Ravens' Roster Ranked 21st in League by ESPN
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Despite being the defending AFC North champions, the Ravens did not fare well in ESPN analyst Mike Clay's rankings of every NFL position group from 1-32.
Overall, the Ravens' roster was ranked 21st. They were one spot below the Arizona Cardinals, who had the worst record in the league (3-13) last season, and two spots below the San Francisco 49ers (4-12 in 2018).
A number of pundits have projected the AFC North to be a three-team race between the Ravens, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers, but Clay's rankings told a different story. The Browns' roster was ranked as the ninth-best, while the Steelers' roster came in at No. 11.
While there is a lot of excitement about the Ravens' new offense this season under coordinator Greg Roman, the only Ravens position group Clay ranked in the top half of the league were the tight ends (No. 15).
After yesterday's debut of first-round pick Marquise "Hollywood" Brown and the continued emergence of third-round rookie Miles Boykin, Clay poured cold water on the excitement. Baltimore's wide receiver unit was ranked last.
"Willie Snead IV, Chris Moore and Seth Roberts are this team's top veteran wide receiver options," Clay wrote. "First-round speedster Marquise Brown is still recovering from a foot injury, and fellow youngsters Miles Boykin, Jaleel Scott and Antoine Wesley have combined to play zero NFL snaps."
While Clay's point about the overall inexperience of the group is valid, a case could be made that he's being too dismissive of the potential of some of those younger players and what Snead brings to the team.
"What Snead does have is a fearlessness to go over the middle and make the hardest catches in football in order to keep drives alive," ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote during the 2018 season. "Snead is a third-down monster who excels in what Coach John Harbaugh referred to the 'blood zone' because that's the area where receivers take the most vicious hits."
The rest of the Ravens' offensive rankings were as follows: quarterbacks (26), running backs (19) and offensive linemen (20).
Second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson has just seven regular-season starts, so it's hard to know where to rank him at this point. However, the Ravens' running backs, offensive linemen and tight ends probably should've been ranked higher than they were.
The Ravens have a strong 1-2 punch in two-time Pro Bowl selection Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards at running back. Ingram rushed for more than 1,000 yards with the New Orleans Saints in 2016 and 2017, and gained 645 yards in 12 games for them last season. In the seven regular-season games Jackson started last year, Edwards averaged 93.4 yards and 5.4 yards per carry.
The Ravens also added a big-play threat in this year's draft in Justice Hill, who "Good Morning Football's" Peter Schrager chose as the rookie running back he is most excited to see.
"Justice Hill is your home run hitter," Schrager said of the Ravens' fourth-round pick. "At Oklahoma State, he was an absolute fireworks show."
The Ravens' offensive line helped the team finish second in the league in rushing last season.
"With the return of Marshal Yanda and the continued development of Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr., the Ravens have the talent to continue to win at the line of scrimmage," The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shafer wrote.
At tight end, Mark Andrews appears poised to be a breakout player this season; 2018 first-round pick Hayden Hurst is looking to make an impact after his rookie season was derailed by a foot injury; and Nick Boyle has been called "the best blocking tight end in the league" by Harbaugh.
On defense, the high expectations for the Ravens' secondary was reflected in their rankings at safety (second) and cornerback (fourth). Interior defensive lineman placed eighth, but edge rushers and off-ball linebackers were 29th and 31st, respectively. Considering the Ravens' significant losses in free agency at the latter two position groups, the low rankings aren't surprising but could surely be proven wrong.
"C.J. Mosley and his 579 tackles in five seasons are gone. That leaves Patrick Onwuasor and 2018 undrafted free-agent signing Chris Board atop the depth chart," Clay wrote about the team's off-ball linebackers group. "The latter will be pushed hard by 2018 fourth-round pick Kenny Young. This group combined to play 822 snaps last season, whereas Mosley played 892 on his own."
Despite the unit's low ranking, there is cause for optimism. Onwuasor took a major step forward in his third NFL season, winning the starting inside linebacker job last year next to Mosley and becoming a defensive playmaker during the Ravens' run to the playoffs. And Harbaugh said in June that Board and Young are both playing like starters.
Marlon Humphrey 'Could Emerge As Best Cornerback' in NFL
Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey continues appear on lists of rising stars and top players at his position as he enters his third season.
Schrager ranked Humphrey 10th on his list of breakout players for 2019 and said he has the potential to be the No. 1 cornerback in the league this season. Humphrey was listed as the sixth-best cornerback by the "MMQB Podcast."
"He is talked about in that organization like the next great Ravens defensive superstar. We know Ray Lewis, we know Ed Reed, we know Haloti Ngata. Now get to know Marlon Humphrey," Schrager said. "Earlier this offseason we said there really is no slam-dunk best cornerback in football. … I think Marlon Humphrey could emerge as the best cornerback in all of football this season."
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec also praised Humphrey, naming him one of the standouts in training camp.
"Humphrey is the Ravens' best cornerback and one of the ascending cover men in the league. It's not surprising that he's giving up very little in camp," Zrebiec wrote. "Humphrey is not only providing blanket coverage, but he's made several plays where he's ripped the ball out of a receiver's hands. He's in very good form."
Humphrey made it clear that he isn't letting the recognition go to his head.
"Conversation is conversation," Humphrey said at practice yesterday. "I'm more of a results guy, so you can have a lot of conversations, but it's kind of like taking a test. You're like, 'I did really well on that test,' then you get an F, then you're like, 'Dang!' I'm really more of a results guy, but conversations, I guess, don't hurt."
Hollywood Brown Flashes His Speed
When Hollywood Brown made his training camp debut yesterday, it quickly became obvious that even at less than full speed, he is fast. Really fast.
How fast, you ask? So fast that Brown hurt the feelings of Humphrey, a pretty speedy guy himself.
"I was talking to Sam [Rosengarten, coaching analyst – performance], the guy with the Catapult GPS tracking," Humphrey said. "I was like, 'They say the 'Hollywood' kid is pretty fast.' He said, 'Yes, he was doing some rehab running and hit 21 miles per hour.' And I go, 'I just ran 20 miles per hour the other day, and I was running full-speed.' So, I was a little hurt when he told me that, but that will be good for other teams when the season comes."
Ravens Wire's Matthew Stevens put Brown's speed into context.
"The fastest ball carriers last season topped out at 22 mph, according to the NFL's Next Gen Stats, Stevens wrote. "Considering Brown [who suffered a Lisfranc foot injury in January] likely isn't at 100 percent yet and will actually get faster, it's not out of the realm of possibility that he'll be able to top 22 mph at some point."
Brown proved to have a quick wit as well. When a reporter asked him yesterday if he would be able to run as fast as he could, Brown smiled and said, "Yeah, I'd beat you."
- Ravens wide receiver Miles Boykin was named as a rookie who will make an immediate impact on the "Move the Sticks" podcast.