The Ravens entered training camp last month with a lot to prove but not a lot of questions about their roster construction.
They knew who’d start at quarterback, though they couldn’t have predicted Lamar Jackson would test positive for the coronavirus. They knew they’d have to find an answer at left guard, a competition that’s no clearer than when it started. And they knew they’d have to find clarity at positions like wide receiver, one of the bright spots of camp, and outside linebacker, where they invested in outside help.
For the most part, the Ravens’ camp has been low on out-of-nowhere surprises: no catastrophic injuries, no stratospheric rises. But seven practices in, some players have begun to distinguish themselves, for better and for worse. Here’s a look whose stock is rising and falling.
WR Sammy Watkins
Other than a two-drop day Monday and a day off Wednesday, Watkins has been the Ravens’ best or second-best receiver at every training camp practice. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman called him “one of the best receivers in the NFL, period,” and the Ravens would happily take 17 games of the Watkins who has produced at every level of their passing game — short, intermediate and deep — in mandatory minicamp and training camp
His health, as always, is critical. But his ability in a new system has surprised even veterans. Cornerback Jimmy Smith said of Watkins, “That dude is fast.” The Ravens envisioned the former first-round pick as a possession receiver, a potential outside-the-numbers life preserver for Jackson. But if Watkins can continue to be a downfield threat, the whole field will open up for him.
WR James Proche II
After signing Watkins and adding two more wideouts in the draft, Proche’s spot on the 53-man roster seemed tenuous. After all, the 2020 sixth-round pick was targeted just three times as a rookie and lost his punt returner job to Devin Duvernay late in the season.
But Proche has looked like every bit the slot receiver he was projected to be coming out of Southern Methodist. He’s consistently separating from defensive backs with his slick route running and has become a favorite target of Ravens quarterbacks with his consistent hands. Teammates and coaches have lauded his work ethic. Even if Proche can’t regain his return man responsibilities, he’s making a compelling case to be incorporated in the offense in Year 2.
WR Deon Cain
While a long shot to make the roster, Cain has made the most of his opportunities with the offense. A 2018 sixth-round pick who was an All-Atlantic Coast Conference performer at Clemson, Cain has emerged as a deep threat in practice, twice getting behind cornerback Marlon Humphrey for long gains in team drills.
At 6 feet 2 and 202 pounds, Cain is a bigger target than most of the team’s receivers and has the speed to match, running a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine. Barring injuries at his position, Cain likely won’t make the team, but he’s a strong candidate for the practice squad.
DE Calais Campbell
In an NFL Network interview after a dominant Tuesday practice, the Ravens’ first in pads, Campbell was asked for an unofficial tally of his morning’s production. “It was about four or five that were real sacks. Another probably three, four quarterback hits,” he said. “It was a good day at the office.”
It might not have been quite that good, but it was still an emphatic warning shot. Campbell has dusted guards as an interior rusher and overwhelmed tackles on the edge. In what could be his final NFL season, the six-time Pro Bowl selection has set his sights on reaching 100 career sacks. Even if Campbell (92 career sacks) can’t get there in Year 14 — he has just 10 ½ over the past two seasons — he should be the linchpin of a rock-solid defensive line. With a second year in coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale’s system, he looks even more comfortable.
DT Justin Madubuike
Madubuike entered camp as a trendy name on NFL watch lists, and he’s done little to temper the hype for a breakout season. The 2020 third-round pick has shown violent hands in one-on-one drills and remains a disruptive run defender. Center Bradley Bozeman called Madubuike “one of the harder people I’ve ever had to move on defense,” and yet he’s far from the heaviest tackle he’s encountered.
As part of a deep defensive line rotation, Madubuike could open the season taking a back seat to Brandon Williams, Derek Wolfe and Campbell. But it’s not hard to imagine an early-season highlight package filled with the splash plays he made late in his rookie year. He’s slipped enough blocks and collapsed enough pockets against the Ravens’ first-team offense in camp to push for starter-level snaps.
OLB Odafe Oweh
When the Ravens drafted Oweh 31st overall, teams officials billed it as a high-ceiling pick: a remarkable athlete who was still fairly new to football and had all the potential to develop into a disruptive pass rusher down the line. So far, Oweh’s speed has been evident everywhere on the field, from chasing down running backs and quarterbacks to blowing by offensive tackles with his 4.39-second 40-yard dash speed.
Oweh has also continued to develop his pass-rush repertoire, incorporating a crafty spin move as a counter to his breathtaking speed rush. Oweh has gotten the best of several of the team’s veteran offensive linemen in team drills, and if he can continue his progress into the regular season, he should be another versatile piece in Martindale’s defense.
