Four Ravens Facing 'Make-or-Break' Training Camps
When the Ravens eventually resume their offseason activities, they'll be tasked with trimming their roster from 90 to 53 players.
Usually teams have plenty of time for competition but with a shortened offseason on the field, it's going to make things even more difficult for decision makers.
Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz looked at four Ravens who are "facing pressure this summer to prove their value in order to make the roster."
CB Anthony Averett
Kasinitz: "Averett's provided a handful of encouraging signs over his first two NFL seasons. The 2018 fourth-round pick out of Alabama filled in admirably for the injured Marlon Humphrey during a trip to play the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs his rookie year. And last season, Averett made three starts, contributed occasionally on special teams and turned in solid play in an expanded role during the regular-season finale. Yet he's struggled to take a lasting leap up the Ravens' depth chart."
Analysis: As Kasinitz noted, Averett's lack of playing time is a product of the Ravens having one of the most talented cornerback groups in the NFL. Baltimore didn't draft a corner this offseason, but re-signed Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young is set to return from injury.
Depth is also one of Averett's biggest advantages. The Ravens kept seven cornerbacks on the 53-man roster last season and have the third-most cap space ($34.4 million) invested at the position in 2020.
WR Jaleel Scott
Kasinitz: "The Ravens have drafted four receivers the past two years, and sturdy slot specialist Willie Snead and special teams ace Chris Moore remain on the roster. Scott's talented enough to keep coaches and teams optimistic about his future. But unless he has an even better showing in training camp this summer, he probably won't get the chance to stick with the Ravens for a shot at regular-season success."
Analysis: A fourth-round pick in 2018, Scott hasn't been able to crack consistent playing time early in his career. The Ravens have continued to add young talent at receiver and spent draft picks on Devin Duvernay and James Proche this offseason. If one of Scott's best chances at making the roster is on special teams, he'll need to show more. He played just two special teams snaps last season.
DT Daylon Mack
Kasinitz: "Mack, a 330-pound nose tackle, was a fifth-round rookie last season who failed to take advantage of an opening for playing time and eventually landed on injured reserve. That wouldn't be too big of a concern for Mack had the Ravens not drafted two interior linemen in April and re-signed nose tackle Justin Ellis. … Mack needs to clearly outplay his competition in training camp, unlike some other young players who might have more wiggle room on the path to the regular-season roster."
Analysis: The Ravens revamped their defensive line this offseason, adding pieces through trades, free agency, and the draft. Michael Pierce's departure seems like it would give Mack an opportunity to compete for more playing time. However, pundits expect Brandon Williams to move back to nose guard. Mack has just one season under his belt, but he could face pressure to make a sophomore leap.
S DeShon Elliott
Kasinitz: "Moments of promise in practice and disappointing injuries have defined Elliott's professional career so far. He landed on injured reserve with a broken arm during his rookie season in 2018. Last year, a week after veteran safety Tony Jefferson tore his ACL to open an opportunity for playing time in the secondary, Elliott suffered a season-ending knee injury of his own. … Baltimore's coaches will find space for Elliott in the locker room and on the field only if he stays healthy and turns his glimpses of potential into a static image."
Analysis: Availability is the best ability and Elliott hasn't been able to stay on the field in his first two seasons. When healthy, he's shown flashes of developing into a starting-caliber safety. Earl Thomas III and Chuck Clark will be the starters this season. The Ravens also added seventh-round safety Geno Stone, who's been touted by pundits as a draft steal. There's no questioning Elliott's talent, but more injuries would hurt his chances of making the roster.
Mark Andrews Gets Recognition Among Top Tight Ends
The Ravens have one of the league's top young tight ends in Mark Andrews, and he's finally getting the recognition he deserves from pundits. Andrews isn't always mentioned among the league's top tight ends, despite coming off a Pro Bowl season.
However, Pro Football Focus' Solomon Wilcots ranked Andrews among the league's best at the position under the Tier 2 category of man- and zone-coverage beaters.
"Since entering the league as a third-round pick in 2018, Andrews has excelled against man coverage, where he has generated at least a step or more of separation on 51% of his 70 targets against those man-to-man schemes," Wilcots wrote. "The 2017 Mackey Award winner continues to raise eyebrows with his A-rated production. Over the last two seasons, Andrews has earned a receiving grade of 91.6 against man coverage, second among tight ends with at least 50 targets over that span.
"With his 6-foot-5 frame, Andrews has the vertical speed to attack athletic safeties in man coverage. Since 2018, he leads all tight ends with an average of 2.91 yards per route run, and he also leads the position with a 112.3 passer rating when targeted against man coverage."
It's not often a tight end finishes as a team's leading receiver but Andrews was a mismatch for opposing defenses last season. He was a downfield threat who was only one of two tight ends (Travis Kelce) with 200-plus receiving yards on receptions 20-plus yards downfield last season, according to PFF.
Even as the Ravens have added more talent around him, Andrews has the potential to be a 1,000-yard receiver this season. His size and athleticism make him un-guardable at times, and pundits are excited to see his development.
"I feel like he is just scratching the surface with that combination of him and Jackson," ESPN's Rob Ninkovich said, via 247 Sports. "I just feel like he is gonna be a very good tight end for years to come."
Ravens Among Teams Best Set for the Future, But Cap Space Concerns Loom
There's no question the Ravens have a talented young roster, and Bleacher Report's Gary Davenport believes that bodes well moving forward.
Davenport ranked the Ravens as his second-best team set up for the future behind the Kansas City Chiefs but expressed one glaring concern.
"The Ravens' biggest challenge in coming years may not be winning football games; it's finding the cash to keep all of this talent in Charm City," Davenport wrote.
It's a good problem for any team to have. The Ravens are in this position because of their success developing homegrown players, but this offseason they're already facing the challenges of keeping a young core together.
Players such as Ronnie Stanley and Marlon Humphrey are in line for significant paydays in the next few seasons, while Jackson, Andrews, and others are right behind.
As our own John Eisenberg wrote, seven of the 13 Pro Bowlers for the Ravens last season were still playing on their rookie contracts. That comes with a cost.
"Success of that magnitude at drafting and developing players is likely to lead to success on the field, and the Ravens are no exception. Their young players helped them go 14-2 in 2019, with another winning season widely forecast for 2020," Eisenberg wrote. "But such success is costly in the NFL. It's what everyone wants, but there's a price attached. A high price."
- NFL.com's Adam Rank predicts the Ravens will finish 11-5 this season.