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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Defensive line

Posted on 11 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning in two weeks and the preseason opener less than a month away, we’ll look at each Ravens position group before players begin reporting to Owings Mills for the first full-squad practice on July 25.

July 9 — Cornerbacks
July 10 — Running backs

We continue on the defensive line, a group that includes one of the best run-stopping duos in the NFL and only two players over age 25. However, with the free-agent departures of Za’Darius Smith, Terrell Suggs, and Brent Urban, the Ravens are looking for viable pass-rushing options both off the edge and inside. Smith and Urban frequently lined up as interior rushers last season, so defensive coordinator Wink Martindale will need at least a couple interior linemen to create pressure in the pocket. Returning veteran Pernell McPhee also has a chance to be part of that equation as someone moving to an interior spot in sub packages, but he’s officially listed as an outside linebacker.

It’s worth noting usage of the defensive line is certainly evolving in today’s game as the Ravens ran their “base” 3-4 defense just 16 percent of the time last season, according to Football Outsiders. With at least five defensive backs on the field an overwhelming majority of the time, there are fewer and fewer instances of the nose tackle, 3-techinique tackle, and 5-technique end all being on the field at the same time. Defensive linemen capable of both rushing the passer and stopping the run have always been valuable, of course, but one-dimensional run stoppers are finding fewer snaps with the ever-increasing emphasis on the passing game.

Below is a look at several defensive linemen who stand out for various reasons:

The Man — Brandon Williams
Skinny: One could certainly argue the 30-year-old hasn’t played up to the five-year, $52.5 million deal signed in 2017, but he remains one of the better run-stopping nose tackles in the NFL and anchored a defense that allowed only 3.7 yards per carry in 2018. Williams played in every game for the fourth time in the last five years while his 517 defensive snaps led all returning Baltimore defensive linemen.

Old Reliable — Williams
Skinny: With the second-oldest defensive lineman on the current roster just 26 years old, there’s no choice here other than the 2013 third-round pick, who was named to the 2018 Pro Bowl as an alternate.

Under Fire — Michael Pierce
Skinny: Before showing up with weight and conditioning concerns that prompted John Harbaugh to pull him off the practice field last month, the run-wrecking Pierce had a strong argument as “The Man” of this position group. Instead, he’s under the microscope in a contract year despite grading as Pro Football Focus’ fifth-best interior defender in the NFL in 2018. Assuming the 26-year-old gets into ideal shape, his next step will be further improving his pass-rush ability to enhance his market value.

Up-and-Comer — Chris Wormley
Skinny: Urban didn’t sign with Tennessee until after the draft and received only a small one-year commitment, making it clear the Ravens had more than enough confidence in Wormley stepping into a bigger role at the 5-technique spot after injuries prompted him to be more of a 3-technique option in his second season. PFF graded the 2017 third-round pick as the NFL’s 67th-best interior defender last year, but he should receive plenty of opportunities as an inside rusher.

Sleeper — Zach Sieler
Skinny: The 2018 seventh-round pick from Ferris State was Ozzie Newsome’s final draft selection as general manager and played only 17 snaps as a rookie, but the Ravens love his 6-foot-6, 290-pound frame and didn’t keep him on the 53-man roster all last season without having bigger plans in mind. If Wormley doesn’t take a step forward, Sieler could easily push for some of his snaps. 

The Rest — Willie Henry, Patrick Ricard, Daylon Mack, Gerald Willis
Skinny: Hernia surgery and then a season-ending back injury limited Henry to just three games and 82 snaps in 2018, but he appeared on the verge of securing a starting spot last summer and was coming off an impressive 2017 campaign in which he collected 3 1/2 sacks, 11 quarterback hits, and five batted passes. Baltimore is counting on him to be healthy enough to serve as one of its primary interior rushers in the final year of his rookie deal. … Ricard’s versatility as a two-way player makes him more valuable, but he’s yet to stand out in limited defensive opportunities over his first two seasons. … Willis is a rookie free agent to watch after a turbulent college career that included multiple problems off the field and a 2018 campaign in which he recorded 18 tackles for a loss and four sacks to earn second-team All-America honors at Miami.

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Sizing up the 2019 Ravens roster after mandatory minicamp

Posted on 19 June 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens won’t trim their roster to 53 players until the end of the preseason, but the conclusion of mandatory minicamp offer a much better idea of what the coaching staff has to work with in 2019.

This exercise will carry more meaning as we advance to the preseason, but my all-too-early look at the roster is still based more on track record, contract status, draft standing, and positional need than observations from a handful of non-contact practices this spring. For now, I estimate 44 players to be safely on the roster, leaving nine spots up for grabs. We’ll get a much better idea of where players stand starting with the snap distribution when training camp begins next month.

In other words, don’t read too much into who is deemed a bubble player now as much will change between now and even the start of preseason action. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with certain position groups lacking quality depth and others enjoying so much talent that could fall victim to the numbers game.

Though general manager Eric DeCosta, head coach John Harbaugh, and the rest of the staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, trying to arbitrarily pinpoint a certain number of tight ends or inside linebackers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. You always look for reserves who will excel on special teams, so coaches will look carefully at players’ other attributes in addition to what they bring to their individual position groups when filling out the back of the roster.

The numbers in parentheses indicate how many players are currently on the roster at that position. As we move deeper into the summer, I’ll provide updated looks as well as projections of who’s in and who’s out at different stages of the preseason.

