Midseason Roster Evaluation – Defense

Filmstudy Midseason Roster Evaluation – Defense

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It’s the bye week (er, was) and thus time to take stock of the Ravens roster again.

I like to split the roster into 5 qualitative categories relative to the ultimate master, the salary cap.

Young Producers

Marlon Humphrey, Matthew Judon, Michael Pierce, Za’Darius Smith, Chris Wormley, Tavon Young

These are players on their first contract who are already starting (or should be) and are playing well. A team needs as many of these players as possible to continually outperform the salary cap.

On both a snaps and productivity basis, the most significant contributors are Humphrey (played 64.7% of snaps), Judon (63.6%), Za’Darius Smith (64.5%), and Tavon Young (69.9%). Pierce has played well in limited snaps to date this season (30.8%), but I expect his snap percentage to increase with more pass rush usage as well as consistent game day availability. Chris Wormley (42.0%) rounds out the list and would play more for other teams without the same DL depth. He’ll have an increased role next season if Urban departs.

Smith is the only UFA in this group entering 2019. He should be a priority to re-sign, but he won’t come cheap.

I had to drop Maurice Canady and Willie Henry from this group due to their respective injuries, but both may well be on the list of young producers prior to next season.

Kenny Young pulls down Emmanuel Sanders.

Developmental

Anthony Averett, Tyus Bowser, Maurice Canady, Chuck Clark, Deshon Elliott, Willie Henry, Patrick Onwuasor, Patrick Ricard, Zach Sieler, Tim Williams, Kenny Young

These players are all still on their rookie deals, but something is holding them back from consistent performance, a starting role, or both. We hope that most, if not all, of these players will emerge to be young producers quickly. In truth, some are running out of time to do so. Since this group is both critical and crowded, let’s take a look individually to see why I have tagged them as I have and what each needs to do to move up:

— Averett: He may be the most important of the developmental players. Despite just 19 snaps so far in 2018, he projects to a possible starting corner spot in 2019 or the top backup at all 3 positions.

— Bowser: Tyus has played a lower percentage of defensive snaps (14.1%) then he did as a rookie (15.1%). He’ll have an opportunity to step forward if both Suggs and Za’Darius Smith are lost after 2018, but he will be competing with other young players who can rush the passer. What’s most disappointing to me is that Bowser has not found a niche as a specialist that takes advantage of the coverage and pass rush skills he displayed as a rookie.  

— Canady: He has not seen action since the opener against the Bills (10 snaps). His ability to step in as the nickel was unexpected and invaluable to the Ravens despite the way the season was eventually lost. He’ll be an UFA after next season and projects as either the #4 or #5 cornerback. The Ravens may try to extend him beyond 2019 if they can come to an agreement that makes sense to both sides.

— Clark: He’s played more snaps this season (76, 13.4%) than in 16 games last year (50). He’s been used as the dime occasionally and more frequently as the big nickel. Perhaps his most intriguing usage has been as a quarter when the Ravens have inserted a racecar package to go with 7 DBs. If Mosley is not here in 2019, the quarter could see additional usage with a signal caller at safety.

— Elliott: The loss of Deshon in the preseason was a big developmental loss for the team. He may be the best option to replace Weddle in 2019, but the lack of live fire will make the decision tougher. We still don’t know if he can adapt to the FS role at the pro level.

— Henry: After reporting to camp much lighter, Willie lost time to a sports hernia and is now on IR after just 76 snaps. He’ll be unrestricted after 2019 and is among the most important Ravens to regain his 2017 form.

— Onwuasor: Patrick does not have the size or coverage skills to play the Mike linebacker spot if Mosley is not in Baltimore in 2019. He will be a RFA also (is there an echo in here?). He’s had his best season in 2018, but the Ravens will probably need to draft another ILB if Mosley leaves.

— Ricard: I debated whether he belonged in the offensive or defensive side. He can secure his roster spot with more play on the defensive side of the ball, but at present he still provides more value on offense. He won’t be a RFA until after 2019.

— Sieler: Zach has played just 14 snaps this season, but could step into a much bigger role in 2019 if Brent Urban cannot be signed. The Ravens need to develop at least 1 more interior pass rush weapon and he and Henry are the 2 best options.

— Williams: Despite not being active every week, Tim has expanded his play to 18.8% of snaps in 2018. He’s been an asset as a pass rusher and looked much better versus the run in the preseason. The path may be clearing for him to be the starting rush linebacker in 2019.

— Kenny Young: He shown good downhill ability in 2018, but needs to improve coverage and diagnose the play behind him. Until he does that, he’s not a candidate to take over the Mike role.

Mosley extension

Veterans Playing for Market Value

Brandon Carr, Tony Jefferson, Anthony Levine, CJ Mosley, Terrell Suggs, Brent Urban, Brandon Williams

A large chunk of the cap is (or will be) spent here and these players are the ones (generally) who are worth it.

Levine and Urban have provided more value than their cap cost so far in 2018. Levine is signed through 2019, but Urban will again be a free agent and signing him will be a key decision for the Ravens. Jefferson’s play elevated him from cap/value concern following 2017. If a contract for Mosley can’t be reached, he’s one of the best possibilities to be the Ravens signal caller in 2019.

Brandon Williams is not going anywhere for 2019, but needs to find a way to contribute to pass defense. Brandon Carr has played well in 2018. His durability may again keep him around in 2019. Suggs will be a free agent. I’d love to see him finish his career in Baltimore at the right price, but his play has taken a step back the last several weeks.

Eric Weddle chases Joe Mixon.

Veteran Cap/Value Concerns

Jimmy Smith, Eric Weddle

Jimmy Smith has 1 year remaining on his contract and he has not played well the last few weeks. Weddle will also be entering the last year of his deal with a big cap savings associated with cutting him. The Ravens have Deshon Elliott and Chuck Clark on the roster, either of whom could be the FS going forward, but a playmaking safety needs to remain among the Ravens biggest needs in 2019 and is one spot where the team may use their first-round selection.

Transitional

Chris Board, Bam Bradley, Jaylen Hill, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Cyrus Jones

I see no obvious future as a contributor for any of these players. Board has contributed on special teams, but has just a handful of snaps at ILB. Bradley may be the best bet despite coming off a serious knee injury, but has now missed almost 2 seasons. He has the size and shape to play ILB and provide value as a core player on special teams for 2 more seasons of control. Hill and Jean-Baptiste have been preseason stars the last 2 seasons. Jones may have value as a combination PR/last CB, but that’s a specific role and he’ll be a RFA next season, so the Ravens may want to draft a cheaper alternative.

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Ken McKusick

About Ken McKusick

Known as “Filmstudy” from his handle on area message boards, Ken is a lifelong Baltimorean and rabid fan of Baltimore sports. He grew up within walking distance of Memorial Stadium and attended all but a handful of Orioles games from 1979 through 2001. He got his start in sports modeling with baseball in the mid 1980’s. He began writing about the Ravens in 2006 and maintains a library of video for every game the team has played. He’s a graduate of Syracuse with degrees in Broadcast Journalism and Math who recently retired from his actuarial career to pursue his passion as a football analyst full time. If you have math or modeling questions related to sports or gambling, Ken is always interested in hearing new problems or ideas. He can be reached by email at filmstudy21@verizon.net or followed on Twitter @filmstudyravens. More from Ken McKusick

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