Zrebiec's Ravens With Most At Stake Heading into Training Camp
We're almost at the start of training camp as Ravens rookies are expected to report to Owings Mills today, quarterbacks and injured vets on Friday and the rest of the roster next Wednesday.
With anticipation building, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec identified the 11 players with the most at stake over the next three weeks.
For the sake of length, we'll highlight a few.
One of the most intriguing position battles to watch during training camp will be at pass rusher. Following the departures of Za'Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs, the Ravens stacked up on young and veteran talent this offseason. But it's Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams who Zrebiec believes have the most to prove.
"It's fair to say that Bowser and Williams haven't gotten an extended opportunity to prove their worth as players," Zrebiec wrote. "It's also fair to point out that they haven't consistently practiced or played well enough, or in Williams' case, stayed healthy long enough, to secure one. … [I]t's probably telling that the team went out this offseason and signed veteran pass rushers Pernell McPhee and Shane Ray, and drafted Jaylon Ferguson."
Bowser and Williams combined for 5.5 sacks through three seasons, and both have provided a limited impact. That is definitely in part because of limited opportunity playing behind Suggs, Smith and Matthew Judon. We've seen pass rushers in Baltimore blossom late in their rookie contracts, most recently Smith with 8.5 sacks in 2018, and Head Coach John Harbaugh expects the young tandem rise to the occasion.
"Those two guys need to step up," Harbaugh said. "It's their job to do that. They're very committed to doing it. I've talked to both of them. Both are excited about their opportunities and they have it, and let's roll."
Added RavensWire’s Matthew Stevens: "Bowser has a leg up in the fact he's more athletic than Williams and has seen the field far more often. While Williams has been active in just 15 games over two years, Bowser has been active in all but just one game. … Like previous years, the Ravens find themselves with an outside linebacker that doesn't really fit in. Bowser could be played in certain packages or be moved inside as a coverage linebacker. But those attempts in previous years with guys like Kamalei Correa haven't worked."
On the offensive side of the ball, a pair of second-year wide receivers in a similar situation also made Zrebiec's list.
Jordan Lasley and Jaleel Scott didn't see the field during their rookie seasons and "neither are locks to make this year's regular-season roster," said Zrebiec. He sees both players fighting for just one or two roster spots on the back end of the receiver depth chart.
"Scott has impressed team officials since the start of the offseason workout program," Zrebiec wrote. "Lasley seems to have a good rapport with Jackson. If we're operating under the assumption that wide receivers Willie Snead IV, Chris Moore and rookies Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin are roster locks, and veteran Seth Roberts is close to one, that may leave only one or two spots for a group of receivers that includes Lasley, Scott, Quincy Adeboyejo, Michael Floyd and four rookie free agents."
Zrebiec also included running back Kenneth Dixon, tight end Hayden Hurst, cornerback/return specialist Cyrus Jones, guard Alex Lewis, quarterback Trace McSorley, defensive tackle Michael Pierce, and linebacker Kenny Young on his list.
It's not often a first-round pick is featured on such a list entering his second season, but after working his way back from a fractured foot, coupled with the rise of Mark Andrews, Zrebiec believes Hurst has something to prove.
"This is an important time for Hurst to distance himself from an injury-plagued and disappointing 13-catch rookie year, and gain the trust of quarterback Lamar Jackson and the offensive coaching staff, like Andrews has done," Zrebiec wrote.
Like Hurst, Pierce's roster spot isn't in question, but he garnered attention for all the wrong reasons when he showed up out of shape for mandatory minicamp and was sent off the field by Harbaugh.
Ranked as one of Pro Football Focus’ top defensive lineman last season, Pierce is expected to play an integral role in the Ravens' defensive success this season during a contract year.
"Much will be forgotten if Pierce, an undrafted free agent who has made himself into one of the better interior run stoppers in the league, reports to camp next week in better shape and works hard over the duration of the preseason to get where he needs to be physically," Zrebiec wrote. "If he isn't in markedly better condition or if health and conditioning issues prevent him from being immediately cleared to practice, the concerns will intensify."
