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Five Ravens predictions for rest of 2017 season

Posted on 14 November 2017 by Luke Jones

The next seven weeks could be the most pivotal stretch for the Ravens in a decade.

A strong finish — perhaps just an OK one — would send Baltimore to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and at least temporarily calm concerns about the long-term outlook of the organization. A poor finish would mean missing the postseason for the fourth time in five years and bracing to see how owner Steve Bisciotti might react after exercising much patience with head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome in recent years.

It’s difficult to predict who the Ravens really are with all four of their wins coming by multiple scores and each of their five defeats including double-digit deficits at some point during the contest. On the bright side, the Ravens face only three more opponents currently owning winning records, meaning they won’t be able to point to a difficult schedule if they’re on the outside looking in come early January. However, none of Baltimore’s four victories this season have come against teams currently above .500.

Below are five predictions for the remainder of the 2017 season:

1. Jimmy Smith will be named team MVP and be invited to his first Pro Bowl. Injuries have always prevented the 2011 first-round pick from reaching and sustaining greatness, but the veteran cornerback is in the midst of the best season of his career. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith carries the NFL’s lowest opponent passer rating in coverage and has graded as the fifth-best corner in football. You only hope the bye week was beneficial for the Achilles tendinitis he’s battled for much of the season, but he’s continued to play at an elite level despite that ailment. He’s been the Ravens’ best player.

2. Alex Collins will become Baltimore’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Justin Forsett in 2014. With a passing attack ranking last in the NFL in yards per game and yards per attempt, the Ravens must rush at a high level to win and the surprising Collins has been substantially better than anyone else carrying the ball with 521 rushing yards. Even with his lighter 210-pound frame, the second-year back should be poised for a heavy workload down the stretch after carrying the ball only 93 times so far this year. Collins won’t continue to average 5.6 yards per carry, but he’ll remain a major contributor.

3. Breshad Perriman will be a healthy scratch at some point down the stretch. The Ravens desperately want to see their 2015 first-round pick pan out, but it isn’t happening and he has regressed to the point that he’s hurting the team when the ball is thrown his way. After catching an underwhelming 50 percent of his targets last season (33-for-66), Perriman has caught just seven of the 27 passes thrown his way, a major reflection of a dysfunctional passing game. Unlike Chris Moore and Michael Campanaro, Perriman doesn’t contribute on special teams and isn’t playing with any confidence.

4. Joe Flacco will avoid full-season career lows in passing yards and touchdowns — barely. I’ve been critical of the handling of the offense since Anquan Boldin was traded and believe the organization has repeatedly failed to provide enough help for Flacco, but coaching and the personnel around him can’t fully explain him being one of the league’s worst statistical quarterbacks. He’s on pace to throw for 2,757 yards, fewer than both his rookie year and 2015 when he missed six games. He’ll pick up his production, but it’s tough not to feel Flacco is a broken product of his environment and injuries.

5. The Ravens will finish 8-8 for the second straight year and will hope other wild-card contenders in the AFC continue to struggle. The schedule is favorable, but John Harbaugh’s team hasn’t secured a three-game winning streak since the first three games of 2016 and has only one over the last three seasons combined, a reflection of the Ravens’ inability to sustain success. With one of the worst offenses in the league and a good defense that hasn’t yet found a way to be consistently great enough to carry the load, Baltimore isn’t built to stack win after win and will look back at the Week 6 home loss to Chicago with particular regret. Don’t be totally shocked, however, if the Ravens or another team sneaks into the AFC playoffs with an 8-8 record. Yes, the conference is that bad beyond the top few teams.

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Ravens stand pat at deadline, welcome Woodhead back to practice

Posted on 31 October 2017 by Luke Jones

With one of the most memorable trade deadlines in NFL history coming and going Tuesday afternoon, general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens elected to stand pat.

According to the NFLPA, Baltimore began the week with just $2.976 million in salary cap room, a reality that was going to make any possible trade for a veteran player by 4 p.m. a difficult proposition. The Ravens have restructured several contracts in recent months just to create the current cap space to get through the rest of the season, a product of already having 15 players on injured reserve.

Unlike most years when little more than a few nondescript trades are completed, several high-profile players around the league were dealt before Tuesday’s deadline, a list that included three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown (Houston to Seattle), wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (Carolina to Buffalo), Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi (Miami to Philadelphia), and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (New England to San Francisco). Some had speculated that T.Y Hilton of Indianapolis or Miami’s Jarvis Landry would be a good fit for the offense-deficient Ravens, but neither receiver was traded on Tuesday afternoon.

The Ravens did welcome running back Danny Woodhead back to the practice field for the first time since he re-injured his left hamstring in the season opener on Sept. 10. Woodhead becomes the second Baltimore player to be designated to return from injured reserve after cornerback Maurice Canady began practicing earlier this month. Canady is eligible to be elevated to the 53-man roster for Sunday’s game at Tennessee, but Woodhead would not be allowed to play until Week 11 against Green Bay at the earliest.

