Projecting Ravens 53-Man Roster Heading Into Preseason Opener
The next four preseason games will have a major impact on which bubble players make the Ravens' squad. The team must first to cut the roster down to 75 players by Aug. 30, then to 53 by Sept. 3.
"[T]he outlook of their 53-man roster remains muddled," The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "The injuries have complicated already difficult roster decisions. … Projecting the [roster] is a difficult proposition this early. We'll take a shot at it anyway."
Below are Zrebiec's predictions based off what he's seen so far in training camp and heading into tonight's preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers at M&T Bank Stadium:
Quarterbacks (2): Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett
Even though Zrebiec says Mallett has struggled this summer, he still sees Mallett with a "solid hold" on the backup spot. Also, no need to break tradition and keep more than two QBs at this point.
Running backs (5): Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Terrance West, Kyle Juszczyk (fullback)In this case, West has forced the Ravens to keep four tailbacks instead of their usual three as perhaps the most explosive back so far in camp. Speculation continues to swirl about Forsett not making the team because of the up-and-coming youngsters, but Zrebiec says the Ravens need his "leadership and steadiness." And, listening to Head Coach John Harbaugh this week, it doesn't sound like the 2014 Pro Bowler is going anywhere.
Wide receivers (6): Steve Smith Sr., Kamar Aiken, Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, Michael Campanaro, Chris MooreThe Ravens have kept seven receivers in the past, but with loaded running back and tight end (see below) groups, six should suffice. Injuries have complicated this position perhaps more than any other as Smith, Perriman, Campanaro and Moore have all missed significant time.
"Butler has played well enough to warrant a spot, but do the Ravens have an opening? Perriman starting the season on PUP would create one spot," wrote Zrebiec.
Tight ends (4): Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Dennis PittaThe suspensions for Darren Waller (four games) and Nick Boyle (10 games) make the initial decisions easier, but Harbaugh will have to figure out what to do with them in Week 5 and Week 11 when they are eligible to play again. "It's hard to imagine they would deny Pitta, whose comeback has been one of the best stories of the summer," wrote Zrebiec.
Offensive linemen (8): LT Ronnie Stanley, LG John Urschel, C Jeremy Zuttah, RG Marshal Yanda, RT Rick Wagner, G/C Ryan Jensen, G/T Alex Lewis, OT De'Ondre WesleyYou don't keep four running backs and tight ends without a roster crunch elsewhere, and Zrebiec is squeezing out an extra lineman. James Hurst started eight games at left tackle last year, but finds himself on the outside looking in, per Zrebiec. He gave the spot to Wesley instead, a "raw and talented prospect."
Defensive linemen (6): Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, Lawrence Guy, Brent Urban, Carl Davis, Willie HenryWith third-round pick Bronson Kaufusi's season-ending ankle injury, Zrebiec sees only one spot up for grabs between rookie Henry and Kapron Lewis-Moore. "[T]he organization hates walking away from draft picks early. However, Lewis-Moore has had a great start to training camp," wrote Zrebiec.
Outside linebackers (5): Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Albert McClellan, Za'Darius Smith, Matthew JudonThere's no major surprises here, but a popular undrafted rookie, Victor Ochi, doesn't make Zrebiec's cut, giving the final spot to fifth-rounder Judon instead. "The Ravens would love to keep Ochi, who plays with a nastiness and a high motor," Zrebiec wrote. "However, he could be caught in a number's game."
Inside linebackers (4): C.J. Mosley, Zachary Orr, Kamalei Correa, Anthony LevineThis leaves 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown missing the cut, opting instead to keep two players that show versatility. The rookie, Correa, can play both inside and outside linebacker. And Levine converted from safety, but his biggest value is on special teams. "The Ravens have a history of keeping rookie undrafted free agent linebackers, so Onwuasor has a shot," wrote Zrebiec.
Cornerbacks (6): Jimmy Smith, Shareece Wright, Jerraud Powers, Tavon Young, Will Davis, Maurice Canady
The top four listed seem to be a lock. Zrebiec gives the final two spots to Davis and rookie Canady, but that's not set in stone. "[Sheldon] Price is having the best camp of any of the four," Zrebiec wrote. Arrington, a veteran the Ravens signed last offseason, is Zrebiec's odd man out.
Safeties (4): Eric Weddle, Lardarius Webb, Kendrick Lewis, Terrence BrooksThere is really only one spot open for discussion here, and Zrebiec gives it to Brooks over 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam for now. "Brooks is building some momentum and starting to make some plays in camp. The battle between Brooks and Elam might come down to special teams," he wrote.
Specialists (3): K Justin Tucker, P Sam Koch, LS Morgan CoxSelf-explanatory.
Joe Flacco Ranked In ESPN's Second Tier Of Quarterbacks
It's time for another round of quarterback rankings, and maybe, just maybe,* *this one won't tick Ravens fans off as much as these lists typically do.
Maybe that's because this one is based off 42 league insiders instead of media buzz.
ESPN's Mike Sando polled 10 general managers, five head coaches, seven offensive coordinators, five defensive coordinators, eight personnel evaluators and seven other position coaches/executives and asked them to place 33 quarterbacks in one of five tiers:
Tier 1: Can carry his team each week. Team wins because of him.
Tier 2: Can carry team sometimes but not as consistently.
