Position Roll Caw: Defensive Backs

Position Roll Caw is a weekly series that takes an in-depth look at each Position Rooms in the 2018 Baltimore Ravens leading up to Training Camp.  We look at the players, the history, and the expectations for each group.

 

weddle

 

THE PLAYERS:

 

carr jimmysm humphrey
IMAGE CREDITS: BALTIMORE SUN (ALL)

 

BRANDON CARR, CB, 11th year Veteran, Grand Valley State – Carr is the most veteran CB on the Ravens roster after stints with the Chiefs and Cowboys.  While Carr isn’t a ballhawk, only notching 19 INTs in a 10 year period, his most impressive statistic is that he hasn’t missed a single game in 10 years!  Carr was a scapegoat for many fans last season when he was thrust into the role of covering #1 WRs when Jimmy Smith was lost to injury.

 

JIMMY SMITH, CB, 8th year Veteran, University of Colorado – Jimmy Smith, despite his legend in Baltimore as being a top notch CB, has never made a Pro Bowl in his career.  He has proved, when healthy, that he can lock down the opponent’s top WR.  That “when healthy” label has been his issue, as he’s missed 17 games in his past 4 seasons.  He is expected to be ready by Week 1 after suffering a torn Achilles in December 2017.

 

MARLON HUMPHREY, CB, 2nd year Veteran, University of Alabama – Marlon was the 1st round draft pick in 2017 and lived up to his draft status, limiting QBs to a 53.5 QBR when targeted.  Humphrey was drafted as part of a strategy by the Ravens to stock their CB depth, and was thrust into a prominent role with injuries to Tavon Young and Jimmy Smith.

 

tj Weddle-e1521819250343 canady
IMAGE CREDITS: SI (Jefferson), BaltimoreRavens.com (Canady)

 

TONY JEFFERSON, S, 6th year Veteran, University of Oklahoma – A former Arizona Cardinals undrafted sensation, Jefferson was signed to a free agent contract in 2017 specifically to pair with Eric Weddle as the Ravens looked for an interchangeable Safety tandem.  Jefferson finished as the 24th ranked safety by Pro Football Focus, and was considered a slight disappointment from the expectations at the time of his signing.  But a few of the Purple Reign Show writers (Uncle Chibs and Brandon Portney to drop specific names!) have an optimistic view of Jefferson in 2018, feeling that Jefferson was put into the wrong role by Dead Pees in 2017.

 

ERIC WEDDLE, S, 12th year Veteran, University of Utah – The unquestioned leader in the Ravens secondary, Weddle was brought to the Ravens in 2016 after a long career in San Diego.  Weddle has led the Ravens in INTs both his seasons with the club.  While age is getting long with Weddle, his leadership skills and continued high level of play make him the centerpiece of the Ravens Defensive Back unit.

 

MAURICE CANADY, CB, 3rd year Veteran, University of Virginia – Canady is listed as a Cornerback, but I was tempted to list him as a Defensive Back as he has lined up at both CB and S at various times in his career.  Canady was drafted in the 6th round in 2016 and played just 4 games before a hamstring injury landed him in IR.  In the 2017 Training Camp, Canady impressed the coaches and seemed lined up for an increased role, but suffered a knee injury and was one of the Ravens’ IR-Return players.  As such, he only played the final 8 games of 2017, but posted 19 tackles, 1 pass breakup, and 1 fumble recovery.

 

tavon levine ChuckClark
IMAGE CREDITS: BaltimoreRavens.com (ALL)

 

TAVON YOUNG, CB, 3rd year Veteran, Temple University – Young was a breakout star in 2016 playing as a slot CB.  The Oxon Hill native posted 41 tackles, 2 INTs, and 8 pass breakups in 2016 and was seen as an integral piece on Defense going into the 2017 season.  He unfortunately tore his ACL during OTAs and missed the entire season in 2017.  He is expected to be ready for OTAs, as John Harbaugh recently praised his progress and said he was ahead of the expected schedule.