Newsome also made a change to the active roster Tuesday by cutting veteran wide receiver Griff Whalen and promoting offensive lineman Maurquice Shakir from the practice squad. Shakir gives Baltimore an eighth offensive lineman on the 53-man roster. The Ravens also signed offensive linemen Jason King and Steven Moore to their practice squad.

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Ravens finally unleash best playmaker against Miami

Posted on 27 October 2017 by Luke Jones

From the very first time he carried the ball for 16 yards against Cleveland in Week 2, Alex Collins rapidly began showing he was the best running back on the Ravens roster.

Using quick, choppy steps to cut — thanks in large part to Irish dance — and displaying physicality exceeding his 210-pound frame, Collins has run with urgency and anger from the moment he arrived in Owings Mills less than two months ago. And despite concerns about ball security and his ability to pass block, the Arkansas product was making it increasingly difficult for a struggling Ravens offense to keep him off the field as he averaged no worse than 4.6 yards per carry in any of his first five games.

He was finally unleashed Thursday night to the tune of 113 yards on 18 carries — both career highs — in the 40-0 demolition of the Miami Dolphins, who entered Week 8 sporting the NFL’s fifth-ranked run defense. Collins was responsible for five of the Ravens’ seven longest plays of the night that weren’t aided by a penalty, a continuing trend for an offense in need of more explosiveness. According to Pro Football Focus, nearly half of his yards came after first contact, showing off his impressive ability to collect yards even when the blocking isn’t there.

“He’s a vicious runner. That’s how I describe him,” center Ryan Jensen said. “He’s elusive, but he’ll hit it downhill and run some guys over and break tackles.”

Collins currently leads the NFL at 6.0 yards per carry and enters the weekend seventh in rushing yards (478) despite ranking only 23rd in attempts (80). His 10 runs of 15 or more yards are tied for the league lead with Kansas City’s rookie sensation Kareem Hunt, who’s had 44 more carries. Collins has been the optimal fit for Greg Roman’s new blocking schemes as the other Baltimore running backs have combined for only 20 more rushing yards on 59 more carries.

No one could have predicted such a breakout for Collins after he was waived by Seattle at the end of the preseason. Going unclaimed by the Ravens and 30 other NFL teams, the 2016 fifth-round pick from Arkansas was signed to the Baltimore practice squad days before the season opener. A week later when Danny Woodhead was placed on injured reserve, the Ravens even promoted practice-squad running back Jeremy Langford ahead of Collins before ultimately bringing up the latter to the 53-man roster two days later.

In other words, general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh didn’t exactly proceed as though they knew exactly what they had on their hands after the Seahawks decided to let Collins go at the end of an underwhelming summer. But in a season in which the offense has been nothing short of disastrous for significant stretches, Collins is quickly emerging as the closest thing to a playmaker for the Ravens.

Fumbles were a concern early as he coughed up the ball twice in his first 21 carries of the season, but he’s since had 61 touches without putting it on the ground, the product of a heavy emphasis on ball security with running backs coach Thomas Hammock during practices. His confidence in that department appears to be  growing along with the number of carries.

“I just give a lot of credit to the staff and the head coach and everybody for giving me that opportunity coming in and trusting and believing in me,” said Collins, who was awarded a game ball for the first 100-yard rushing performance of his career. “I had a few mishaps earlier in the season and just sticking with me. It’s a great feeling.

“I feel the family atmosphere. Everybody’s got your back, and I love it here.”

Making Collins’ performance more impressive is the fact that he’s received 82 touches on only 121 offensive snaps, meaning opposing defenses should be on alert by now to expect him to get the ball when he enters the game. That makes it all the more important for him to improve in pass protection and as a receiver out of the backfield to make the offense less predictable in the coming weeks. He made his first two receptions of the season for 30 yards to add to his impressive Thursday performance.

With quarterback Joe Flacco’s status for Week 9 up in the air and the passing game ranking last in the NFL, Collins is looking more and more like a key to the Ravens being able to make a meaningful playoff run in the second half of the season. Questions about how he’ll hold up are fair since many feature backs in the league exceed his listed weight by 15 or 20 pounds. As is the case with any player seemingly coming out of nowhere, the 23-year-old will need to sustain success, but he’s certainly come along at the opportune time for an offense desperately in need of a jolt.

He provided that and then some in a much-needed win for the Ravens over Miami.

“Just keep working and keep trying to improve,” Collins said. “This was the first 100-yard game, but I guarantee you I’ll go back and watch film [and see] there’s a few plays that I’m wishing I would have [done] something different. That’s definitely the main focus — celebrating the win, but moving forward quickly.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 27-24 loss to Chicago

Posted on 17 October 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens suffering their first home defeat to a rookie quarterback in 20 years in the 27-24 loss to Chicago, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After earning a stop-the-bleeding win last week, the putrid Ravens offense resurfaced and was responsible for just 11 of the team’s 24 points. Marty Mornhinweg may not deserve all blame, but he should take a cue from Chicago’s playbook that included a halfback pass. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

2. Forgive the baseball comparison, but we were reminded that the Ravens are to wide receivers what the Orioles are to starting pitching. This is a major weakness, but the organization never commits to fixing the issue for the long haul. Sunday was an embarrassing performance from that group.

