Late for Work 10/28: Dez Bryant Signing Presents Low Risk, High Reward for Ravens 

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Ravens New Practice Squad WR Dez Bryant

More Reaction to the Dez Bryant Signing

Dez Bryant hasn't played in a regular-season game since 2017, but pundits expect the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver to be catching passes from Lamar Jackson sooner than later.

Many classified it as a low-risk, high reward signing for the Ravens.

"The last time Bryant played in an NFL game, Jackson was throwing touchdown passes at Louisville," ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote. "It seems highly unlikely Bryant would get elevated to the active roster for Sunday's showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Nov. 8 game at Indianapolis is a more realistic target, but there are no guarantees. That's why Bryant was signed to [a] practice squad and not [a] 53-man roster. It's the ultimate prove-it situation."

For a stretch of his career, Bryant was one of the NFL's top receivers. Now, he's 31 years old coming off a torn Achilles he suffered in November of 2018.

Bryant's perseverance and desire earned him another shot in the NFL, and the Ravens are hoping he can make an impact in the passing game. Hensley noted that Baltimore has a good track record with 30-and-over receivers like Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Smith Sr.

The best-case scenario for Bryant?

"[He] becomes Jackson's No. 3 option, behind [Marquise 'Hollywood'] Brown and tight end Mark Andrews," Hensley wrote. "He provides what Baltimore's passing game is lacking: a physical target on the outside who fights to win those contested catches. This season, the Ravens have made 10 catches on 26 tight-window targets (when the distance between the receiver and nearest defender is less than one yard at the arrival of the pass). Boykin has not made a catch on five such throws this year. Bryant, who is 6-2, also brings size, experience and a fiery edge. Of the six receivers on Baltimore's 53-man roster, only one is taller than 6-1 and no one is older than 27."

The worst-case scenario, Hensley wrote, is that the move doesn't pan out. But even then, Bryant can be activated to the 53-man roster twice before having to be signed to it. That's essentially two early auditions without any significant salary cap ramifications.

"I believe it gives them another possession receiver," ESPN's Ryan Clark said. "Maybe a guy who can catch some 50-50 balls in traffic, but they need a true No. 1. They need a guy who can run the entire route tree. Someone who can put fear into defenders on the outside of the numbers. … We would love for Bryant to get this opportunity, but I don't think this changes the circumstances of the Ravens offense or the Ravens as a team as it pertains to them being contenders in the AFC."

Power Rankings: Ravens Can Dethrone the No. 1 Team Again

The last time an undefeated team came to Baltimore, they left with their first loss of the season.

The Ravens will have their chance to play spoiler again when the undefeatedSteelers visit.

Coming off a 27-24 win over the Tennessee Titans in Week 7, the Steelers are the consensus No. 1 team in most power rankings, but the Ravens aren't far behind. Baltimore ranked fourth or better in the six publications we looked at this week.

Even on a bye week, Bleacher Report, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, and CBS Sports moved the Ravens up in their rankings. It comes after they made a huge defensive addition with Yannick Ngakoue.

"Typical Baltimore larceny, adding a difference-maker like pass rusher Ngakoue for [a] fairly cut-rate compensation," USA Today's Nate Davis wrote. "Could be a Lombardi move."

"Ngakoue's ability to win one-on-one battles and cause havoc adds another dimension to a Baltimore D that typically relies on blitzing to get to the passer," NFL.com's Dan Hanzus added. "The next five weeks will bring matchups against Ben Roethlisberger (Week 8 and 12), Philip Rivers, Cam Newton and Ryan Tannehill. Baltimore's defense should be ready for the challenge."

We're still not halfway through the season, but Sunday's game has major implications. The Steelers are the NFL's only undefeated team. They're in the driver's seat atop of the AFC North, but the Ravens are just one game behind at 5-1.

With only one first-round bye in each conference this year, these early regular-season matchups are even more important. And rivalries don't get much better than when these two teams match up.