QUARTERBACKS (3)
IN: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III
BUBBLE: Trace McSorley
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: McSorley showed growth over the course of the spring and should feel much better about his chances, but I’m not quite ready to say he’ll definitely be on the roster when you look at the logjam at some other positions. I’d still expect a fourth quarterback to be added to share the summer reps.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (7)
IN: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
BUBBLE: Kenneth Dixon, De’Lance Turner
LONG SHOT: Tyler Ervin, Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: Little has changed with this position group, but Ervin’s return ability at least puts him on the radar to potentially steal a spot. Dixon took issue with how his absences from voluntary workouts were perceived, but he needs a strong and healthy preseason to stick in the final year of his rookie deal.

WIDE RECEIVERS (13)
IN: Willie Snead, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Seth Roberts, Jaleel Scott, Jordan Lasley, Michael Floyd
LONG SHOT: Sean Modster, Antoine Wesley, Quincy Adeboyejo, Jaylen Smith, Joe Horn Jr.
Skinny: Scott, Modster, and Wesley flashed during workouts, but this group looked very ordinary overall, which wasn’t a big surprise as Brown and Boykin were sidelined. The numbers game will be interesting as you wonder how many receivers the run-heavy Ravens will even feel compelled to keep.

TIGHT ENDS (5)
IN: Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
BUBBLE: Charles Scarff
LONG SHOT: Cole Herdman
Skinny: Knowing how much offensive coordinator Greg Roman values this position, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a fourth tight end with blocking ability stick with the 249-pound Scarff having the current edge. However, the Ravens could also use the versatile Patrick Ricard in that role.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (16)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Matt Skura, Ben Powers, James Hurst, Bradley Bozeman
BUBBLE: Jermaine Eluemunor, Alex Lewis, Greg Senat
LONG SHOT: Randin Crecelius, R.J. Prince, Patrick Mekari, Marcus Applefield, Darrell Williams, Patrick Vahe
Skinny: Eluemunor lining up as the starting left guard this spring was surprising, but Harbaugh saying his conditioning needs to improve keeps me from moving him to the “in” line just yet. Lewis missing the spring program while rehabbing his shoulder on his own leaves him with much to prove.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
IN: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, Daylon Mack
BUBBLE: Zach Sieler, Gerald Willis, Patrick Ricard
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: Sieler is probably safe because of the shortage of 5-technique options on the roster, but Willis is an interesting name to watch as a rookie free agent. Ricard’s ability to play on both sides of the ball always improves his roster chances, but he was a healthy scratch for the final six games last season.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (8)
IN: Patrick Onwuasor, Chris Board, Kenny Young
BUBBLE: Matthew Thomas, Otaro Alaka
LONG SHOT: Alvin Jones, E.J. Ejiya, Silas Stewart
Skinny: There is very little clarity in this group beyond the top three, but you would think the Ravens prefer keeping at least one more inside linebacker. Any lingering doubt about Board’s status was erased this spring as he arguably moved ahead of Young in the competition to start next to Onwuasor.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (9)
IN: Matthew Judon, Jaylon Ferguson, Tyus Bowser
BUBBLE: Pernell McPhee, Shane Ray, Tim Williams
LONG SHOT: Aaron Adeoye, Markus Jones, Michael Onuoha
Skinny: Bowser’s ability to drop into pass coverage gives him an edge over the other outside linebackers vying for a roster spot, but McPhee being able to slide inside in sub packages really helps his chances. Ray flashed during the spring, but the proof will be when the pads come on.

CORNERBACKS (11)
IN: Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Jimmy Smith, Tavon Young, Justin Bethel, Anthony Averett, Iman Marshall
BUBBLE: Cyrus Jones, Maurice Canady
LONG SHOT: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Terrell Bonds
Skinny: Barring injuries, Baltimore is almost guaranteed to lose a quality player or two from this group. However, I’m not buying Bethel being on the bubble after the Ravens gave him a $1 million bonus and took a compensatory pick formula hit to sign him despite their established depth here.

SAFETIES (6)
IN: Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, DeShon Elliott, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: Chuck Clark
LONG SHOT: Bennett Jackson
Skinny: The standout play of Elliott was one of the highlights of the spring as he showed impressive range in coverage to go with the physicality he flashed as a rookie last summer. Clark is a rock-solid backup entering his third season, but could the roster crunch at other positions squeeze him out?

SPECIALISTS (5)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Kaare Vedvik, Matthew Orzech
Skinny: Vedvik really struggled with his kicking accuracy during spring practices open to reporters and will need to rebound in the preseason to build his potential trade value.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following first week of OTAs

Posted on 24 May 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens’ first week of organized team activities in the books, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Making any bold proclamations after one spring practice is irresponsible, but Lamar Jackson showed more oomph with his intermediate passes, especially early in the session. His consistency waned over the final 45 minutes, however, with a few too many inaccurate and wobbly throws. Remember he’s also learning a revamped offense.

2. Being cautious with Marquise Brown (foot) and Miles Boykin (hamstring) is the obvious right call, but they can’t have too many reps with Jackson if they’re to make a meaningful impact as rookies. As we saw with Breshad Perriman, injuries can quickly torpedo expectations for a young wide receiver.

3. The competition at outside linebacker will receive more attention, but the likes of Willie Henry, Zach Sieler, and Pernell McPhee serving as viable interior rushers will be nearly as critical. Sieler is one to watch after he stuck on the 53-man roster all last season despite being active only twice.

4. Many seemed ready to write off Tyus Bowser or suggest he move to inside linebacker after the McPhee and Shane Ray signings, but the shortage of “Sam” outside linebackers capable of dropping into coverage keeps him in good position from a roster standpoint. The pressure is still on, of course.