3. Matthew Judon followed a strong Week 5 with the best game of his career by leading the defense with 12 tackles, two sacks, and two other tackles for a loss. With Terrell Suggs having just turned 35, the Ravens need their young edge rushers to grow up sooner than later.

4. In the first 21 seasons in Baltimore, the Ravens defense never finished worse than 23rd in rushing yards per game and only once (1996) finished worse than 10th in rushing yards per attempt. They currently rank 30th and 21st in those categories. Is this really only about Brandon Williams’ absence?

5. Supporters who refuse to find fault in Joe Flacco are as tiresome as those who want to blame him for everything, but I don’t know how anyone who actually watched the game can criticize him above everything else. He certainly made some mistakes, but did you see those receivers play?

6. Tony Jefferson was beaten for two touchdown passes and ranks 60th among safeties in Pro Football Focus’ grading system after finishing fifth last year. Fellow safety Eric Weddle has also struggled, but the Ravens need to start seeing a better return on the $19 million guaranteed to Jefferson in March.

7. I felt good for Bobby Rainey returning a kickoff for a touchdown after being hit by his own man and alertly getting up. Five years after signing with Baltimore as a rookie free agent and playing for three other teams, Rainey finally appeared in a game for the Ravens.

8. John Harbaugh didn’t offer a glowing endorsement of Bronson Kaufusi after the rest of the defensive line was overworked and he barely played Sunday. Ronnie Stanley certainly hasn’t disappointed, but remember the Ravens could have traded the pick used on Kaufusi to move up for cornerback Jalen Ramsey in 2016.

9. The rushing attack had another strong day, but is the ceiling high enough for it to all but single-handedly win games in a fashion similar to what the Bears did? Considering how inept the passing offense has been across the board, that’s what it might take to be successful.

10. Harbaugh isn’t the only coach with this problem and this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned this, but it’s maddening how wasteful the Ravens are with timeouts. Burning one when you’re trailing by 11 points and about to attempt a 50-yard field goal with three minutes left is indefensible.

11. We’ll never know if Ozzie Newsome would have made another deal before the start of the season, but how delusional were the Ravens to even suggest they were confident at wide receiver before Maclin fell into their laps in mid-June? And, yes, I know I’m belaboring the point now.

12. The good news is the NFL reeks of mediocrity more than ever and the Ravens’ schedule appears even more favorable after the Aaron Rodgers injury. The bad news is that Sunday’s loss confirms that Baltimore could also lose any of its remaining 10 games. Yes, even the one in Cleveland.

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Even with injuries, Ravens brass deserves blame for offensive mess

Posted on 02 October 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — There’s much blame to go around for this absolute mess of a Ravens offense.

Those pointing to injuries, the current state of the offensive line, quarterback Joe Flacco’s poor play, and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s play-calling are all correct to some degree or another. But the buck really needs to stop with the Ravens brass.

While many gushed over a defense-focused offseason and were waxing nostalgic about recreating the 2000 Ravens, others waited for significant work to be done to a below-average offense in 2016 that lost four starters to free agency or retirement. Instead of making significant improvements to that side of the ball, general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh seemingly settled for a ceiling of mediocrity, and that was long before the injuries that have put this offense in full-blown crisis mode before Columbus Day.

The offseason began with Harbaugh’s decision to retain Mornhinweg as coordinator despite the offense showing no meaningful improvement from the time he took over for the fired Marc Trestman last October. Harbaugh did hire Greg Roman to reboot the running game — a move that has produced positive results through four games — but one of the prevailing themes of the season-ending press conference in January was the need to get more out of Flacco, whose play had regressed in the two seasons since the departure of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and quarterbacks coach Rick Dennison. Those two were sticklers about Flacco’s footwork and fundamentals and helped guide the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player to arguably his best regular season in 2014.

The hiring of a new quarterbacks coach at the very least was a no-brainer, but Mornhinweg also retained that role after serving in that capacity over Flacco’s last two lackluster campaigns. Instead of seizing the chance to bring in a new mind and a different pair of eyes, the Ravens maintained the status quo in the coaching department for their high-priced quarterback.

What about improving the offensive personnel that has been lacking playmakers and consistent offensive line play for years?

Newsome’s free-agent splash in March consisted of giving sizable contracts to defensive tackle Brandon Williams and free-agent defensive backs Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr. Meanwhile, the only offensive addition in the first, second, and third waves of free agency was the oft-injured 32-year-old running back Danny Woodhead, who had missed 27 games the previous three seasons and — to no surprise — would suffer a long-term hamstring injury in the season opener.

Surely the Ravens would address their offense with four Day 1 and Day 2 picks in April’s draft then, right? Newsome selected four defensive players with those choices before finally taking a pair of developmental offensive linemen on the final day. The plan going into spring workouts would be to replace above-average right tackle Rick Wagner and three-year starting center Jeremy Zuttah with in-house options, players who hadn’t previously been good enough to crack the lineup of an already-shaky offensive line.

