Roster Depth Creates Great Competition for These Veterans
The Ravens have assembled a deep roster, which means the team will likely have some difficult decisions to make before the start of the regular season.
As noted by The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec, there are several positions in which the number of returners, plus offseason additions, far exceed the number of spots available. For a team that loves to have as much competition as possible, that's a good "problem" to have.
"There are some Ravens returning players who were essentially put on notice with the team's offseason additions," Zrebiec wrote.
Zrebiec identified 10 players "whose roster chances or path to meaningful playing time in 2021 were complicated over the past couple of months." Here's a look at five of them:
WR Miles Boykin
"Boykin, a 2019 third-round pick who has 32 catches for 464 yards and seven touchdowns in his first two seasons, is the team's top blocking receiver and that is relevant in a run-heavy offense. Does it guarantee Boykin a decent number of offensive snaps each week? Probably not. Boykin will have to earn those snaps this summer and make sure he isn't the forgotten man on offense."
WR James Proche II
"The Ravens coaches and evaluators say they are still high on Proche despite the fact that he never garnered a role on offense last season and lost his punt return job to fellow rookie Devin Duvernay. Proche, a sixth-round pick last year, is a solid route runner with good hands and it makes sense for the Ravens to work him in the slot after the free-agent departure of Willie Snead IV. However, it's fair to wonder whether he could be the victim of a numbers game, particularly if he's not viewed as the team's top punt returner."
CB Tavon Young
"If Young stays healthy this summer and doesn't show significant effects from previous injuries, he'll likely have a role in the slot for the Ravens. However, the Ravens didn't leave themselves as vulnerable in the nickel corner spot as they have in the past. … The Ravens love Young's toughness and playmaking ability and want nothing more than to see him stay healthy and find his pre-injury form. They are better covered if it doesn't happen."
OLB Jaylon Ferguson
"If Ferguson shows up in good shape and looks like a much-improved player, he'll have a role. Ferguson, a 2019 third-round pick who has 4.5 sacks in his first two seasons, wouldn't be the first Ravens edge rusher to break out in his third or fourth season. However, if Ferguson doesn't make a good impression in the various workouts, it will only give the organization more incentive to sign a veteran pass rusher or to earmark more snaps for [Odafe] Oweh and [Daelin] Hayes. This feels like a make-or-break year for Ferguson."
OG/C Patrick Mekari
"Mekari's versatility has been valuable for Baltimore. However, the Ravens are planning to go with Bradley Bozeman at center and Mekari isn't believed to be a serious candidate for the left guard job. The Ravens also have a young center in [Trystan] Colon who played well in limited opportunities last year, and several young guards. Mekari is a favorite to win one of the reserve interior roles, but he'll have plenty of competition."
Justin Madubuike Poised for Breakout Second Season
In yesterday's Ravens Mailbag, our Ryan Mink tabbed defensive tackle Justin Madubuike as the second-year player who could make the biggest jump (excluding top picks Patrick Queen and J.K. Dobbins).
Pro Football Focus agrees, saying Madubuike is the most likely to have a breakout 2021 season.
Madubuike, a third-round pick out of Texas A&M, came on strong late in the season after being sidelined with a leg injury for the first four games and missing more action because of COVID-19. He ended up playing in 10 games, starting three.
"Madubuike played 259 snaps in the regular season and had his best game against the league's best offensive line (Cleveland)," PFF's Sam Monson wrote earlier this year. "Madubuike notched 10 total pressures and put enough quality on tape — including a 90.4 overall grade in Week 14 — to suggest he is deserving of a much bigger role in 2021."
Pundit Says Signing Justin Houston Would Push Ravens 'Over the Top'
The one player Bleacher Report's Maurice Moton said the Ravens should sign to put them in better position for a Super Bowl run has already reportedly been in the team's facility this offseason: edge rusher Justin Houston.
"Justin Houston would bring a wealth of experience along with high-end production over the past four seasons," Moton wrote. "The 32-year-old has logged 37.5 sacks since 2017, and he ranked second on the Indianapolis Colts in sacks (eight) and quarterback pressures (25) last season."
Houston reportedly visited the Ravens last month, but Zrebiec wrote that "there appears to be a good bit of separation between Houston's asking price and what the Ravens are willing to offer."
Moton wrote: "If the two sides can hammer out a deal, Baltimore would acquire a significant upgrade at a premium position."
Mark Andrews Not in Top 5 in PFF's Tight End Rankings
Today, the discussion turns to Mark Andrews, who is sixth in PFF's tight end rankings.
It's difficult to argue against PFF's top three of Travis Kelce, George Kittle and Darren Waller, but rookie Kyle Pitts and Dallas Goedert also are ranked ahead of Andrews.
Pitts, selected fourth-overall by the Atlanta Falcons, has the potential to be special, but he has yet to take a snap in the NFL. Goedert, a 2018 second-round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles, has 137 receptions for 1,465 yards and 12 touchdowns in 42 games.
Andrews, who was selected by the Ravens in the third round in 2018 (37 spots after Goedert), has 156 receptions for 2,105 yards and 20 touchdowns in 45 games while playing in a run-heavy offense. Over the past two seasons, Andrews' 17 touchdown catches are the most among tight ends and his 12 red zone touchdowns are tied for the most with Kelce.
"Andrews is also an effective blocker and an important part of the Ravens' running game," Ebony Bird's Justin Fried wrote. "Perhaps it's silly to argue over a few measly spots in a meaningless May ranking. After all, Andrews remains one of the best tight ends in football and that's a near-consensus opinion. But you can't help but feel a little disrespect looking at this ranking. Mark Andrews is a top-four player at his position until further notice."
Derek Wolfe Speaks on the Advice He Got From Peyton Manning, Tough Childhood and More
Defensive end Derek Wolfe chatted with former Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. on the "Cut To It" podcast. Here are some highlights from the conversation:
On his tough childhood:
"My parents didn't really have their stuff together. I don't know my real father. My stepdad was laid off from a steel mill job. My mother was a drug addict and an alcoholic. There's where my mentality developed, though. Every time I went to a new school, I had to join a new team. I played middle linebacker and running back — that's the best athletes on the field. So I have to take that guy's spot. So, of course, there's a fight that's going to happen. Every time I went to a new school, there's a fight. I just didn't really care about anybody else. I was going to worry about myself. That carried me through part of my life. And then once I got married, I had to realize that that selfish stuff had to go out the window."
On what Peyton Manning said to him after Wolfe brought "a bus-full of strippers" to the Broncos' family Halloween party during his rookie year:
"We had a team meeting the next week and Peyton goes up there and says something in front of the whole team about it. He was like, 'Listen, man. Don't be bringing strippers to a family Halloween party.' He used to sit down at breakfast with me all the time. He was like, 'Look, I get that you want to have fun, but if you want to be great, you have to stop this stuff. There's a time and a place for it. During the season, it's about football. Save that stuff for the offseason.' That's when I took my game to another level because I started focusing on just the game during the season … preparing for the game watching film, the game inside of the game."
On mentoring players:
"My first six years in the league, any new guy that came around that was the same position as me, they were there to take money out of my pocket, take food off my plate. And it is true. But as I got older I was like, these young guys, I use them as motivation but I try to bring them with me, try to elevate their game, because that's going to make me better. … I lead by example. "