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Late for Work 8/26: Evaluating the Chances of Keeping Undrafted Rookie Streak Alive


Could the Undrafted Rookie Streak End?

At least one undrafted rookie has made the 53-man roster in Baltimore for 15 straight seasons, and by 4 p.m. on Saturday, General Manager Eric DeCosta and his staff will determine if the streak will continue.

The Ravens are considered one of the top teams when it comes to evaluating and finding undrafted talent, but could the streak be in jeopardy?

"This year, though, there's no undrafted rookie whose anything close to a roster lock," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "In fact, with just a week left in the preseason, all of them appear to be on the wrong side of the bubble."

Ahead of Thursday night's preseason finale against the Washington Redskins, Zrebiec looked at which undrafted rookies are trending up, down, or status quo.

Trending Up: LB Otaro Alaka

Alaka emerged during the second preseason game against the Green Bay Packers after starter Chris Board suffered a concussion. With Paul Worrilow's unexpected departure one day after signing with the Ravens, Alaka, a Texas A&M product, will make his case to be the fourth inside linebacker.

"The undrafted rookie free agent got an extended look against the Eagles and didn't really stand out," Zrebiec wrote. "But if the Ravens decide to keep four natural inside linebackers, Alaka is the most logical choice to get that final spot."

Trending Down: WR Antoine Wesley and DL Gerald Willis

Two of the undrafted rookies who received the most attention heading into the offseason could be on the outside looking in, according to Zrebiec. That's not to say either player won't make the roster, but they'll hope to use this week to boost their stocks.

The decision to keep five or six wide receivers remains a hot topic of conversation and Zrebiec considers Willie Snead IV, Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, and Miles Boykin to be locks. Zrebiec noted that Wesley will be a candidate for the practice squad if he doesn't make the 53-man roster.

"Wesley had a great start to camp, but he tailed off as the summer went on and he hasn't been all that impactful in the preseason," Zrebiec wrote. "He's certainly behind Scott and he's probably behind veteran Michael Floyd, too."

Willis was highly-regarded as a mid-round talent coming out of Miami but has "never really picked up steam," wrote Zrebiec. He continues to be sidelined with a calf injury and the defensive line is deep with talent.

Status Quo: OL Patrick Mekari

Despite falling under this category, Zrebiec called Mekari one of the "favorites" to keep the undrafted streak alive. Mekari earned first-team reps during practice in the early portions of the preseason, and the Ravens have a track record finding undrafted talent on the offensive line.

Mekari shined as one of the best rookie pass blockers in the preseason, according to Pro Football Focus, but Zrebiec believes his best chance at making the roster will be to beat out teammate Bradley Bozeman or make it as the ninth offensive lineman.

Brandon Carr Tabbed as the Favorite to Start at Slot Corner

With Tavon Young's season likely over, the Ravens are tasked with replacing one of the league's top slot cornerbacks. Head Coach John Harbaugh said the defense will use a committee of players in Young's absence, but Pro Football Focus tabbed Brandon Carr as the top candidate to take over in the slot.

"While Carr has been predominantly a boundary cornerback throughout his career, he did see a career-high 242 snaps in the slot, including the playoffs, in 2018," PFF wrote. "All told, 135 of those snaps came on passing plays, with Carr allowing just 13 receptions and 1.33 yards per coverage snap when lined up in the slot."

According to PFF, Carr lined up in the slot or in the box on nine of the first 12 defensive snaps against the Eagles last Thursday. The veteran cornerback didn't allow a touchdown in coverage last season and is as reliable as they come.

"He wasn't out there for long but the veteran cornerback demonstrated he may be the best man for the slot cornerback gig come the regular season," Baltimore Beatdown’s Kyle Barber wrote.

Moving Carr to the slot allows the Ravens to have their top three cornerbacks on the field at the same time. Marlon Humphrey and Jimmy Smith can lock down the boundary while Carr mans the inside.

"Carr has also played in the slot for Baltimore and has even taken snaps at safety in practice this offseason," Baltimore Beatdown’s Dustin Cox wrote. "His versatility is vital for filling the shoes of one of the NFL's best slot cornerbacks."

Other players who could rotate in the slot this season include Cyrus Jones, Anthony Averett, Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott.

Success of Ravens' Pass-Catchers Rides on 'Potential'

Only two wide receivers on the Ravens roster caught regular-season passes from Lamar Jackson last year (Snead and Chris Moore), so it's not surprising to see pundits question the pass-catching corps in Baltimore.

The Ringer’s Danny Heifetz is among them, and ranked the Ravens' pass-catchers the 27th best group in the NFL, but noted the success rides on "potential."

"This group is all potential, but potential is just another way to say someone hasn't done anything yet," Heifetz wrote. "The 26-year-old Snead is underrated bordering on forgotten, but he's miscast as a No. 1 option. Hollywood Brown, the first receiver taken in the draft this year, has been compared to DeSean Jackon, but a foot injury could limit his effectiveness early in the season. Miles Boykin, the Ravens' other rookie receiver, performed well at camp. Andrews had the best rapport of anyone with Lamar Jackson last year and has continued that this offseason."

The Ravens are truly a unique case because of the scheme developing under Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman. Michael Crabtree and John Brown, two of the leading receivers from last season,[add] are gone, but tight ends are expected to be a focal point of the offense.

"I won't at all be surprised if Andrews winds up leading the team in receiving yards," Sports Illustrated’s MMQB staff wrote. "That's no knock on Snead and others, but Andrews and Jackson have a clear connection already."

Perhaps the most exciting wide receiver in Baltimore made his debut against the Eagles. Brown took the field for the first time and caught three passes for 17 yards.

It wasn't about the box score for Brown, but rather a major step in his recovery from a Lisfranc injury, and the rookie receiver impressed pundits with his movement on the field.

"This is the one play I thought Brown showed a flash of what he was at Oklahoma for two straight years," NFL Network's Brian Baldinger said. "[Eagles cornerback] Sidney Jones comes up to press him at the line of scrimmage, and he's going to run this go route … Now watch him just explode past Jones."

Baltimore Beatdown’s Adrian Charchalis doesn't doubt Brown will provide an early impact during his rookie season.

"Despite Brown making a few catches for minimal gains, he played extremely well for a rookie that only recently began practicing in full contact," Charchalis wrote. "... Brown's promising performance should be a sign for things to come; once he begins to develop a stronger rapport with Jackson, Brown will be immediately impactful."

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