Ravens roster review: Biggest strength and question at every position group
In less than a month, the Baltimore Ravens will report for training camp, kicking off the 2018 season in earnest. This mostly quiet period before the pads come on provides a window to review the team’s roster after a full offseason of changes.
While the Ravens certainly have holes at various spots along the roster, let’s instead look at each position group’s greatest strength as well as its biggest question heading into the upcoming season.
After multiple years of poor quarterback play, the Ravens decided to approach the position aggressively this offseason. The selection of Louisville’s Lamar Jackson at the end of the first round rightfully garners most of the attention, but the team’s addition of Robert Griffin III and also provides a low-risk option with upside. None of the signal-callers in Baltimore appear likely to set the world on fire in 2018, but the position should improve noticeably over the recent past.
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Question: When does Lamar Jackson take over?
Certainly, the Ravens didn’t trade back into the first round for Jackson to let him idle. At some point, likely during the upcoming season, the coaching staff will turn over the offense to the rookie quarterback and let him dictate his future. While an injury or continued poor play from Joe Flacco could accelerate the timetable, the most logical spot for Jackson to take the reins comes after Baltimore’s Week 10 bye.
As the New Orleans Saints illustrated last year, a great backfield ideally features multiple quality running backs with varied skill sets. While the Ravens don’t possess anyone as talented as Alvin Kamara or Mark Ingram, they can replicate the approach with the combination of bulldozer Alex Collins and the versatile Kenneth Dixon. Collins grinding out nearly 1,000 yards on the ground in 2017 while roughly 30 percent of Dixon’s yards from scrimmage in his last healthy season came as a receiver.
Question: Can Alex Collins improve upon his 2017 season?
Collins delivered solid numbers over the course of 2017 (six touchdowns and 973 rushing yards at a 4.6 clip), but he faded badly down the stretch, averaging less than 3 yards per carry over his final three games. The offensive line’s health contributed in part to that drop-off, but Collins appeared to have lost some of his burst in December. He needs to stave off another late-year collapse for Baltimore’s ground game to succeed.
While the Ravens remain without a go-to receiver, they brought in a cavalcade of proven wideouts to address the position. Michael Crabtree will likely garner the most targets if he stays healthy, while John Brown can effectively stretch defenses vertically and Willie Snead can work the slot. No longer must the offense hope for the underperforming and oft-injured Breshad Perriman to finally break out.
Question: How quickly can Hayden Hurst ascend the depth chart?
Ozzie Newsome ran his final draft in signature fashion, throwing multiple assets at the tight end position. The first of those picks, Hayden Hurst, could become the offense’s all-purpose, every-down “Y” if he demonstrates mastery of the blocking schemes. Should he fall short in that department, Nick Boyle will probably get the nod to start the year.
Strength: Marshal Yanda
Even at nearly 34 years of age and coming off a broken ankle, Marshal Yanda remains the strength of the Ravens’ O-line. Barring injuries elsewhere, he should return to his home at right guard. That should greatly benefit every aspect of the offense.
Question: Can Matt Skura match Ryan Jensen’s play at center?
Ryan Jensen’s first and only year as the Ravens’ starting center proved to be a success, with the former sixth-round pick earning a lucrative contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the open market earlier this offseason. To compensate for his departure, Baltimore plans to shift Matt Skura into Jensen’s vacated spot. For the most part, Skura held his own at guard last season, but he has a lot of responsibility for a still-green 25-year-old starter.
With Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, and Brent Urban at the top of the depth chart, the Ravens’ starting D-line will weigh in at a whopping 980 pounds. That figure helps explain why the defense ranked inside the top 10 against the run by DVOA last year. Barring injury, the unit should perform at a similar level in 2018.
Question: What can Chris Wormley provide in Year 2?
Last year’s third-round pick, defensive lineman Chris Wormley, provided little to the defense, appearing in just seven games and registering only five tackles. While such meager production suggests the Ravens might have erred in selecting the Michigan product, 2018 will answer those concerns more definitively. If Wormley can optimize his robust physical tools, he should have plenty of opportunities as a rotational defensive end. Alternatively, if he struggles, he could find himself buried on the depth chart behind Willie Henry, Carl Davis, and others.
Strength: Terrell Suggs
Sure, Suggs turns 36 this season and has multiple catastrophic injuries in his not-too-distant past, but the Ravens have little reason to doubt that the future Hall of Fame edge rusher will continue to produce in 2018. Suggs remains a focal point for opposing offenses, and he takes significant pressure off Baltimore’s otherwise star-less group of pass rushers.
Question: What happens if an injury sidelines Terrell Suggs?
Suggs continues to defy expectations for a pass rusher his age, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t end up on the sidelines with an injury. Should that occur, the Ravens don’t have any clear options to replace his production. Perhaps Matt Judon or second-year Tyus Bowser takes a step and becomes a field-tilting presence at outside linebacker, but that would require major improvement from either.
Strength: Jimmy Smith
Even though multiple injuries and a suspension, Jimmy Smith remains the most consistent and impactful member of the Ravens’ secondary. His length and athleticism allow him to guard nearly any type of receiver, giving the defense a chance against even the most potent passing attacks.
Question: Does Marlon Humphrey become a full-time starter?
After a quiet rookie campaign, Marlon Humphrey could step into a much larger role during his second NFL season. He should compete with veteran Brandon Carr for a starting role opposite Smith. Should Carr fend him off, Humphrey should still see plenty of action in nickel and sub packages.