Big Week Looms for Bubble Players
While most people will be enjoying the start of their Labor Day weekend on Friday, there are plenty of Ravens who will probably be struggling to fall asleep that night.
By 4 p.m. on Saturday, the Ravens will have to turn in their 53-man roster to league officials. That leaves just a few more practices and one preseason contest for players to state their case for making the team.
A majority of the slots on the roster can already be filled in. There are also some players who are long shots to make the team.
In the middle are the players on the bubble, the ones who pundits believe could or could not make the team. Below, we'll take a look at a few of those guys, and what their case is to make Baltimore's 53-man squad.
QB Robert Griffin III: It's virtually impossible to have a conversation about players on the bubble without mentioning Griffin. As PressBox’s Glenn Clark noted, "Throughout the past week I've listened to fans, local pundits and a stunning number of national talking heads debate whether the Ravens should keep Griffin on their final roster."
Clark ultimately believes the Ravens should not keep Griffin. To him, if quarterback Joe Flacco gets hurt, it'd be in the organization's best interest to insert Lamar Jackson into the starting lineup and get an extended look at how he does during regular-season games.
"If they didn't believe he was capable of at least winning games in a pinch during his rookie season, the first round was probably too early to select him," Clark wrote.
On the other end of the spectrum, Ebony Bird’s Nicholas Gardner believes it's imperative that the Ravens hold onto Griffin.
"He's a highly mobile QB who won't force high-risk throws and will opt to moving the chains instead of taking the deep shot," Gardner wrote.
WRs Tim White and Janarion Grant: Much like Griffin, there's been a lot of focus on who will make the Ravens' roster as a wide receiver and return specialist, with White and Grant being the main contenders for the job.
White helped himself by leading the Ravens with 70 yards receiving on three catches against Miami.
"If White can get more opportunities on special teams and prove that he can be as dynamic as he was in college, coupled with his potential at receiver, then he definitely deserves a roster spot," Gardner said.
Grant also has plenty of supporters, including PressBox’s Bo Smolka, who firmly believes Grant is in the driver's seat for the return specialist job after fielding the bulk of kickoffs and punts against Miami.
"Most notably, Grant didn't fumble," Smolka wrote. "Even more telling, Grant appeared on the opening series with the second group of wide receivers, and although White led all Ravens receivers with three catches for 70 yards, he didn't appear on offense until the second half."
DTs Zach Sieler and Carl Davis: There's a lot of momentum backing Sieler, and plenty of pundits have the rookie seventh-round selection making the 53-man squad as the final defensive lineman. It would be a tremendous achievement for Sieler, who walked on to his college team at Ferris State.
"He's a monster on the inside, with the ability to play either nose tackle or defensive tackle," Gardner wrote. "He has a very real chance to join Brandon Williams and Willie Henry as breakout stars along the Ravens defensive line."
The knock against Sieler is his experience when compared to defensive linemen like Carl Davis, who many believe he is competing against. A third-round pick from 2015, Davis has been solid thus far in his career with 30 tackles, and has continued to play well during the preseason.
Both Sieler and Davis have seen their chances of making the team enhanced by the absence of Henry, who will miss a few weeks after having surgery to repair an umbilical hernia.
OL Bradley Bozeman and Jermaine Eluemunor: Bozeman has come on strong in recent weeks as the Ravens have been trying to figure out who their reserve offensive linemen will be. Gardner believes Bozeman is "Solid. He's not going to wow you with athletic ability or put up eye popping numbers during a workout, but at 6'5" 315-lbs., Bozeman gets the job done."
Russell Street Report’s Ken McKusick is also a fan of Bozeman, but thinks "he's looked ponderous when zone blocking."
Eluemunor, meanwhile, has struggled at times during the preseason, but would bring the most experience to the reserve offensive lineman role. His eight NFL games played is far more than those of who he is competing against. Primarily a guard, he has played at multiple positions throughout the preseason, showing his potential versatility. He's even stepped in at left tackle recently.
NFL Executives Point to Ravens' Biggest Weakness
ESPN’s Mike Sando spoke with a variety of NFL executives about the biggest weakness of each team in the league. When it came time to talk about the Ravens, the NFL executives felt the team should be worried about being able to score points when playing against top competition.
"Consistency on offense is the biggest weakness I see," an unnamed NFL executive said. "They can grind out games with their defense and run game if Joe Flacco doesn't turn it over, but when they play the better teams -- and they do play the NFC South this year -- they could be exposed. Will they have enough consistency from their receivers and tight ends?"
It's a fair question to ask.
While there is a lot of optimism surrounding the health of Flacco and the revamped receiving corps featuring wide receivers Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead IV, as well as rookie tight end Hayden Hurst (who will now miss the start of the season via foot surgery), there is still uncertainty. The group has only played together during practices and preseason games – how they'll do during a regular season NFL game remains to be seen.
