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Twelve Ravens thoughts at conclusion of voluntary OTAs

Posted on 07 June 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens wrapping up their third and final week of voluntary organized team activities, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. DeShon Elliott made the play of OTAs with a diving interception of a deep Robert Griffin III pass. He showed impressive range sprinting from hash to sideline to make the pick. Elliott’s stuck behind Earl Thomas and Tony Jefferson, of course, but I want to watch more of that athleticism.

2. You’re never going to get the full effect of a run-based unit in non-contact practices, but the Ravens offense just didn’t make many plays in OTAs open to media and going against a defense consistently missing several veterans. Minicamp should be interesting with the full defense on the field.

3. Lamar Jackson hasn’t been as consistent as he’d like, but he threw only one interception in the three open voluntary workouts, which came on a pass to Brandon Carr that was a clear miscommunication. Learning a new system has been challenging for the entire offense, but he’s protecting the football.

4. The offense was particularly rough in red-zone drills, which reminds that Baltimore went 11-for-26 in that area with Jackson starting. Greg Roman will use plenty of play-action calls to scheme open targets between the 20s, but Jackson will need to make throws in tight windows in the red zone.

5. It’s been a quiet spring for Jaylon Ferguson, which isn’t all that surprising since his patented bull rush doesn’t really play in non-contact workouts. He’s been out of position from time to time playing the run, but we’ll better know where he is when the pads come on.

6. I’ve seen some snarky remarks about the run-heavy Ravens inviting former Navy coach and triple-option aficionado Paul Johnson to Owings Mills, but I commend a coaching staff seeking new ideas and innovation as we see the influence of the college game continue to make its way into the NFL.

7. Asked about the arrivals of Mark Ingram and Justice Hill, Gus Edwards said “nothing has really changed” and he’s still getting reps with the starters. I do expect him to continue playing an important role, but Edwards averaging 17.4 carries per game like he did from Weeks 11-17 seems unlikely.

8. Iman Marshall faces a steep climb to any defensive playing time as a rookie, but the fourth-round cornerback was impressive with a few pass breakups Thursday. Guys like Marshall, Anthony Averett, and Maurice Canady would be much higher on virtually any other corner depth chart in the league.

9. Their pursuit of Gerald McCoy made it clear the Ravens aren’t perfectly content with their interior pass rush, but Chris Wormley has been active with batted passes and pressures this spring. He will be competing with Zach Sieler to step into the old Brent Urban role.

10. Trade candidate Kaare Vedvik missed field goals from 35 and 48 yards before connecting from 58 after Sam Koch impressively handled a bad snap from rookie Matthew Orzech. I expect Vedvik to receive plenty of preseason opportunities to showcase his strong kicking leg, but consistency is key.

11. Plenty of young receivers flash this time of year before disappearing when the pads come on, but the 5-foot-11, 183-pound Sean Modster made several plays with the reserve units Thursday and was even singled out with praise from slot cornerback Tavon Young.

12. Asked about McCoy, John Harbaugh endorsed his defensive line before challenging critics to “wring their hands” and write how bad his team is. It’s fair to envision the Ravens taking a step back after such roster turnover, but I’ve seen few credible opinions suggesting they’ll be “bad.” Coaches love motivation.

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imanmarshall

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Ravens sign four draft picks, announce rookie free-agent signings

Posted on 03 May 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With their rookies hitting the practice field for the first time this weekend, the Ravens wasted little time signing half of their 2019 draft class to four-year contracts.

On Friday, general manager Eric DeCosta signed fourth-round picks Justice Hill, Ben Powers, and Iman Marshall as well as fifth-round selection Daylon Mack, leaving only wide receivers Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin, outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson, and quarterback Trace McSorley unsigned. Contracts are slotted based on the salary cap and rookie compensation pool, eliminating virtually all of the common holdouts that would occur prior to the 2011 collective bargaining agreement.

Baltimore also announced the signing of its rookie free agents, a list headlined by Miami defensive tackle Gerald Willis and Louisville wide receiver Jaylen Smith. Despite racking up 18 tackles for a loss during his senior season and being viewed by some as a potential Day 2 pick, Willis went undrafted largely because of off-field concerns, which included a reported fight with the son of former Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg that contributed to his dismissal from the University of Florida. Smith, a four-year starter for the Cardinals, had a disappointing senior year after catching a combined 13 touchdowns in his previous two years playing with current Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, but the pair worked out together in Florida this offseason, making the 6-foot-2 wideout a logical addition.

Of the 17 undrafted players signed, three are inside linebackers — Otaro Alaka of Texas A&M, E.J. Ejiya of North Texas, and Silas Stewart of Incarnate Word — after the Ravens did not draft a player at that position of need last weekend. At least one undrafted rookie has made Baltimore’s 53-man roster for 15 straight seasons, making the Ravens an attractive destination for many talents believing they were overlooked during the draft.

