Way-Too-Early Roster Projection at Four Key Positions
The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer made a way-too-early projection of the Ravens' 53-man roster. Here's a look at four of the most compelling position groups and Shaffer's predictions for them:
Quarterback (2): Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III:"When the Ravens drafted [Trace] McSorley, they envisioned him as a potential Taysom Hill-esque weapon. With Griffin seemingly well established as Jackson's backup, this is the offseason for the former Penn State star to prove he's a two-phase player. He was a fixture in special teams practices last season but never saw a snap there, even when active in Week 17. If McSorley shines in the preseason again — or whatever replaces it amid the coronavirus pandemic — he'd be hard to stash on the practice squad. But the undrafted Tyler Huntley, an All-Pac-12 Conference player at Utah, has a similar dual-threat skill set and should fit the Ravens' scheme well."
Wide receiver (6): Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, Willie Snead IV, Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay, James Proche, Chris Moore: "The depth chart after [the top four] is up for grabs. Team officials have raved about Proche's hands, and he'll enter training camp as one of the favorites at punt returner. But if the Ravens find a better option there and the sixth-round pick struggles to adjust to the speed of the game on offense, his 2020 role becomes less certain. Given [Head Coach John] Harbaugh's roster priorities, Moore could turn out to be this season's Justin Bethel, a skill position player whose primary contributions are on special teams coverage units. De'Anthony Thomas ended last season as the Ravens' starting kickoff and punt returner, and that remains his path to a job in 2020. Jaleel Scott can contribute on special teams, too, and it's too early to rule out contributions as a receiver. But time is running out for the former fourth-round pick, who had a strong 2019 preseason, then got just 17 offensive snaps all season."
Defensive line (5): Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, Derek Wolfe, Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington Jr.: "Washington is not a dynamic pass rusher, but he can help replace Chris Wormley's run-stopping contributions at defensive end. If the Ravens had to pick between him, [Daylon] Mack and [Justin] Ellis, it'd be hard to fault them for going with the one lineman who doesn't have a knee injury in his medical history. (It might be easier to sneak Mack onto the practice squad, too.)"
Inside linebacker (4): L.J. Fort, Patrick Queen, Malik Harrison, Otaro Alaka: "Adding two of the draft's top linebacker prospects should help shore up the position, in both the short and long term. It should also make the veteran battles for a roster spot even more competitive. … Among the team's veterans, Fort has a leg up; he has the most starting experience in the Ravens' system, though it's just eight games. Health and special teams contributions will be important. Fort had more special teams snaps than defensive snaps in seven games last season, and [Chris] Board has been a steady presence there since 2018. Offseason signing Jake Ryan, who's played just two games over the past two seasons, has significant special teams experience, too."
Ravens Enter 2020 With Chip on Shoulder, But So Do AFC North Rivals
It's been four months since the Ravens' Super Bowl aspirations were dashed by a shocking loss to the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round of the playoffs, and while the sting may have subsided, it hasn't wholly dissipated.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the Ravens were identified as one of the teams entering the 2020 season with a big chip on their shoulder by NFL.com.
"To the naked eye, Baltimore appeared lost in the latter stages of a belladonna voyage as Derrick Henry flung dazed defenders into the terrible Maryland night," NFL.com’s Marc Sessler wrote. "In a flash, the mighty Ravens – their 14-2 record, their MVP quarterback and all their boasts – were reduced to salt. Few teams burn more brightly for a chance to make things right."
Nothing short of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy next February will fully make things right for the Ravens, but they can gain a measure of retribution when the Titans return to M&T Bank Stadium in Week 11. That contest obviously is one of the biggest revenge games of the season.
"Stunned fans at M&T Bank Stadium were left to wonder what in the hell just happened, while Jackson faced more questions on why his dominant play in the regular season had yet to surface in two playoff losses," NFL.com’s Dan Hanzus wrote. "The reigning MVP will have to wait until January to slay that narrative, but beating up on Tennessee in November would undeniably scratch an itch. Big Truss."
