Which Ravens Injuries Hurt the Most? Ranking the Impact of Injured Ravens in 2021
2021 was a frustrating year for the Baltimore Ravens. Perhaps the most frustrating part? Their inability to avoid injuries from key players at key positions. In this article I looked back and ranked, in order of importance, which injuries hurt the Ravens the most over the course of the 2021 season.
The focus here is on the impact felt from players who missed extensive time due to injury, so while guys like Pat Ricard, Sammy Watkins, and Ben Cleveland missed a few games here and there due to injury, this article will focus on players who missed significant portions of the season.
High Impact Ravens whose Presence was badly missed
Baltimore really missed having these high-impact players on the field. After jumping out to such a strong start, seeing guys like Lamar go down was incredibly tough. However, a few other Tier 1 Ravens going down with injury created a snowball effect that took us from AFC Championship contention to mock drafting for New Years Eve. Wait, you guys don't ring in the New Year with Mock Drafts?
Ronnie Stanley, left tackle
Stanley fought back from a shattered ankle in 2020 to start in week 1 vs Las Vegas. Unfortunately, he never looked right and either reaggravated or sustained another injury to his surgically repaired ankle. Stanley’s absence the rest of the season forced Alejandro Villanueva back to left tackle, which then forced Pat Mekari, Tyre Phillips, and additional depth into a starting role at right tackle. From opening running lanes in the ground game to Lamar Jackson’s comfort in the pocket, the all-pro left tackle’s healthy presence was severely missed all season long.
Lamar Jackson, quarterback
After Baltimore’s first five games of the season, I wrote about how the Ravens were winning games because of Jackson’s improvements in the passing game. After 11 games, the Ravens were 8-3, mainly because of the former MVP’s ability to cover up weaknesses and finding a way to win close games. Jackson then got hurt in week 14 and never returned while the Ravens ended the season on a six-game losing streak (five of which were decided by 3 points or less). Tyler Huntley was solid in relief, but it was clear the Ravens missed Jackson’s playmaking ability and his will to win. You have to wonder how five of those six games would have turned out with Jackson under center instead of Huntley.
Marlon Humphrey, Cornerback
Humphrey is arguably the most valuable defender the Ravens have on defense. His play was holding together a secondary decimated by injuries all year. While Humphrey’s level of play may have slipped slightly from his previous two years, his ability to match up in the slot, on the outside, or against top TEs was badly missed after he went down with a season-ending injury in week 13. Similar to Jackson, with Humphrey injured, the Ravens didn’t win a game the rest of the season.
J.K. Dobbins, Running Back
The second year running back out of Ohio State was ready to breakout after a promising rookie season. Dobbins excelled when the Ravens gave him more work towards the end of the 2020 season. Up until his season ending injury in August, the thought was Dobbins would lead the Ravens rushing attack in 2021. While Devonta Freeman and Latavius Murray held their own, the Ravens really missed having a young back with the vision, explosion, and playmaking ability that Dobbins brings.
Marcus Peters, Cornerback
The best pure playmaker on the Ravens defense was badly missed. While Peters is a high-risk high-reward player at this point in his career, Baltimore clearly missed the turnovers he produces and the swagger he brings. In 2021 Baltimore’s defense recorded 9 INTs and had 8 forced fumbles. In 2020 Peters had 4 INTs and 4 forced fumbles himself.
Key Starters Whose Prescence was missed
While not the highest paid players on the team, the absence of these key starters was noticeable and only magnified the loss of the high impact players. Typically, teams can patch together some success with the loss of high impact players but when you lose Key starters and, as you'll see, key depth beyond them, it becomes tough to succeed in the NFL.
Gus Edwards, running back
For a few weeks in late August/early September it looked like Edwards was going to be used as a featured back for first time in his career until he tore his ACL a few days before the season opener. The Gus Bus’ comfort in the offense and downhill running style was never truly replaced. A model of consistency, Edwards had averaged over 700 yards and 5.0 yards per carry in his previous three seasons.
Deshon Elliott, safety
Elliott had been playing faster and more consistent in his second year as a full-time starter next to Chuck Clark before he went down in week six with a season-ending injury. Another physical, high-energy player the Ravens defense missed. In six games, Elliott had one INT, one sack, and 23 tackles.
Nick Boyle, tight end
Boyle battled back from a serious knee injury in 2020 but wasn’t close to his previous level of play. When he made his return in week 11 it was clear he wasn’t 100%. He ended up playing in five games and had a minimal impact. When healthy, Boyle helps lead the way for the Ravens rushing attack as the best run-blocking tight end in football. His presence would have boosted the Ravens run game and given Lamar Jackson a trusted and reliable target.
Derek Wolfe, defensive end
Wolfe sustained what was thought to be a minor hip injury towards the end of training camp. The injury lingered and ultimately Wolfe missed the entire year. Wolfe played well on the defensive line in 2020, especially when Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell missed time. Wolfe had just agreed to a three-year, $12 million contract in free agency.
Jimmy Smith, cornerback
If Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Anthony Averett, and Tavon Young were healthy, Smith wouldn’t have been counted on to be a starter in the secondary. However, injuries forced the Ravens to rely heavily upon the former first-round pick in his 11th year in the league. Smith, like he has for most of his career, battled injuries and suited up for only 10 games for a team that needed help in the secondary all season long.
Key Depth That Was Missed Throughout The Season
Beyond the initial tiers of impacts players, each team needs to fill out its roster with solid depth. These are usually guys that you wouldn't think twice about on a regular basis but when a team is mired with injuries, depth is supposed to fill that void. However, not even the Ravens' key depth players could avoid injury this year and I believe the players below were missed in a year like 2021.
Tyre Phillips, offensive tackle/guard
Phillips started at left guard in week 1 vs. the Raiders but got hurt and then missed several weeks on IR. When healthy again, Phillips was needed at right tackle due to other injuries and started four games there. If he was fully healthy for the entirety of the season, it would have been interesting to see if he could have anchored the left guard position and been a stabilizing presence on the offensive line.
LJ Fort, linebacker/special teams
A starter on defense in 2020 and a key special teams player, Fort’s pre-season injury took away depth, leadership, and experience from the Ravens linebackers unit. Fort’s absence forced Pat Queen and Malik Harrison to play the majority of snaps early on before Josh Bynes was brought in to steady a struggling unit. Fort is a veteran who would have played meaningful snaps again on defense and would have been a leader on special teams.
Justice Hill, running back
After the injury to J.K. Dobbins but before Gus Edwards would tear his ACL, Justice Hill managed to tear his Achilles in practice. The second year back had flashed in limited playing time and would have seen a much larger role if healthy. He would have given the Ravens a younger, explosive back compared to giving Murray and Freeman so many carries.
Looking Ahead to the off-season
As we look ahead to the 2022 Baltimore off-season, it will be interesting to see how the Ravens handle some of the depth issues that took place this year. Of course, we will keep an eye on the health of those who went down in 2021 and hope they can return stronger as the team adds talent through the draft and free agency. I'll be talking about it over at Raven Up so feel free to tune in and give us a listen ,or at least a download.