5. While Kenneth Dixon skipped Thursday’s OTA, Gus Edwards and De’Lance Turner appeared to be in great shape as both looked leaner. It’s been mentioned before, but Turner was promoted to the 53-man roster a full month before Edwards was elevated last year.

6. Several defensive veterans exercised their right to not attend the voluntary workout, but Brandon Carr was present and working just days after his 33rd birthday. Father Time will eventually catch up, but his rock-solid play and understated leadership have made his 2017 signing a very good one.

7. New wide receivers coach and passing coordinator David Culley has immediately become one of John Harbaugh’s most vocal assistants as you hear him offering praise or blunt criticism for Ravens wide receivers. It’s quite a contrast from the quieter Bobby Engram, who is now coaching the tight ends.

8. Asked about his 2019 goals, Marlon Humphrey said he’s interested in “anything that ends with a ‘Bowl.’ It might be a stretch to envision this team in transition winning the Super Bowl this year, but I’m expecting Humphrey to make his first Pro Bowl as long as he stays healthy.

9. Jaylen Smith and Joe Horn Jr. have received attention as undrafted rookie receivers for obvious reasons, but 6-foot-4 Texas Tech product Antoine Wesley flashed multiple times Thursday, including when he caught a long bomb from Robert Griffin III. He lacks great speed, but you like the height.

10. That praise aside, please spare me the narrative of there being so much competition at wide receiver for one year, especially with an offense that so highly values the running game and tight ends. I’ve heard it — and sometimes fallen for it — too many times in the past.

11. Reports have linked six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to the Ravens, but it’s tough seeing a financial fit if he’s receiving offers as high as $11 million per year from interested teams. The 31-year-old has collected five or more sacks in seven straight seasons, however.

12. I don’t want to make too much out of it, but Jackson saying he came into the spring not knowing the Ravens would have “a totally different offense” was odd after rebuilding the system “from the ground up” was such a strong talking point this offseason.

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Sizing up the 2019 Ravens’ 90-man roster following rookie camp

Posted on 08 May 2019 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Thursday 2:30 p.m.)

The Ravens won’t trim their roster to 53 players for nearly four more months, but the draft and rookie free-agent signings offer a much better idea of what John Harbaugh and his coaching staff have to work with for the 2019 season.

This exercise will carry more meaning as we advance into the preseason, but my all-too-early look at the roster is based more on track record, contract status, draft standing, and positional need than anticipating improvement or regression from any given player. We’ll get a much better idea of where players stand beginning with the snap distribution during organized team activities later this month.

In other words, don’t read too much into who might be deemed a bubble player now as much will change before the Ravens even get to training camp in July. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with certain position groups lacking as much quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game.

Though general manager Eric DeCosta, Harbaugh, and the rest of the staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, trying to arbitrarily pinpoint a certain number of tight ends or inside linebackers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. The Ravens always look for reserves who will excel on special teams, so coaches will look carefully at players’ other attributes in addition to what they bring to their individual position groups when filling out the back of the roster.

The numbers in parentheses indicate how many players are currently on the roster at that position. As we move deeper into the spring and summer, I’ll provide updated looks as well as projections of who’s in and who’s out at different stages of the preseason.

QUARTERBACKS (4)
IN: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III
BUBBLE: Trace McSorley
LONG SHOT: Jalan McClendon
Skinny: How the coaching staff uses McSorley and how he develops will determine whether Baltimore carries three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster for a second straight year and only the second time in the last decade. Comparisons to New Orleans’ Taysom Hill — who is much bigger — will continue.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (7)
IN: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
BUBBLE: Kenneth Dixon, De’Lance Turner
LONG SHOT: Christopher Ezeala, Tyler Ervin
Skinny: Suggesting someone who averaged 5.6 yards per carry last year could be on the bubble speaks to the great backfield depth. Dixon could also be a trade chip entering the final year of his contract, but a history of injuries and suspensions could prompt a tough decision. Don’t sleep on Turner either.

WIDE RECEIVERS (12)
IN: Willie Snead, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Seth Roberts, Jaleel Scott, Jordan Lasley
LONG SHOT: Quincy Adeboyejo, Sean Modster, Jaylen Smith, Antoine Wesley, Joe Horn Jr.
Skinny: With Baltimore expected to again use multiple tight ends and run the ball so frequently, the brass won’t feel compelled to keep more than four or five receivers unless others prove deserving of a spot. This is a critical preseason for Scott and Lasley, who played zero snaps as rookies last year.

