Positional Overview: Safety
The Ravens were in dire straits at the safety position a little more than a calendar year ago. In no particular order…Darian Stewart left in free agency and has flourished with the Broncos; Will Hill was suspended again and eventually released; Matt Elam and Terrance Brooks did…well, not very much and neither is on the roster.
Let’s take a look at the roster as it currently stands…
- Eric Weddle
- Tony Jefferson
- Anthony Levine
Unrestricted free agents
- Marqueston Huff-Signed with the Kansas City Chiefs
- Matt Elam
- Range and athleticism
- Trustworthy 3rd Safety
- Special teams impact
With the addition of Jefferson, the Ravens essentially upgraded two positions at once. Jefferson is bigger and stronger and more suited for a role in the box. He’s also shown plus ability as a blitzer and matching up with tight ends. Weddle playing more centerfield represents an upgrade over Lardarius Webb from last season. Even at 32, his instincts allow him to make plays on the back end. How they are deployed within Dean Pees’ defense will be fascinating, but I’d imagine this will be their primary roles.
Special teams standout Anthony Levine returns on a 3-year extension. He’s terrific in that role but I’ve always wondered what he could do with more of a role on defense. In 2014 when the Ravens were decimated by injury at corner, he filled in a played admirably. In training camp last year, he took reps at inside linebacker but it never materialized into many regular season snaps. The Ravens may not want to put too much on his plate outside of special teams, but with the turnover at safety maybe he could carve out a role as a dime defender. I stand proudly with Ken McKusick on the #dimecampaign
The Ravens now have to turn their sights on depth at the position. Finding an heir apparent to Eric Weddle should be a priority. Preferably a player with range and ball skills, two traits the team is still sorely lacking. They also need to add someone who can contribute on special teams after losing Marqueston Huff in free agency.
Free agent options
Jairus Byrd: Despite his healthy 2016 season the Saints released Byrd as his cap number was just too high for them to stomach. Even with the presence of Vonn Bell and Kenny Vacarro, Byrd was a near full time player in the Saints 3 safety defense. He showed he still had some of the range and playmaking ability that got him that massive free agent deal back in 2014. In a more scaled back role around a more established defense Byrd might be a fit as a 3rd safety.
Corey Graham: Graham left the Ravens after the 2013 season as a corner but over the last couple seasons he transitioned to safety. Like Byrd, Graham could probably benefit from a change of scenery with more stable surroundings on defense. Graham could also play a 3rd safety role while offering some slot defender versatility.
Lardarius Webb: Is it possible an old friend returns? Obviously, he knows the scheme, he’d offer slot corner versatility and he had a bounce back of sorts in his play during the 2nd half of last season. Like the previous two players mentioned he’d give the team a more trustworthy 3rd safety option than they’ve had in previous years.
Malik Hooker, FS Ohio State: Hooker brings an abundance of range and ball skills. He’s a true centerfielder who’s shown the ability to not only make plays on the ball, but to create points from turnovers. Weddle and Jefferson’s contracts make a first round safety unlikely but Hooker could be a unique case. We’ve seen him mocked as high as 5th overall, and although he’s consensus top 10 prospect in this draft, it’s not impossible for him to be available at 16. Safety isn’t a position that yields too many top 10 picks.
Projection: 1st Round
Marcus Williams, FS Arizona State: If 16 overall is too rich for the Ravens to take a safety, Williams offers a facsimile of Hooker’s skills. He’s not nearly as electric as Hooker but he does have the range, ball skills, length and leaping ability (43.5 vertical at the combine) to make plays on the back end of a defense.
Projection: 2nd Round
Xavier Woods, FS Louisiana Tech: Average size but makes up for it with versatility and attitude. His sturdy frame serves him well in the running game. He’s physical and takes good angles to the ball. As a pass defender, he can play either safety spot as well as come down and play the slot. Has the change of direction skills to mirror receivers and the range to make plays from centerfield. He’ll also contribute on special teams from day one. This could be the sweet spot for a safety to groom behind Weddle.
Projection: 4th round
Tedric Thompson, FS Colorado: Thompson lined up as a split safety, single high and in the slot for the Buffaloes. He’s another guy who has range and athleticism to make plays in centerfield. Willing as a run defender but the results are mixed. His biggest strength is his knack for making plays on the ball. Another guy who could start off as a 3rd safety and develop into Weddle’s successor.
Projection: 4th round