To be fair, Baltimore did eventually sign veteran wide receiver Jeremy Maclin in mid-June after he was cut by Kansas City and inked veteran right tackle Austin Howard in early August. But did these moves really represent a significant net gain compared to the retired Steve Smith and Wagner on an offense that was barely functional a year ago?

Was the goal to merely be as good as last year’s unit that ranked 17th in total yards and 21st in points per game?

To be clear, there’s no diminishing the absence of six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, and the loss of promising left guard Alex Lewis was another tough blow. The Ravens also hoped that running back Kenneth Dixon would take a major step forward in his second season, but a four-game suspension had already stunted that optimism before he sustained a season-ending knee injury in July.

The many injuries they’ve endured do tell a large part of the story, but the offense was constructed to be no better than average based on the way the Ravens used their cap dollars and draft picks and made their coaching decisions this offseason. That ceiling is too low when planning for at least a few inevitable injuries over the course of a season.

Perhaps the current state of affairs wouldn’t be as frustrating if the Ravens wouldn’t continue to neglect their offense on an annual basis, a pattern that began with the decision to trade away wide receiver Anquan Boldin weeks after the Super Bowl in 2013 and has continued with the selection of just four offensive players with their 17 combined Day 1 and Day 2 draft picks since then. It’s one thing to point to Flacco’s huge contract as justification not to spend as much free-agent money on the offense, but Newsome’s drafting reinforces the lack of interest in putting better talent around the quarterback.

Instead, the Ravens continue to expect him to do more with less than he had in that historic 2012 postseason and wonder why they’ve only been back to the playoffs once since then.

Flacco has obvious flaws and is what he is in his 10th season, but the Ravens keep beating their heads against a brick wall trying to do the bare minimum with their offense and expecting a different result. You get what you pay for, and that isn’t very much with mediocre talent and an uninspiring offensive coordinator.

Making matters worse, the use of all those resources on defense in recent years has yet to net a special group on that side of the ball.

Yes, you can continue to blame the offensive woes all on the injuries and keep beating up a quarterback who certainly needs to take his share of the responsibility for his poor performance, but offseason decisions stunted this offense’s ceiling before the injuries began over the summer. The truth is the focus should have been on that side of the ball from the start while looking to tweak a defense that finished in the top 10 in most major categories a year ago.

Sadly, what we’re now witnessing isn’t all that surprising.

And it’s difficult imagining this broken offense being fixed in the near future.

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Ready or not, Ravens about to pull back curtain on 2017 offense

Posted on 06 September 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ready or not, the Ravens are about to pull back the curtain on their offense after a summer full of injuries and unanswered questions.

Quarterback Joe Flacco declares that his back feels good and he’s ready to go after missing the entire preseason.

Longtime right guard Marshal Yanda says the Baltimore offense is more committed to the running game than ever after attempting more passes than any team in the NFL the last two seasons.

Wide receiver Mike Wallace believes the group merely needs to trust its abilities.

But even those wearing the deepest tint of purple-colored glasses have to be concerned if they’re being honest, especially with the Ravens opening the season in a place where they haven’t won in nearly six years. To no surprise, head coach John Harbaugh says he believes in his players and their schemes with Marty Mornhinweg in his first full season as offensive coordinator and new senior offensive assistant Greg Roman in charge of fixing a dormant ground attack.

“When you look back at all that stuff, it’s not always completely accurate,” said Harbaugh about outside expectations. “Teams rise up, and they’re better than people thought they’d be. You don’t have to justify it beforehand. You just go and play the games.”

After the Ravens prioritized defense in free agency and the draft and lost a whopping eight offensive players to season-ending injury, suspension, or retirement over the last three months, fans are being asked to take a leap of faith that the offense will be just good enough to complement a defense expected to be one of the best in the NFL this season. Frankly, even that middle-of-the-road standard is a lot to ask considering the personnel losses endured by the league’s 21st-ranked scoring offense from a year ago.

It doesn’t help that the preseason provided no meaningful answers with Flacco sidelined and the projected starting offensive line not playing a single game together. Roman was never going to show his full hand with a running game vowing to be more downhill and physical than in recent years, but a preseason average of 3.1 yards per carry doesn’t spark enthusiasm, either.

The line will have three new starters with two of them — center Ryan Jensen and left guard James Hurst — previously serving as backups and the other — former Oakland right tackle Austin Howard — only arriving in early August. General manager Ozzie Newsome thought so little of his offensive line depth that he acquired two of the Ravens’ three current reserves in separate trades in the last week.

That’s a pretty big leap.

The Ravens lost roughly half of their receiving production from last season while making only two meaningful additions in the skill-position department. Veteran running back Danny Woodhead — if healthy — should help fill the void in the underneath passing game left behind by tight end Dennis Pitta and fullback Kyle Juszczyk while ninth-year receiver Jeremy Maclin fell into Baltimore’s lap in June and will be trusted to become Flacco’s new safety net with Pitta and wide receiver Steve Smith no longer on the roster.

