With the Ravens now having a full 90-man roster after last month’s draft and a slew of undrafted free-agent signings, we have a better idea of what the 2020 team will look like.
Roles remain fluid, however, a point even more relevant in an unprecedented offseason limited to virtual meetings this spring. Understanding how that reality may hinder the ability of many rookies and newcomers to play a meaningful role right away, below is a look at five sleepers for the 2020 campaign:
1. OLB Tyus Bowser
An early draft pick who struggles to become a starter often finds his roster status vulnerable entering the final year of his rookie contract — Chris Wormley was the latest example of this — but the lack of an edge defender in Baltimore’s 2020 draft class was good news for Bowser. Surprisingly second on the 2019 team in sacks (five) and quarterback hits (10), the 2017 second-round pick played a career-high 401 snaps and was the top backup to Matthew Judon at strong-side outside linebacker, showing more ability to drop into coverage than other reserves on the roster. If Judon elects to skip some portion of training camp after receiving the franchise tag, Bowser could find more opportunities to solidify his roster spot and earn a larger role.
2. OL Patrick Mekari
Labeling Mekari a sleeper after he started the final six games of 2019 is a bit of a stretch, but much of the discussion in the right guard discussion has been about other veterans and 2020 draft picks Tyre Phillips and Ben Bredeson. The likes of Matt Skura, Bradley Bozeman, and Ryan Jensen developed into solid starters working with offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris in recent years, but none found success as quickly as Mekari, who was thrown into the fire late in his rookie season. The undrafted free agent from Cal-Berkeley graded 14th among 37 qualified centers by Pro Football Focus last year and could be a viable option to start at any of the three interior spots, which is impressive for a guy no one was talking about at this time last year.
3. S DeShon Elliott
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound defensive back has been limited to just 40 defensive snaps in his first two years because of injuries, but he’s shown promise over the last two summers and the Ravens are in need of a No. 3 safety to back up starters Earl Thomas and Chuck Clark and play in certain sub packages. A 2018 sixth-round pick from Texas, Elliott will be competing with rookie seventh-round selection Geno Stone, but the former’s experience in the system should be an advantage, especially if he’s fully recovered from the season-ending knee injury he sustained in Week 6 last year. With the relationship between Thomas and the Ravens seemingly rocky, Elliott or Stone showing meaningful development this year would be a positive sign for the future.
4. RB Justice Hill
The second-round selection of Ohio State star J.K. Dobbins wasn’t a ringing endorsement for Hill having a bigger role in 2020, but he flashed in December and impressed in his first preseason, showing the ability to break tackles despite his 200-pound frame. Hill isn’t going to become the feature back, but the 2019 fourth-round pick lined up in the slot and out wide on more snaps than either Mark Ingram or Gus Edwards last season despite playing a fraction of the time, which offers a glimpse of his potential to create matchup problems in the passing game. If the Ravens find themselves needing to play off-schedule more often in 2020, Hill finding a bigger role as a third-down back remains plausible even with Dobbins being added to the mix.
5. ILB Otaro Alaka
Last month’s selections of Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison made Alaka — a 2019 undrafted free agent from Texas A&M — an afterthought, but it was interesting to hear general manager Eric DeCosta go out of his way to mention the 6-foot-3, 239-pound linebacker in a recent conference call with season-ticket holders. After making the initial 53-man roster at the end of last preseason, Alaka appeared on his way to earning an opportunity to play on defense before a hamstring injury landed him on injured reserve in late September. Playing for an organization that’s produced the undrafted likes of Bart Scott, Jameel McClain, Dannell Ellerbe, Zach Orr, and Patrick Onwuasor at inside linebacker, Alaka remains a name to watch this summer.