"These are the games why we love the NFL," ESPN's Evan Kaplan said on 'The Adam Schefter Podcast.' "This is 6-0 vs. 5-1. This is star power on both sides of the ball. This is a great rivalry. Two head coaches that have met forever in John Harbaugh and Mike Tomlin. … This is the one I'm really looking forward to this week."

Table inside Article
Source Ranking Last Week’s Ranking Comments
ESPN No. 4 No. 4 N/A
NFL.com No. 4 No. 4 “Ngakoue’s ability to win one-on-one battles and cause havoc adds another dimension to a Baltimore D that typically relies on blitzing to get to the passer. The next five weeks will bring matchups against Ben Roethlisberger (Week 8 and 12), Philip Rivers, Cam Newton and Ryan Tannehill. Baltimore’s defense should be ready for the challenge.”
Bleacher Report No. 4 No. 5 "With the Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers both looking the part of legitimate Super Bowl contenders ahead of the first of two meetings between the teams in Week 8, Baltimore made a big-time personnel move last week, acquiring Yannick Ngakoue from the floundering Minnesota Vikings for a pair of draft picks.”
USA Today No. 3 No. 6 “Typical Baltimore larceny, adding a difference-maker like pass rusher Ngakoue for [a] fairly cut-rate compensation. Could be a Lombardi move.”
Sports Illustrated No. 4 No. 5 “With all the focus on Pittsburgh and Cleveland, Jackson has been able to humbly mount another impressive campaign.”
CBS Sports No. 3 No. 4 “They come off their bye with a big one against the Steelers. It will be the unveiling of the new-look defense with Ngakoue.”

Ravens Reportedly Pursued Trade for Zach Ertz

Before the Ravens traded for Ngakoue, they were reportedly pursuing one of the league's top tight ends. 

According to Sports Illustrated's Ed Kracz, the Ravens were one of two teams (Green Bay Packers) who made offers for Philadelphia Eagles Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz before he was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury last week.

"A trade of Ertz doesn't seem likely now before the Nov. 3 trade deadline with him expected to be out with a high ankle sprain until at least mid-November, if not longer," Kracz wrote. "Ertz isn't eligible to return from IR until at least Nov. 22 when the Eagles travel to Cleveland to meet the Browns. It will have been four weeks since Ertz suffered his injury, which is right around the start of a timeline that can run as long as six weeks with such an injury."

Ertz has been one of the league's premier pass-catching tight ends over the last several seasons, but he's caught just 24 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown this season.

"The offers the Eagles received before recently placing Ertz on IR clearly weren't satisfactory," SB Nation's Brandon Lee Gowton wrote. "That's not exactly hard to imagine considering the soon-to-be 30-year-old tight end isn't having a good season and now he's hurt. The Eagles would be selling low on a player they sentimentally value."

There was chatter about the Ravens potentially going after a pass catcher before the trade deadline, so it's not surprising if they targeted Ertz. Tight ends were imperative to the Ravens' historic offensive success last season.

It seems like any reported interest in Ertz ended when he landed on IR. Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer reported that since the Eagles designated Ertz as a minor injury, he can't be traded while on IR.

Is There Depth Concern at Safety?

To make room for Bryant on the practice squad, the Ravens released veteran safety Marcus Gilchrist, which left some pundits such as Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz and The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec surprised.

"The 10-year NFL veteran played a combined 42 defensive snaps in wins over the Bengals and Eagles, contributed on special teams and earned compliments from Ravens pass defense coordinator Chris Hewitt for preparing to play on short notice," Kasinitz wrote.

Zrebiec acknowledged that Gilchrist's release means that rookies Geno Stone or Nigel Warrior could be activated to the 53-man roster against the Steelers.

Along with Jordan Richards and Anthony Levine Sr. as reserves, the Ravens also have Jimmy Smith, whose versatility has allowed him to take snaps at cornerback and safety.

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