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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Wide receivers

Posted on 22 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning Thursday and the preseason opener only a few weeks away, we’ll look at each Ravens position group before veterans begin reporting to Owings Mills for the first full-squad practice.

Cornerbacks
Running backs
Defensive line
Tight ends
Safeties
Offensive line
Inside linebackers

We continue at wide receiver, the position that’s been a problem spot over much of the Ravens’ existence. In his first offseason as general manager, Eric DeCosta appeared determined to find second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson more pass-catching targets with which to grow by taking two wide receivers in the first three rounds of the draft, equaling the number selected in the first three rounds over Baltimore’s previous 11 drafts combined. That focus comes after two tight ends were selected in the first three rounds a year ago, leaving Jackson no shortage of young receiving candidates.

How quickly and effectively the youth at this position develops will go a long way in setting the overall ceiling of the passing game as just four of the 13 wide receivers on the preseason roster — two of which weren’t on the team last year — have registered a catch in the NFL. Those four veterans help raise the floor of this group, but none provide much upside, objectively leaving this wide receiver group as one of the weakest in the league on paper entering the preseason. Unlike past years, however, there is more raw talent and athleticism for new wide receivers coach and longtime NFL assistant David Culley to cultivate.

Below is a look at the wide receivers who stand out for various reasons:

The ManPending
Skinny: With the revamped system under new offensive coordinator Greg Roman expected to use the ground game as its foundation, expecting any wide receiver to be “the man” in a conventional sense of catching 80 or more passes or registering 1,000 yards would be unrealistic. However, Willie Snead is the clear candidate if we’re picking from the pool of veteran options while first-round pick Marquise Brown was drafted with visions of fitting this exact description in the coming years.

Old Reliable — Willie Snead
Skinny: John Brown, Michael Crabtree, and Snead all saw their production crater when Jackson took over after the bye week last year, but the slot receiver and lone holdover from the trio did have three games with at least five receptions and 50 receiving yards with the young quarterback, a sign that some chemistry was developing. Snead was at his best running slant routes in 2018 and works the middle of the field, the area where Jackson looks most comfortable passing at this stage of his development. The 26-year-old is unlikely to post big numbers, but he has the highest floor of any Ravens wide receiver.

Under Fire — Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley
Skinny: Neither Scott nor Lasley was expected to do much as rookies after the Ravens had already signed three veteran free agents, but DeCosta drafting two more receivers early this spring didn’t say much for the 2018 fourth- and fifth-round picks. Scott turned some heads with his work in the spring and has unique size while Lasley had substantial college production and worked out with Jackson in the offseason, but both are firmly on the roster bubble and need to produce in the preseason.

Up-and-Comer — Marquise Brown
Skinny: After registering 2,400 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns in two seasons at Oklahoma, Brown became the fourth wide receiver drafted in the first round by the Ravens in their 24-year history. Even at 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, Brown has the unique speed and athleticism to be a difference-maker, but he must first show he’s fully recovered from undergoing left foot surgery in January. The organization did its homework and was comfortable with his prognosis, but the effects of a Lisfranc injury sometimes linger and Brown was placed on the non-football injury list upon reporting for training camp. You’d have to think he needs to begin practicing soon if he’s realistically going to make a big impact as a rookie.

Sleeper — Chris Moore
Skinny: The raw numbers didn’t suggest a significant step forward from Moore in 2018 as he caught only one more pass and registered 52 fewer receiving yards than the previous year, but he caught 19 of his 25 targets and saw more snaps as an effective blocker in the run-first offense down the stretch. The 2016 fourth-round pick is a strong special-teams contributor and has occasionally flashed some big-play ability, so the time is now for Moore to shine as a receiver if it’s ever going to happen. Brown’s uncertain status to begin training camp only increases the likelihood of Moore getting more playing time.

The Rest — Seth Roberts, Michael Floyd, Miles Boykin, Quincy Adeboyejo, Sean Modster, Jaylen Smith, Antoine Wesley, Joe Horn Jr.
Skinny: Roberts gives the Ravens another veteran option in the slot and has 158 receptions and 13 touchdowns in his career, but he also dropped 23 of the 182 catchable passes over his first four seasons, per Pro Football Focus. … Floyd is the only receiver on the roster with a 1,000-yard season in the NFL, but he’s registered only 20 catches for 178 yards and a touchdown in 24 games over the last two seasons. … A 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame and above-average speed made Boykin an enticing third-round pick in April’s draft and a strong candidate to be an immediate red-zone target. … Smith caught a total of 13 touchdowns playing in his sophomore and junior seasons with Jackson at Louisville, but he didn’t do much to stand out during spring workouts.

