Ravens Secondary Could Rank Among NFL's Best
We're one week into training camp, and praise for the Ravens secondary is rolling in.
Pro Football Focus’ Michael Renner rated it as the No. 4 secondary in the NFL, assuming cornerback Jimmy Smith remains healthy.
"The real key for this unit though will be the recovery of number one corner Smith," Renner wrote. "He only allowed a passer rating of 49.2 last year when targeted before tearing his Achilles."
Renner referred to Baltimore's group as a "secondary bereft of holes." The Ravens were ranked behind only the Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Chargers and Los Angeles Rams in Renner's assessment. Baltimore also finished 10 spots ahead of its next closest AFC North rival, the Cincinnati Bengals.
Individually, Smith earned top marks within the group with an 86.2 grade. Renner has Marlon Humphrey, who was given an 82.7 rating, taking the other starting cornerback, though he notes that "Brandon Carr's veteran presence also holds weight" within the group.
Safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson both scored 82.4 ratings, but Renner believes nickel cornerback Tavon Young will really raise the unit's play from last season, even though the defense already finished with a league-high 22 interceptions.
"The return of Young only makes this a more formidable unit," Renner wrote. "The third-year corner had a 79.9 overall grade as a rookie before tearing his ACL last year."
As highly as Renner touts Young though, he believes Smith remaining healthy will be essential to the secondary replicating last season's efforts.
Smith has missed 26 games due to injury during his career, but relying on him is not the worst position for the Ravens to be in this season. His extremely fast recovery has him far ahead of schedule.
"Teammates and coaches alike marveled at the speed of his recovery, as Smith was on the field for the first day of training camp," Cecil Whig’s Sean Grogan wrote. "Safety Eric Weddle compared him to Marvel comic book hero Wolverine."
If Smith is fully healthy this season, the Ravens could actually see an improvement in his play. Smith certainly believes it's possible, as evidenced from his response to how soon he could perform at a Pro Bowl level.
Though the Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec agrees that Smith feeling healthy and ready to play the whole season is excellent news for the Ravens, he also believes "things suddenly don't look so bleak for the team if he doesn't."
In the group of Smith, Humphrey, Carr, Young, Maurice Canady and Anthony Averett, "Baltimore believes it has at least four legitimate starting corners, as well as two other guys capable of stepping in with minimal drop-off," Zrebiec wrote. That depth is a strength of the secondary, and could make a difference if Smith, or any cornerback, suffers an injury.
"For a team that has been forced to pluck cornerbacks off the waiver wire or another team's practice squad, and immediately thrust them into a key role, it's a refreshing change," Zrebiec wrote.
Unheralded Wide Receivers Turning Heads
When the Ravens rebuilt their wide receiver corps by signing three veteran free agents this offseason, they created a major competition for the spots on the depth chart below those free agents. As many as eight players are competing for two or three spots, which has made it one of the most intriguing battles of training camp.
With the veterans not always practicing, players hoping to make the 53-man roster for the first time have stood out in the eyes of various media members.
One such player is a fan favorite from last year's preseason, Tim White.
Russell Street Report’s Tony Lombardi wrote "Tim White has done pretty much everything the Ravens have asked. He regularly makes big plays as a WR and so far, he looks like the best return man of the 90 players currently on the roster." Indeed, it's White's skills as a punt return man that make him stand out from the pack. Zrebiec actually sees him as the leading candidate for that job.
Jordan Lasley, a fifth-round pick from this year's draft, has also caught some eyes. He had a particularly strong practice on Tuesday.
The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer also noticed Lasley's route running, mentioning in his daily training camp highlights that "Lasley impressed with his advanced route-running ability during a one-on-one drill."
Undrafted rookie Janarion Grant has also made the most of his training camp opportunity. Bleacher Report’s Brent Sobleski included him in his list of undrafted rookies most likely to make a Week 1 roster.
Like in White's case, Sobleski sees Grant's best chance of making the team as a special teams returner, though "if Grant can contribute anything as a wide receiver—he produced 1,062 career receiving yards for the Scarlet Knights—he should be a roster lock." Grant has also managed to stand out by having one of the most athletic touchdown celebrations you'll ever see.
Lamar Jackson Among Bleacher Report's 50 Most Influential in Sports Culture
Lamar Jackson mania isn't just sweeping through Baltimore. The Ravens' rookie could have a much wider appeal, wrote Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman.
"The potential for Jackson to transform the league is there," Freeman wrote. "With his play on the field, sure. But also off the field."
Jackson was included in Bleacher Report's 50 Most Influential Figures across all sports.
Those selected were divided into different groups explaining why they were chosen picked. Jackson was No. 5 on the "Shake It Up" list, which also featured rapper Meek Mill, San Francisco 49ers coach Katie Sowers and the UMBC men's basketball team.
Freeman points to Jackson's fearlessness off the field as a way for him to potentially shake up the NFL.
Jackson drew much attention when he decided not to sign with a traditional agent during his draft process, opting instead to have his mother, Felicia Jones, as his representative.
It was a move that many around the NFL questioned, but it ended up working. Jackson accomplished his goal of getting drafted in the first round by a team that believes he can play quarterback in the NFL and there were no hiccups in negotiating the standard rookie contract. At the same time, Jackson didn't have to pay the steep agent fees.
"It also might prove to be a genius move—one that shakes up the financial structure of the NFL," Freeman wrote.
That decision could potentially affect how NFL players negotiate their deals, especially their rookie contracts, according to Freeman. Jackson felt that enough of what he would make with his first professional contract would be dictated by when and where he was drafted, thus making an agent superfluous.
"Could this pave the way for agents to be cut out of the process altogether, thereby reducing their power and putting more control into the hands of players? Potentially," Freeman wrote. "Rather than have NFL agents make deals and take 3 percent of a contract, a player could have a lawyer do the same negotiating for 1 percent or even less."
Early indications show that the move didn't affect the public's interest in Jackson. His following includes Peter Schrager, one of the hosts of NFL Network's "Good Morning Football," who named Jackson his most intriguing rookie to watch for the upcoming season.
Physicality Ramps Up at Training Camp
There hasn't always been a lot of hitting during the first week of training camp, but that changed Tuesday, and several media members noticed.
"The physicality served as a reminder that the Ravens open the preseason in nine days," PennLive’s Aaron Kasinitz wrote.
The "largest thud" of practice for Kasinitz was a collision between running back Alex Collins and linebacker Patrick Onwuasor while the Ravens were wearing full pads.
"The two returning Baltimore starters crashed into each other and both kept moving their feet forward as they collided, remaining upright," Kasinitz wrote.
Shaffer also noticed some physical play, even during drills when there wasn't any tackling. Rookie tight end Hayden Hurst, practicing for the first time since Thursday, "was not shy about announcing his presence," Shaffer wrote.
In one instance, Hurst made a catch then "turned upfield and threw his weight around, first into cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste and then safety DeShon Elliott."