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Looking at the Ravens' depth chart on defense and special teams

With both the draft class and the college free-agent class on board and the rookie minicamp over, this seems like a good time to look at the Ravens’ projected depth chart before organized team activities start in a couple of weeks.

Today, we’ll look at defense and special teams. Yesterday, we examined the offense.

DEFENSE

Rush linebacker: Terrell Suggs, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams

Comments: Suggs returns for his 16th season and remains the Ravens’ top pass-rushing threat. The Ravens have enough depth at outside linebacker that they don’t need Suggs to play as many snaps as he has in the past, but it’s tough taking him off the field because he plays the run well, too. Smith will move inside on certain passing downs. Williams is going to have to earn his snaps by how he plays in the preseason. He had no sacks while playing only eight games last year.

Strong-side linebacker: Matthew Judon, Tyus Bowser, Myles Humphrey

Comments: The Ravens believe Judon has Pro Bowl potential. In his second season, he had eight sacks. Bowser seemed to hit a rookie wall last year after getting off to a decent start. Like Williams, the Ravens need him to emerge as a more consistent pass-rushing presence. With Suggs, Smith and Judon entrenched in their roles, Bowser has to be productive in the snaps he gets. Humphrey, who was signed Monday, had 40 sacks in four seasons at Shepherd.

Defensive end: Brent Urban, Chris Wormley, Bronson Kaufusi, Zach Sieler, Christian LaCouture

Comments: Urban appeared to be on his way to breaking out last year when he suffered a season-ending foot injury. He re-signed with the team, but it isn’t clear whether he’ll be full go in time for training camp. Wormley, a third-round pick in 2017, didn’t distinguish himself in limited opportunities last year. This is a big training camp for him. Kaufusi, a third-rounder in 2016, has played in just three games in two years, and his roster spot is hardly secure. A seventh-rounder this year, Sieler is a developmental prospect.

Defensive tackle: Brandon Williams, Willie Henry, Patrick Ricard

Comments: The Ravens figure to move to around their interior personnel and that includes Williams possibly playing nose tackle as well. When Williams missed time last year with a toe injury, the Ravens struggled mightily to stop the run. Henry was a pleasant surprise last year with 3 ½ sacks and two fumble recoveries in 14 games. With the Ravens prioritizing getting an interior pass rush, Henry figures to have a significant role in 2018. If Ricard makes the team, it would likely be because the Ravens view him as their best option at fullback.

Nose tackle: Michael Pierce, Carl Davis

Comments: After a strong rookie season, Pierce just didn’t seem to make as consistent of an impact in his sophomore campaign. The Ravens would benefit greatly if he gets a bigger push inside. Davis, who had offseason shoulder surgery, has been used at three spots along the defensive line. He’ll likely be part of the defensive line rotation.

Middle linebacker: C.J. Mosley, Albert McClellan, Alvin Jones

Comments: Mosley, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract, might be the guy the Ravens can least afford to lose to injury because the drop-off with his replacement would be immense. If he went down, the Ravens would likely move Patrick Onwuasor to middle linebacker. McClellan, who is returning from a torn ACL last summer, justifies his roster spot not only with his special teams play, but also with his ability to play four linebacker positions.

Weak-side linebacker: Patrick Onwuasor, Kamalei Correa, Kenny Young, Bam Bradley

Comments: Onwuasor ultimately beat out Correa, a second-round pick in 2016, for starting weak-side linebacker last season. The converted safety made some strides last year, but the position remains a bit unsettled. The Ravens haven’t given up on Correa. They drafted Young in the fourth round, and the former UCLA Bruin has the athleticism to make the transition. Then there’s Bradley, who was pushing for playing time at linebacker last season when he tore up his knee in Week 2.

Outside cornerback: Jimmy Smith, Anthony Averett, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Robert Nelson

Comments: Smith enters training camp as one of the Ravens’ biggest injury concerns. He tore his Achilles tendon in December and while coach John Harbaugh said he expects Smith to be ready, that’s hardly a sure thing. If Smith isn’t ready for Week 1, the Ravens would start Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey on the outside. Barring injuries at the position, Averett, a fourth-round pick, will likely see his biggest role on special teams. Jean-Baptiste and Nelson are long shots to stick.

Outside cornerback: Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, Bennett Jackson

Comments: Carr has started all 160 games in his career, a testament to both his durability and his consistency. He gets the nod for now, but it’s only a matter of time before Humphrey becomes a starter. A first-round pick in 2017, Humphrey got better the more he played as a rookie, and it would be extremely hard to make the case he’s not one of the team’s top two corners.

Slot cornerback: Tavon Young, Maurice Canady, Jaylen Hill, Darious Williams

Comments: After a strong rookie season, Young tore his ACL in organized team activities last season. He should be ready to go and get the first crack at the No. 3 cornerback role. Assuming he also stays healthy, Canady figures to get his share of snaps in a deep secondary. Hill suffered a significant knee injury in December and is a candidate to start the season on the physically unable to perform list.

Strong safety: Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, DeShon Elliott

Comments: One of the team’s big free-agent additions last year, Jefferson had an uneven first season in Baltimore. His improvement would go a long way to strengthening the middle of the defense, which was exposed at times last season. The Ravens really like Clark, a sixth-round pick last year. His primary role will be on special teams, but he’ll push for more defensive snaps. The quickest way for Elliott, a rookie sixth-round selection, to get onto the field will be on special teams.

Free safety: Eric Weddle, Anthony Levine Sr., Kai Nacua

Comments: Weddle played through some injuries last year, and that led to some tackling problems, but he remains the quarterback of the secondary. He had six interceptions in 2017. Levine is a core special teams player and captain, and he can play several spots on defense. He more than justifies his roster spot. The Ravens claimed Nacua off waivers last week in a depth move. He started three games for the Browns last year.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker: Justin Tucker

Comments: Tucker enters the season as the most accurate kicker in NFL history, making 90.2 percent of his attempts. He’s one of the most reliable weapons in the NFL.

Punter: Sam Koch, Kaare Vedvik

Comments: After 12 NFL seasons, Koch remains at the top of his game. He led the league in punts placed inside the 20-yard line last year, and he continues to nullify return games with his arsenal of punts. Vedvik, a former Norwegian soccer player, was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Marshall. He’s an extra camp leg so the Ravens don’t wear out Tucker and Koch during training camp.

Long snapper: Morgan Cox, Trent Sieg

Comments: Cox has been one of the most consistent long snappers in the league, and he’s the unheralded member of the team’s highly productive kicking battery. The Ravens signed Sieg as a college free agent out of Colorado State.

Kick returner: Chris Moore, Tim White, Janarion Grant, Kenneth Dixon

Comments: There is some uncertainty at both return roles, but Moore seems to have the edge on kickoffs. He averaged nearly 27 yards per return last year. If White makes the team, he’d become a quality option as well. He set a single-season record at Arizona State for kickoff-return yardage. Grant is the wild card. Signed this week as an undrafted free agent, he holds the all-time record at Rutgers for kickoff-return yardage. He also had five kickoff-return scores in his college career. However, it isn’t clear whether the Ravens will have the roster flexibility to keep a player solely for returns.

Punt returner: Tim White, John Brown, Willie Snead IV, Janario Grant

Comments: Michael Campanaro led the AFC in punt-return average last year, but he signed with the Tennessee Titans in free agency. The Ravens don’t have an obvious replacement. White could get the nod because he had return experience in college. Brown handled punt returns for the Arizona Cardinals in 2016 and averaged 7 yards per return.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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