Fierce Wide Receiver Competition is Different Than in Years Past
The race for the Ravens’ available wide receiver roster spots is heating up, and is unlike previous preseason competitions, says The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec.
“It seems that every year, one of the prevailing topics heading into Ravens’ training camp is the roster competition at wide receiver,” Zrebiec wrote. “Then, at least in recent years, that perceived depth at the position fades throughout the summer due to injuries and poor preseason performance. We’re nowhere near that point now.”
Zrebiec sees veteran free agent acquisitions Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead IV and John Brown as locks to make the roster, with Chris Moore taking another spot. With other positions having big needs, Zrebiec thinks “keeping seven receivers seems like a stretch,” which means the other receivers in camp are essentially competing for one or two openings.
There’s a lot of football to be played, but Zrebiec is currently giving the edge to Tim White and rookie fifth-round pick Jordan Lasley.
“Both are helped by an ability to play special teams,” Zrebiec wrote.
Many media members believe White was having an excellent training camp, but “he’s now dealing with an undisclosed injury.” This isn’t a first for White; last year he looked like a favorite to make the 53-man roster before suffering a season-ending thumb injury.
His injury opens the door for another receiver to up his stock, and WNST’S Luke Jones thinks it could be undrafted rookie Janarion Grant.
“The Rutgers product flashes ability and made a spectacular cut on a punt return against the Rams on Tuesday,” Jones wrote.
Lasley, meanwhile, has caught the attention of a few media members. Zrebiec noted that Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg “is extremely pleased with how hard Lasley is working at special teams and believes he’ll become a quality contributor in that area.”
PennLive’s Aaron Kasinitz wrote “He's been steadily productive, showing off sharp route-running skills in practice and earning first-team repetitions.”
Meanwhile, Zrebiec listed Breshad Perriman among his “five falling,” Ravens.
“The much-maligned former first-round pick has actually had a few strong practices in recent days,” Zrebiec wrote. “But he’s going to be judged by what he does in the games, and against the Bears, he allowed another pass to clank off his hands and get intercepted. He has such a slim margin of error to make the team at this point.”
Though some media members think there’s early favorites to win those final spots, Zrebiec points out that “the coaching staff would like to see more from several other pass catchers so that they have harder decisions to make.”
Indeed, something Zrebiec makes clear is that many of these receivers have had excellent moments throughout training camp, but they’ve also had plays they want back, too. Consistency could be the key to one or more of them distancing themselves from the rest of the pack.
Zrebiec didn’t think any receiver truly stood out in the preseason opener against the Bears. That makes the next few weeks crucial.
“These next two weeks, which will include games against the Los Angeles Rams and Indianapolis Colts and joint practices with the Colts, would be an ideal time for a couple of the receivers on the bubble to step forward,” he wrote.
Good Morning Football’s Ravens Road to Recovery
The NFL Network’s Good Morning Football crew focused on the Ravens in their “Road to Recovery” feature. It turned into a lively discussion about how Baltimore can improve its chance of making the postseason.
“We need to get them back to those days where they were in the playoffs every year,” Kyle Brandt said. “The team you did not want to see in January was Baltimore.”
The show’s four pundits each picked an area where they’d like to see the Ravens improve.
Both Nate Burleson and Peter Schrager looked at the defense. For Burleson, it’s essential that it get back to “being a dominant defense. I’m talking top three, where they’re nasty and can win games.”
As Burleson points out, the Ravens defense ranked 24th in the league (in points per game) three years ago, but were sixth last season. He didn’t mention that they also led the NFL in turnovers.
Schrager thinks the Ravens defense is already a top-tier unit, but wants to see it close out big games more effectively, which was something he referred to as “very unRavens-like.” It’s something the Ravens know they struggled with in 2017 (fourth-and-12 is all that needs to be said), and has been a point of emphasis throughout the offseason.
“We led the league in turnovers, and it didn’t show in the win-loss column because we gave up some fourth quarter leads,” safety Eric Weddle said. “When it gets tough and you’re tired, that’s when you’ve got to concentrate even more.”
Brandt and Kay Adams turned their focus to the offense. Adams looked at the quarterback situation, particularly Joe Flacco.
“I want to see the things I’m hearing about Joe Flacco play out onto the field throughout the rest of the preseason, and of course into the regular season,” Adams said.