Below is the full list of rookie free-agent signings as well as the jersey numbers assigned to the Ravens’ eight draft picks:

ILB Otaro Alaka, Texas A&M — No. 50
OT Marcus Applefield, Virginia — No. 62
ILB E.J. Ejiya, North Texas — No. 57
TE Cole Herdman, Purdue — No. 88
OLB Markus Jones, Angelo State — No. 96
G Patrick Mekari, Cal-Berkeley — No. 65
WR Sean Modster, Boise State — No. 14
DT Kalil Morris, Kent State — No. 91
OLB Mike Onuoha, Texas A&M Commerce — No. 90
LS Matthew Orzech, Azusa Pacific — No. 59
TE Charles Scarff, Delaware — No. 85
WR Jaylen Smith, Louisville — No. 16
ILB Silas Stewart, Incarnate Word — No. 59
C C.J. Toogood, Elon — No. 61
WR Antoine Wesley, Texas Tech — No. 84
DT Gerald Willis, Miami — No. 92
S Evan Worthington, Colorado — No. 30

WR Marquise Brown, Oklahoma — No. 15
OLB Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech — No. 45
WR Miles Boykin, Notre Dame — No. 80
RB Justice Hill, Oklahoma State — No. 43
G Ben Powers, Oklahoma — No. 70
CB Iman Marshall, USC — No. 37
DT Daylon Mack, Texas A&M — No. 94
QB Trace McSorley, Penn State — No. 7

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marquisebrown2

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DeCosta, Ravens take swings to get up to speed in today’s NFL

Posted on 29 April 2019 by Luke Jones

First-year general manager Eric DeCosta followed through after stating more than once over the last calendar year that the Ravens needed to take more swings at the wide receiver position in the NFL draft.

Having lost five notable members of his top-ranked defense this offseason, DeCosta could have made the safe play by loading up on defensive players early while waiting until Day 3 to pluck a wide receiver or two off the board. It was the playbook often used by predecessor Ozzie Newsome — winner of two Super Bowls, mind you — to an almost maddening degree in recent years and for much of the history of the franchise.

DeCosta was quick to state it wasn’t deliberate, but the Ravens drafted two wide receivers — Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown and Notre Dame’s Miles Boykin — in the first three rounds, equaling the total selected in the opening three rounds by Newsome in the previous 11 drafts combined. Even if it was “just kind of how the board fell” as DeCosta put it, the Ravens were the first team to draft a wide receiver in the first round — one regarded as the fastest in the draft — and then traded up nine spots in the third round to take a 6-foot-4, 220-pound wideout who ran a surprising 4.42-second 40-yard dash.

The Ravens weren’t just drafting any wide receivers to aid in second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson’s development, but there was a specific trait in mind, which became even more evident when DeCosta selected Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill with his first pick on Saturday.

“One of the main common denominators is speed. It makes it tough on a defense,” said DeCosta, citing the best opposing offenses he’s watched from the press box in recent seasons. “As good as our defense has been, it’s a challenge for a team to face speed when you have multiple guys on the field at the same time who can run and make explosive plays. It’s challenging. We got a chance to see what Lamar can do this past year, and I think our collective vision for the offense is to add more guys like that to make it really challenging on the defense.”

These picks do carry substantial risk as the history of wide receivers taken with the final 10 picks of the first round in recent years hasn’t been pretty. Brown’s potential speaks for itself if you’ve watched any of his video game-like highlight videos, but we’re still talking about a 5-foot-9, 170-pound receiver currently recovering from a Lisfranc injury. Veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith has acknowledged that same injury still giving him problems years later, but the difference is how much more reliant an undersized receiver like Brown will be on that unique speed.

Boykin could carry more upside than any wide receiver the Ravens have ever drafted — admittedly a low bar — but he registered only 18 receptions before his senior season at Notre Dame, which is often a predictor of underwhelming production at the next level. Still, his physical traits and good catch rate last year were too enticing for the Ravens to overlook.

History says Brown and Boykin are more likely to both be busts than both be draft successes, but having too great a risk-averse mindset leaves one standing on the sideline wondering why the Ravens never get better at the position. Without a top-five pick — and even that isn’t always foolproof — you have to roll the dice from time to time to find dynamic play-making ability, especially if you want to maximize your investment in a first-round quarterback. And that needed to be a priority in this draft.

“Those two guys have [play-making ability] many times over,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “You have a big, fast guy (Boykin), who’s a powerful guy, who can catch and get upfield with the ball with his stride length and his stiff arm, and he goes up and makes catches. He’s a developing player. He’s kind of a younger, developing player. He’s only really had one year in the offense.

“Then, you have the smaller, faster guy (Brown) with quick feet that can make people miss in a short area, in a tight area. He can catch and run in crossing routes. But the bottom line is, these are two really fast guys that make plays, and that’s what we were looking for.”

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman couldn’t have been happier this weekend as he now has some speedy toys to use on the perimeter to complement his dynamic running game and collection of tight ends to make plays over the middle. In addition to what Brown and Boykin bring, Hill posted the fastest 40 time of all running backs at this year’s scouting combine, making him an intriguing change-of-pace option to starter Mark Ingram and the physical Gus Edwards in the backfield.