TIGHT ENDS (5)
IN: Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Cole Herdman, Charles Scarff
Skinny: Offensive coordinator Greg Roman may prefer having another blocking tight end in the mix to replace Maxx Williams, but it’s premature to handicap the chances of these candidates. Keizer spent much of last year with the organization, giving him a slight experience edge over the two rookies.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (16)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Matt Skura, Ben Powers, Bradley Bozeman
BUBBLE: James Hurst, Alex Lewis, Jermaine Eluemunor, Greg Senat
LONG SHOT: Randin Crecelius, R.J. Prince, Patrick Mekari, Marcus Applefield, Darrell Williams, Patrick Vahe
Skinny: Bozeman’s ability to play center makes him a safe bet while Hurst’s $4.75 million cap number and injury-riddled 2018 leave his status in at least some question until he proves his back problems are behind him. Time could be running out for Lewis, who just hasn’t been able to stay on the field.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
IN: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, Daylon Mack
BUBBLE: Zach Sieler, Gerald Willis, Patrick Ricard
LONG SHOT: Kalil Morris
Skinny: This is a tough group to handicap after the duo of Williams and Pierce, but Henry is the best interior rusher on the roster despite missing most of 2018. Sieler is a good bet to make it as a 5-technique end, but the talented Willis could be the wild card after surprisingly going undrafted.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (8)
IN: Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young, Chris Board
BUBBLE: Matthew Thomas, Alvin Jones, Otaro Alaka, E.J. Ejiya, Silas Stewart
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: Board leading the team in special-teams tackles as a rookie leaves him safe at this point. The competition for a potential roster spot behind him is wide open, however, with Thomas, a former Pittsburgh Steeler, headlining a group lacking experience. They’re listed as bubble players by default.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
IN: Matt Judon, Jaylon Ferguson, Tyus Bowser
BUBBLE: Tim Williams
LONG SHOT: Aaron Adeoye, Markus Jones, Michael Onuoha
Skinny: Contributions on special teams and the shortage of strong-side or “Sam” backers give Bowser a clear edge over Williams, who appeared in only seven games in 2018 and was a healthy scratch by season’s end. There should be opportunities for the long shots to try to put themselves on the radar.

CORNERBACKS (11)
IN: Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, Justin Bethel, Anthony Averett, Iman Marshall
BUBBLE: Cyrus Jones, Maurice Canady
LONG SHOT: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Terrell Bonds
Skinny: There isn’t a deeper group of corners in the NFL, leaving the Ravens with a good problem trying to decide which ones to keep. Jones returning kickoffs in addition to punts would cement his spot — he only did the latter last year — while the oft-injured Canady is in the final year of his rookie deal.

SAFETIES (6)
IN: Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: DeShon Elliott
LONG SHOT: Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Elliott is the one to watch in this group as he showed promise before breaking his forearm in the preseason last year and could potentially push Clark for some playing time in sub packages. Levine’s positional versatility remains an invaluable part of Wink Martindale’s defense.

SPECIALISTS (5)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Kaare Vedvik, Matthew Orzech
Skinny: The Ravens will hope Vedvik kicks the football like he did last summer to improve his trade value at the end of the preseason. Beyond that, there’s little to see here.

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How did Ravens defensive linemen stack up to rest of NFL in 2018?

Posted on 12 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, but where did their players stack up across the NFL in 2018?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or determining postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few watch every player on every team extensively enough to form any type of an authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you watch the offensive line of the Detroit Lions this season? What about the Oakland Raiders linebackers or the San Francisco 49ers cornerbacks?

That’s why I appreciate the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus while acknowledging these rankings shouldn’t be viewed as infallible or the gospel of evaluation. I can respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when most of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis.

Below is a look at where Ravens defensive linemen ranked at their positions followed by the positional outlook going into 2019:

Offensive linemen
Linebackers
Tight ends

Brandon Williams
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 517
PFF ranking: 33rd among interior defenders
Skinny: Williams ranked 22nd among interior defenders against the run, but opinions have varied on his value since before he signed his $52.5 million contract two years ago. The nose tackle played a major part in Baltimore ranking third in yards per carry allowed, but he played just 50 percent of defensive snaps.

Brent Urban
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 522
PFF ranking: 49th among interior defenders
Skinny: Urban played all 16 games in a season for just the second time in his career and did the dirty work at the 5-techniqe end spot, but he made few splash plays with only a half-sack and two tipped passes. The Ravens would likely be interested in re-signing Urban again to a short-term deal.

Chris Wormley
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 401
PFF ranking: 67th among interior defenders
Skinny: The 2017 third-round pick made six starts prior to the bye week and established himself as a regular member of the game-day rotation, but his playing time declined after the bye as he made less of an impact. Wormley could find himself playing more 5-techinique if Urban departs via free agency.

Michael Pierce
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 389
PFF ranking: fifth among interior defenders
Skinny: Despite being slowed by a foot injury early in the year, Pierce thrived in his third season, providing more ammunition for critics of the Williams contract. The former undrafted free agent is positioning himself for a strong payday after 2019, especially if he can offer a little more as a pass rusher.

Willie Henry
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 82
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Henry was on his way to becoming the starting 3-techinique defensive tackle before August hernia surgery cost him the first four games of the year and an October back injury ended his season. The Ravens missed his inside pass-rushing ability, something he’ll hope to reestablish in a contract year.

Patrick Ricard
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 47
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The versatile Ricard also took snaps as a blocking fullback, but he wasn’t active after Week 12 and the surfacing of past racist and homophobic tweets didn’t help his perception. His ability to play on either side of the ball helps his roster standing, but he’s far from a lock to make the team in 2019.

Zach Sieler
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 17
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Ozzie Newsome’s final draft pick last April, Sieler spent most of the year as a game-day inactive, but the Ferris State product flashed enough last summer to warrant the organization keeping him on the roster. Sieler could move into a more significant role in 2019, especially if Urban signs elsewhere.

2019 positional outlook

Even with Urban being an unrestricted free agent and Pierce a restricted free agent, this remains one of the better positional groups on the roster going into next season. The Ravens would benefit from Wormley and Sieler taking a step forward to become bigger factors as 5-technique players, but they’ll again be strong inside with Williams, Pierce, and a returning Henry. It’s worth mentioning how frequently linebacker Za’Darius Smith moved to the interior line to rush the quarterback in obvious passing situations this past season, so Baltimore will have its eyes peeled for an interior lineman who can pressure the pocket. It will be fascinating to see how Pierce and Williams play in 2019 and how that might impact the organization’s plans for 2020 and beyond. Pierce is 3 1/2 years younger and will be an unrestricted free agent while the Ravens could conceivably move on from Williams’ deal next offseason.