Adams also touched on Baltimore’s two other quarterbacks, Lamar Jackson and Robert Griffin III. She hopes the Ravens have plans to get Jackson involved during regular season games, and also thinks keeping Griffin III as “an insurance policy” would be beneficial.
“I’m not really worried about the quarterback competition, I’m just excited to see how it plays out,” Adams said.
Brandt thinks the Ravens need to generate more big plays than they did in 2017. He noted that Baltimore’s longest touchdown last season was just 48 yards.
“You can’t consistently win in the NFL if you can’t have a one or two-play drive every now and then,” Brandt said.
“Brown is a guy you can just send, and Flacco can reach him” Schrager said. “He’s one of the only quarterbacks who can.”
Bleacher Report Selects Marlon Humphrey as Baltimore’s ‘Next Big Thing’
Bleacher Report’s Brad Gagnon picked every NFL team’s “next big thing,” and cornerback Marlon Humphrey was his selection for the Ravens.
After a rookie season in which he ranked “in the top 10 among qualified corners with an opposing passer rating of 46.7 and catch rate of 45.3 during the final seven weeks of the regular season,” Gagnon thinks Humphrey is just getting started.
“What's scary is he has a lot of room to improve,” Gagnon wrote. “The man just turned 22 this summer.”
Indeed, Humphrey’s first year in purple and black has a lot of Ravens fans excited to see what he can do his sophomore season.
Humphrey started his rookie campaign well, then took his play to another level after Jimmy Smith’s season-ending Achilles injury. Quarterbacks that threw at him finished the season with a 53.5 passer rating. That he did so well after his role within the defense expanded is also cause for optimism, according to Baltimore Beatdown’s Jacob Louque.
“He displayed tremendous one-on-one ability and seemed comfortable with a heavy workload, which should translate well into a consistent career,” Louque wrote.
Burleson also sees him as one of the NFL’s top young corners and thinks Humphrey will have to take the next step if the Ravens want to make the playoffs.
“Do you know who led the league in lowest completion percentage? Marlon Humphrey,” Burleson said.
Lamar Jackson Takes Leap Into Fashion World
Lamar Jackson has expanded his brand by launching an apparel line called Era 8.
The company “sells shirts, hoodies, hats, socks, smartphone cases and other items that feature phrases and logos, including The Leapmode logo, which showcases Jackson hurdling a defender, and his trademarked ‘Forever Dreamers’ motto,” Baltimore Business Journal’s Marty Finley wrote.
It features apparel for men, women and children.
The launch of Era 8 appears to be a success, as several of the company’s hoodies have already sold out. I suspect a few of those customers are Ravens fans, and I fully expect to see Era 8 apparel in M&T Bank Stadium throughout the 2018 season.
- Jeff Zrebiec weighed in on how recently reinstated tight end Darren Waller could factor into the Ravens’ plans this season. Something that helps Waller’s case of staying in Baltimore is that he still has practice squad eligibility. Putting him on the practice squad “would allow Waller to get re-acclimated and give the Ravens an opportunity to further evaluate a player who clearly has talent and the necessary physical attributes.”
- Zrebiec also touched on the Ravens’ pursuit of free agent cornerback Bashaud Breeland, saying that his recent visit “went well by all accounts, but Breeland has been looking for a far bigger contract than the Ravens have been willing to pay to this point.”
- NFL.com’s Dan Hanzus highlighted players “who have earned repeated acclaim from teammates, coaches and/or the media this summer,” referring to them as “Training Camp Optimism All-Stars.” Three Ravens made it: Joe Flacco, John Brown and C.J. Mosley
- The Ringer’s Danny Kelly compiled a list of must-watch NFL preseason games. Two of Baltimore’s contests made the list: tonight’s matchup against the Rams, and the (essentially) annual game against the Redskins on August 30.
- Sporting News’ Christian Shimabuku ranked every NFL team’s uniforms. Shimabuku wasn’t a big fan of Baltimore’s purple and black, which came in at No. 20. “The Ravens do a nice job balancing their colors, but there isn't anything special about their uniforms.” I’m going to chalk this up to slight bias against the color purple because the Minnesota Vikings weren’t rated favorably either at No. 21.