Five Players Not Named Lamar Jackson to Watch at Training Camp
As the rest of the 90-man roster reports to the Under Armour Performance Center today, all eyes are still on quarterback Lamar Jackson. But PressBox's Bo Smolka highlighted five key players not named Jackson to watch at training camp.
The Ravens' run game is expected to be the focal point of Greg Roman's offense and Smolka believes Kenneth Dixon is on the roster bubble this summer.
"Dixon has shown flashes during his three-year career, albeit in inconsistent doses," Smolka wrote. "He piled up a career-high 117 yards in the Ravens' Week 17 win against Cleveland that secured the AFC North title and averaged 5.6 yards a carry last year, best on the team among running backs."
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec listed Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, and rookie fourth-round pick Justice Hill as locks to make the roster in the backfield. If the Ravens take four running backs, the competition could come down to Dixon and Tyler Ervin, who Zrebiec doesn't think should be dismissed because of his return ability.
"With uncertainty in the return game, Ervin could find his way onto the team by outperforming the other return candidates," Zrebiec wrote.
The wide receiver group will be one of the most exciting positions to watch, and Smolka believes Chris Moore has the opportunity to step up and become a "top-tier" pass-catcher.
"Moore has long been one of the Ravens' top special-teams players, working as a kick returner and excelling as a punt team gunner, so his value to the team goes well beyond his play at receiver," Smolka wrote. "But this summer represents Moore's best chance yet to make his case as an integral offensive weapon."
On the defensive side of the ball, Smolka pointed to young guns in safety DeShon Elliott, defensive tackle Willie Henry and outside linebacker Tim Williams.
Elliott was one of the offseason standouts in OTAs and mandatory minicamp after missing his rookie season with a fractured forearm. Given the depth at safety, the biggest challenge may be finding a spot for Elliott on the field, but Smolka doesn't see that as an issue.
"Elliott figures to play behind [Earl] Thomas and [Tony] Jefferson, but Defensive Coordinator Don 'Wink' Martindale loves flexibility, and he will find ways to get good players on the field," Smolka wrote.
Both Henry and Williams saw limited time on the field last season due to various reasons, but both are expected to become more significant contributors. Henry is Smolka's "X-factor" on the defensive line.
"While Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce figure to clog the middle of the Ravens' defense, Henry could work into the mix as a powerful interior pass-rushing option if he can return to the form he showed last spring," Smolka wrote.
Here are 22 players (there could have been a lot more) to keep an eye on at Ravens training camp.
Allen Hurns a Realistic Free-Agent Option?
Free agency has died down, but a few intriguing options tend to find their way onto the open market late in the offseason. One of those players is wide receiver Allen Hurns, who confirmed to NFL Network that he will be released by the Dallas Cowboys.
Hurns was working his way back from a gruesome ankle injury suffered last season and is now searching for a new team ahead of training camp.
RavensWire's Matthew Stevens believes the Ravens would be "foolish" not to pursue Hurns on a one-year, prove-it deal.
"[A]t his best, Hurns offers big-play potential, catching 64 passes for 1,031 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2015," Stevens wrote. "Of his 64 receptions that season, 13 were deep throws that went 20-plus yards through the air, according to Pro Football Focus. Hurns also added 346 yards after the catch, showing he's capable of turning even shorter passes into big plays."
Hurns had a breakout season with the Jaguars in 2015 but hasn't amassed more than 500 yards since.
The Ravens reportedly expressed interest in Hurns last offseason, and the 27 year old "could be a huge boost for the offense" at a reasonable price, Stevens wrote.
"Hurns could be Baltimore's short-term answer," Stevens added. "At the very least, he would bring more talent to a wide receiver corps that is still very much unsettled entering training camp."
The Ravens enter training camp with close to $12 million in cap space, according to Russell Street Report's Brian McFarland, but some still question a potential move.
The current receiver depth chart may be hard enough to predict as is.