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Predicting Ravens’ initial 53-man roster at end of 2018 preseason

Posted on 31 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With the 2018 preseason in the books, the Ravens turn their attention toward the season opener against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 9.

First, it’s time to go on the record with the final projection of Baltimore’s 53-man roster ahead of the regular season with general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh making cuts by 4 p.m. on Saturday. Of course, this will only be the first 53-man squad as the Ravens will explore outside moves and additions over the next few days.

Though the coaching staff and the front office are aware of the numbers at each position, arbitrarily keeping a specific number of receivers or linebackers or defensive linemen isn’t the most accurate way of projecting the roster. Ultimately, the organization wants to keep the best 53-player combination with positional preference serving more as a tiebreaker than as a hard rule that could potentially result in keeping an inferior player. In filling out the back end of their roster, the Ravens always look carefully at players’ special-teams abilities in addition to what they bring to their offensive or defensive positions. They must also consider recent injuries to players who won’t be available for the first few games of the season and make sure they’re covered from a depth standpoint.

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

QUARTERBACKS (2)
IN: Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson
OUT: Robert Griffin III, Josh Woodrum
Skinny: Even with Griffin sitting against Washington, I’ll stick with two quarterbacks, especially with the growth shown by Jackson over the last two games. I don’t think Harbaugh saying Griffin “looks like a starter” was by accident as the Ravens will try to find a trade partner in hopes of acquiring a modest depth piece such as an offensive lineman or someone with return experience. Of course, I won’t be shocked if Griffin stays, but it’s strange that a team that was content with Ryan Mallett backing up an ailing Flacco last year would suddenly change its backup standard so much with its first-round pick.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (4)
IN: Alex Collins, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Patrick Ricard
OUT: Gus Edwards, Mark Thompson, De’Lance Turner
PRACTICE SQUAD ROSTER EXEMPTION: Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: I’d be surprised not to see at least one of these rookie free agents on the practice squad as they all had their moments this preseason, but this group appears set. Ricard may also find himself with a bigger role in the defensive line rotation after the way he played this summer.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)
IN: Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Jordan Lasley
OUT: Tim White, Janarion Grant, Breshad Perriman, Andre Levrone, DeVier Posey
INJURED RESERVE: Jaleel Scott
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Quincy Adeboyejo
Skinny: Neither White nor Grant did enough this summer to warrant a roster spot as a return specialist, but the Ravens should be able to get one of them to the practice squad while searching for an outside addition. Moore did a good job returning kickoffs last year, and Snead could serve as a conservative punt returner mostly calling fair catches. Lasley had a disappointing preseason, but he showed enough potential during training camp to justify not giving up on him so quickly.

TIGHT ENDS (5)
IN: Hayden Hurst, Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Maxx Williams, Darren Waller
OUT: Vince Mayle, Nick Keizer
Skinny: With the young wide receiver competition never materializing and Hurst out for at least the first couple games, Waller surprisingly sneaks onto the roster primarily as a special-teams player, and his size and athleticism make him a potential option in the red zone and as a bigger slot receiver. Andrews’ performance in the preseason finale was encouraging as the Ravens need someone from this group to be at least a moderate factor in the passing game until Hurst returns from the foot injury.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Matt Skura, Orlando Brown Jr., James Hurst, Bradley Bozeman, Jermaine Eluemunor
OUT:  Nico Siragusa, Andrew Donnal, Maurquice Shakir, Randin Crecelius, Justin Evans, Cameron Lee
INJURED RESERVE: Greg Senat
Skinny: Brown’s development at right tackle was one of the biggest positives of the summer, but the center position remains a concern and no one beyond the top six has inspired confidence as a depth piece. Newsome will likely be working the phones trying to add some veteran help for this group. Given his status as a former fourth-round pick, Siragusa making the roster wouldn’t be surprising, but he just doesn’t look 100 percent after last summer’s serious knee injury.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (7)
IN: Brandon Williams, Willie Henry, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Brent Urban, Zach Sieler, Carl Davis
OUT: Bronson Kaufusi, Myles Humphrey, Christian LaCouture
Skinny: Before the news of Henry undergoing hernia surgery, I may have left Davis on the outside looking in, but his ability to play all three defensive line spots in the base defense makes him more attractive for the time being. Kaufusi had an excellent game against Washington, but he was way too quiet this summer and all last season to put too much stock into one performance.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)
IN: C.J. Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young, Chris Board, Albert McClellan
OUT: Alvin Jones
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Bam Bradley
Skinny: The Kamalei Correa trade and a potential knee injury for Young have changed the makeup of this position group. Board looks like the near-annual long shot the Ravens could keep and develop while he contributes on special teams. I had been predicting McClellan wouldn’t make it, but Correa and veteran departure Steven Johnson combined to play over 600 special-teams snaps last year. I’m not convinced Jerry Rosburg is just going to hand over that much responsibility to inexperienced players, and not playing McClellan on Thursday would be a tough way to send out the longtime Raven.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)
IN: Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser
OUT: none
Skinny: Tim Williams was the defensive star of the preseason and should receive more opportunities as a situational pass rusher, but Bowser missing so much of the summer with a groin injury has certainly tempered expectations of him taking a big leap in his second season.