 

ANTHONY LEVINE SR., DB/LB, 7th year Veteran, Tennessee State University – Anthony Levine began his career with the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent, but came over to the Ravens in 2012.  He began as mostly a Special Teams player, but eventually found his niche as a dime back in the Ravens defense.  Levine recorded his first career INT in 2017 and recorded the first sacks of his career as well, eventually finishing with 3 on the year.

 

CHUCK CLARK, S, 2nd year Veteran, Virginia Tech – Clark was a 6th round draft pick in 2017, who began the season as a Special Teams player, but finished the year with 59 snaps on defense.  With the rich history the Ravens have of turning a Special Teams player into a skill position player, Clark may have a future as a defensive contributor if he can stay on the roster.

 

elliott hill averett
IMAGE CREDITS: Brian Bahr/Getty Images (Elliott)

 

DESHON ELLIOTT, S, Rookie, University of Texas – Elliott is a 2017 All-American and was a finalist for the 2017 Jim Thorpe Award, which is given to the best Defensive Back in college football.  He was also awarded the Honorable Mention for 2017 Big-12 Defensive Player of the Year.  Elliott forgoed his senior year to enter the draft, and is viewed as a long term Strong Safety project.  He had 9 interceptions in 3 years of college play, with 6 coming his final year.

 

JAYLEN HILL, CB, 2nd year Veteran, Jacksonville State University – Hill was a UDFA who made a strong name for himself in OTAs and the preseason, with 2 interceptions and 5 pass breakups.

 

ANTHONY AVERETT, CB, Rookie, University of Alabama – The Ravens selected Averett in the 4th round of the 2018 draft.  Averett is a quick, athletic CB whose size directs him into more of a Slot CB role, so he will likely be depth for Tavon Young while developing his skills.  He was a two year starter at Alabama, starting alongside Marlon Humphrey in 2016.  He had just one interception in his college career, but recorded 16 pass breakups.

 

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans jeanbaptiste Darious_MT
IMAGE CREDITS: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports (Nacua), UABSports.com (Williams)

 

KAI NACUA, DB, 2nd year Veteran, Brigham Young University – Nacua was an undrafted free agent signed by the Browns in 2017, then claimed off waivers by the Ravens after the 2018 Draft.  Nacua went from backup player to starter by the time the season ended, replacing Derrick Kindred at Strong Safety and starting the final 3 games of the season, recording 14 tackles.  Nacua is an intriguing pickup by the Ravens and could compete with Clark for a depth spot.

 

STANLEY JEAN-BAPTISTE, CB, 4th year Veteran, University of Nebraska – Jean-Baptiste is a former 2nd round pick of the New Orleans Saints, but only appeared in 4 games his rookie season before being cut in 2015 after a disastrous preseason.  He bounced around several teams practice squads before landing with the Ravens last year, and appearing in 1 game, exclusively on Special Teams.

 

DARIOUS WILLIAMS, CB, Rookie, University of Alabama-Birmingham – Williams was not invited to the NFL Combine, but posted good metrics in his UAB Pro Day, putting him into the Top 10 in 40 time, vertical jump, and 3-cone Drill.  Williams allowed just 36% of the targets towards him in 2017, which was Top 5 for CBs in the 2018 NFL Draft.  While the CB group is highly stacked, Williams could impress enough to keep around on the Practice Squad or maybe even be the usual UDFA that makes the team “out of nowhere”

 

Robert Nelson bennettjackson
IMAGE CREDITS: AP Photo/Tony Dejak (Nelson), Baltimore Sun (Jackson)

 

ROBERT NELSON JR., CB, 3rd year Veteran, Arizona State University – A former First-Team All-Pac-12 in 2013, Nelson bounced around several teams, appearing in 20 regular season games and recording 24 tackles and 1 interception.

 

BENNETT JACKSON, CB, 2nd year Veteran, University of Notre Dame – Jackson is a former 6th round pick of the New York Giants in 2014.  He didn’t get any playing time in 2014, attempted to switch to safety in 2015, but tore his ACL, ending his season.  He was not re-signed in 2016 and spent 2 years out of football, working to get back to playing health.  The Ravens had tried him out in 2017, but chose not to sign him them, waiting until the 2018 offseason to give him a chance.