"The wide receiver competition is difficult to project because nine of the team's 13 receivers have never caught a pass in an NFL regular-season game and 11 of the 13 have never caught a pass for the Ravens," Zrebiec wrote. "[Seth] Roberts and [Michael] Floyd are quality blocking receivers, and that could factor in the roster decisions with the Ravens employing a run-first attack."
PFF: Ravens' Secondary the Best in the NFL
Pundits have tabbed the Ravens' secondary as one of the best in the NFL, and the folks over at Pro Football Focus concur.
PFF ranked the secondaries for all 32 teams, and the Ravens came out on top.
"The Ravens were already a top-five secondary last season, and the rich got richer as they swapped out Eric Weddle for a future Hall of Famer," PFF wrote. "They'll just need Earl Thomas to stay healthy as he's earned coverage grades over 89.0 in five of his last six seasons."
NFL.com's Chris Wesseling ranked the Ravens' secondary as the deepest position group. They return almost the same depth chart from last season and add a three-time All-Pro in Thomas on the back end.
"The Ravens' most splashy free-agent signing, when he's at his best, should have a transformative effect on the secondary," The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer wrote. "Injuries sidelined Thomas for a combined 19 games over the past three seasons, but the Seahawks were appreciably better on defense when he was in uniform."
While the NFL's "Top 100 Players of 2019" has yet to be fully released, USA Today's Doug Farrar published his own version. Thomas made Farrar's list at No. 66, but Farrar offered the highest praise to Brandon Carr, calling him "perhaps the most underrated player" on the list at No. 58.
"Carr had a really rough time in coverage his last few seasons with the Cowboys, but his two seasons in Baltimore have been a revelation," Farrar wrote. "In 2017, he allowed 56% of his 84 targets to be caught for an opponent passer rating of 69.1, and in 2018, he allowed 47 catches on 83 targets for a catch rate of 56.6%, 625 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 70.6.
"What's caused this remarkable consistency late in Carr's career? The 33-year-old veteran diagnoses routes as well as anyone in the business, and he's still outstanding in short-to-intermediate coverage because he's so good with his feet off the line of scrimmage, and in matching quick, angular routes. Carr will occasionally get beaten over the top, but that's the only glaring issue for a guy who was thought to be washed up a few years back, and has reinvented himself rather impressively."
Not to mention, Jimmy Smith has played at a high level when healthy and Marlon Humphrey is one of the NFL's top young emerging defensive backs.
"The 2017 first-round pick is on the path to stardom," Shaffer wrote. "According to ESPN, Humphrey had an interception or pass defended once every 41.6 passing downs last season; only five cornerbacks were more disruptive. The 65.7 passer rating he's forced since entering the NFL is the third highest among qualified cornerbacks in that period, according to Pro Football Focus. Humphrey's also proven clutch, with both of his interceptions last year coming in the fourth quarter of close games."
Ravens Among Sports' Wealthiest Sports Franchise and Growing
The Ravens are one of the NFL's youngest franchises, but they're also among the most valuable.
Baltimore came in at No. 29 on Forbes' list of the world's most valuable sports team. They fell two spots from 2018 but increased in value by four percent to $2.59 billion.
That's good enough to hold the title for the most valuable team in the AFC North for the 10th straight year.
Owner Steve Bisciotti purchased the majority stake of the Ravens in 2004. The franchise was valued at $600 million, and Bisciotti's investment has since quadrupled.
Bisciotti has invested a lot of money back into the franchise. The Ravens have continually made improvements off the field, most recently announcing the completion of a three-year, $120 million enhancement to M&T Bank Stadium. They also invested $45 million to expand and upgrade the Under Armour Performance Center.
- ESPN ranked tight end Mark Andrews (No. 4) and running back Gus Edwards (No. 19) as two of the top 25 prospects poised to break out in 2019. Linebacker Kenny Young was an honorable mention.
- The Ravens were named as a potential landing spot for recently released Redskins linebacker Mason Foster.
- For all the foodies out there, Wawa is now the Official Hoagie of the Baltimore Ravens.