CORNERBACKS (5)
IN: Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, Maurice Canady, Anthony Averett
OUT: Darious Williams, Jackson Porter, Robertson Daniel
SUSPENDED: Jimmy Smith
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Jaylen Hill
INJURED RESERVE: Stanley Jean-Baptiste
Skinny: You have to feel for Jean-Baptiste, who looked like he was on his way to grabbing a roster spot before suffering what’s believed to be a broken arm in the preseason finale. Assuming Canady is ready to go for Week 1, the Ravens should be fine with only five cornerbacks since Anthony Levine is capable of playing some nickel in a game-day pinch. Regardless of the number of corners the Ravens keep, not having Smith for the first four games will be a challenge.

SAFETIES (4)
IN: Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine
OUT: Kai Nacua, Bennett Jackson
INJURED RESERVE: DeShon Elliott
Skinny: With the long-term injuries suffered by Elliott and Jean-Baptiste in consecutive weeks, Nacua may have an outside shot to stick on the roster as a special-teams player, but four safeties should be fine.

SPECIALISTS (3)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
OUT: Kaare Vedvik, Trent Sieg
Skinny: After watching him hit a 56-yard field goal to cap a very impressive summer, I get the feeling another team is going to be happy to have Vedvik in the not-too-distant future. A team with a lesser kicking battery would be thinking long and hard about making a change.

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Sizing up the 2018 Ravens roster entering fourth preseason game

Posted on 24 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With two preseason games remaining, it’s time to to once again examine the Ravens’ 53-man roster as we move closer to final cuts being made next weekend.

My current assessment suggests as many as 44 players would be considered safely on the roster if the deadline were to come now. This number is higher than in recent years and reflects the lack of roster turnover on the defensive side of the ball, the team-record-tying 12 selections in this year’s draft, and the absence of any season-ending injuries being sustained so far this summer.

My rough assessment of the 91 players currently on the roster — fullback Christopher Ezeala carries an international player roster exemption — lists 20 on the bubble. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with some position groups lacking as much quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game. It’s also important to consider any player’s contract status as the organization is more likely to retain a player with multiple years of control remaining compared to one similar — or even marginally better — in talent who’s nearing the end of his contract.

Though general manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh, and the rest of the coaching staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, arbitrarily trying to pinpoint a specific number of tight ends or inside linebackers or wide receivers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. The Ravens are always looking for reserves who will excel on special teams, so coaches will look carefully at players’ other attributes in addition to what they bring to their specific positions when filling out the end of the roster.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players currently on the roster at that given position. Bubble players who are underlined are the ones making the cut for the projected 53-man roster as of Aug. 24. You can check out last week’s projection HERE.

QUARTERBACKS (4)
IN: Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson
BUBBLE: Robert Griffin III
LONG SHOT: Josh Woodrum
Skinny: Harbaugh said the decision whether to keep Griffin will “go right to the wire” next week, but I continue to see too many other useful players at other positions for the Ravens to carry three quarterbacks for the first time since 2009. This decision has always been much more about Jackson than Griffin, so seeing the rookie make strides over the last two preseason games would ease concerns.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (8)
IN: Alex Collins, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Patrick Ricard
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Gus Edwards, Mark Thompson, De’Lance Turner
PRACTICE SQUAD ROSTER EXEMPTION: Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: Dixon showed Monday exactly what the organization needed to see to eliminate any notion of him being on the bubble, but durability continues to be a concern with the 2016 fourth-round pick. Edwards is closer to being a practice-squad candidate than to having much of a chance to making the team, but it was interesting to see him line up as a fullback in a short-yardage situation on Monday.

WIDE RECEIVERS (12)
IN: Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Jordan Lasley, Jaleel Scott, Tim White, Janarion Grant, Breshad Perriman
LONG SHOT: Andre Levrone, DeVier Posey
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Quincy Adeboyejo
Skinny: The young wide receivers are the most disappointing position group of the summer as Lasley has regressed and Scott appears in great danger of becoming the first fourth-round pick in franchise history to be cut as a rookie. Returner candidates White and Grant each fumbled against the Colts and haven’t done enough to warrant a spot while Perriman still hasn’t played a single special-teams play.

TIGHT ENDS (7)
IN: Hayden Hurst, Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews
BUBBLE: Maxx WilliamsDarren Waller, Vince Mayle
LONG SHOT: Nick Keizer
Skinny: The foot injury to Hurst improves the chances of Williams sticking to start the year since the Ravens use tight ends prominently in their run-blocking schemes. And with young wide receivers like Scott disappointing this summer and taking into account his special-teams skills, Waller could land on the roster as a red-zone and slot option while assuming Mayle’s special-teams role from last year.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (15)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Matt Skura, James Hurst, Orlando Brown Jr.
BUBBLE:  Nico Siragusa, Bradley Bozeman, Greg Senat, Jermaine Eluemunor
LONG SHOT: Andrew Donnal, Maurquice Shakir, Randin Crecelius, Justin Evans, Cameron Lee
Skinny: Siragusa and Eleumunor have gone in opposite directions with the former improving from the start of camp and the latter not playing like the most experienced member of this bubble group. You can probably flip a coin between Bozeman and Senat as the uncertainty at center and the lack of quality backup options behind Stanley help their roster chances, making it possible they both stick.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
IN: Brandon Williams, Willie Henry, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Brent Urban
BUBBLE: Zach SielerCarl Davis, Bronson Kaufusi
LONG SHOT: Myles Humphrey, Christian LaCouture
Skinny: Momentum continues for Sieler to make the roster while the veteran Davis hasn’t done as much to enhance his chances, prompting me to flip those two in the group’s overall hierarchy. Kaufusi’s standing as a former third-round pick is probably the only factor keeping him in any serious roster discussion, but he’s likely on the outside looking in with the versatile Ricard factoring into this group.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (6)
IN: C.J. Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young
BUBBLE: Albert McClellan
LONG SHOT: Chris Board, Alvin Jones
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Bam Bradley
Skinny: McClellan remains a very tough call and still shouldn’t be dismissed as his experience, special-teams ability, and versatility are valuable traits. Young had a strong performance against Indianapolis and appears to be closing the gap with Onwuasor for the starting job next to Mosley, but the weak-side inside spot remains a fair concern going into the regular season.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
IN: Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser
BUBBLE: Kamalei Correa
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: There was much buzz about Correa’s great performance in the Hall of Fame Game, but he’s been quiet in the last two preseason contests and is still depending on his special-teams play and versatility to be the difference in earning a spot. Williams has looked like the most improved player on the roster and is also playing the run better than he did as a rookie last year.

