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Late for Work 6/6: Sizing Up the Competition at Crowded Position Groups

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Three Crowded Position Groups With Top Competition

Players on the bubble at three position groups are facing the biggest uphill battles to make the Ravens’ 53-man roster.

That’s the assessment of Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler, who identified cornerback, wide receiver and inside linebacker as the most crowded position groups on the Ravens.

The reasons for the long odds are different for each unit.

“For cornerbacks, it’s because there is so much already locked up,” Schisler wrote. “For wide receiver, it’s because there is too much not figured out. With inside linebackers, it’s because there are not many spots up for grabs.”

At cornerback, it appears the Ravens have more talented players than available roster spots, which obviously is a good “problem” to have. The stalwarts at the position are Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr and Tavon Young.

“Anthony Averett and Iman Marshall are making the team, so that gives you six cornerbacks right there,” Schisler wrote. “That leaves players like Justin Bethel, Cyrus Jones, Bennett Jackson and Maurice Canady on the roster bubble.”

Jones was very effective as a punt returner last season, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t end up being a casualty of the numbers game, according to Schisler.

“Roster math is hard and Jones might be the most expendable defensive back if the Ravens can find competent kick returning elsewhere,” Schisler wrote. “Jones isn’t taking snaps away from Tavon Young. He has one specific task and any number of mistakes can cost him his job.”

More than kick returning, it would be a question of finding a punt returner. But alas …

The position battle at wide receiver is compelling given the fact that so many of the candidates are unproven, Schisler wrote. High draft picks Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Miles Boykin and veterans Willie Snead IV and Chris Moore are set, but it’s wide open – no pun intended – after that.

Veterans Seth Roberts and Michael Floyd are competing for roster spots, as are second and third-year players Jaleel Scott, Jordan Lasley and Quincy Adeboyejo, and undrafted rookies such as Antoine Wesley, Joe Horn Jr. and Jaylen Smith, who has the added advantage of having played with Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson at Louisville and worked out with him during the offseason.

Scott and Wesley both looked impressive during OTAs last week, according to practice reports.

“Jaleel’s had a really good offseason,” Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s made plays like that pretty much the whole camp, playing really fast and really well. I think all those receivers are setting themselves up for a competition in training camp.”

Of Wesley, Schisler wrote: “Antoine Wesley may be the Ravens most intriguing undrafted free agent. The reason Wesley went undrafted probably has a lot to do with the fact that the 2018 season was his only productive season in his Texas Tech career. Wesley is a big-bodied target who put up 88 receptions for 1,410 yards and nine touchdowns last year. It was hard not to leave the draft wondering how the NFL missed the 6-4 receiver through seven entire rounds.”

At inside linebacker, Schisler concluded there simply aren’t many openings.

“The Ravens may only have room for Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young and Chris Board,” Schisler wrote. “The Ravens have to indulge in depth at outside linebacker and that takes spots away from inside linebacker.”

How Good Will Ravens' No. 1 Defense Do in 2019?

The Ravens had the top-ranked defense last season, but where is the unit heading into 2019?

Sportsnaut’s Michael Dixon believes the Ravens will be one of the best, but not the best. He ranked them third, behind the Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Chargers.

It says a lot about the Ravens that they could lose defensive standouts such as Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle and Za’Darius Smith in the offseason and still be considered a top unit.

“Most defenses have a weakness that can be exploited. Looking at the Ravens, nothing jumps out,” Dixon wrote. “This defense is solid against both the run and pass. It could be better at sacking the quarterback, but Baltimore is incredible at keeping opposing offenses off schedule.

“This defense is loaded with a lot of good players. Losing Pro Bowlers like Weddle and C.J. Mosley will be felt. That definitely keeps the Ravens from cracking our top-two. Nothing below that is justifiable.”

Earl Thomas Recognized as the Prototype at His Position

One of the main reasons the Ravens’ defense figures to be strong again this season is the addition of three-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas.

Thomas was recognized as the league’s prototypical single-high safety by Pro Football Focus’ Mark Chichester.

“Since joining the Seahawks with the 14th overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft, Earl Thomas’ work in Seattle has put him among the very best to ever play the position,” Chichester wrote. “His coverage grade of 92.7 is the fifth-best mark among qualifying safeties in that nine-year span, while his 64 combined pass breakups and interceptions and his 80 total coverage stops rank second and fourth among safeties among that same group, respectively.”

Thus far in team drills, Thomas has shown no ill effects from the broken leg he suffered during Week 4 last season.

“He’s had a great week. He’s looked really good,” Harbaugh said of Thomas during OTAs last week. “Great anticipation, and then great ability to cover ground. He shows up in the right spots on a regular basis, so to me, that’s what great safeties do, and he’s doing a great job.”

On a side note, Thomas (30 years, two months) was selected as a starter on the All-Over-30 Team by Sports Illustrated’s Andy Benoit. Other Ravens players named to the team include: cornerback Jimmy Smith (30 years, 11 months) as a starter, and cornerback Brandon Carr (33) and guard Marshal Yanda (34) as reserves.

Praise for Ravens’ Young Players on Offense

NFL.com’s Dan Hanzus predicted every AFC team’s MVP candidate, and he went with Jackson for Baltimore.

“I was tempted to give the nod to Earl Thomas, who joins the Ravens after a lost final season with the Seahawks. General sports truth: Always bet on a superstar with something to prove. Still, I'm going with Jackson, who the Ravens believe is their answer to Kyler Murray in Arizona,” Hanzus wrote. “We know Jackson will wreak havoc with his legs – his team MVP prospects are directly tied to how he progresses as a passer.”

Meanwhile, Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox identified the “top young solution to each NFL team’s biggest problem.” For the Ravens, he believes Brown – who agreed to a deal in principle with the Ravens yesterday – is the answer to the Ravens’ woes at wide receiver.

“For Jackson to emerge as a complete quarterback in Year 2, he needs to have a true No. 1 receiver at his disposal,” Knox wrote. “Presumably, that will be No. 25 overall pick Marquise Brown, the first receiver taken in the 2019 draft.”

Knox added that the Ravens have other promising young wide receivers who could step up if Brown is sluggish out of the gate.

“Third-round pick Miles Boykin has the size-speed combination to be a No. 1 if he develops quickly,” Knox wrote. “Undrafted wideout Jaylen Smith is a sleeper option but shouldn't be counted out.”

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