It’s time to take stock of the Ravens roster again.
I like to split the roster into 5 qualitative categories relative to the ultimate master, the salary cap. Note all snap numbers and percentages combine regular and postseason play.
Young Producers (3): Deshon Elliott, Justin Madubuike, Patrick Queen
These are players on their first contract who are already starting (or should be) and are playing well. A team needs as many of these players as possible to continually outperform the salary cap.
Tyus Bowser graduated from this group and is now a free agent. Deshon Elliott is entering year 4 and a candidate for an early extension after playing virtually every snap at FS. Madubuike improved dramatically as the season progressed and finished with 25% of snaps played. After consideration, I included Queen as a young producer rather than developmental. Of all players on the defense, he’s the one who most needs to receive positional coaching this offseason to improve tackling and coverage recognition.
Developmental (5): Anthony Averett, Chris Board, Jaylon Ferguson, Malik Harrison, Broderick Washington
These players are all still on their rookie deals, but something is holding them back from consistent performance, a starting role, or both. We hope that most, if not all, of these players will emerge to be young producers quickly. In truth, some are running out of time to do so. The fact the Ravens have only 5 such players on their roster is concerning by itself. Over the next year, the Ravens will need to get younger defensively with a heavier draft emphasis as they shift cap dollars from defense to offense to meet looming cornerstone deals for Jackson, Andrews, Stanley, Brown, and others.
Let’s take a look individually at the Developmental group to see why I have tagged them as I have and what each needs to do to move up:
- Averett: His playing time (32%) increased again. Assuming the Ravens stay healthy, he should be the #5 CB in 2021 in a deep group.
- Board: He played most passing downs as a proxy dimeback with some contributions as a pass rusher and made the Pro Bowl for special teams in his 3rd season.
- Ferguson: He took a step forward in play despite a more focused (25% of snaps) run-defense role in 2020. With 6 OLBs, he was a healthy scratch for 2 regular season and 2 playoff games.
- Harrison: Malik was active for every game and played 27% of snaps in a run-heavy role. He is by far the best tackler among the Ravens ILBs, but frequently targeted in coverage.
- Washington: Despite injuries on the defensive line, he played just 15% of snaps as a rookie and was active for just 8 games. The Ravens need him to take a step forward in terms of size and strength entering year 2 with an aging DL.
Veterans Playing for Market Value (16): Tyus Bowser*, Calais Campbell, Chuck Clark, Justin Ellis*, LJ Fort, Marlon Humphrey, Matthew Judon*, Anthony Levine*, Pernell McPhee*, Yannick Ngakoue*, Marcus Peters, Jordan Richards*, Jimmy Smith, Jihad Ward*, Brandon Williams, Derek Wolfe*
Note: A “*” indicates a player who is a UFA at the beginning of the league year.
A large chunk of the cap is spent on this group and these players are the ones (generally) who are worth it. This group includes 9 players who will be UFAs this offseason.
The ratio of players who are providing value in line or above their cap cost versus the one veteran cap value concern is excellent weighted by number or dollars.
With his restructure and quality play at NT, Brandon Williams is now probably safe for 2021 and will become one of the rare Ravens to play out his entire 2nd contract. Tyus Bowser, Matthew Judon, and Yannick Ngakoue are the 3 players likely to command significant dollars (here or elsewhere) this offseason.
Veteran Cap/Value Concerns (1): Tavon Young
Injuries have derailed a very promising career. The Ravens restructured Young’s contract, which effectively guarantees he’ll be a Raven in 2021, but he is at a crossroads.
Transitional (13): Aaron Adeoye, Otaro Alaka, Terrell Bonds, Aaron Crawford, Pierre Desir*, Khalil Dorsey, Braxton Hoyett, Jayron Kearse*, Iman Marshall, Chauncey Rivers, Nigel Warrior, Kristian Welch, Chris Westry
I see no sure future as a contributor for any of these players, but the size of the group makes it likely 1 or more will emerge to play somewhere. Based on a combination of need, age, and tools I think Crawford, Warrior, Welch, and Westry have the best chance to help the Ravens.
Special thanks to Brian McFarland, to whose contract details I referred frequently while writing these pieces.