CORNERBACKS (10)
IN: Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, Maurice Canady, Anthony Averett
BUBBLE: Stanley Jean-Baptiste
LONG SHOT: Darious Williams, Jackson Porter
SUSPENDED: Jimmy Smith
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Jaylen Hill
Skinny: Smith’s suspension and Canady being in and out of practice with nagging physical issues could prompt the Ravens to keep Jean-Baptiste, who has had a good summer and has impressive 6-foot-3 size on the outside. The argument against keeping him is be the versatility of players such as Canady, Young, Anthony Levine, and Chuck Clark, who can line up in multiple places in the secondary.

SAFETIES (7)
IN: Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: DeShon Elliott
LONG SHOT: Kai Nacua, Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Between Clark last year and Elliott this spring, the organization has found good value at the safety position in the sixth round, which is important considering how many cap resources are devoted to Weddle and Jefferson. This hasn’t been discussed much, but you would have liked to have seen Jefferson play more in the preseason after he didn’t have the most impressive debut year in Baltimore.

SPECIALISTS (5)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Kaare Vedvik, Trent Sieg
Skinny: Koch labeled Vedvik “one of the most impressive guys” he’s seen among the many camp bodies to come through Owings Mills and Westminster over so many summers. That’s high praise from a straight shooter like Koch as Vedvik definitely has the talent to catch on elsewhere.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following second preseason victory

Posted on 12 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their 10th preseason game in a row in a 33-7 final over the Los Angeles Rams, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Playing well in victory beats the alternative, but the Rams rested all but two projected starters and were playing their first preseason game while Baltimore starters played early and reserves and rookies were competing in their second exhibition contest. The action looked every bit like that.

2. Tim Williams followed Kamalei Correa’s standout performance in the Hall of Fame Game with five tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble to continue his strong summer. While those two see their stock rise, a groin injury isn’t helping Tyus Bowser’s bid for more playing time in 2018.

3. After watching Lamar Jackson run for his life in Canton, giving him a series with the first-team offensive line was a prudent move as he hit Chris Moore for a 36-yard completion and ran for a touchdown in highlight fashion. He looked more comfortable than last week, especially early on.

4. It was still another mixed-bag performance for Jackson, who took a sack on third down to create a longer field goal try that was unsuccessful and made an ill-advised throw from his end zone that should have been intercepted. My biggest concern remains the number of hits he’s willingly taking.

5. It was only nine defensive snaps, but no one expected Jimmy Smith to be playing this early in the preseason, a major credit to his rehab work. He moved well and closed quickly on a slant pass to keep it to a four-yard gain on the Ravens’ first defensive snap.

6. Marlon Humphrey and Tavon Young being the second defense’s base cornerbacks and Maurice Canady and Anthony Averett the third unit’s reflect the embarrassment of riches at the cornerback position now. It’s quite a difference from the days of Asa Jackson and Chykie Brown battling for the nickel job.

7. John Harbaugh said James Hurst still has the “inside track” in the right tackle competition, but Orlando Brown Jr. is doing everything he can to earn the job. He’s decreased his body fat from 31 percent in January to 19 percent now. The spot should be his sooner than later.

8. Patrick Ricard caught a touchdown from Joe Flacco and even ran a wheel route as a fullback, but he added 10 pounds in the offseason and his play along the defensive line is turning some heads as he finished with four tackles and a quarterback hit on Thursday.

9. I felt good for Breshad Perriman catching three passes for 71 yards and a touchdown, but the fact that he didn’t play until the second half was telling. Barring injuries, his status as a former first-round pick might be the only factor keeping him on the bubble at this point.

10. Zach Sieler is one reason why the Ravens face tough roster decisions along the defensive line. The seventh-round rookie from Ferris State registered a sack and a quarterback hit against the Rams and is keeping himself in the roster conversation.

11. Greg Senat received extensive work at left tackle and played about how you’d expect a sixth-round rookie to fare. It would be interesting to see if the Ravens would consider moving Brown to left tackle — his college position — if something happens to Ronnie Stanley. Alex Lewis could also slide outside.

12. Props to Harbaugh for channeling Michael Scott of The Office when he declined to discuss the Ravens once again escaping a preseason game without any notable injuries. “I’m not superstitious, but I am a little stitious.” Of course, I’m now expecting this reaction when the inevitable first big injury occurs.

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What to expect from Ravens’ 2018 draft picks

Posted on 29 April 2018 by Luke Jones

The picks are in for the 2018 draft, so what can we now expect from the Ravens’ 12 selections?

