53-Man Roster Shows Commitment to Youth
For years, the Ravens' roster has been headlined by household names. While that still holds true in many facets, this year's construction of the 53-man roster has shown a commitment to youth.
Overall, 10 rookies made the initial 53-man roster with quarterback Trace McSorley, running back Justice Hill, wide receivers Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin, offensive linemen Patrick Mekari and Ben Powers, linebackers Otaro Alaka and Jaylon Ferguson, defensive lineman Daylon Mack and cornerback Iman Marshall.
"The Ravens also continue to rebuild on the fly. Twenty-two guys on their roster are entering their first or second year," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote.
The Ravens' average roster age decreased from 26 to 25.9, according to The Philly Voice's Jimmy Kempski. While it doesn't seem like much, the Ravens had the 27th oldest roster in 2016 and have dropped 10 spots since.
"If there was an option between keeping a more experienced player or a younger guy at a position, and both played equally well, Baltimore chose the youth and potential," Ravens Wire's Matthew Stevens wrote.
"The Ravens don't just want to place good players around Jackson; they also want to form a young core that can ascend as the second-year QB does," Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz wrote. "So it's notable that Baltimore kept all eight of its draft picks plus two undrafted free agents on its 53-man roster. … To make the Ravens' future bright, these players must produce on the field. For now, we know the potential and the roster flexibility is there."
At wide receiver, veteran Michael Floyd was released despite coming on strong late in the preseason in favor of second-year wide receiver Jaleel Scott. He, along with Marquise "Hollywood" Brown and Miles Boykin, haven't caught a pass in the regular season, but the Ravens like what they have in their young receivers.
"The plan is almost opposite to what the Ravens did last year, when they signed a ready-made veteran receiving corps to pair with veteran quarterback Joe Flacco," The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker wrote. "But it makes sense for them to let their wideouts grow up with second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson.
"Jackson will have a pair of veteran slot receivers, Willie Snead IV and Seth Roberts, and three familiar tight ends as trusted targets. But when he looks long, he'll presumably look to the youth brigade.
Walker believes the wide receiver corps has the potential to be the best it's been since 2010-2011.
But perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the weekend in the eyes of pundits came when fourth-year defensive tackle Willie Henry was released, and the Ravens chose to keep just five defensive linemen, the fewest in five years, including fifth-round pick Mack.
The commitment to youth was also exemplified at inside linebacker and on the offensive line. Alaka was one of two undrafted rookies (Mekari) to make the 53-man roster and joins a list of successful undrafted linebackers in Baltimore, including teammates Patrick Onwuasor and Chris Board.
On the offensive line, Mekari and second-year tackle Greg Senat made the roster as the Ravens kept nine offensive linemen.
"Mekari, [Ben] Powers and [Bradley] Bozeman all factor into the left guard job and are the primary backups to Marshal Yanda," Stevens wrote. "Meanwhile, at tackle, it's James Hurst and Senat as the only backups for Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr.
"If the Ravens have a single injury on their starting lineup, they're likely going to be turning to a very young player with little to no starting experience. For a [team] that's expected the run the ball quite a lot this season while also trying to protect quarterback Lamar Jackson, that's a lot of faith."
Ravens Praised for 'Homegrown' Talent on 53-man Roster, Practice Squad
Along with a commitment to youth, the Ravens have been one of the best teams at drafting and developing their own talent. It's why they're considered to be one of the most well-respected front offices under former general manager Ozzie Newsome and now Eric DeCosta.
The Ravens rank just second behind the Bengals with the most "homegrown" players on their roster.
It's not a direct predictor of success, but six of the 10 teams listed made the playoffs in 2018, including the eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots.
All of the players signed to the practice squad in Baltimore were part of the Ravens' 90-man roster in the offseason, including notable names like wide receiver Antoine Wesley, defensive lineman Zach Sieler, and cornerback Maurice Canady.
It was also the players who didn't make the Ravens' 53-man roster that caught the attention of pundits, and opponents were quick to claim them off waivers.