ESPN Not High on Ravens' Long-Term Future
ESPN released its annual future power rankings, which projected the success for all 32 teams over the next three seasons. A panel of experts ranked each team's non-QB, quarterback, draft, front office, and coaching staff based on the following grading scale:
100: A+ (Elite)
90: A (Great)
80: B (Very Good)
70: C (Average)
60: D (Very Bad)
50: F (Disastrous)
Here's the breakdown of the weighted score: roster (30 percent), quarterback (20 percent), draft (15 percent), front office (15 percent) and coaching (20 percent).
The Ravens finished in the middle of the pack at No. 17 with a score of 77 (Average), third in the AFC North behind the Steelers (6) and Browns (9).
To no surprise, ESPN identified the Ravens' biggest worry as Jackson's development as a passer and the offense around him. It's been the hot topic of discussion surrounding the Ravens throughout the offseason.
"Either Jackson improves on his ability to pass effectively on third down, on throws outside the numbers and on throws traveling 11-plus yards down the field, or the Ravens are going to have trouble keeping pace with the rest of the teams in their division – all of whom have very good passing QBs – as well as the AFC overall," ESPN wrote. "New GM DeCosta added some very exciting and diverse weapons via free agency and the draft in running back Mark Ingram and receivers Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin, and now it is up to coordinator Greg Roman and Jackson to get the most out of this impressive group."
ESPN wasn't the only outlet not high on the Ravens' future. Baltimore wasn't included in Bleacher Report’s top 10 NFL teams best set up for the future.
The Ravens boast a wealth of young talent on both sides of the ball, including cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who was named to Pro Football Focus' "Top 25 Under 25 List."
ESPN wrote that their rankings weigh on Jackson's improvement, which is how the projections could change for the better.
"If Jackson settles into the large group of even above-average quarterbacks, the Ravens would merit a significantly higher rating," ESPN wrote.
Count NFL Network's Michael Robinson and Daniel Jeremiah as believers in Jackson. Robinson predicted Jackson would have one of the biggest overall improvements in 2019.
"So many people act like this guy can't throw the football," Robinson said. "... Greg Roman had Colin Kaepernick out in San Francisco. He understands creativity in the run game, especially in the quarterback run game, and then tying the quarterback run game to the passing game.
"People don't understand, quarterbacks like Jackson, they see the field differently. I tell people all the time. When you're the fastest person on the football field and you get the snap, that takes a whole level different of responsibility.… Roman is the spread quarterback whisperer and I think [Jackson] will have the biggest overall improvement."
"To me, you look at the play-caller there," Jeremiah said. "... I think that is going to be a big advantage. Playmakers, you go out and get a big-time running back in Ingram. You also go draft the most explosive receiver in Brown."
Why You Shouldn't Compare Lamar Jackson and Joe Flacco This Season
For the first time in 11 years, a quarterback not named Joe Flacco heads into training camp as the unquestioned starter.
After taking over under center midway through the 2018 season and leading the Ravens to a 6-1 regular-season record, an AFC North title, and a playoff berth, all eyes are on Jackson heading into his second year. Meanwhile, Flacco begins a new chapter of his career after being traded to the Broncos.
There's a reason for attachment to both quarterbacks – based on the success Flacco brought to Baltimore and what Jackson holds for the future – but PressBox’s Glenn Clark believes there shouldn't be any comparison between the two this season.
"There's absolutely zero reason to root against either Flacco or Jackson this season, unless of course the Broncos and Ravens were fighting for a playoff spot late in the year or squaring off in the postseason," Clark wrote. "Those would be called 'good problems to have to deal with.'"
As Clark pointed out, Jackson's performance this season has no connection with Flacco's performance in Denver. Both quarterbacks are in entirely different points in their careers.
"We shouldn't judge Jackson by what Joe Flacco does this year," Clark wrote."...We should judge Jackson based on Jackson ... and the Ravens' offense."
- Ed Reed is headed to Canton this year and will also be inducted into the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame. [Nola.com]
- Ray Lewis spoke with 247 Sports about the heated rivalry with the Steelers throughout his career. [247 Sports]