Projected Starters, Positional Battles for Ravens
NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal projected starting lineups for the AFC North teams.
Here’s how he sees the Ravens lining up:
QB: Lamar Jackson
RB: Mark Ingram
WR: Marquise Brown
WR: Willie Snead
TE: Mark Andrews
TE: Nick Boyle
LT: Ronnie Stanley
LG: Ben Powers
C: Matt Skura
RG: Marshal Yanda
RT: Orlando Brown
DE: Chris Wormley
DT: Brandon Williams
DT: Michael Pierce
OLB: Matt Judon
MLB: Patrick Onwuasor
OLB: Tyus Bowser
CB: Marlon Humphrey
CB: Jimmy Smith
CB: Tavon Young
S: Earl Thomas
S: Tony Jefferson
“There's no team built quite like Baltimore,” Rosenthal wrote. “No team used more two-tight end sets than the Ravens a year ago, a strategy that goes well with a Lamar Jackson run-heavy attack. After adding Mark Ingram and fourth-round speedster Justice Hill to a backfield that already featured Gus Edwards, they are fixing to creatively pound the ball again.”
It’s notable that Rosenthal does not have the Ravens’ top draft pick last year, tight end Hayden Hurst, as a starter. Hurst’s rookie season was derailed by a foot injury.
“Mark Andrews topped 500 yards as a third-round rookie tight end, so he gets the starting nod over last year's first-round pick, Hayden Hurst,” Rosenthal wrote. “Both will have a big role, but Nick Boyle will keep getting snaps as the team's designated blocking tight end.”
On the Ravens’ defense, Rosenthal wrote: “After the franchise's most dramatic defensive overhaul in more than a decade, there aren't a lot of sure things in the Ravens' front seven, outside of their two run-stuffing defensive tackles. They need some options on the outside to step up, whether it's Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams or rookie third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson. Ravens outside linebacker has been a reliably excellent position for two decades, but this group has an uphill climb to keep up the legacy.”
Here’s a sampling of what Rosenthal had to say about the starting lineups of the other AFC North teams:
Cleveland Browns: “Cleveland has the best combination of talent and youth in all of football. The starting lineups look great. If I were trying to pick nits, the depth at positions throughout the defense is lacking. The Browns could be more susceptible to collapsing due to injuries than most teams, as GM John Dorsey still hasn't completely built up the middle class of this team.”
Pittsburgh Steelers: “It's striking how the Steelers have enviable continuity, Antonio Brown aside, from a roster that went toe to toe with the Patriots and Saints [beating the former] in late December. This is not a franchise in retreat.”
Cincinnati Bengals: “If first-year head coach Zac Taylor brings fresh offensive concepts to the Bengals, this should be the most fun Andy Dalton-led squad to watch in a while. A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon are all squarely in their primes.”
In another roster-related article, Penn Live’s Aaron Kasinitz identified four potential positional battles for the Ravens.
“If there’s one clearly defined starting job up for grabs in Baltimore, it’s left guard,” Kasinitz wrote. James Hurst (back) and Alex Lewis (shoulder) struggled to turn in steady play last year while dealing with injuries, and Bradley Bozeman didn’t fare much better in his handful of opportunities as a sixth-round rookie. Ben Powers arrives as a fourth-round pick who started for three seasons at Oklahoma and should have every chance to earn immediate playing time.”
Wide receiver is another position in which significant competition is expected.
“Returning slot receiver Willie Snead and early-round draft picks Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin don’t need to worry about their places on the team,” Kasinitz wrote. “Behind them, Baltimore will let a wide range of players compete for two or three additional roster spots.
“While Chris Moore might be safe because of his special teams acumen, the Ravens have reason to give younger players the chance to win jobs. Jordan Lasley and Jaleel Scott were mid-round selections last year and Sean Modster, Antoine Wesley and Jaylen Smith signed deals as undrafted free agents last week.
Baltimore Beatdown’s Frank J. Platko believes an undrafted free agent wide receiver will make the team.
“The two names to watch here are Antoine Wesley and Jaylen Smith,” Platko wrote. “Wesley, a junior out of Texas Tech, posted 88 receptions, 1,410 receiving yards and nine touchdowns for the Red Raiders last season. He was one of the top UDFA available following the draft and the Ravens moved quickly to bring him in.
“Smith, a four-year starter at Louisville, can’t match the production or skill set of Wesley but he does have something else working in his favor. Smith was one of the Lamar Jackson’s favorite targets in college and the two developed a nice rapport. They also spent time earlier this offseason working out together in Florida.”
Kasinitz noted that there also will be competition for rotational spots and rosters spots on the defensive line and at outside linebacker.
Did Ravens Take One Step Back for Two Steps Forward?
In giving the Ravens a “B” grade for their 2019 offseason moves, For The Win’s Steven Ruiz wrote: “The Ravens took a small step back these last few months — though that could be mitigated by an improvement from Lamar Jackson — but [it] could lead to more significant steps forward in the near future.”
Ruiz wonders how the Ravens’ No. 1-ranked defense from 2018 will cope with the loss of some familiar faces. However, he also acknowledged Baltimore’s defense got younger, which could lead to sustained success over the next few years.
“Baltimore said goodbye to veteran leaders like Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Za’Darius Smith and Eric Weddle and did not really replace them with known quantities,” Ruiz wrote. “Earl Thomas is an upgrade over Weddle, but the pass rush was decimated by free agency. At the same time, the Ravens’ future looks brighter as a result.”
The Ravens’ drafted reflected their commitment to Jackson as their starting quarterback, and Ruiz thought drafting other young offensive pieces like Brown, Boykin, Powers, running back Justice Hill and quarterback Trace McSorley made plenty of sense.
“Baltimore could’ve used having a QB on a rookie contract as an excuse to deviate from its typical plan of building through the draft and to spend big on veteran free agents, but first-year GM Eric DeCosta didn’t take the bait. Instead, he focused his roster-building efforts on the draft and brought in a robust and talented class.”