The problem is those two practiced together a total of two days prior to Flacco’s return to the field last weekend. The quarterback acknowledged that their on-field chemistry will be a work in progress in the early weeks of the season.

“Every guy has their own way of doing things, and you build a rapport with guys throughout the course of the year and throughout practice and all of that,” Flacco said. “But the other side of it is that Jeremy is a good player, and he knows how to get open. Things might not be perfect right now, but if he gets open, then I should be able to put the ball on him.

“We have been doing that since we have been six years old. You just have to go back to the basics of things. You can’t overthink things too much.”

No matter how much the Ravens chose to focus on improving their defense in the offseason, they need more from their offense to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. But is there enough to like about this group on paper to believe that will happen?

Though another year removed from his 2015 knee injury, Flacco is coming off back-to-back lackluster seasons and has a lot of catching up to do after being sidelined for more than a month. The aforementioned challenges on the offensive line certainly don’t quell concerns about the quarterback’s back. Backup Ryan Mallett’s play in the preseason made it pretty apparent that the Ravens are going nowhere if Flacco misses meaningful time.

A group of running backs led by starter Terrance West doesn’t appear to have much upside after the season-ending loss of Kenneth Dixon in July. The addition of two running backs to the practice squad certainly appears to reflect that line of thinking.

The current collection of tight ends combined for just six catches last season. Nick Boyle is a dependable blocker, but the Ravens need to get a return on their investments in the 36-year-old Benjamin Watson and 2015 second-round pick Maxx Williams, who are both coming back from serious injuries a year ago.

The wide receiver trio of Maclin, Wallace, and former first-round pick Breshad Perriman probably inspires more confidence than any other offensive position group, but will the offensive line and running game be effective enough for Flacco to effectively utilize these weapons?

And after many called for Harbaugh to replace Mornhinweg since the 2016 offense showed little improvement when he took over for the fired Marc Trestman, the coordinator will be under great pressure to revitalize the downfield passing game and to bring new ideas to the table. He also needs to get more out of his quarterback as he continues to coach that position group.

Much has worked against their offense in the last few months, but the Ravens must find their way on that side of the ball and find it quickly. The Bengals — nor any other early-season opponent — aren’t going to feel sorry for them.

“We’re paid to do a job and paid to do a job at a high level,” Yanda said. “It doesn’t matter how much time you’re taking off, if you’re injured or sick — it doesn’t matter. You have to go out there and produce. We’re expected to go out there and play winning football on Sunday, and we’re preparing to do that.”

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Breaking down the 2017 Ravens’ initial 53-man roster

Posted on 02 September 2017 by Luke Jones

A year after the Ravens surprisingly released veteran running back Justin Forsett on final cut-down day, there were no real surprises in the formulation of the first 53-man roster for the 2017 season.

The acquisitions of reserve offensive linemen Tony Bergstrom and Luke Bowanko likely pushed veteran Jeremy Zuttah and former practice-squad member Matt Skura off the roster, but cornerback Robertson Daniel and linebacker Brennen Beyer were the only other players from last year’s team not to survive Saturday’s final cuts and neither saw meaningful action in 2016.

More roster changes are inevitable in the coming days as Baltimore has already made two trades to augment its offensive line depth and could look for another running back or a veteran inside linebacker. General manager Ozzie Newsome should have another roster spot to play with once cornerback Maurice Canady is placed on injured reserve as expected. Still recovering from knee surgery, Canady needed to be on the initial 53-man roster to remain eligible for a designation to return later in the season.

The Ravens will certainly scan the open market for potential additions to enhance the roster that’s already been assembled as hundreds of players hit the waiver wire on Saturday. Beginning Sunday, they will also put together a 10-man practice squad with a number of Baltimore players who were cut over the weekend potentially returning to the organization.

Below are some early impressions of the 53-man roster as it stood on Saturday evening:

QUARTERBACKS (2) — Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett
Analysis: The Ravens and their fans will continue to hold their breath until Flacco stays on the field and shows his back is no longer a concern after he was sidelined for the entire summer. However, the fact that there are only two quarterbacks on the roster leads you to believe the organization is confident that Flacco is truly healthy and ready to go. At the very least, you’d expect the Ravens to re-sign Josh Woodrum or another quarterback to the practice squad for some extra depth.

RUNNING BACKS (3) — Terrance West, Danny Woodhead, Buck Allen
Analysis: This group lost much of its upside after Kenneth Dixon suffered a season-ending knee injury right before training camp, but the unrest on the offensive line this summer made it difficult to evaluate the backs. Woodhead figures to be a major part of the passing game if healthy, but how well West fares as the No. 1 back will depend on how effectively the line gels. This is a position the Ravens should explore upgrading, especially if they can find a back possessing some return skills.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5) — Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, Michael Campanaro, Chris Moore
Analysis: The competition among a batch of young receivers on the preseason roster never really materialized as Moore, a 2016 fourth-round pick, did little to distinguish himself and still landed on the roster. The major question will be how quickly Flacco can build a rapport with Maclin, who didn’t sign with the Ravens until the week of mandatory minicamp in mid-June. It’s difficult to identify a trustworthy red-zone threat in this group, but that’s been a problem for this offense for years. 

