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Late for Work 7/12: Ravens’ Secondary Named Deepest Position Group in the NFL

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Ravens’ Secondary Named Deepest Position Group in NFL

The prevailing opinion is that the Ravens’ secondary is among the best in the NFL, but one national media member took it a step further. Baltimore’s defensive backfield was named the overall deepest position group in the league by NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling.

The addition of All-Pro safety Earl Thomas to a talented core of returning players is one of the main reasons cited by Wesseling for the unit topping his list of the league’s seven deepest position groups.

“… The Ravens upgraded the back end, swooping in to sign replacement Earl Thomas, the gold standard for safety play in the modern NFL,” Wesseling wrote. “As star-studded as Thomas' legendary Legion of Boom defenses were in Seattle, they never boasted the extraordinary depth that [Ravens Defensive Coordinator Don “Wink”] Martindale will carry into the 2019 season.”

As noted in yesterday’s Late for Work, Thomas and Tony Jefferson form one of the league’s elite safety tandems. They’re joined in the secondary by a strong group of cornerbacks, led by Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr and Tavon Young.

“The cornerback corps was deep enough not only to survive but to thrive during the early-season absence of Jimmy Smith, Baltimore's stingiest cover corner,” Wesseling wrote. “Beyond the four starting-caliber cornerbacks, the Ravens have stashed a bevy of young draft picks in Anthony Averett, Iman Lewis-Marshall, Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott to go with jack-of-all-trades Anthony Levine.”

It’s not by accident that the Ravens have such a deep secondary. The team has invested approximately $59 million in the unit this season -- the most in the league -- according to OvertheCap.com.

The reason for the investment seems obvious. It’s a pass-happy league, and the Ravens will face a number of high-level quarterbacks and wide receivers this season. Furthermore, the team lost a combined 15.5 sacks from last season’s team when Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs left in free agency, so having an elite secondary could be especially crucial.

The secondary has long been a key component of the Ravens’ success on defense.

“In an age when teams are throwing the ball more than ever before, the Ravens have prided themselves at being among the best in slowing down the big-play passing attacks,” ESPN’s Jamison Hensley wrote. “Since [John] Harbaugh became coach in 2008, Baltimore leads the NFL in lowest passer rating allowed (79.3).”

Who Will Step Up at Edge Rusher?

As noted above, while the Ravens are loaded in the secondary, there are questions regarding the pass rush. Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox identified edge rusher as the biggest spot up for grabs on the team heading into training camp.

As Knox noted, there isn’t a shortage of viable candidates.

“Matthew Judon, who has 15 sacks over the last two seasons, should be the front-runner on one side of the defense, but Baltimore has choices opposite him,” Knox wrote. “They brought back Pernell McPhee this offseason after he spent time with the Chicago Bears and Washington, drafted Jaylon Ferguson in the third round and have the likes of Chris Wormley, Tim Williams, Shane Ray and Tyus Bowser.”

“Of course, in Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale's system, the rush can come from either the defensive end or the linebacker spot, so this could end up as more of a group effort on a rotational basis. If one guy is able to emerge in camp and in the preseason, however, he's likely to earn the bulk of the playing time in passing situations.”

Penn Live’s Aaron Kasinitz agreed that Judon, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract, is the clear favorite to lead the Ravens in sacks this season. He predicted nine sacks for Judon.

“Judon could attract more double teams in 2019, and the Ravens’ tendency to dial up unique blitzes will likely lead to a balanced pass rush,” Kasinitz wrote. “It’d be unwise to predict any player will top Judon’s sack total, though.

“Smith led the Ravens last year with 8.5 sacks, so nine seems like an appropriate number. Judon’s career-high is eight, and it’ll be challenging for him to top that mark when defenses have reason to pay more attention to him. Then again, he wouldn’t be the first edge rusher to lift his level of play in a contract year.”

Kasinitz identified Ray, a 26-year-old former first-round draft pick with the Denver Broncos, as the “X factor” in the pass rush equation.

“Ray totaled eight sacks and 21 quarterback hits for the Broncos in 2016 before multiple wrist injuries played a part in stalling his rise,” Kasinitz wrote. “He’s had just two sacks in the two years since. The Ravens signed Ray to a cheap one-year contract this offseason and could slide him into a role tailored for a speedy edge rusher. If Ray stays healthy and regains his early career form, perhaps he’ll provide the type of pass-rushing pop Baltimore needs.”

WNST’s Luke Jones labeled Wormley an “up-and-comer” and Zach Sieler, a seventh-round selection out of Ferris State last year, as a “sleeper pick.”

“[Brent] Urban didn’t sign with Tennessee until after the draft and received only a small one-year commitment, making it clear the Ravens had more than enough confidence in Wormley stepping into a bigger role at the 5-technique spot after injuries prompted him to be more of a 3-technique option in his second season,” Jones wrote. “‘[Sieler] … played only 17 snaps as a rookie, but the Ravens love his 6-foot-6, 290-pound frame and didn’t keep him on the 53-man roster all last season without having bigger plans in mind. If Wormley doesn’t take a step forward, Sieler could easily push for some of his snaps.” 

Should the Ravens Be Interested in Melvin Gordon?

With Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon reportedly informing the team that he will hold out and demand a trade if he doesn’t get a new contract soon, should the Ravens be interested in acquiring the two-time Pro Bowl player if the Chargers were open to dealing him? That’s the question posed by Ebony Bird’s Richard Bradshaw.

The Ravens already have a talented backfield, with Mark Ingram II and Gus Edwards leading the way and rookie Justice Hill, Kenneth Dixon and Tyler Ervin in the hunt, but the talented Gordon -- who has totaled 38 touchdowns over the past three seasons -- wearing a Ravens jersey is certainly an appealing image.

In Bradshaw’s opinion, yes, the Ravens should have interest in Gordon, but he acknowledged that it’s unlikely he’ll be made available.

“In an ideal world, Baltimore could trade a third-round pick and Kenneth Dixon for Melvin Gordon, but that seems too good to be true,” Bradshaw wrote. “Instead, the Ravens may have to offer up Gus Edwards and move that draft pick up to a second-rounder. There likely won’t be much interest in offering up the 29-year-old Mark Ingram, and Edwards showed as a rookie that he can carry the load for a team. It’s not the best trade in the world for the Chargers, and they shouldn’t move him anyways.

“A guy like Melvin Gordon shouldn’t be available, and in all likelihood he won’t be. If for some crazy reason the Chargers decide to ship out Gordon, Baltimore should at least make a phone call and gauge his value.”

Quick Hits

  • Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is a nightmare for opposing defenses, NFL Network’s Nate Burleson says.

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