Ravens Position Preview: Safety
Two years in a row the Ravens have gone out and spent significant money in free agency to bring in talented safeties, Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson. While the Ravens have traditionally taken a draft and develop approach to building the roster, recent misses in the draft like Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks forced the Ravens to utilize free agency to solidify the secondary. The result so far has been excellent as Eric Weddle had an immediate impact on the back-end of the Ravens defense. Not only was he directly responsible for 4 interceptions and forcing one fumble, he also provided instincts and leadership that had been missing since the departure of Ed Reed. The Ravens are certainly hoping that the addition of Tony Jefferson will come with similar positive results, but even beyond the two starters the Ravens now have a deep and talented group of safeties.
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Technically listed as a defensive back, Lardarius Webb may be the most versatile player on the Ravens defense. He is also among the longest tenured Ravens and has been an excellent performer throughout his career. While Webb no longer possesses the speed and quickness to be a shut-down CB on the outside as he was in his first few seasons with the Ravens, he may still be the Ravens best option as a slot CB. With the emergence of Jaylen Hill, this role may be reduced for Webb, but he still has the ability to excel there. Webb may also be the best deep coverage safety on the Ravens. He has better range than Weddle on the back end and if the Ravens coverage calls for a center-fielder don’t be surprised to see Webb back there.
Tony Jefferson, formerly of the Arizona Cardinals, was the Ravens big offseason addition and his physical and hard hitting style should fit right into the Ravens defensive mentality. Jefferson was mostly used around the line of scrimmage by the Cardinals and was an absolute force against the run. He also has the size and speed to match-up well with opposing TEs. Jefferson looks to be a moveable chess piece for Dean Pees’ defense who promises to provide plenty of big hits and to become a fan favorite from the start.
The Ravens also have an interesting player in reserve safety and special teams ace Anthony Levine. Levine is another versatile player that can play both as a more traditional safety lined up 10+ yards from the line of scrimmage, and also as a dime LB in the box. For two preseasons in a row, Levine has looked comfortable and effective as the Ravens 6th DB, providing the coverage ability of a DB and the blitzing and run stuffing ability of a LB. It will be interesting to see if Dean Pees utilizes Levine more in this dime role this season as he was rarely used in 2016.
Chuck Clark was a name that didn’t garner much attention and praise when he was selected in the 6th round of the 2017 draft, but in hindsight it looks like it could be a very good pick. Clark’s not the biggest or fastest player, but he did test very well athletically and was a strong presence all over the field for the Hokies. Clark figures to play mostly on special teams as a rookie, but he has acquitted himself well this preseason and could be groomed for a larger role as some of the Ravens vets move on in the years to come.
Last but certainly not least, we have Eric Weddle, the long time Pro-Bowl and All-Pro safety that the Ravens somehow managed to land at a bargain price in the 2016 offseason. Similar to Webb, Weddle may not have the speed and explosiveness he once had, but more than makes up for it with his understanding of the game and vision on the field. He’s the type of player that just always ends up around the ball and he has the instincts to make plays happen. Weddle is an excellent tackler, run defender and blitzer. He is exceptionally smart and his timing and versatility on the field allow Pees to call a lot of disguised coverages that throw offenses for a loop. Simply put, he’s a field general for the Ravens defense and he’s a critical part of why the unit has become a major force to be reckoned with.
Altogether, the Ravens safety group is among the deepest and most talented units in the NFL. They are a veteran group that brings a ton of versatility and experience to the field and with a revitalized defensive front playing ahead of them, expect the Ravens safeties to account for important playmaking throughout the season.