Below is the early look at how each rookie fits:

TE Hayden Hurst
Drafted: First round (25th overall) from South Carolina
2018 projected role: Tight ends generally struggle in their rookie season, but the 24-year-old will have every chance to become the primary guy with Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams better suited as blockers.
Long-term view: His 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame and good hands offer hope that he can become Baltimore’s best all-around tight end since Todd Heap with the ability to move around formations. He will be critical in helping Joe Flacco now and aiding in Lamar Jackson’s development for the future.

QB Lamar Jackson
Drafted: First round (32nd overall) from Louisville
2018 projected role: The quarterback of the future will need time to develop as a backup, but the Ravens would be wise to pick their spots to utilize his athleticism and expose him to some game action.
Long-term view: Jackson’s throwing mechanics and ability to function with pressure in an NFL pocket are significant questions, but his tools make him an intriguing talent the Ravens have never had at the position. The hope is he ushers in a new era for the organization, but there is much work to be done.

OT Orlando Brown Jr.
Drafted: Third round (83rd overall) from Oklahoma
2018 projected role: The son of former Ravens right tackle Orlando Brown will compete with veteran James Hurst for the starting right tackle job.
Long-term view: A historically-poor combine performance didn’t wipe out how the organization felt about his strong game tape, but questions about his weight, strength, and foot speed cannot be dismissed. You love the pedigree, but Brown has much to prove to reward the Ravens’ faith in him.

TE Mark Andrews
Drafted: Third round (86th overall) from Oklahoma
2018 projected role: The 6-foot-5 target will compete for situational snaps in the passing game as a big slot option and should have a real chance to make an impact inside the red zone.
Long-term view: Andrews is a wide receiver trapped in a tight end’s body and is not considered much of a blocker, meaning he’ll need to make substantial contributions in the pass game. In a perfect world, he slides into the old Dennis Pitta role, which was a big part of the Ravens’ success in the past.

CB Anthony Averett
Drafted: Fourth round (118th overall) from Alabama
2018 projected role: The 5-foot-11, 183-pound defensive back has a slew of names ahead of him on the depth chart, meaning he’ll need to be a good special-teams player to see the field as a rookie.
Long-term view: Being a two-year starter for the Crimson Tide speaks for itself, but Averett lacks the physicality of Marlon Humphrey and has more to prove. Eventually becoming a No. 2 starting cornerback isn’t out of the question, but Averett can provide valuable depth at the very least.

LB Kenny Young
Drafted: Fourth round (122nd overall) from UCLA
2018 projected role: Young has the athleticism to compete with Patrick Onwuasor for the weak-side inside linebacker spot next to C.J. Mosley, a position that wasn’t stellar for the Ravens last season.
Long-term view: A full-time starter for three seasons with the Bruins, Young has coverage skills that could add a dimension the Baltimore defense sorely needs. He should contribute on special teams immediately with the chance to eventually move into a starting role.

WR Jaleel Scott
Drafted: Fourth round (132nd overall) from New Mexico State
2018 projected role: The 6-foot-5 receiver will compete for situational snaps and could get looks as a contributor inside the red zone if he shows enough during the spring and summer.
Long-term view: You love the size and Scott made some acrobatic catches last year, but he lacks speed and is the kind of raw prospect the Ravens have rarely had success developing into anything of consequence. Baltimore has lacked a jump-ball threat for years, so Scott has a chance to be just that.

WR Jordan Lasley
Drafted: Fifth round (162nd overall) from UCLA
2018 projected role: Lasley will compete for a roster spot and will need to play special teams, but he showed the big-play ability in college to potentially earn some chances at the receiver position.
Long-term view: Off-field issues and bad hands led to Lasley’s slide down the draft board, but he averaged 18.3 yards per catch and accumulated 1,264 yards and nine touchdowns in nine games last season. He’s the proverbial boom-or-bust prospect, making him a decent gamble in the fifth round.

S DeShon Elliott
Drafted: Sixth round (190th overall) from Texas
2018 projected role: Much like Chuck Clark a year ago, the first-team All-American safety will need to shine on special teams to secure a roster spot in a deep secondary.
Long-term view: Opinions are mixed, but many seem to view Elliott as more of a box safety needing to play closer to the line of scrimmage to succeed. He’ll have a difficult time carving out a defensive role early, but he has the potential to eventually develop into a hybrid option.

OT Greg Senat
Drafted: Sixth round (212th overall) from Wagner
2018 projected role: The former college basketball player has good length and will compete for a roster spot or an opportunity on the practice squad.
Long-term view: Senat needs to get stronger and unsurprisingly needs to improve his blocking technique, but this is the kind of prospect that makes perfect sense late in the sixth round. At the very least, offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris has a good athlete with which to work.

C Bradley Bozeman
Drafted: Sixth round (215th overall) from Alabama
2018 projected role: The 6-foot-5, 315-pound lineman will compete for a roster spot or a place on the practice squad at a position lacking a long-term answer.
Long-term view: You like the pedigree of someone who made 31 career starts for the Crimson Tide, but Bozeman’s lack of athleticism and strength explain him lasting until the sixth round. His instincts and success in the SEC make him a decent developmental option with limited upside.

DE Zach Sieler
Drafted: Seventh round (238th overall) from Ferris State
2018 projected role: The Division II All-American selection will compete for a roster spot or a place on the practice squad with the defensive line being so deep.
Long-term view: Ozzie Newsome taking a defensive lineman from a small school as his final draft choice is fitting, but Sieler’s 6-foot-6, 290-pound frame fits the mold of an NFL 5-technique lineman. With Brent Urban and Carl Davis not signed beyond 2018, Sieler is at least worth keeping an eye on.

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