TIGHT ENDS (4) — Nick Boyle, Benjamin Watson, Maxx Williams, Vince Mayle
Analysis: Few would have guessed Mayle would be one of four tight ends on the roster when there were questions months ago about how the Ravens would pick among six viable options. The losses of Dennis Pitta, Crockett Gillmore, and Darren Waller subtracted production, physicality, and upside from the equation, but Boyle has been solid and Watson and Williams are healthy. It remains to be seen whether the Ravens will get enough production from these tight ends as blockers or receivers.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8) — Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Ryan Jensen, James Hurst, Austin Howard, Jermaine Eluemunor, Tony Bergstrom, Luke Bowanko
Analysis: The Ravens finally have their projected starting offensive line on the practice field, but there are plenty of questions beyond Yanda and Stanley. Newsome attempted to address the depth by making two trades, but neither Bergstrom nor Bowanko are established commodities. Beyond taking a leap of faith that Greg Roman’s blocking schemes will work their magic, there isn’t a ton to love about this group on paper, which is unsettling when your quarterback is just returning from a back injury.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8) — Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Brent Urban, Bronson Kaufusi, Chris Wormley, Carl Davis, Willie Henry, Patrick Ricard
Analysis: Eight defensive linemen in a 3-4 base system are too many, but the Ravens are smart not wanting to lose a talented defensive lineman just to keep an inferior player elsewhere. You would think the organization will attempt to use its defensive line depth to potentially acquire talent at another position of need or will eventually try to stash one with a injury. Of course, don’t dismiss the possibility of Ricard being used more as a fullback and blocking tight end to help justify the high number here.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (4) — C.J. Mosley, Kamalei Correa, Patrick Onwuasor, Bam Bradley
Analysis: Correa hasn’t seized control of the starting job next to Mosley, leaving the door open for Onwuasor or even Bradley to potentially push him for playing time further into the season. The loss of special-teams standout Albert McClellan really hurts their depth as he could play any of the four linebacker positions, a valuable asset on Sundays with only 46 players active. Bradley earned his job with a strong summer, but a veteran addition to compete with Correa would ease some concerns.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5) — Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Tyus Bowser, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams
Analysis: Entering his 15th year, Suggs remains the soul of the defense and is still an above-average three-down outside linebacker, but you have to be intrigued with the young talent and depth here. Judon and Bowser have battled for the starting “Sam” linebacker spot with both looking like viable options while Za’Darius Smith solidified his roster standing as a situational rusher. Williams is raw, but he has shown impressive potential as a pure rush specialist, something this defense needs.

CORNERBACKS (6) — Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, Jaylen Hill, Sheldon Price, Maurice Canady
Analysis: The Ravens haven’t had this kind of outside corner depth in a long time with Humphrey likely to push the veteran Carr for his starting spot at some point in 2017. Tavon Young’s spring knee injury was a blow to the nickel spot, but the undrafted Hill may have been the best story of the summer after only receiving a tryout during rookie camp weekend. With safeties Lardarius Webb and Anthony Levine expected to play the nickel and dime spots, respectively, five cornerbacks are likely enough.

SAFETIES (5) — Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Lardarius Webb, Anthony Levine, Chuck Clark
Analysis: The depth here is strong after Jefferson was signed to a lucrative deal to be a major factor against the run and in covering tight ends. There is plenty of room for defensive coordinator Dean Pees to be creative in the secondary with Webb and Levine having so much versatility. The rookie Clark will likely be more of a special-teams contributor than anything else, but the Ravens needed another safety with their primary backups projected to be so involved in sub packages.

SPECIALISTS (3) — Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
Analysis: This trio enters its sixth consecutive season together. That continuity is just one reason why these three are so tremendous at what they do.

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Predicting Ravens’ initial 53-man roster at end of 2017 preseason

Posted on 01 September 2017 by Luke Jones

With the 2017 preseason now over, the Ravens turn their attention toward the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 10.

First, it’s time to go on the record with the final projection of the Ravens’ 53-man roster to begin the regular season with head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome making their final decisions by 4 p.m. on Saturday. Of course, this will only be the initial 53-man squad as the Ravens will look to add other players who could be made available over the next few days.

Though the coaching staff and the front office are aware of the numbers at each position, trying to boldly pinpoint a specific number of receivers or linebackers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting the roster. Ultimately, the organization wants to keep the best 53 players with positional preference serving more as a tiebreaker than as a hard rule that results in keeping an inferior player. In filling out the back end of their roster, the Ravens look carefully at players’ special-teams abilities in addition to what they bring to their offensive or defensive positions.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players they are projected to keep at that given position.