"The worry: Not having the quarterback or weaponry to keep pace against the league's best," Sando wrote.
One reason to feel encouraged is how the passing attack did during the second half of last season. For all the frustrations that were associated with how the unit did in 2017, the Ravens still scored the ninth-most points in the NFL.
That actually ranks better than three of the NFC South teams the executive highlighted as potentially troubling for the Ravens. New Orleans finished with the No. 4 most prolific scoring team in the league – the Carolina Panthers (No. 12), Atlanta Falcons (No. 15) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 18) were all behind Baltimore.
This year's Ravens group appears to be light years ahead of where the passing attack was last year, when Flacco was still recovering from a back injury, and the unit struggled through much of the preseason to build chemistry.
The group should also excel due to the presence of Crabtree, who has been a touchdown machine throughout his career. His 25 touchdowns over the past three seasons ranks up there with the best in the league. Even last season when he finished with 618 yards receiving, the second lowest amount for a season in his career, Crabtree still managed to score eight touchdowns.
The Ravens were the ninth most efficient offense in the red zone in 2017, according to TeamRankings. They should be even better with Crabtree in the fold.
NFL Kicking Crown Is Firmly Atop Justin Tucker's Head
Even when compared to the best active kickers in the NFL, Justin Tucker still ranks high, according to Baltimore Beatdown’s Kyle Barber.
In light of the Pittsburgh Steelers signing kicker Chris Boswell to a four-year extension, Barber decided to take a look at how Tucker and Boswell compare to the other perceived best legs in the NFL: Indianapolis Colts' Adam Vinateri and Dallas Cowboys' Dan Bailey.
"All four kickers are incredible," Barber wrote. "Though this may read like I'm knocking down those not named Tucker, this sheds light on the incredible performances in comparison to these great kickers."
Barber noticed that after Boswell's next five kicks, he will have taken 100 career kicks which is the minimum to considered for the most accurate kicker in league history. His current numbers suggest he will be towards the top of that list with Tucker, Bailey and Vinateri.
Barber decided to look at not just the sheer number of attempts each kicker has converted, but also the difficulty of their kicks. He focused on a variety of measurements, including average completion distance, average miss distance, the percentage of where their attempts happen and their completion percentage from different ranges. In nearly every comparison, Tucker comes away in first place.
"Tucker is not only the most accurate kicker in NFL history, he's doing this from further distances than anybody else," Barber wrote.
The distance of his misses (not counting kicks that have been blocked) is quite astounding. Tucker is the only one who surpasses 50 yards (50.8), while Bailey comes in a distant second at 47.3.
"When he misses a kick it's due to ridiculous distance attempts," Barber wrote.
Tucker has missed all of his field goals from distance this preseason, however. He missed from 51 yards out against Miami, leaving Tucker at 0-for-4 in the preseason on attempts from more than 50 yards.
Though he isn't in mid-season form, there's no need to panic. It takes time for players to get back into the swing of things, kickers included. As Barber's data shows, Tucker has more than earned the benefit of the doubt.
Alex Lewis Earning Rave Reviews
Left guard Alex Lewis was among the best offensive linemen in the NFL during Week 3 of the preseason, according to Pro Football Focus’s Gordon McGuinness. He was the lone Raven selected to McGuinness' team after scoring a 77.5 against the Dolphins.
"Lewis started at left guard for the Ravens and didn't allow a single sack, hit or hurry from 23 pass-blocking snaps, giving him a perfect 100.0 pass blocking efficiency rating also," McGuinness wrote.
Lewis also rated favorably when compared to his fellow Ravens on offense. He finished fourth among Baltimore's offense per PFF's scoring system, trailing only wide receiver Tim White, and quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Josh Woodrum.
"Lewis has looked comfortable in pass protection so far this preseason, with just one sack allowed from 66 pass-blocking snaps," McGuinness wrote.
Lewis also caught the eye of Russell Street Report’s Ken McKusick during the Miami game, who wrote, "He was simply outstanding."
McKusick gave Lewis an "A" for his showing against the Dolphins. He was particularly encouraged by what Lewis did during a 16-yard reception by Kenneth Dixon. To McKusick, it was a play that was reminiscent of what made the Ravens so excited about Lewis' potential during his rookie season.
"He again upended [Kiko] Alonso in level 2 with a cut block to help start Dixon on his impressive 16-yard screen reception," McKusick wrote. "Alex immediately got up to block DT Vincent Taylor several yards in level 2 as Dixon continued to break tackles. Preseason game or not, that's a show-your-grandkids effort.
"In his rookie season, what impressed me most about Lewis' game was his ability to select and line up blocks quickly in level 2. Based on 37 snaps of legitimate NFL competition, he's still got it."