The Baltimore Ravens have faced a great deal of adversity throughout the 2021 NFL season. They’re a battle-tested football team, which made Baltimore the perfect home for Devonta Freeman. His veteran presence has done wonders for Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ offense.
Adding Freeman to the mix has given new life to the running back and the Ravens’ Super Bowl aspirations.
Devonta Freeman has been an unlikely hero for Baltimore
Injuries absolutely decimated the Ravens’ locker room to begin the 2021 season, especially in the backfield.
J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill were Baltimore’s top three running backs heading into the season. However, all three players suffered season-ending injuries before even playing a regular-season snap.
The Ravens have been a run-first football team, but they’ve needed to open up the offense a little more due to the injuries.
Undrafted free agent Ty’Son Williams briefly assumed the starting running back role. Unfortunately, he fell out of favor pretty quickly due to pass protection issues.
General manager Eric DeCosta attacked the free-agent market to get some backfield help, as the offense desperately needed it. The Ravens added Devonta Freeman, Le’Veon Bell, and Latavius Murray to the roster.
All three backs are past their prime, but the front office believed they could bring immediate value to a championship contender.
In Freeman’s case, at least, Baltimore was right.
The veteran running back’s career seemed over
For most of his NFL career, Devonta Freeman was one of the more underrated running backs in the league.
The Atlanta Falcons drafted Freeman in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft out of Florida State. He spent his first six seasons in Atlanta, where he earned Pro Bowl honors twice (2015 and 2016).
Freeman rushed for 3,972 yards and 32 touchdowns during his tenure with the Falcons. He also recorded 257 receptions for 2,015 yards and 11 more scores.
Atlanta released the Miami, Florida native after the 2019 season. His production started to show a decline earlier than the team anticipated.
The New York Giants signed Freeman to bolster their backfield depth for the 2020 season. He didn’t do much in the way of counting stats, and his time in New York ended after just five games.
Freeman joined the New Orleans Saints for training camp, but the team later released him before the start of the 2021 regular season.
Given the shelf life of running backs, Devonta Freeman’s NFL career appeared to be coming to an end. That was until the Baltimore Ravens came calling.
“I have nothing to prove,” Freeman said in a recent press conference.” He’s been playing like he has a chip on his shoulder, though.
Lamar Jackson and the Ravens can still prove they’re legitimate Super Bowl contenders
Even with a laundry list of devastating injury blows, the Ravens still hold an impressive 7-3 record, good for first place in the AFC North.
With a victory over the division-rival Cleveland Browns on Sunday Night Football, Baltimore jumps into sole possession of the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
So how have the Ravens done it despite missing so many key contributors? For starters, Lamar Jackson has played like an MVP for most of the season.
Jackson has taken his game to the next level in 2021. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has relied more on his dual-threat quarterback’s arm as well as his legs. With the passing game taking a step forward, so has wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown.
With Brown and tight end Mark Andrews being consistent weapons and Jackson pacing the rushing attack along with Devonta Freeman, this offense is dangerous.
The defense is a constant work in progress, as the unit has been susceptible to big plays through the air. The Ravens will need to play much better on that side of the ball before becoming true Super Bowl contenders.
If Baltimore can ever put it all together on both sides of the football, John Harbaugh’s squad could make noise in the playoffs.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.