Early Roster Cuts the Ravens Could Target
Even after 53-man rosters were finalized on Saturday, roster construction is just beginning. Teams around the league are shuffling pieces with a surplus of players hitting the open market.
"The question isn't about whether DeCosta is done maneuvering, it's about what he'll do next," Kasinitz wrote.
Stevens named three early roster cuts the Ravens could target, led by linebackers Brandon Marshall and Malik Jefferson.
Marshall was linked to the Ravens earlier in the offseason. Baltimore was reportedly interested in giving Marshall a long-term deal but wanted to wait until May so the signing wouldn't count against a compensatory pick.
Marshall ended up signing a one-year deal with the Oakland Raiders, and Stevens believes the Ravens could come calling again.
"Marshall might not be a three-down, starting-caliber linebacker any longer but can still be an impact player," Stevens wrote. "In 2018, Marshall accounted for 42 combined tackles over 11 games for the Broncos and compiled 106 total tackles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown in 2017. Though he only earned a 64.2 overall grade from Pro Football Focus last year, Marshall is entering his eighth season and has started 63 games."
Jefferson was waived by the Bengals in just his second season after totaling 10 tackles in 12 games as a rookie. Pundits considered Jefferson as one of the most athletic linebacker prospects in his draft class, and the 22-year-old could offer depth to a young core in Baltimore.
"Even if the Ravens didn't have Jefferson as highly rated on their draft boards, he plays a position of need for Baltimore and has special teams experience," Stevens wrote. "That could be an intriguing combination if they feel like they can develop him further."
Stevens also highlighted former Bengals offensive lineman John Jerry as a player the Ravens could target on the offensive line. Jerry is an experienced vet, having started 101 games in eight years, and Stevens pointed to his versatility as the main draw.
"While Jerry might not be a starting-quality lineman any longer, his experience and versatility at guard and tackle make him an attractive option as a depth piece," Stevens wrote.
Could a pair of former Ravens also peak interest? Linebacker Albert McClellan and wide receiver Torrey Smith were waived over the weekend.
The Ravens are expected to have money to work with. Russell Street Report's Brian McFarland noted that they will have around $10 million in cap space entering the season.
Sharp: Lamar Should Pass on First Down
Discussions continue to surround Lamar Jackson's development as a passer heading into his second season, but how can the Ravens utilize his best? Warren Sharp believes it's by throwing on first down.
"When [Jackson] throws the ball more often on first down, he's getting a defense that's playing the run," Sharp said. "And he can do more things with the passing game with a defense that's loaded up to stop him from running the football. That's when he needs to be throwing the football more."
According to Sharp, Jackson averaged higher yards per attempt (9.1) and passer rating (95.5) than the league average when throwing on first down. On second and third down, the success rate dropped significantly.
At the same time, the Ravens' run success was well above the league average on second and third down.
"I think [the Ravens] are going to come out and let him start games and start drives throwing the football a little bit more and that will open up the offense," Sharp said. "Then it will allow them to be balanced running the football."
The Ravens and the entire AFC North are developing some of the most captivating offensive experiments and running Backs Coach Matt Weiss told The Ringer's Kevin Clark the Ravens are hoping to innovate an offense like Tony Dungy did with the Cover-2 defense.
"Hopefully it's successful and people say, 'We're going to run the Ravens offense,' like people used to talk about the Tampa defense," Weiss told Clark. "I hope it opens the door for more athletic quarterbacks like Lamar."
And if you're wondering if Jackson's athleticism has opposing defensive coordinators on their toes – the answer is yes.
"Jackson is pretty fast. He's as fast as the corners," Bengals DC Lou Anarumo told Clark. "To say we've got one guy who can put his cape on and chase him, we're still working through that. To say that a safety or linebacker is going to track him down, we're still working through that."
- NBC Sports' Peter King didn't pick the Ravens to make the playoffs but thinks that could change because of Earl Thomas III. "If Thomas plays 16 games, that could well catapult Baltimore into the playoffs," King said. "He's a vital piece to the puzzle there."
- Zrebiec reported that safety Brynden Trawick is expected to be signed onto the 53-man roster in Baltimore once corresponding moves are made.