Backup CBs Get a Balanced and Long Look

Not much was still on the line in terms of roster spots with Saturday’s game, but the most heated battle continued for the bottom of the CB depth chart where Jalyn Armour-Davis, Tae Hayes, and Kyu Kelly are competing for the last 1 or 2 spots.

Notes on their play are in the individual section below.

The Ravens have shown aversion to cutting recent draft picks in the past, even those with underwhelming preseason/camp performances, but this race is a little different with the team’s lack of CB depth.  As of now, the Ravens have the following CBs who they will probably have active for week 1 (do not read as make the roster):

  • Ronald Darby (year 8, signed through 2023)
  • Kevon Seymour (year 5, signed through 2023)
  • Brandon Stephens (year 3, signed through 2024)
  • Ar’Darius Washington (year 2, ERFA/RFA through 2025)
  • Rock Ya-Sin (year 5, signed through 2023)

After making the initial roster, Marlon Humphrey (year 7, signed through 2026) may be placed on IR, which will keep him out until at least week 5 but make room one of the Handshake Crew (see below) to return.  While 6 CBs seems like enough for the season, the quality, tenure, injury history, and future rights at the position are all cause for concern.

In addition, if the Ravens go with Humphrey and the 5 above, the team will have only Washington in year 1 or 2, so future development would be largely on hold or limited to the practice squad.

Let’s get back to Armour-Davis, Hayes, and Kelly.

If any of the 3 were dealing with injuries, the Ravens could probably find a way to fit them on non-season-ending IR by using the roster-extending services of the Handshake Crew. 

If a player is put on IR prior to the roster deadline, it is a season-ending designation but does not require a roster spot.  Kelly might be a candidate for season-ending IR since he is a rookie with 3 years of option value remaining after 2023, but that same treatment would be a severe setback for either JAD (year 2) or Hayes (year 3).

All 3 of the young CBs saw plenty of snaps vs the Bucs in the following order of pairings:

  • Armour-Davis and Kelly
  • Armour-Davis and Hayes
  • Hayes and Kelly

This might indicate the Ravens have the current depth chart as Armour-Davis, Kelly, Hayes but I think that might be exactly opposite of their recent quality of play.

This will keep some fans consterning over their roster contest entry this weekend.

Handshake Crew

In past years, the Ravens have made good use of NFL roster rules by cutting vested veterans (in year 5+) who are making close to the veteran minimum.  Such players do not have to pass through the waiver process as players in their first 4 seasons and typically enter handshake arrangements with their current team to not go elsewhere with the understanding they will be resigned prior to week 1.

Such players are fairly easy to identify by tenure and contract.  The top candidates this season are:

  • Orlando Blackson
  • Kevon Seymour
  • Brent Urban
  • Daryl Worley

Arthur Maulet and Josh Johnson might also qualify for the group, but each has a little guaranteed money in their contract.

The other players in year 5+ either have significant guaranteed money (e.g. Ya-Sin, Agholor, Beckham), are signed for multiple seasons (e.g. Stanley), or probably do not fit into the Ravens opening-day roster plans (e.g. Treadwell).

Since the Ravens have made aggressive use of these handshake deals in the past, it’s a good bet that at least 2 or 3 of  the top 4 handshake candidates will be cut on Tuesday and resigned prior to the opener.  For guess-the-roster purposes, this may also be a season where the roster does not have the normal 25/25/3 (offense/defense/special teams) balance, because all of the Handshake Crew are defenders.

Roster Look Ahead

Rather than try to guess how the Ravens will make use of the roster flexibility provided by the Handshake Crew, here is how I think the opening day roster will look on defense:

  • DL (6): Blackson, Jones, Madubuike, Pierce, Urban, B. Washington
  • OLB (5): Bowser, Clowney, Ojabo, Oweh, Robinson
  • ILB (5): Harrison, Phillips, Queen, Simpson, Smith
  • S (4): Hamilton, Stone, Williams, Worley
  • CB (6): Darby, Kelly, Seymour, Stephens, A. Washington, Ya-Sin

The most likely differences are Humphrey remaining on the roster with the hope he’ll be back sooner than week 5 and Bowser starting the season on IR, but eligible to return as early as week 5.

Individual Grades and Notes

As in past years, I have given each Ravens player a grade from +3 to -3 reflecting how much my expectation of their impact on this year’s team changed based on their performance (game grade before the front slash, cumulative grade after).  I don’t rate starters, players who have no place on the team, or anyone for whom I don’t think I have any data for a judgment.  The players here are new to the team, rookies, on the cusp of making the team, have new responsibilities this season, in positional battles, or have otherwise have something to prove.

Amos (0/-1): DNP.  He had only a few snaps in the preseason opener and just returned to practice this week.  I can’t see a spot for him with the play of Worley and Stone’s special teams contributions.

