It's time for the Baltimore Ravens to take the next step toward an NFL championship, and they know it. There's been a ton of talent on the roster -- led by former league MVP Lamar Jackson -- and a proven head coach in John Harbaugh. Despite both being in tow, however, the Ravens just can't seem to get over the hump recently. They've seen special seasons end unceremoniously in January and are looking to reload for 2021, but not without the added challenges of COVID-19 and having lost first-round talent Rashod Bateman (groin) and running back J.K. Dobbins (torn ACL) to injuries that required surgery.
That said, will it be more challenging in 2021 to win it all that in the year prior? Honestly, maybe not, especially if they can avoid another COVID-19 outbreak that rattled their regular season in 2020. It feels as if there's so much working against the Ravens right now that instead of breaking them, it'll galvanize them toward their ultimate goal of hoisting another Lombardi trophy.
Here's how they'll do it.
Lamar Jackson improves on MVP form
At this point, anyone doubting what Jackson can do is either not paying attention or too dug into their bad take and simply refuse to let it go. Jackson has proven he can be as deadly with his arm as he is with his legs, but this is the season where he truly hones his passing skills and effectively ends any questions on if he can be one of the best throwers in the NFL. In his best season, when he won MVP honors in 2019, he threw for 3,127 yards and 36 touchdowns to only six interceptions, but those numbers were overshadowed by breaking of Michael Vick's single-season rushing record.
Jackson rushing for at least 1,000 yards twice only helps free up his ability to pass, because opposing defenses know they can't simply drop back and cover his targets. As long as new addition Sammy Watkins can play big and Marquise "Hollywood" Brown stays healthy to take the next step, Jackson could be better this coming season than he's ever been.
The Ravens are loaded again. Is this the year Lamar Jackson wins it all? For breaking news, analysis and player insights, download the CBS Sports app right now. Favorite the Ravens now if you already have the app.
WR corps 'figures it out'
Speaking of Watkins, he's going to have to earn every penny of the $6 million awarded to him on the one-year deal he signed in April. The Ravens entered the offseason with a pressing need at the position, and that's why they went shopping in free agency -- landing Watkins in the process and then grabbing Bateman in the NFL Draft. Absent Bateman, Watkins needs to combine with Brown to create a two-punch tandem that keeps the heat off of Jackson. It's not as if Watkins or Brown aren't capable either, because both are.
Watkins is a 1,000-yard receiver that could show it again in 2021, if he stays healthy and stretches the field opposite Brown, who himself has shown promise outside of battles with the injury bug. From there, others like Miles Boykin will have to simply figure it out. If they do, Jackson can truly cook like the Ravens (and the entire NFL) knows he can.
Patrick Queen challenges for NFL DPOTY
Queen is a monster in the making -- full stop. The former first-round pick flashed in a big way in Year 1, going on to earn PFWA All-Rookie team honors after starting every game and delivering 106 combined tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, an interception and a touchdown. The stage is set for him to level up in his second year, and the Ravens need it, considering their defense isn't as terrifying as it has been in years past. They shuffled some pass-rush talent in free agency, and that, combined with the presence of Calais Campbell, should help them keep opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable. Still, it feels like the defense as a whole will go as Queen -- the heartbeat of it -- goes in 2021.
If Queen can establish himself as the new guard of elite linebacker in the NFL, he'll be a terror, forcing opposing defenses to overcompensate for him on a weekly basis. That would make things a bit easier in the secondary, and overall. Look for Queen, who had a shot at winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, to challenge for NFL Defensive Player of the Year this time around.