When Ravens rookie minicamp opens Friday in Owings Mills, the most interesting question will be a matter of attendance: Is everyone there?
With the NFL Players Association pushing rookies to skip rookie minicamps and other voluntary offseason workouts, the Ravens’ class of draft picks and undrafted signings isn’t obligated to attend. But attendance was near perfect at the first wave of minicamps around the league, an acknowledgment that most rookies stand to benefit from on-field instruction.
Attendance aside, only so much can be gleaned from this weekend’s on-field action. Mandatory minicamp is still a month away, and live contact is banned until training camp. Still, the Ravens’ rookie rollout could offer some clues about the team’s eight draft picks.
Where will Rashod Bateman line up?
He played 87% of his snaps out wide in 2019, when he finished with 1,219 receiving yards and 20.3 yards per catch, according to Pro Football Focus. Then he lined up in the slot 61% of the time last year, when he struggled to recover from the coronavirus and averaged 13.1 yards per catch in a shortened Minnesota season.
In Baltimore, the first-round pick will go wherever he’s needed. The team asks its receivers to know every role. “I feel like Rashod is an outside guy, an X-type receiver, that can play inside,” coach John Harbaugh said after the Ravens took him No. 27 overall. Bateman has said his blocking needs to improve, but with his relatively bigger frame, he could be more effective in the slot than Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, another receiver who’s comfortable inside and outside.
How close is Odafe Oweh to starting?
The edge rusher didn’t play football until his junior year of high school, a rawness that shows up on tape. After the Ravens took him No. 31 overall, Oweh told reporters he still has “so much untapped potential,” enough to be “the most dominant defensive player” in the draft class. He didn’t have a sack last season at Penn State, but he was still disruptive, with 21 run stops and 15 quarterback hurries in seven games, according to PFF.
Even if Oweh is years away from Pro Bowl-level production — even if he never gets there — his athleticism and motor are starter-level traits. General manager Eric DeCosta told the team website that he sees Oweh as a “highly effective” run defender on early downs. He also compared him to a more athletic Courtney Upshaw, a second-round pick in 2012. Upshaw didn’t start at outside linebacker as a rookie in Week 1 — but he did by Week 2.
Where does Ben Cleveland rank in the left guard hierarchy?
Harbaugh wanted the Georgia guard badly enough that he urged DeCosta to trade up in the third round for him. Instead, patience prevailed, the board fell the Ravens’ way, and Cleveland landed in Baltimore as the No. 94 overall pick, a bruising interior lineman on a team that needs them.
Harbaugh’s excitement over the 6-foot-6 Cleveland was revealing — “That’s a big, strong, powerful guy that likes to rough people up,” he said, “and that’s how we want to play” — but it’s not necessarily predictive. TV cameras captured Harbaugh’s fist-pumping joy over the Ravens landing Devin Duvernay last year, and the wide receiver had a fitful rookie season. If Bradley Bozeman indeed moves over to center, Cleveland would have to beat out Ben Powers, Ben Bredeson and maybe others for a starting job. That’s not a sure-thing competition.
Where in the secondary will Brandon Stephens play first?
When DeCosta was asked where he saw the former Southern Methodist cornerback playing, he said he would defer to the team’s coaches. But he added: “Right now, we probably would say that we like his potential as a safety. He’s primarily been a corner with some safety play this past year, but he really fits the profile of a free safety-type of player.”
Stephens, a former UCLA running back, was a quick study on defense for SMU. In Baltimore, the Ravens’ top priority might be figuring out what the third-round pick should study first; Stephens lined up as an outside cornerback, slot cornerback and safety in college. Still, there’s enough overlap in the positions that the Ravens could cross-train him without hampering his development. Maybe just as importantly, defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale has said that the Ravens’ system is “easy to teach.”
How will Tylan Wallace fare against press coverage?
The fourth-round pick was an exceptionally productive wide receiver at Oklahoma State, but he’s not an exceptionally athletic NFL prospect. Predraft scouting reports noted that he sometimes struggled when pressed. In a loss to Oklahoma last season, matched up primarily with eventual fourth-round pick Tre Brown, Wallace had two catches (and drew two penalties) in press coverage, one coming on a wide receiver screen.
Physicality is the expectation in Baltimore, where Ravens cornerbacks aren’t afraid to crowd receivers at the line of scrimmage. The 5-11 Wallace will have a lot to learn at the NFL level — he lined almost exclusively up as a right-sided wide receiver and didn’t have to run a full route tree for the Cowboys — but dealing with the size and strength of defensive backs could be his biggest adjustment.
How quickly can Shaun Wade rediscover his 2019 form?
At Ohio State’s second pro day, the 6-0 Wade looked like a Day 1 or Day 2 cornerback. He posted a 4.46-second 40-yard dash and 37 1/2-inch vertical leap and measured in with elite length (33 1/2-inch arms), reminders of the prospect he’d been before a disappointing 2020 season. Bothered by knee and toe injuries and beset by familial grief, Wade allowed a 112.1 passer rating in coverage last year, according to Sports Info Solutions.
A move back inside could give him a fresh start. Wade allowed just 201 yards in coverage in 2019, according to SIS, when he played mostly as a slot cornerback. But he’s dealt with one injury after another since then. “My No. 1 thing is, be healthy,” Wade said after the Ravens took him in the fifth round. “And when I’m healthy, you get the best Shaun Wade.”
Can Daelin Hayes help his shoulder health?
The fifth-round pick has dealt with shoulder injuries since high school. He missed most of Notre Dame’s 2019 season after tearing the labrum in his right shoulder, and he sat out a 2018 game with a shoulder “stinger.”
In Baltimore, the 6-3 Hayes is expected to line up as a strong-side outside linebacker, from which he’ll rush the passer and drop into coverage. But he’ll also be responsible for taking on tight ends and setting the edge as a run defender, and few collisions in the NFL are pillow-soft. Harbaugh has praised how the Ravens’ strength and conditioning program limits injuries by developing “functional strength”; Hayes could be an important beneficiary.
How does Ben Mason change the roster math?
Mason’s listed as a tight end on the Ravens’ roster, but he caught just three passes over 45 games at Michigan. He typically lined up in the backfield for the Wolverines, but the Ravens already have a Pro Bowl fullback in Patrick Ricard. The Ravens’ challenge is finding an optimal role for Mason, and few coaches are better suited to scheme one up than offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
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Even if Mason struggles this summer, the Ravens are loath to cut draft picks from their initial 53-man roster, especially those taken as early as the fifth round. And Mason, one of the top hybrid fullback-tight end prospects in the draft class, probably wouldn’t clear waivers. A roster spot could come at the expense of someone like tight end Eric Tomlinson, who earned snaps last season as a reliable blocker.