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Ravens put Pierce on non-football injury list, Lewis on PUP list

Posted on 20 July 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens won’t conduct their first full-squad training camp practice until Thursday, but questions remain whether standout defensive tackle Michael Pierce will be ready to take the field.

Pierce was placed on the non-football injury list Friday as injured veterans and quarterbacks were required to report to the team facility in Owings Mills. The organization hasn’t commented on his status, but it’s assumed the designation is tied to the weight and conditioning concerns that prompted head coach John Harbaugh to pull Pierce from the field on the first day of mandatory minicamp in June. A restricted free agent who received a $3.095 million second-round tender in March, Pierce is entering a contract year and chose to skip the team’s voluntary offseason conditioning program in the spring.

The former undrafted free agent from Samford looked noticeably heavier than the 340 pounds at which he was listed during the 2018 season. Harbaugh didn’t shy away from that perception five weeks ago when telling reporters they “can probably tell” he wasn’t in shape.

“He’s not ready to practice just from a safety standpoint — for his own health and safety,” Harbaugh said on June 11. “We recognized that, and we pulled him off for that reason. … It’s a problem, absolutely. We want guys practicing. We want them ready to practice, physically able to practice. That’s very important.”

It’s unclear whether Pierce was even permitted to take the Ravens’ rigorous conditioning test, which he’ll need to pass to be cleared to take the field in training camp.

Baltimore also placed veteran left guard Alex Lewis on the active physically unable to perform list as he continues recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Scheduled to make $2.025 million in base salary, Lewis is not only competing for a starting job, but his roster spot is in jeopardy as he enters the final year of his rookie contract and faces plenty of young competition. Injuries have limited the 2016 fourth-round pick to just 20 games in his first three seasons.

Lewis rehabbed his shoulder away from the team facility, a curious decision for a player whose roster status is far from secure. Harbaugh had little clarity on the offensive lineman’s status during last month’s minicamp in which Lewis didn’t participate.

“I think he’s progressing well. We hadn’t seen him until two days ago, so I really can’t answer that,” Harbaugh said. “I think it would be a good question for Alex. He’s been in charge of his own rehab.”

Both Pierce and Lewis are eligible to begin practicing at any point and still count against the 90-man preseason roster. Pierce joins wide receiver Marquise Brown (foot), outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson, and defensive tackle Daylon Mack on the NFI list while Lewis joins guard Patrick Mekari (back) on the PUP list.

Rookie wide receiver Jaylen Smith was removed from the NFI list Friday, an indication that he passed his conditioning test.

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Ravens place Marquise Brown on non-football injury list

Posted on 18 July 2019 by Luke Jones

Training camp has begun for the Ravens rookies, but a handful of players weren’t yet ready to practice as of Thursday afternoon.

According to the NFL’s daily transaction sheet, Baltimore placed wide receivers Marquise Brown and Jaylen Smith, outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson, and defensive tackle Daylon Mack on the non-football injury list and guard Patrick Mekari on the physically unable to perform list. Though the Ravens haven’t commented on the reasons for any of these designations, these lists are used for players who had a preexisting ailment or did not pass the infamous conditioning test that’s victimized many veterans and rookies in previous summers.

Each player still counts against the 90-man preseason roster limit and is eligible to return to practice at any point. Baltimore’s first full-squad workout is next Thursday, a day after veteran players must report to the team facility in Owings Mills.

Brown, the 25th overall pick of April’s draft, being on the list isn’t a major surprise as he continues working his way back to full strength from Lisfranc surgery on his left foot in January. On the first night of the draft, general manager Eric DeCosta said he “conservatively” expected the speedy receiver to be back on the field for training camp, but head coach John Harbaugh acknowledged in mid-June that Brown wasn’t yet running full speed on flat ground.

