Ravens Defensive Depth Chart and Roster Battles
With the NFL Draft and most free-agency moves complete, we can start getting a general feel for the Ravens depth chart and roster battles.
We looked at the offensive depth yesterday and today we’re following up with defense and special teams.
ESPN and The Baltimore Sun offered* *their projected depth charts. ESPN designated starters and the number of players it predicts Baltimore will keep at each position. Meanwhile, Baltimore Beatdown previewed the roster competitions with projected locks, bubble players and long shots. I’ve combined all three below and added a comment for each position.
Cornerback (6): Jimmy Smith (starter), Marlon Humphrey (starter), Brandon Carr (lock), Tavon Young (lock), Maurice Canady (lock), Anthony Averett (lock), Jaylen Hill (bubble), Stanley Jean-Baptiste (bubble), Bennett Jackson (long shot), Robert Nelson Jr. (long shot), Darious Williams (n/a, predictions made before added to the team)
ESPN called this cornerback group “one of the deepest in franchise history.” It’s so deep that there’s talk of using one of the players as trade bait (see below). Last we heard, Smith was on schedule to start Week 1 after tearing his Achilles tendon. After being slowly eased into a starting role last season, Humphrey should take one spot as a full-time starter and franchise player, either to give Smith more time to heal or replace Carr.* *Young is the favorite as the slot corner. It’s going to be tough for Hill, a former undrafted rookie, to make the 53-man roster coming off a season-ending knee injury. Zrebiec believes he’s a candidate to start the season on the physically unable to perform list.
Safety (5): Eric Weddle (starter), Tony Jefferson (starter), Anthony Levine Sr. (lock), Chuck Clark (lock), DeShon Elliott (bubble), Kai Nacua (n/a)
Not much debate here. Weddle and Jefferson are the unquestioned starters. Levine is a Swiss Army knife and core special teamer. Clark and Elliott are expected to be important special teams contributors too.
Linebacker (11) Inside: C.J. Mosley (starter), Patrick Onwuasor (starter), Kenny Young (lock), Kamalei Correa (bubble), Albert McClellan (bubble), Bam Bradley (bubble), Alvin Jones (long shot)
The starting job next to Mosley is wide open. It’s Onwuasor’s spot to lose as the 13-game starter last year, but Bradley, Young, Correa and McClellan will challenge. “McClellan, who is returning from a torn ACL last summer, justifies his roster spot not only with his special teams play, but also with his ability to play four linebacker positions,” wrote Zrebiec. The Ravens need to improve their coverage against tight ends, which is one of Young’s specialties, but it might be wishful thinking to expect a fourth-rounder to be ready to take over his rookie year.
Outside: Terrell Suggs (starter), Matthew Judon (starter), Tyus Bowser (lock), Tim Williams (lock), Za'Darius Smith (lock), Myles Humphrey (n/a)
Suggs and Judon return as the two starters from last year, but with Suggs entering his 16th NFL season, the Ravens would like to see one of their young players emerge. The best-case scenario would be for Bowser and/or Williams to have a breakout year after the Ravens invested second- and third-round picks on them last year, respectively.
Defensive line (8): Tackle: Brandon Williams (starter), Michael Pierce (starter), Willie Henry (lock), Carl Davis (lock), Patrick Ricard (lock), Zach Sieler (bubble)
ESPN called Williams the only “guaranteed” starter because Pierce “disappointed” last season. The Ravens weren’t as strong against the run last year as they usually are, but that was affected by Williams’ injury. Henry emerged last year, and as I mentioned yesterday, I’m not sure Ricard is a “lock” because the Ravens could opt to use tight ends as blockers instead of a true fullback.
End: Brent Urban (starter), Chris Wormley (lock), Bronson Kaufusi (bubble), Christian LaCouture (long shot),
Urban needs to stay healthy after landing on injured reserve three times in his first four NFL seasons. The Ravens hope Wormley and Kaufusi can both take the next step.
Punter (1): Sam Koch (starter), Kaare Vedvik (long shot)
Koch is one of the best NFL punters.
Kicker (1): Justin Tucker (starter)
Tucker is the most accurate kicker in NFL history and was the best offensive weapon last year.
Long snapper (1): Morgan Cox (starter), Trent Sieg (long shot)
A two-time Pro Bowler, Cox completes “The Wolfpack” with Koch and Tucker.
Kick returner (2): Chris Moore (starter), Tim White (lock), Janarion Grant (n/a)
Baltimore ranked first in kickoff average (27.5) last year in large part because of Moore. He’s the favorite going into camp, but Grant was a prolific returner at Rutgers and will challenge Moore along with White.
Punt returner (1): Tim White (starter), John Brown (lock), Willie Snead (lock), Janarion Grant (n/a)
It looked as if White could’ve been the punt returner last year before breaking his thumb in the preseason. Grant showed in college he can excel in the role too.