The Titans game isn't the only one the Ravens should circle on the schedule, according to Pro Football Talk’s Chris Simms.
Jackson is 19-3 as a starter, but two of those losses have come against Patrick Mahomes and the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. Both of those games were in Kansas City, however. The Ravens will host the Chiefs on "Monday Night Football" during Week 3 in arguably the most anticipated game of the season.
"You're going to need to beat the Kansas City Chiefs at some point," Simms said. "And the Ravens are flirting with that, 'Man, are they going to win a playoff game with Lamar Jackson? The Kansas City Chiefs are 2-0 against them. Mahomes has Lamar Jackson's number.' I just look at that as a big game for the Ravens to basically say, 'OK, we can beat the Kansas City Chiefs. We can win a playoff-type atmosphere type of football game.'"
As for other teams playing with a chip on their shoulder, Hanzus said the Ravens' three AFC North rivals also have plenty of motivation.
"The North also houses the Browns, who hit the field as an overhyped, unprepared, absurd mess that left Baker Mayfield's Q-rating riding the ocean floor. This offseason's under-the-radar status feels right for a Cleveland club with a stacked roster," Hanzus wrote. "The Steelers missed the playoffs due to a Biblical plague of injuries, while the Bengals – suddenly hot to trot with Joe Burrow under center – refuse to be dismissed.
"Talent alone suggests three teams from the North should qualify for the AFC's new seven-slot playoff field – or something went very wrong."
Mahomes, Jackson Are Top Favorites to Win MVP Award
Speaking of the rivalry between Mahomes and Jackson, the respective 2018 and 2019 NFL MVPs are the favorites to take home the honor this season.
Mahomes is given 4-1 odds to win the award by Caesars Sportsbook, while Jackson is second at 13-2. A quarterback has been named MVP seven years in a row.
By the way, Mahomes and Jackson's MVP seasons both made NFL.com’s list of the top 10 passing seasons of the past decade. Mahomes' 2018 campaign, when he became the third quarterback in NFL history to throw 50 touchdown passes, was No. 2. Jackson's 2019 season, when he led the league in touchdown passes and set a single-season rushing record for a quarterback, was No. 10.
It has to be gratifying for Jackson to see his name on a list that includes Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. Not bad for a … you know the rest.
On a side note, CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora ranked Jackson No. 1 in his confidence rankings of quarterbacks who came out of the past three drafts.
"The league MVP is all ball," La Canfora wrote. "No BS in the offseason. No distractions. Ravens keep adding new pieces for him and he can throw to a now fully healthy Hollywood Brown down in Miami. Look out NFL."
UDFA Tight End Jacob Breeland Is Confident He Can Make the Team
At least one undrafted free agent has made the Ravens' roster for 16 consecutive years. Shaffer predicted that streak will continue this year in the form of tight end Jacob Breeland, who was on his way to having a huge senior season at Oregon before suffering a season-ending knee injury in October.
The 6-foot-5, 252-pound Breeland, who was an adept pass-catcher and run-blocker with the Ducks, caught 26 passes for 405 yards and six touchdowns in six games before suffering a torn ACL and meniscus. The injury prevented Breeland from participating in the NFL Scouting Combine and caused him to go undrafted.
During an appearance on Glenn Clark Radio, Breeland said he is confident he'll be 100 percent for training camp and believes he can make the team. The Ravens have an opening at No. 3 tight end after trading Hayden Hurst to the Atlanta Falcons.
"Obviously, I would have liked to have gotten drafted," Breeland said, "but I believe where I am now is where I'm supposed to be. … I definitely believe I can make the roster and I can get in some playing time this year. I'd love to learn from Mark Andrews and some of the tight ends, just great athletes and veterans that for sure can just expose me to some key factors to playing in the NFL. I'm just excited, honestly."