“My expectation is the opening of training camp,” said Harbaugh during mandatory minicamp last month. “I don’t think you can say that for certain because you just don’t know how things are going to progress and where he’s going to be. But, from what I’m told, there have been no setbacks.”

Brown originally injured his foot playing for Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game last Dec. 1 and returned a month later to play in the College Football Playoff semifinal game a month later, but his injury is classified as “non-football” since it occurred outside of the Ravens’ football activities. In contrast, Mekari was placed on the active PUP list after his back flared up during spring workouts in Owings Mills.

Since Ferguson, Mack, and Smith all took part in organized team activities and mandatory minicamp without any reported injuries, their placement on the NFI list could be the result of not passing the conditioning test. Harbaugh’s training camps have long been known for this challenging obstacle at the outset as several former Ravens players noted on social media Thursday evening. In most cases, failing the conditioning test is much more of a short-term blip than a red flag that sticks with a player.

Ferguson, a third-round pick from Louisiana Tech, is expected to compete for playing time in a pass-rush rotation in desperate need of contributors opposite veteran Matthew Judon. A fifth-round selection from Texas A&M, Mack will be competing for reserve snaps on the defensive line.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 2019 NFL draft

Posted on 30 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the 2019 NFL draft now in the rear-view mirror, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After undergoing their biggest roster turnover on defense since the offseason after Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens still went offense with four of their first five picks. That’s quite a change from the 2013 draft when their first four selections were defensive players. I approve for Lamar Jackson’s benefit.

2. Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young were winners of the weekend with none of Baltimore’s eight picks being used on an inside linebacker. With Eric DeCosta having just over $15 million in salary cap space, however, a veteran addition could still be in the cards at some point.

3. Another winner was Matt Skura despite many predicting the Ravens would come away with an early-round center. There’s certainly room for improvement and Bradley Bozeman could push him with a strong offseason, but I don’t get the sense the organization is as down on Skura as some outsiders.

4. DeCosta said the visit with edge rusher Ezekiel Ansah was “great,” but a potential signing likely won’t come until after May 7 when unrestricted free agents no longer impact the compensatory pick formula. Ansah visiting Seattle Monday should dismiss any idea of a handshake agreement being in place.

5. Fifth-round defensive tackle Daylon Mack was considered a disappointment entering his senior year at Texas A&M as a five-star recruit who hadn’t yet become a starter, but 5 1/2 sacks and 9 1/2 tackles for a loss changed that perception. That “sneaky” inside rush ability could be a nice addition.

6. Orlando Brown Jr. attending the draft party for fourth-round guard Ben Powers had to be a cool moment for the reunited Oklahoma teammates and speaks to their close friendship. You’d assume the Ravens had a great scouting report on Powers, who is expected to compete at left guard initially.

7. I’ll be curious to see how the Ravens handle Marquise Brown as he recovers from a Lisfranc injury that could keep him off the practice field until training camp. You don’t want to rush what can be a tricky foot ailment, but developing on-field chemistry with Jackson will be crucial.

8. The Ravens haven’t yet made their undrafted rookie signings official, but the addition of Louisville wide receiver Jaylen Smith made too much sense, especially after he worked with Jackson this offseason. At the very least, it’s a nod to your starting quarterback giving his college teammate a look.

9. Jaleel Scott was a forgotten man after a disappointing summer that ended with him on injured reserve, but the 2018 fourth-round pick has turned some heads this spring with improved speed and fitness. The 6-foot-5 wideout from New Mexico State needs a big preseason to secure a roster spot.

10. Joe Flacco has more important things to worry about after Denver selected Missouri quarterback Drew Lock in the second round, but it’s crazy the Ravens drafted as many wide receivers for Jackson in the first three rounds this weekend as they did over Flacco’s entire 11-year run.

11. Watching the inspiring Miles Taylor and Mo Gaba announce draft picks this weekend was a reminder of how superb the Ravens’ community outreach continues to be. The efforts of so many in the organization really make a lasting impact, including plenty of examples that aren’t publicized.

12. Despite Steve Bisciotti ceremoniously switching the seats of DeCosta and Ozzie Newsome at the conclusion of last year’s draft, the two kept their old spots. I hear Newsome enjoyed himself while DeCosta didn’t let the pressure of running his first draft stop him from playing a practical joke or two.

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