No, the draft didn’t bring some seismic shift in philosophy as the offense’s foundation will continue to be the ground game, but DeCosta’s early picks made clear the Ravens’ intentions to expand their approach beyond simply running the ball 50 times per game and minimizing Jackson’s passing opportunities. Baltimore addressed its need to get faster, something that had become more apparent watching some of the best offenses in the league in recent years.

There’s no guarantee this will all work to perfection as so much will hinge on Jackson’s development as a passer, but credit DeCosta and the Ravens for taking some risks to improve his chances of succeeding. If nothing else, it should be fun watching opponents try to combat an unconventional offensive attack.

“The idea of adding speed with Lamar is just an exciting thing to think about teams having to defend,” director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. “I know Greg is excited about it and John is excited about it. It’s a chance to really put fear into opposing defenses. I think it really gets you excited.”

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marquisebrown4

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What to expect from Ravens’ 2019 draft picks

Posted on 28 April 2019 by Luke Jones

The picks are in for the 2019 draft, so what can we now expect from the Ravens’ eight selections?

Below is the early look at how each rookie fits now and in the future:

WR Marquise Brown
Drafted: First round (25th overall) from Oklahoma
2019 projected role: We may not see “Hollywood” on the practice field until training camp as he recovers from a foot injury, but the explosive and shifty receiver will immediately compete for a starting role.
Long-term view: His small 5-foot-9, 170-pound frame and the Lisfranc injury raise concerns — ask Jimmy Smith about the latter — but Brown looks the part of the home-run hitter this offense has lacked for years. If he becomes the next DeSean Jackson, the Baltimore pass game could be very fun to watch.

OLB Jaylon Ferguson
Drafted: Third round round (85th overall) from Louisiana Tech
2019 projected role: With the exits of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith, the 6-foot-5, 275-pound Ferguson will compete for the rush linebacker job and extensive snaps in the pass-rush rotation.
Long-term view: You love the college production as Ferguson broke Suggs’ Division I record for career sacks, but he’ll need to expand on his pass-rushing technique as his bull rush won’t overwhelm opposing linemen as frequently at the next level. Ferguson has the traits to be a productive starting edge defender.

WR Miles Boykin
Drafted: Third round (93rd overall) from Notre Dame
2019 projected role: Given the Ravens’ lack of outside receivers, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Boykin will have the chance to compete for meaningful playing time right off the bat, especially if he blocks well.
Long-term view: The combination of size and athleticism makes you think Boykin is just scratching the surface of his potential after his breakout senior year at Notre Dame, but improving his route running and finding more consistency will be keys. Few Ravens wide receivers have ever had as much upside.

RB Justice Hill
Drafted: Fourth round (113th overall) from Oklahoma State
2019 projected role: Hill joins a backfield that includes Mark Ingram and two others — Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon — who averaged over 5.0 yards per carry last year, meaning touches could be scarce early.
Long-term view: A 5-foot-10, 200-pound frame doesn’t scream every-down back, but Hill had the fastest 40-yard dash of any back at the combine and showed big-play ability in college. His development as a receiver out of the backfield will likely be an X factor in determining his ultimate role at the NFL level.

G Ben Powers
Drafted: Fourth round (123rd overall) from Oklahoma
2019 projected role: A three-year starter for the Sooners, the 6-foot-4, 310-pound Powers will compete for the starting left guard spot with the likes of James Hurst, Alex Lewis, and Bradley Bozeman.
Long-term view: Powers earned attention for his WWE-like proclamation of “taking a grown man’s dreams and crushing it,” but his physicality and pedigree coming from a major program is what excites Baltimore. Like close friend Orlando Brown Jr., Powers has the chance to become a starter very quickly.

CB Iman Marshall
Drafted: Fourth round (127th overall) from USC
2019 projected role: Joining the deepest position group on the roster, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Marshall’s only realistic hope of seeing the field this season — injuries aside — is as a special-teams contributor.
Long-term view: With Brandon Carr and Jimmy Smith both over 30, the Ravens taking a Day 3 corner made sense and Marshall’s size and physicality make him an interesting prospect at corner or safety. Penalties were an issue at USC and he isn’t the fastest, but Marshall could be a sleeper in this class.

DT Daylon Mack
Drafted: Fifth round (160th overall) from Texas A&M
2019 projected role: The 340-pound defensive lineman’s best chance of cracking a deep rotation early will be showing off the pass-rush ability that resulted in his 5 1/2 sacks during his senior season.
Long-term view: With Baltimore possibly needing to choose between keeping Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce next offseason, this pick makes sense, especially if Mack builds on a strong 2018 that followed an ordinary first three years with the Aggies. The Ravens know how to find defensive tackles.

QB Trace McSorley
Drafted: Sixth round (197th overall) from Penn State
2019 projected role: The undersized and developmental quarterback will very likely need to contribute in other ways — think of Taysom Hill with New Orleans — to stick on the 53-man roster.
Long-term view: McSorley has the athleticism to play in Baltimore’s run-based offense and showed passing ability two years ago to make you believe he could be an NFL backup before a rough senior year. This is an interesting low-risk flier on a “tough-ass competitor” as John Harbaugh labeled him.

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