After years of perseverance, Ravens cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste may finally be on the right team at the right time.
Jean-Baptiste has played for five other NFL franchises, with each one of those stops ending in disappointment. More times than he would like to remember, Jean-Baptiste has been told something along the lines of, "I'm sorry, things just didn't work out."
Now 28 years old, Jean-Baptiste knows time is of the essence, and he is playing that way. He reported to Ravens training camp this year determined to make the 53-man roster, despite the odds stacked against him.
Ravens safety Tony Jefferson is one of many taking notice of Jean-Baptiste's play.
"He's one of the guys that has kind of grown on me a little bit," Jefferson said. "It kind of took him a second last year coming in on the 'P-Squad' and kind of learning the system, but he has all the intangibles that you look for in a corner – he's long, strong, can run – and he's really come along. He has his second pick of the preseason, and he's showing he wants to be a guy that makes this team."
While the roster has not been set, Jean-Baptiste seems close to achieving his goal. Heading into Thursday night's preseason finale against the Washington Redskins, Jean-Baptiste leads the Ravens with two interceptions, playing with a confidence that is making coaches and teammates take notice. With veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith suspended for the first four regular-season games, the Ravens need other corners to step up. Jean-Baptiste has done that, greatly improving his chances to make the team.
"Everything is fluid at this time," said Head Coach John Harbaugh, speaking about roster decisions. "Although, I think Stan has played very well. I would say more the last three or four weeks, he's been very good in practice. He's played well in the games. He's improved tremendously from the offseason especially, so he's done a great job and I'm really pleased with him. He's definitely in the hunt. There's no doubt about it, he's got a chance, a really good chance."
It could be a nervous weekend for Jean-Baptiste, waiting to find out if he has made the team. The Ravens have more depth at corner than in recent years, including Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young, Maurice Canady, Anthony Averett, and Smith among others. That is why Jean-Baptiste is not guaranteed a roster spot, despite his standout play.
Yet, Smith's suspension and solid play will make it even more difficult for the Ravens to part with Jean-Baptiste.
Asked why things have clicked for him the past two months, Jean-Baptiste said he has gotten enough reps to display his ability.
"It's just more opportunities with the Ravens," Jean-Baptiste said. "It's just that I'm getting more playing time, we have more vets on this side of the ball. It's a lot of rest for them, so that means I get on the field more."
Jean-Baptiste came into the NFL with high expectations as a second-round pick (58th overall) by the New Orleans Saints in 2014. He showed his playmaking abilities with seven interceptions during his college career at Nebraska. A 6-foot-3, 218 pounds, he has the size and length that NFL teams look for in a corner.
The interception Jean-Baptiste made Saturday night was an athletic play. Running stride for stride with Dolphins wide receiver Rashawn Scott, Jean-Baptiste made a leaping over-the-shoulder grab, simply outfighting Scott for the football. After the play, Jean Baptiste was greeted with plenty of high-fives and celebratory bumps from Ravens teammates, and a handshake from Harbaugh. It was an example of what Jean-Baptiste has done for weeks. He is not waiting for someone to give him a roster spot. He seems determined to take one.
Why didn't this happen before? Jean-Baptiste said he is simply a better player than he was in 2014 when he entered the league. He rarely saw the field as a rookie with the Saints, playing just eight defensive snaps. Then, after a slow start to his second preseason with the Saints, Jean-Baptiste was cut – a huge disappointment for a second-round pick. That led to stops with the Lions, Seahawks, Chiefs and Jaguars – none of them lasting more than a year.
But after the Ravens signed Jean-Baptiste last October, he was promoted to the active roster in December, and his career has been trending upward. If Jean-Baptiste sticks with the Ravens, he will not forget all the teams that gave up on him.
"The chip [on my shoulder] is always there," Jean-Baptiste said. "At the same time, whatever ballclub I'm playing for I'm going to give them my all. If I do play against a team that cut me – yes, it's going to be a little personal.
"I think I can be one of the best in the league. When I get my opportunity I'm (going) to show it."
Some players on the roster bubble worry too much about their status, putting too much pressure on them to perform to their capability. Jean-Baptiste has learned to keep his focus on the field, which has allowed him to play freely.
"Knowing how to control what I can control," Jean-Baptiste said.
So how will Jean-Baptiste spend his time this weekend, waiting to hear if he is officially part of the 53-man roster?
"I don't know, probably go home," Jean-Baptiste said, drawing laughter from reporters.
Jean-Baptiste will go home following Thursday night's game. But he may have played well enough to find a more permanent home in Baltimore.