In the absence of actual football, the NFL’s summer break becomes a time for speculation and storylines.
Which undrafted free agent will improbably earn his permanent spot in the league? Which touted rookie will underwhelm? Which positions will be up for grabs as Week 1 approaches?
We sometimes forget that most of the Ravens’ 53-man roster was carved in stone months ago; at this time of year, it’s just more fun to dwell in uncertainty. In that spirit, here are the most interesting Ravens in every position group. These aren’t necessarily the best players at each spot or the most surprising. They’re simply the ones who carry intriguing stories as we move from offseason training activities toward the beginning of training camp in late July.
The real answer here is Lamar Jackson, but we’ll spend so much time talking about him for the rest of the year that it’s worth taking a moment to discuss the No. 3 quarterback on the Ravens’ depth chart. Though McSorley was a sixth-round draft pick, he comes with an ample fan base, because he starred at Penn State. During our first glimpses of organized team activities, he seemed not ready for prime time, exerting tremendous effort to make throws that are routine for most NFL starters. But he looked sharper and more natural as a passer by the end of minicamp, and his all-around athletic ability (he was the fastest quarterback at the NFL scouting combine) raises interesting questions about what the Ravens could do with him as a Taysom Hill-style Swiss Army knife. We’ve already seen him return punts. Will his versatility compel the Ravens to carry three quarterbacks for a second straight season?
Running back: Kenneth Dixon
Dixon could be the odd man out in the Ravens’ backfield, with veteran Mark Ingram in place as the new No. 1 option, 2018 breakout star Gus Edwards cast as a powerhouse No. 2 and rookie Justice Hill in the mix as a speedy change of pace. Injuries and suspensions kept Dixon off the field for all of 2017 and much of 2018, but he reminded us of his formidable talent by averaging 5.6 yards per carry over the final six games last season. “I’m betting on me,” he wrote on Twitter in May, indicating he’s ready to fight for his spot. Will Dixon force the Ravens to carry four backs? It’s not out of the question given the team’s emphasis on the run.
Wide receiver: Marquise Brown
The Ravens’ first-round pick is the man we’re all waiting to see after a lingering Lisfranc (foot) injury kept him off the field for all of the team’s offseason workouts. The Ravens knew that would be the case coming in, and coach John Harbaugh said he still hopes to have Brown on the field for the start of training camp, though he acknowledged that’s uncertain. The track record for rookie receivers who start out injured is poor, and even Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti sought to temper initial expectations during a recent conference call with season-ticket holders. But we’ll all be fascinated to monitor how quickly the diminutive Brown regains his Mach 1 speed, which made him perhaps the most exciting prospect in the 2019 draft.
Tight end: Hayden Hurst
Mark Andrews passed Hurst to become the budding star of this position group, and he looked better than ever during OTAs and minicamp. But Hurst showed up carrying an extra 20 pounds of muscle, with clear ambitions to put his injury-marred rookie season behind him. It’s worth remembering how good the 2018 first-round pick looked last summer, before he hurt his foot. He’s a fluid athlete who snatches balls in traffic, and there’s plenty of room for multiple tight ends to produce in Greg Roman’s offense. We’ll see if Hurst can avoid nagging injuries and play just as fast with the added bulk.
Offensive line: Alex Lewis
As recently as two years ago, Lewis seemed like a fourth-round steal and a significant piece in the Ravens’ future plans. But various injuries have kept him off the field, and now he’s fighting for survival in a crowded pack at left guard. Harbaugh stopped short of expressing outright annoyance at Lewis’ decision to rehabilitate his surgically repaired shoulder away from the team. But he said he could not assess the fourth-year lineman’s condition when he was asked about Lewis on the last day of minicamp. Harbaugh did not mention Lewis at all when assessing the overall picture at left guard, the least settled spot on the team’s offensive line. It was a reminder of how quickly life moves in the NFL and of the stakes Lewis faces going into training camp.
Defensive line: Willie Henry
All eyes will focus on Michael Pierce at the beginning of training camp as the fourth-year defensive tackle tries to prove he’s fit enough to resume his essential place in the middle of the Ravens’ front seven. But don’t overlook Henry, who broke out in 2017 only to see his momentum derailed by a back injury that ended his 2018 season. That twist of fate devastated one of the most ebullient characters on the team, but he showed up lean and eager to re-prove himself during offseason workouts. The Ravens struck out on free agent Gerald McCoy, who would have given them added punch as an interior pass rusher. A healthy Henry is probably the best alternative they have to fill that role on the current roster.
Linebacker: Chris Board
The Ravens have put tremendous faith in Patrick Onwuasor to fill C.J. Mosley’s shoes at middle linebacker. And it seems they might fill Onwuasor’s old weak-side linebacker spot with another former undrafted free agent in Board. Harbaugh said he and fellow second-year linebacker Kenny Young will share time. But Board drew raves for his speed and intensity throughout OTAs and minicamp, and he’s already an important special teams player, which the Ravens love. Could the unheralded duo of Onwuasor and Board ultimately mitigate the pain of losing Mosley, who once seemed destined to go down as a Ravens institution?
Secondary: DeShon Elliott
There are so many candidates here. Can Marlon Humphrey take the next step to become a Pro Bowl cornerback? Can safety Earl Thomas recapture his All-Pro form in a new home? So why focus on a second-year safety who didn’t see the field as a rookie after he broke his forearm in the preseason? Because Elliott, wearing Eric Weddle’s old No. 32, looked just that good during OTAs and minicamp. He covered huge chunks of ground to make a pair of spectacular interceptions and seems primed to make an even stronger impression during training camp, when he’ll be allowed to deliver the hits that distinguished his college career at Texas. The Ravens have built their defense on the notion that they can never have enough good defensive backs. So they’ll find a place for Elliott if he continues to earn it.
Special teams: Kaare Vedvik
The Norwegian kicker nailed so many long field goals last summer that he seemed like a genuine trade candidate before a late-night assault in Baltimore derailed his 2018 season. He’s back this year, with the Ravens again hoping he can make himself a trade asset by the end of training camp. But Vedvik kicked inconsistently during minicamp, and he’ll have to do better if he wants to earn a starting job in another NFL city.