QUARTERBACKS (2)
IN: Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett
OUT: Josh Woodrum, Thaddeus Lewis
Skinny: The fate of the 2017 campaign lies on the health of Flacco’s back, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Woodrum land on the practice squad as a No. 3 option.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (3)
IN: Terrance West, Buck Allen, Danny Woodhead
INJURED RESERVE: Kenneth Dixon
OUT: Taquan Mizzell, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Ricky Ortiz, Bobby Rainey
Skinny: Mizzell looks like a prime practice-squad candidate, and the Ravens could still seek an outside option for the fullback position in the coming days.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
IN: Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, Michael Campanaro, Chris Moore, Chris Matthews
INJURED RESERVE: Tim White
OUT: Quincy Adeboyejo, Keenan Reynolds, Griff Whalen, C.J. Board
Skinny: Moore and Matthews make the roster because of their special-teams contributions, but neither did much to solidify a role in the passing game this preseason.

TIGHT ENDS (3)
IN: Nick Boyle, Benjamin Watson, Maxx Williams
OUT: Vince Mayle, Larry Donnell, Ryan Malleck
Skinny: The depth here is shaky at best, but it’s reasonable to think Mayle or Donnell could be re-signed in the not-too-distant future when other roster questions are addressed.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Ryan Jensen, Austin Howard, James Hurst, Jermaine Eluemunor, Jeremy Zuttah, Matt Skura
INJURED RESERVE: Alex Lewis, Nico Siragusa
OUT: De’Ondre Wesley, Stephane Nembot, Jarell Broxton, David Nelson, Jarrod Pughsley, Roubbens Joseph, Maurquice Shakir
Skinny: This is not an impressive group on paper, so you’d hope Newsome can add another viable piece to the mix between now and the start of the season.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
IN: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Brent Urban, Bronson Kaufusi, Carl Davis, Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, Patrick Ricard
OUT: None
Skinny: Keeping eight defensive lineman is unusual and likely not tenable, but there’s too much talent here to let someone go in favor of an inferior player at another position.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (4)
IN: C.J. Mosley, Kamalei Correa, Patrick Onwuasor, Bam Bradley
INJURED RESERVE: Albert McClellan
OUT: Donald Payne, Brennen Beyer
Skinny: Bradley has a chance to help fill the special-teams void left by McClellan, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see a veteran inside linebacker added in the near future.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)
IN: Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Tyus Bowser, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams
OUT: Boseko Lokombo, Randy Allen
Skinny: Smith answered the challenge this summer to solidify his standing on the 53-man roster, but this talented young group behind Suggs must now show up when the lights come on for real.

CORNERBACKS (6)
IN: Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, Jaylen Hill, Sheldon Price, Maurice Canady
PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Tavon Young
OUT: Robertson Daniel, Trevin Wade, Brandon Boykin, Reggie Porter
Skinny: The injured Canady needs to be on the initial 53-man roster to be eligible for the designation to return from injured reserve, but the outside corner depth is as good as it’s been in a long time.

SAFETIES (5)
IN: Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Lardarius Webb, Anthony Levine, Chuck Clark
OUT: Otha Foster
Skinny: With Webb and Levine both filling meaningful roles in the dime package to begin the season, Clark becomes more of a necessity for depth and will fill a large special-teams role.

SPECIALISTS (3)
IN: Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker
OUT: Kenny Allen, Taybor Pepper
Skinny: This trio of specialists stays together for the sixth consecutive season, which is quite a rarity in today’s NFL.

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Retired linebacker Zach Orr joins Ravens’ coaching, personnel staffs

Posted on 30 August 2017 by Luke Jones

Former Ravens linebacker Zach Orr has officially begun the first phase of his post-playing career.

The organization announced Wednesday that the 25-year-old will join the coaching and personnel staffs this season to prepare him for a potential career in either. Orr will shadow linebackers coach Wink Martindale and attend special-teams meetings during the season before shifting to the scouting and player evaluation side of the organization.

It’s a similar path to the one taken by Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome at the conclusion of his 13-year Hall of Fame career with the Cleveland Browns. Owner Art Modell gave Newsome the opportunity to gain experience in both coaching and personnel before he ultimately remained in the latter and becoming a two-time Super Bowl champion as a general manager.

“He’ll spend time learning about coaching at this level, and he’ll learn the ropes with our scouts,” Newsome told the team’s official website. “We look forward to working with him as he makes the transition from being an active player.”

Orr announced his retirement in January after doctors discovered a congenital spine condition that put him at greater risk for paralysis or death by playing football. He had announced hopes of a comeback in late June after receiving a favorable second opinion, but 17 teams would not clear him to play, leading him to reconfirm his retirement earlier this month.

The former undrafted free agent from North Texas visited the team facility in Owings Mills last week to discuss his new role with Newsome as well as to visit with former teammates and coaches.

“I sure would like to have him on board — scouting or coaching — whatever he wants to do if he wants to do it,” head coach John Harbaugh said earlier this month. “He has expressed an interest in doing that. Good for him. He has peace with the whole thing now I believe. He will get on with the rest of his very successful life.”

