as the Ravens linebackers coach. Before he was named Baltimore’s defensive coordinator in 2017, Martindale had one of the best linebacker units in the AFC as Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, and Elvis Dumervil made at least one Pro Bowl in Don’s six seasons as a linebacker coach.
With Earl Thomas replacing Eric Weddle at the free safety position and defensive tackle Brandon Williams returning after a Pro Bowl season to mentor Daylon Mack (defensive tackle, 5th round draft pick from Texas A&M), Baltimore’s defense could still be one of the best in the AFC this year as Don Martindale will try to put his mark on the Ravens defense with his off-season acquisitions.
2019-20 NFL PREDICTION
With the Ravens schedule consisting of teams in the AFC East and NFC West this season, Baltimore will have one of the toughest schedules in the NFL and have a record of 10-6. I think Baltimore’s offense will be a run-oriented attack this season with Mark Ingram and Justice Hill, but if Lamar Jackson can develop into a Pro Bowl quarterback with his new receivers, the Ravens offense could be really exciting to watch this year.
I also think Don Martindale will be able to repeat his success from last season even with the departure of Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley this off-season. Jaylon Ferguson could be a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate and Brandon Williams could be an excellent mentor on Baltimore’s defensive line while Earl Thomas replaces Eric Weddle’s presence on the Ravens secondary along with the addition of cornerback Justin Bethel to mentor Iman Marshall (the Ravens 4th round draft pick from USC).