I’d like to start this article off with the most exciting words you’ll read today:
There are only 10 days until the 2019 NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame game.
Do you know what that means?! Football is almost back. I can smell it. I can hear the crunch of pads. I can hear the whistle, and feel the impending fear that the ref is going to make a bad call. I can hear the cheers erupt as Lamar Jackson steals a defender’s ankles, or Chris Moore flops in the end zone like a fish. I can hear the ‘Ooh!’ as Earl Thomas lays out Juju Smith-Schuster.
Which brings me to the point of this article. Position by position, we’ve been breaking down each group into starters, backups, and maybe-babies. Today, you’ll get the safeties.
Projected starters (Pre-Training Camp)
FS: Earl Thomas III
SS: Tony Jefferson
Anthony Levine, Sr.
Much like the cornerbacks, the starters here are a lock, barring injury.
Thomas is the closest thing to Ed Reed that the Ravens have had since, well, Ed Reed. The man played in four games last year, with three interceptions and five passes defended. Much was made about Eric Weddle not being on the field (mostly because nobody knew who would wear the magic green dot), and the Ravens responded by upgrading at the position. Thomas not only brings a high level of play to the field, but also leadership that the national media says the Ravens are/were missing.
Jefferson is the epitome of a box safety, though he’s been tasked with other responsibilities since coming to Baltimore – something which has made fans rip on him for certain aspects of his game. The addition of Thomas will give Jefferson (and Wink) the freedom to let TJ wreak havoc at the line of scrimmage. I’d expect a much more impressive year from the veteran safety – although it will be nuanced grittiness, not the splash plays that some football ‘fans’ scream for.
DeShon Elliott is an interesting prospect. He made some splashy plays before breaking his arm in early-2018, but projected as a strong safety with some range. He’s doubled down on that thus far in 2019, with a standout OTA run. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him join Levine as the dime LB, but I think he fits as a starter-level replacement in either safety spot.
Levine, or “Co-Cap” as he is affectionately known, is coming off of one of the greatest seasons for a dime ‘backer in history (per Ken “Filmstudy” McKusick, who politely asked me if he could roast me for saying Cap may be a surprise cut in 2018). A solid combination of leadership, skill, and execution, Levine is a mainstay in the No. 1 ranked Ravens defense (and yes, I’m claiming that title for them until somebody shows they’re man enough to take it). He’s a roster lock as much as Earl is.
Chuck Clark had a relatively impressive rookie season, albeit in limited snaps, especially when you consider he was a 7th-round pick. 2018, however, wasn’t great. While it makes sense for the Ravens to keep him around based on injury concerns, there is an increasing chance that he doesn’t make the 53-man roster. It’s a shame, because I think his potential ceiling is decent enough to be a viable backup and special teams contributor. I think the Ravens likely keep him, but don’t be too shocked if they don’t.
The safety position isn’t a hard one to evaluate for Baltimore. They have the potential to have the best safety tandem in the league, in 2019, accounting for health and a bit of luck, while also having a decent amount of talent behind the ‘stars.’ There aren’t any ‘maybe-babies’ that came on as camp bodies, and that speaks volumes as to the confidence that the Ravens have in their safeties.
Next up is running backs, which is bit more interesting, given the players on the roster.