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Sizing up the 2017 Ravens roster before the third preseason game

Posted on 21 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With the first two preseason games in the books, it’s again time to examine the Ravens’ 53-man roster as we move closer to final cuts being made at the end of next week.

My current look at the roster suggests 41 players are locks if the deadline to trim the roster to 53 took place today. My assessment of the players currently on the 90-man preseason roster lists 23 players on the bubble with a few young players making a push. Not all bubble players are created equal, however, with certain positions lacking depth and others enjoying more talent.

Though general manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh, and the remainder of the coaching staff and front office are cognizant of maintaining a reasonable number of players at every position, trying to boldly designate a specific number of wide receivers or linebackers or safeties isn’t the most accurate way of projecting the roster. In filling out the back end of the roster, the Ravens look carefully at players’ special-teams contributions in addition to what they bring to their respective positions.

Unlike the past few years, teams are no longer required to trim their 90-man roster to 75 prior to the final preseason game. The Ravens must determine their initial 53-man roster by 4 p.m. on Sept. 2, but changes frequently come in the days leading up to the season opener on Sept. 10.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players currently on the roster at that given position. Bubble players’ names that are underlined are part of the projected 53-man roster as of Aug. 21. You can check out last week’s projection HERE.

QUARTERBACKS (4)
LOCK: Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Josh Woodrum, Thaddeus Lewis
Skinny: Even if the Ravens ultimately choose to replace Mallett, I’m still not close to buying Woodrum as the one to do it, but he’s been a fun preseason story.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (8)
LOCK: Terrance West, Danny Woodhead, Buck Allen
BUBBLE: Ricky Ortiz, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Taquan Mizzell
LONG SHOT: Bobby Rainey
INJURED RESERVE: Kenneth Dixon
Skinny: It appears that Ortiz has leapfrogged Taliaferro in the fullback competition, but it’s not a great sign for either one that defensive lineman Patrick Ricard is seeing extended looks in that role.

WIDE RECEIVERS (11)
LOCK: Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Michael Campanaro, Quincy Adeboyejo, Keenan Reynolds, Chris Matthews
LONG SHOT: Griff Whalen, C.J. Board
INJURED RESERVE: Tim White
Skinny: I don’t get the sense that Moore’s job is in danger, but you’d like to see more from the 2016 fourth-round pick, especially with Perriman still sidelined with a hamstring injury.

TIGHT ENDS (6)
LOCK: Nick Boyle, Benjamin Watson, Maxx Williams
BUBBLE: Vince Mayle, Larry Donnell
LONG SHOT: Ryan Malleck
Skinny: Williams showed explosiveness in Miami that we hadn’t seen since his knee surgery, but I still believe the Ravens will try to carry a fourth tight end on the 53-man roster if possible.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (17)
LOCK: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Ryan Jensen, James Hurst, Austin Howard, Jermaine Eluemunor
BUBBLE: Jeremy Zuttah, Matt Skura, De’Ondre Wesley
LONG SHOT: Stephane Nembot, Jarell Broxton, Jarrod Pughsley, Roubbens Joseph, Maurquice Shakir, Derrick Nelson
INJURED RESERVE: Alex Lewis, Nico Siragusa
Skinny: The re-signed Zuttah might be a lock, but he’s not a great fit for Greg Roman’s scheme and has essentially been cut by two teams in the last five months, meaning he still needs to prove himself.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
LOCK: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Brent Urban, Chris Wormley, Bronson Kaufusi
BUBBLE: Carl Davis, Patrick Ricard, Willie Henry
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: The depth here is a great problem to have, and I’ll still predict that the Ravens ultimately trade a defensive lineman before potentially being forced to waive a talented one like Henry.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
LOCK: C.J. Mosley, Kamalei Correa, Albert McClellan, Patrick Onwuasor
BUBBLE: Bam Bradley
LONG SHOT: Brennen Beyer, Donald Payne
Skinny: A good showing in the preseason has nudged Bradley onto the roster radar, and the Ravens still need to see more consistency out of Correa in a starting role.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
LOCK: Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams
BUBBLE: Za’Darius Smith
LONG SHOT: Boseko Lokombo, Randy Allen
Skinny: A strong start to the preseason has improved Smith’s stock, but he still feels like a candidate to be traded for help at another position of need.

CORNERBACKS (11)
LOCK: Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey
BUBBLE: Jaylen Hill, Sheldon Price, Trevin Wade, Brandon Boykin, Robertson Daniel
LONG SHOT: Reggie Porter
INJURED RESERVE: Tavon Young, Maurice Canady (designated to return candidate)
Skinny: Hill is as close as a rookie free agent gets to being a roster lock, and Lardarius Webb and Anthony Levine are slated to play the nickel and dime spots to minimize the need for an extra corner.

SAFETIES (6)
LOCK: Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Lardarius Webb, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: Chuck Clark
LONG SHOT: Otha Foster
Skinny: Clark has remained a regular on the special-teams units and remains in good shape to secure a 53-man roster spot as a 2017 draft pick.

SPECIALISTS (4)
LOCK: Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Kenny Allen
Skinny: There’s still nothing to see here.

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