 

 

ROSTER CHANCES:

(Likely keep 11-12 between CB and S)

 

LOCK – Smith, Carr, Young, Humphrey, Jefferson, Weddle, Averett, Levine, Elliott

BUBBLE – Clark, Canady, Hill, Nacua

CAMP BODY – Nelson, Jackson, Williams, Jean-Baptiste

 

 

2017 Review, IN JUST ONE PARAGRAPH:

Once again, injuries were the major story among Ravens defensive backs, as 4 defensive backs missed significant time with injuries, including two major starters.  The difference was, this time, the Ravens had the depth to make it less noticeable.  Instead of relying on unknown players, the Ravens were able to turn to a veteran like Lardarius Webb to fill in, which allowed them to contribute to the league lead in interceptions in 2017, and the 5th lowest Passing TDs given up.

 

 

2018 SEASON EXPECTATIONS:

In what will be a common theme for each of the defense position writeups, the Defensive Backs group can rely on continuity as a big piece in 2018, as they return all major players, save one (Lardarius Webb was cut, but was not originally in the 2017 plans either).  In addition to returning the major players from last year, the Ravens will get several major players back, such as Tavon Young to play SCB, and Jimmy Smith who missed the last month of the season.  This group has become so stacked, the Ravens will likely be forced to cut or trade players who would likely make the team and contribute, as they will not have enough roster space to carry the extra depth.

 

As Cornerback, the Ravens have their deepest group in, at least, the last five years.  A healthy Jimmy Smith, along with a developing Marlon Humphrey, give the Ravens two strong “lockdown” CBs.  Brandon Carr is a very effective and dependable CB as well, though he is more useful in covering #2 WRs and not going against strong, Split End style WRs.  Tavon Young, if he can return to form, gives the Ravens a strong option in a time when slot WRs have become every game starters, as he possesses the quickness to cover the slot.  The Ravens also have several developing players to fill in behind those four, as Jaylen Hill returns following a very promising preseason, Maurice Canady returns to continue his development, and Anthony Averett joins the group as a 4th round draft pick.  While one hopes that the CB group can avoid the injury bug, this group certainly has the depth to counteract a major dropoff in play due to injuries.

 

At Safety, the Ravens will return their two starters in Weddle and Jefferson.  While this group didn’t inspire a lot of accolades in 2017, 2018 brings a new defensive coordinator and hints of a shift in philosophy that would benefit the tandem.  The Ravens have been looking, ever since the offseason after the Super Bowl, to shift their Defensive Backfield to more of a hybrid, interchangeable grouping.  The goal is to have two safeties who can switch from the “deep role” to the “box role”, and vice versa, in pre-snap movements.  Weddle and Jefferson both have the skillsets for this kind of role, as both are decent tacklers who can also cover the middle of the field (Weddle is certainly the stronger coverage player, while Jefferson seems to excel more at the physical nature of the position).  However, many comments from defensive veterans this offseason indicate that Dean Pees had a much more rigid, structured approach to the scheme, which meant that Jefferson was forced into situations where he had to play against his strengths.  Martindale seems to be focusing on allowing more on-field responsibilities to his players, which would allow Weddle and Jefferson to switch out when they read a mismatch from the offense.  This should lead to a bigger year out of both.  In addition, the Ravens are looking to develop a Safety with Eric Weddle’s eventual departure in mind.  Chuck Clark was a pleasant surprise last year, coming in originally as a 6th round player only expected to contribute on Special Teams, but developing into a player to take snaps with defensive sub packages by end of the season.  In addition, the Ravens drafted DeShon Elliott in the 6th round in 2018.  While Elliott is a 6th rounder, which is usually not a strong indication of starting potential, he was a highly ranked Safety in college, achieving All-American status in 2017.  Elliott should make the team and get chances during camp and the season to get his feet wet on the field with the defense.

 

Overall, this should remain a top secondary in the NFL and should benefit from an improved Ravens pass rush, leading them to again be Top 5 in interceptions, and among the better pass defenses in the league.

 

 

 

NEXT WEEK on Position Roll Caw: LINEBACKERS

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