OLB Daelin Hayes
Hayes has the look of the Ravens’ best fifth-round pick since outside linebacker Matthew Judon, in 2016. Taken No. 171 overall, 11 picks after cornerback Shaun Wade and 13 picks before tight end-fullback Ben Mason, the former Notre Dame standout has built on his strong offseason workouts with an impressive camp.
Hayes never had more than 3 ½ sacks in a season in college, where he battled shoulder injuries, and Ravens coaches and officials in recent months hailed his versatility as a run stopper and pass defender more than they did his pass-rush ability. But in one-on-one drills and 11-on-11 action, Hayes has played with savvy, burst and bend, routinely beating the offense’s reserve tackles. He hasn’t looked out of place setting the edge, either, as a strong-side outside linebacker.
ILB Patrick Queen
Maybe the best compliment you can pay Queen and the Ravens’ inside linebackers is that star tight end Mark Andrews has had a relatively quiet camp so far. Andrews still wins his share of battles over the middle, but after an occasionally disastrous season in pass coverage, Queen looks more confident and capable. He’s shown improved awareness in zone coverage and flashed his speed in man-to-man.
Queen is close with Tampa Bay Buccaneers star Devin White, one of the NFL’s best blitzing linebackers, and Queen’s pass-rush performance Wednesday would’ve made his former LSU teammate proud. He flew through gaps on blitzes and shrugged off running backs in pass protection, racking up a handful of would-be quarterback hits. He should improve on his three-sack rookie season.
QB Tyler Huntley
As Ravens coaches watch the competition to back up Jackson unfold, they’ll have to weigh the merits of McSorley’s experience against Huntley’s athleticism and upside. In the first few days of practice, the two appeared neck-and-neck, testing the defense downfield and taking care of the ball. Even in noncontact settings, Huntley has broken off runs and cuts in the open field reminiscent of Jackson.
But he had his worst practice Wednesday, throwing three interceptions in team drills and two on consecutive plays. There’s still much time for Huntley, the slight favorite entering camp, to regain ground; the team’s joint practices with the Carolina Panthers and three preseason games should go a long way to determining a winner. To this point, though, he’s been outplayed by McSorley.
WR Miles Boykin
Given the additions at his position and his inconsistent production, Boykin was one receiver who needed to have a strong camp. The 2019 third-round pick was fairly anonymous through the Ravens’ first few practices before dropping two passes Monday and leaving early with a hamstring injury. He hasn’t practiced since, and as many of his peers continue to impress, his roster standing seemingly becomes more up in the air by the day.
Boykin still remains the top blocking receiver on a run-first offense, and there has been a concerted effort to get him more involved as a pass catcher. But unless he turns things around soon, Boykin could force the coaching staff to make a tough decision in the coming weeks.
OT Alejandro Villanueva
When the Ravens waited until after the draft to sign Villanueva to a two-year deal, they found an experienced and potentially cost-effective replacement for Pro Bowl right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. According to Pro Football Focus, Villanueva was a better pass blocker than Brown in 2020 and, at 6-9 and 320 pounds, a more-than-capable run blocker. Villanueva’s biggest challenge would be adjusting to a new position after playing on the left side throughout his Pittsburgh Steelers career.
But like much of the offensive line, still in flux because of injuries, Villanueva has at times been overwhelmed by the Ravens’ defensive line. Oweh and Hayes, especially, have gotten the best of Villanueva with their speed in one-on-one and team drills. Given his inexperience at the position, Villanueva should get the benefit of the doubt, but the transition hasn’t been as seamless as it looked during offseason workouts.
OT Andre Smith
It was fair to wonder how Smith would hold up after opting out of the 2020 season amid the coronavirus pandemic. It was fair to cast doubt on his roster chances after he skipped the Ravens’ voluntary organized team activities. And it’s fair to say now that Smith, 34 and battling for the team’s swing tackle job, has looked his age in camp.
Despite the stout frame that made him a first-round pick in 2009, Smith has had trouble staying in front of pass rushers. He’s struggled with speed and power when matched up with the Ravens’ first-team defense, and on-the-bubble edge rushers have unbalanced him, too. Unless he turns in an impressive preseason, Smith is a long shot to make the roster.
OLB Jaylon Ferguson
Even with his low sack production and handful of absences over his first two seasons, Ferguson appeared to have a firm roster spot after the departure of several edge rushers this offseason. Then the team signed four-time Pro Bowl selection Justin Houston, creating a crowded outside linebacker room.
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Though he had a successful bull rush in college, Ferguson has yet to show an expanded, more effective arsenal as a pass rusher, often getting stonewalled in one-on-one and team drills. A potential interception bounced off his hands in Wednesday’s practice, and Ferguson will have to make more impact plays to improve his roster standing. Martindale has praised Ferguson’s grasp of the defense in his third year and he looks to be in good shape, but time is running out for the 2019 third-round pick.