With things in Ravens universe calming from the excitement of draft day and beginning to settle in in preparation for Training Camp, the training camp roster is taking solid shape now. A slew of Undrafted Free Agents have also joined the Ravens for a shot at impressing the coaches enough to unseat a more seasoned player for a roster spot, and we start to see just how position groups are getting stacked up. For some of those groups, the drafting (or lack of drafting) of certain players seems to telegraph an opportunity for players to step up their level of play. Here is a look at 5 Ravens who are in need of big production this season if they want to continue their career with the Baltimore Ravens (or even elsewhere in the league):
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- Kamalei Correa – His name has become almost forgotten when discussing position battles, which is obviously a bad sign for a 2nd round pick from 2016. Correa’s tenure with the team has been marred in questions and head scratching decisions. When the Ravens drafted Correa, they had maneuvered down in the draft twice, passing on defensive players like Myles Jack, Xavien Howard, Noah Spence, and Reggie Ragland. When Correa was drafted, his highlight reel and scouting report showed him as a potential edge rusher. Yet, when the 2016 season came, Correa was buried on the depth chart and rarely got snaps on defense, finishing the year with just 4 tackles. In 2017, the Ravens opted to draft edge rushers back to back in Rounds 2 and 3, and shortly after the team stated that Correa would be competing instead at Inside Linebacker. While he was the clear favorite, he struggled with the transition and was eventually overtaken by undersized Linebacker Peanut Onwuasor. Now in his 3rd year, it’s unclear just where Correa will line up. The EDGE rusher depth chart has 4 solid players behind future HOF Terrell Suggs in Matt Judon, Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser, and Za’Darius Smith. Looking at Inside Linebacker, the Ravens chose to select UCLA 3 down linebacker Kenny Young in the 4th round this year, making him a likely competitor with Onwuasor to start next to CJ Mosley. This leaves Correa still looking for a role, and if he can’t find one this season, he’ll be further washed out by other up and coming Linebacker draft picks.
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- Kenneth Dixon – In the 2016 draft, Ravens fans were excited to get a 1-2 punch of the players with the NCAA records for career touchdowns in Keenan Reynolds and Kenneth Dixon. Dixon looked strong in training camp, but was injured in the preseason and was not able to return until Week 5 of the regular season. By the end of the season, he was splitting lead carries with Terrence West and seemed all but likely to be the starter in 2017. But, several things happened in 2017 that derailed that. First, Dixon was suspended 4 games for testing positive for PEDs. Then, another knee injury popped up that ended up becoming a torn meniscus, which would force Dixon out of the 2017 season entirely. Finally, on top of Dixon’s PED suspension, he incurred a further 2 game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Meanwhile, the Ravens uncovered a more effective running game in a combination of Alex Collins and Buck Allen. Now in 2018, Dixon has become almost an afterthought, as it’s expected that Collins and Allen will pick up where they left off. Dixon, now entering his 3rd year, needs a strong, clean year to even convince other teams of his value. Running back has become a somewhat disposable position, where teams are turning more and more to young running backs to develop instead of paying large contracts to secure a veteran. Dixon has 3 strikes against him with 2 suspensions and recurring knee injuries. He needs a 16 game, no off field issues type of season if he wants to further his own career, not to mention helping the Ravens and reminding us of his talents that made him the expected starter in 2017.
- Brent Urban – Brent Urban is a unique case of a player showing immense talent, but also having a rash of unfortunate injuries. If he had not shown the talent, he would not have even been brought back for a second contract (see Kapron Lewis-Moore). If he had not had the injuries, the Ravens likely would not have been able to afford him on a decent NFL contract. Urban appeared poised to be a breakout starter on the defensive line last season, leading in snaps on Defensive Line through the first two strong games, before being lost to a Lisfranc injury in Week 3. This was the 3rd time in 4 seasons that Urban has been limited due to injury, after missing his rookie season with a torn ACL and half of his sophomore season with a torn bicep. Again, each of these injuries seem independent of the others, and it just seems to be a rash of bad luck. In any case, Urban has a 1 year, “Prove It” deal now to show that he can stay healthy and recapture the high level of play he showed last season. If Urban can’t stay healthy, it’s hard to see another team giving him much of a chance, especially as he would turn 28 before the 2019 season. Urban figures to be a premier member of the DL rotation with Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce in 2018, and needs to play at a starter level to earn his next contract.
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- Alex Lewis – Much like fellow draft pick Kenneth Dixon, Alex Lewis went from presumed 2017 starter, to unsure where he fits yet in 2018. Lewis played pretty well at Guard in his rookie season, but missed the final 6 games of the season due to a sprained ankle. He seemed poised to start at LG in 2017, but a shoulder injury forced him out for the year. Meanwhile, the Ravens turned to James Hurst to fill the LG spot and Hurst performed well enough to earn a contract extension. While Hurst’s contract doesn’t pay him like the contract Ryan Jensen earned, it is significant enough to show that the Ravens expect Hurst to play a significant role on the Offensive Line. It seemed the plan was to have Lewis return to LG and Hurst play RT, but during the 2018 Draft, the Ravens selected Orlando Brown Jr. While Brown may not start at the outset, he is clearly who the Ravens envision playing at RT. If so, that would likely shift Hurst back to LG to compete with Lewis for playing time. There’s the outside possibility that Lewis could get a look as a Center, but he’s never played there before and the Ravens have several other Center options (Matt Skura and Bradley Bozeman are both former college Centers, and Nico Siragusa was widely expected to compete at Center before tearing his ACL in 2017). Lewis needs to outplay at one of those spots if he wants to line himself up as a starter for his contract season in 2019. If he can’t, he might find himself stuck looking for opportunities to play as a backup and thus, struggling to earn his 2nd contract.
- Joe Flacco – Oh, this one is too easy. Yes, even myself as a “Flacco Guy” knows he needs to have a breakout year to redeem himself. To start with, the Ravens did the one thing they have failed to do in the past 2 seasons: They gave Joe weapons. Drafting Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews, signing Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, and John Brown, and drafting Orlando Brown Jr. to fill the hole at RT are all things done to help Joe play better. The one thing people could excuse Joe for last year is that between a makeshift OL riddled by injury replacements and a WR group that seemed to be down to street bodies at points, even an All-Pro QB would struggle to move the ball. By putting resources into improving the offense, the ball goes back to Joe’s court now. With these new additions, there is less reasoning to excuse poor play. There’s also the Lamar Jackson angle. For the first time in his Ravens career, he has a QB behind him that could threaten his job. While Lamar Jackson could need time to adapt to the Ravens style of offense or grow his skills as a passer, it’s no longer a QB like Ryan Mallet or Matt Schaub or Jon Beck behind him. Lamar Jackson is an exciting player that the coaches felt strongly enough to convince Ozzie to draft and the players on the team would back unquestioningly if he were asked to take the reigns. Joe’s long term status with the NFL could go several different ways depending on his play this year. If he plays well, he could remain for 2019 while Lamar gets more practice reps. He could also attract trade value to go to another club to anchor their QB room. But if he plays poorly in 2018, the path is much simpler: he will likely be cut with a Post-June designation, and his next NFL team will likely offer him a contract in line with other 34 year old former starting QBs (Ryan Fitzpatrick at age 35 just got 1 year, 3.3 Million from the Buccaneers as a frame of reference). Joe once bet on himself in a contract defining year, and he won that bet when he took the Ravens to Super Bowl 47 and was named Super Bowl MVP. He doesn’t need to win a Super Bowl in 2018, but he needs to produce a season of much better caliber than the past 3 years if he wants to win this bet.