It’s close to that wonderful time of year, where I take a blind shot at who will make the Ravens 53-man roster, and who will fall by the wayside. This year may prove more difficult than usual, with so much talent on the roster, especially in the defensive backfield. This is a good problem to have. I’m going to give a brief synopsis next to each group, or in some cases, specific players, explaining why I kept the guys I did.
Now, to the defense…
I’m saving the best for last, so don’t expect cornerbacks here. Instead, I’ll start with the easiest position to decipher – the defensive line.
Williams is paid too much to cut, and Michael Pierce is in a contract year (again), so he should be a huge asset. If Henry can stay healthy, he’ll provide a pass-rushing presence that the other two can’t. Mack could potentially play the five-technique, which is a weakness on the team, and you’re not cutting a 2019 draft pick this early.
Much was made about the losses of Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs during free agency, and the Ravens responded by attacking the position in both the draft and the second wave of free agency. Some fourth-year players haven’t shown much yet, and that could make their positions tenuous at best. (I’ve lumped in OLB and DE under the new-ish position group known as EDGE.)
Judon is likely the de facto starter at OLB, with PMP, Ray, and Ferguson rotating on the other side. Williams will be, by Harbaugh’s own words, a situational rusher. Wormley showed some interesting flashes in 2018, and *Willie Henry can step in at DE as well.
This next position is likely the shallowest position on the team, not just the defense. To compensate, I think the Ravens might make a shift at a position. With the loss of good-not-great ILB C.J. Mosley, younger players are going to have to step up and show out.
‘Peanut’ has evolved and grown as a player since being a UDFA in 2016. He’ll now need to step into a leadership role, which includes understanding the defense in a way that he’s never had to before. Kenny Young had some good flashes in limited snaps in 2018, displaying a range and speed that’s been missing from the middle of the defense for a while. Board has scraped out a role for himself through his play on special teams, but will be called upon to rotate in and out in certain situations in 2019.
Bowser is the interesting one. He hasn’t shown much as a pass rusher, but I think his athleticism can make him an asset playing inside – something they tried to do with Kamalei Correa, with no success. If he doesn’t show himself capable of contributing inside this summer, expect to see him cut.
Next up are the safeties, a group viewed by some as potentially the best in the league. Critical cuts elsewhere make this group a bit deeper/stronger than it normally would be.
This team has been missing a true free safety since the days of Ed Reed, and Thomas is the best in the league. A broken leg isn’t that serious, in terms of football injuries, and if the Ravens get 80% of the production that he had in Seattle, they’re in good shape. It also frees TJ up to play where he excelled in Arizona, as a box safety. Elliott has shown flashes, and now benefits from the instruction of not only Jefferson, but Thomas as well, while Clark can also continue his evolution. Co-Cap stays on board due to his versatility and underrated playmaking ability all over the field.
This last group is the strength of the team, and my favorite position. It is incredibly hard to play cornerback at any level, let alone the NFL level, and the Ravens have the best group of corners in the entire league.
The semi-surprise cut here, is Maurice Canady, Mr. 4th-and-12 himself. While Canady is a talented corner, he’s also prone to injury, as well as giving up the big play. He could be used as trade-bait, for a cornerback-needy team (and you can never have too many corners). Marlon is quickly becoming one of the best corners in the league. Jimmy played extremely well at the end of 2018. Tavon is a premiere slot corner (and just got paid), and Carr is the ironman veteran. Anthony Averett and Iman Marshall are two young corners who get to learn from some of the best in the NFL.
This final group is the easiest, because there’s no reason to break them up. The ‘Wolfpack’ is the best special teams trio in the business.
If you let Adam tell it, it’s time to punt Koch (yeah, I said it) and bring on Kaare Vedvik. I don’t subscribe to that school of thought. In fact, I’d bundle Canady, or SJB, and Vedvik, and try to get a pick out of it.
So that’s it. That’s my way-too-early roster prediction. Sound off in the comments as to who you think I missed (undoubtedly Jaylen Smith should make the team, amirite?!) or what you agree with. I look forward to arguing with all of you.
(Again, see the Offense here)