Could a Late-Summer Cornerback Trade Be in the Cards?
The Ravens have about double the number of corners (11) than they can probably keep (six).
WNST’s Luke Jones says seven of those 11 are “held in high regard.”
He didn’t name the seven, but I’m guessing it’s Smith, Humphrey, Carr, Young, Canady, Averett and Hill. If the Ravens can’t find room for all seven, why not see if they can get something for one rather than cut him outright?
“Health will factor heavily into the makeup of this group, of course, but the possibility of a late-summer trade to address another position of need still seems plausible,” wrote Jones.
Philly May Have Foiled Ravens’ Comp Pick Plans
The Philadelphia Eagles’ sneaky clever contract writing could jeopardize the Ravens getting a third- or fourth-round compensatory pick for Ryan Jensen in next year’s draft, which is crazy after he became the highest-paid center in the league in March.
How does Philly relate to Jensen?
Well, remember when everyone got a chuckle out of former Ravens receiver Mike Wallace getting a $585,000 bonus in his new Eagles’ contract for being under 250 pounds when he reported for offseason workouts? He’s listed at 200 pounds on Philadelphia’s roster and has played at that weight for nearly his entire adult life.
Turns out, weight clauses don’t count in the comp pick formula, according to Over The Cap’s Nick Korte, which is why Philadelphia put it in the contract.
“Early reports had his Eagles’ deal as one year and ‘up to’ $4 million,'” Korte wrote. “However, it was soon discovered that there was plenty of funny money in that deal. $2.085 million of that $4 million are in ‘Likely To Be Earned’ incentives.”
To sum it up, Korte believes only $915,000 of Wallace’s $4 million deal will actually be considered in the compensatory pick formula. So unless Wallace plays enough snaps, which will be hard as the projected No. 3 receiver, he won’t count in the Eagles’ … and therefore the Ravens’ … comp pick formula.
That’s great news for the Philly; bad news for Baltimore.
“Ben Watson will turn 38 during the 2018 season, and the Saints only guaranteed $645,000 of his contract,” Korte wrote. “If Watson fails to make the roster or decides to call it a career before the regular season, and Mike Wallace doesn’t qualify, it would jeopardize the Ravens’ third or fourth-round comp pick for Ryan Jensen.”
Not getting a third-round comp pick for losing the highest-paid center in the league would be a major disappointment.
Well played, Eagles.
The team’s shrewd contract writing likely wasn’t meant to intentionally hurt the Ravens. They are just the bystanders as the Eagles try to gain their own comp picks. But if Philly’s scheme works, you can expect other teams in this “copycat league” to follow suit.
“The Eagles are a team that have been largely ignored in recent comp pick studies, but historically this is mistaken to do so,” Korte wrote. “From 2004 to 2011, the Eagles got multiple comp picks in six of those eight drafts, and were second only to Baltimore in the most total comp picks awarded.
“Howie Roseman was a high level executive with the team during those times, and looking at how he’s crafted some of his CFA signings, there are signs that he’s just as determined as Ozzie Newsome, Bill Belichick, or John Elway in manipulating the comp pick system.”
Ravens Reportedly Restructure Jefferson’s Contract
After reportedly restructuring defensive tackle Brandon Williams’ contract earlier this year, the Ravens opened up more cap space by restructuring safety Tony Jefferson’s deal, according to ESPN’s Field Yates.
Here are Jefferson’s reported new cap hits over the next three seasons:
2018: $5.6 million
2019: $12.56 million
2020: $11.65 million
“Baltimore has been tight on cap space seemingly all offseason, and although this move may hurt their future, this might have been necessary,” wrote Baltimore Beatdown’s Logan Levy.
Terrance West the Latest Former Raven for Philadelphia to Target
Now that signed unrestricted free agents don’t count against the comp pick formula anymore (the last day was Tuesday), you can expect to see teams show more interest in former Ravens like running back Terrance West and quarterback Ryan Mallett.
That’s likely why West got his first reported free-agent visit yesterday with the Eagles. He’s also the latest in a string of former Ravens that Philadelphia has targeted over the last few years, although* *it’s not clear whether the Eagles will actually sign him.
“West, 27, started 17 games over parts of three seasons for the Ravens,” wrote Zrebiec. “However, his fate was essentially sealed this past season when he was sidelined for four weeks with a calf injury and Alex Collins emerged as the team’s starting back.
“With Collins and Buck Allen still under contract and Kenneth Dixon returning from an injury/suspension, West’s re-signing with the Ravens was considered unlikely from the beginning.”
Justin Tucker Posts Video of Himself Nailing a 70-Yard Field Goal
It’s just another ho-hum offseason day for Tucker, who posted a video of himself crushing a field goal from a monster 70 yards out.
Really, this is just child’s play for Tucker, who nailed a 75-yarder in the 2016 Pro Bowl. The seven-year veteran has claimed he could successfully convert from 84 yards under prime conditions.