There are three certainties in life: death, taxes and the Baltimore Ravens finding gems in the undrafted free agency period.
Seemingly every year, the Ravens strike gold with at least one undrafted rookie, with the most recent find being wide receiver Marlon Brown.
Brown is just the latest example of a long line of recent success stories. In 2012, Baltimore’s Super Bowl run was aided by two undrafted rookies, kicker Justin Tucker and wide receiver Deonte Thompson. Tucker may turn out to be Baltimore’s best undrafted free agent signing in franchise history sooner than later, as he has already asserted himself as one of the NFL’s premier kickers.
The Ravens have also had success at the linebacker position during the post-draft period, scooping up Bart Scott, Dannell Ellerbe, Jameel McClain and Josh Bynes.
History tells us that this year won’t be any different, and that the team will likely find at least one quality player who will make the team and (likely) make an impact. Baltimore has already signed 17 undrafted free agents and there are some intriguing names to keep an eye on.
Which undrafted rookies have the best chance to be Baltimore’s next great success story?
Avery Patterson, safety/cornerback, Oregon
Not only is it a mystery as to why Patterson didn’t get drafted, but the fact he didn’t even receive an invite to the NFL scouting combine is just as puzzling. A former cornerback, Patterson converted to safety, and was more than a draftable talent for the Oregon Ducks in 2013.
With his cornerback background, his best bet to make Baltimore’s roster may be to prove himself in that aspect, where both the team’s third corner job and overall depth at the position are lacking. His versatility to play both positions, though, certainly helps his cause. But what helps his roster chances the most is the fact that he’s just a flat out good player.
His cornerback skill set allowed him to cover one-on-one in the slot for Oregon last year, but his inherent instincts also aided him en route to developing into an impactful safety. His playmaking ability on the back end was on display on several occasions during his senior season, culminating with his best play of the season in Oregon’s bowl game against Texas.
Does that remind anyone of Ed Reed?
Patterson shows those flashes, and obviously he’s an unfinished product as he’s still transitioning to safety (although that may not be where Baltimore plays him), but he’s an intriguing player to say the least. While he has the back end centerfielding ability shown above, Patterson’s feel for the field also allows him to play full speed when closing in on what’s in front of him.
For an undrafted free agent, there isn’t one glaring flaw to Patterson’s game. He’s an instinctive player with range and experience at both aspects of the secondary. He has the talent to stick in the NFL, and with openings at both safety and cornerback in Baltimore, the opportunity is there for Patterson to make the roster.
Xavius Boyd, linebacker, Western Kentucky
Overshadowed by fellow Western Kentucky linebacker Andrew Jackson, a sixth-round pick by the Indianapolis Colts, Boyd enters the NFL with just as decorated of a career, and perhaps a better skill set.
The 2013 Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year capped off his college career with a senior performance that included 16.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and 103 total tackles. His best fit in the NFL would be as a weakside outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense, but in Baltimore’s base 3-4, he’ll have to stick at inside linebacker. Boyd’s game is quite similar to current Ravens linebacker Arthur Brown: ideal 4-3 outside linebackers who are athletic enough to cover and take on the seek-and-destroy role when the play comes to their side.
Boyd, like Brown, can make an impact in space, and his athleticism could open up the opportunity for him to make the team as a special teamer, as Baltimore’s inside linebacker corps is a fairly crowded bunch at the moment.
James Hurst, offensive tackle, North Carolina
Once considered a draftable talent, a leg break suffered in North Carolina’s bowl game didn’t help Hurst’s cause during the draft process, as he missed out on the scouting combine.
Hurst, though, has some noteworthy qualities to his game, including the fact that he was a four-year starter at left tackle for the Tar Heels. He’s a physical, play-to-the-whistle run blocker with average pass blocking skills.
For a guy with as much experience as Hurst, he still struggles to sink his weight back off the snap, and can get caught leaning and off balance when facing quicker pass rushers (i.e. the #1 overall pick in this year’s draft).
When Hurst does grab a hold of the defender and gets the advantage, his gritty style takes over and he plays physical through the whistle. He can move fairly well in space, and the mean streak he shows on occasion is a quality to build on.
Perhaps the best thing going for him right now is Baltimore’s shaky tackle situation. Ricky Wagner is currently slated to be Baltimore’s starting right tackle, which leaves no proven backup tackles on the roster. That could open the door for Hurst, who won’t be facing much rookie competition, as Baltimore’s only draft pick used on an offensive lineman was for interior player John Urschel.
There isn’t one glaring intriguing quality to his game, and Hurst looks extra average for the majority of games. But he’s facing a favorable numbers game, one that currently gives him an inside track to a roster spot.