Tier 3: Legit starter but needs heavy run game/defense to win.
Tier 4: Might not want this guy starting all 16 games.
Tier 5: Do not think this guy should be starting.
The results are in, and the 42 league insiders ranked Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in Tier 2, meaning he can carry the team, but doesn't do it on a consistent basis like the Tier 1 quarterbacks. Only three made the top tier, including Tom Brady (ranked No. 1 overall), Aaron Rodgers (2) and Ben Roethlisberger (3).
Flacco (12) is joined by Cam Newton (4), Drew Brees (5), Russell Wilson (6), Andrew Luck (7), Phillip Rivers (8), Eli Manning (9), Carson Palmer (10), Tony Romo (11), Matt Ryan (13), Matthew Stafford (14) and Andy Dalton (15).
I think the tier Flacco was placed in is fair, but Ravens fans could certainly argue about his ranking among the Tier 2 quarterbacks. I would put him above Romo and Manning, for example.
Below are some of the league insiders' perspectives on Flacco. This is where Ravens fans might get a little upset …
"He is unbelievably physically gifted," an NFL coordinator told Sando. "He makes some throws that are unbelievable. But I don't think he processes things enough mentally to become a 1. I don't think he can lead a team or carry a team. He can take what is there, and if you give him help, he can be pretty good."
"Flacco has a little better arm and is a little more accurate than a Jameis Winston, but Jameis is not afraid of anything," an anonymous GM added. "Jameis is competitive and will stand in and deliver, where I think Flacco will see ghosts and get nervous and lose confidence. They have a lot of similar negative traits where they don't always go to the right spot, and lack some mobility."
Is Browns Rookie Corey Coleman The Next Steve Smith Sr.?
Well, as an AFC North rival, we certainly hope not.
Who wants to go against a Steve Smith Sr.-caliber player for years to come? Nobody in Baltimore.
"Corey Coleman is an incredible talent. He reminds me a lot of Steve Smith, which is in my opinion one of the top-three receivers to ever play the game of football," Browns receiver Andrew Hawkins told Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. "I've always been a huge Steve Smith fan. But he has a lot of that skill set. He has to work on some of his technique stuff, but his effort is what's special to me because a lot of time young guys, they don't always come in knowing that above all else, give effort."
At 5-foot-11 and 194 pounds, Coleman has a comparable build to Smith and is similarly explosive.
It's tough to compare a rookie, who hasn't even played in a real NFL game, to a 17-year veteran, but even Smith is buying into the notion.
Cam Newton Expected To Play Tonight
Coming off knee surgery this offseason, Harbaugh strongly implied Flacco won't play in tonight's preseason matchup against the NFC champion Carolina Panthers.
For the opponent, last year's NFL MVP is [expected to be on the field](Carolina Head Coach Ron Rivera said his), but not for more than a series, per The Sun.
"Shoot, if we come out and have a real good series to begin with, who knows,'' Rivera said Tuesday.
Hensley: Stanley's Fast Return Marks 'Big Change' From Last Year
We shouldn't let Stanley's fast return from an injury scare go unnoticed, and ESPN's Jamison Hensley isn't letting it.
The No. 6 overall pick only missed one day of practice with a soft-tissue injury, insisting it was "nothing." But even Harbaugh said injuries in the NFL can never be considered "nothing."
"This is significant for the Ravens, especially after what the team went through the past two seasons at that position," wrote Hensley. "Eugene Monroe missed 15 of the Ravens' last 32 regular-season games, and he chose not to play in an AFC divisional round game in New England after being cleared by doctors.
"The Ravens wanted a more durable blocker to protect Joe Flacco's blind side, and Stanley impressed team officials by how quickly he bounced back from his first injury."
Five Players To Watch In Preseason Opener
Thursday night's game is all about the younger players, per Harbaugh, so WNST's Luke Jones has five he's specifically interested in keeping an eye on:
RB Terrance West: "His performance to this point has likely dismissed pre-camp predictions that he would be on the roster bubble, but carrying over that success to preseason games would put West in the conversation to start."
LB Kamalei Correa: "The rookie second-round pick has brought athleticism and an edge to a group of Ravens linebackers that's been practicing without Suggs and Dumervil. Until recently, he looked like the clear favorite to start at the weak-side inside linebacker spot next to C.J. Mosley, but third-year linebacker Zach Orr is also competing for the job and has taken more starter reps over the last few practices."
OT Alex Lewis: "[I]t's clear that an upgrade is needed from top [left tackle] reserve James Hurst, who has been practicing more extensively at guard in recent practices. If Lewis can hold up to some reasonable degree against a tough Carolina front, the Ravens would feel a lot better about the prospects of him being Stanley's primary backup in 2016."
LB Za'Darius Smith: "He hasn't received a ton of press, but Smith could be one of the biggest keys for the Ravens defense in 2016."
WR Jeremy Butler: "Though more of a possession receiver, the 6-foot-2 Butler makes catches in traffic and has managed to stay on the field while the likes of Michael Campanaro, Chris Moore, Chris Matthews, and Breshad Perriman have missed time with injuries. Butler may lack the upside of some of the aforementioned names, but there's something to be said about being able to stay on the field and produce when jobs are clearly up for grabs."
In the video below, Michael Phelps credits Ray Lewis for helping him on his comeback journey to the Olympics.