Armour-Davis (-2/-2):  He got his first snaps on defense (45) since week 3 of 2022 in only his 4th NFL game (he missed the other 5 preseason games the Ravens have played since he was drafted).  While all live fire is valuable, Armour-Davis had a difficult night:

  • (Q1, 3:53):  He was beaten inside by WR Moore for PR11 (8 + 3) [4] to convert 3rd/7
  • (Q1, 2:21):  He missed a tackle at 4 yards on RB White’s RR7  
  • (Q1, 1:52):  After he failed to knock down a pass intended for RB White, he missed the tackle allowing PL14 (5 + 9) [5}
  • (Q2, 12:31):  He was 3+ yards away as QB Trask misfired for WR Palmer by the left sideline
  • (Q2, 7:44):  On 3rd/2, Trask overthrew WR Geiger 20 yards [1] while Jalyn had tight coverage but never found the ball
  • (Q3, 12:21):  Trask threw to WR Moore PL14 (2 + 12) [1] and Jalyn missed the tackle at the point of catch

The Ravens now face a difficult decision on who to cut among JAD, Hayes, and Kelly.  None of the three players has an impeccable record between college and pro but JAD has by far the least experience at the position.

Blackson (0/+1):  Angelo retired after the sixth Bucs drive (21 snaps), He bulled LG Feiler for a pressure (Q1, 11:08) but was also pancaked by Feiler on the next play (Q1, 10:31).  His early departure is one of the reasons I expect he’ll be on the Ravens roster come week 1.

Botts (0/0):  Trey entered midway through the 2nd quarter and played rotationally for the remainder of the game (40 snaps).  He was party to 3 tackles, each of which was a defensive win (gains of 1, 0 -8).  His sack came on a twist where he looped past a wonderful pick by Caesar to take down Trask for a loss of 8 (Q4, 13:47).  He’ll end up on a practice squad somewhere and it could be the Ravens who probably have 2 spots for some combination of Nichols, Caesar, and Botts.

Caesar (0/0):  Kaieem entered with Botts and also saw rotational play the rest of the way (37 snaps).  In addition to his pick on Botts’ sack (see above), his only tackle was a defensive win.  Were the Ravens to lose either of their nose tackles, he would be the most likely to get the call.

Clowney (0/0):  DNP.

Darby (0/0):  DNP.  The Ravens are expecting him to jump right in against the Texans without any live action since October of last season.

Hamm (-1/+2):  DNP.  I don’t know the nature of the injury that kept him out against the Bucs, but he seems like a good PS candidate and the year could be used profitably to learn SAM responsibilities.

Harrison (0/+1):  Malik was again paired with Del’Shawn Phillips, this time for the entire first half (35 snaps).  It seems likely to me the Ravens will keep 5 ILBs but if they only keep 4, I think Harrison is safer based on his broad special teams role and versatility to take some OLB snaps.  He had a night of mixed results but his body of work and responsibilities overshadow the single-game results.

Hayes (+1/+2):  Tae entered in the 2nd quarter and played the remainder of the game (50 snaps). Summarizing in racing form notes:

  • (Q2, 1:54):  On 3rd/7, Trask overthrew WR Thompkins 30 yards [5] with Hayes in hip-pocket coverage to force punt
  • (Q2, 0:43):  On 2nd/7, he again had step-for-step coverage of WR Jarrett 45 yards [5] in EZ, INC
  • (Q3, 13:38):  He made a hard low tackle of RB Tucker RR1
  • (Q3, 9:36):  On 2nd/goal from the 10, he was trailing in coverage of WR Geiger in the left corner of the EZ but Trask overthew
  • (Q3, 9:30):  On 3rd/goal from the 15, he tackled WR Palmer for PM6 (4 + 2) [4] from trail coverage to force a FG
  • (Q3, 5:10):  He lost WR Jarrett crossing for PL22 (11 + 11) [1]
  • (Q4, 7:39):  He tackled RB Laird RR4 who appeared to be through a big hole
  • (Q4, 3:39):  On 3rd/2, he was blocked by WR Barber during YAC on PR24 (-1 + 25) to RB Brown

In total, he was targeted 6 times with only 2 complete for 28 yards and delivered 2 drive-ending plays.  He finished the preseason with an opposing QB rating of just 2.8 on 9 targets, all of which came playing on the outside (I mention this because he’s 5’9” and many teams might pigeon-hole him at SCB). 

It’s going to be interesting to see how the Ravens handle the last CB spot for opening day.  Assuming Hayes clears waivers, which is how he was claimed by the Ravens about 2 weeks ago, I think there is a good chance he would accept a practice squad spot with the team.  Baltimore is his 8th NFL franchise (he’s also had 2 stints with the Panthers and been drafted by the Birmingham Stallions of the USFL) in a career where he has played just 207 defensive snaps since 2019.

Houston-Carson (0/0): Deandre again played the bulk of the snaps a safety (44).  He had contributions to 5 tackles, including 2 defensive wins.  Because of his 8th-year tenure and vet-minimum salary, he could provide roster flexibility if the Ravens decided they want to fit him onto their roster after IR maneuverings.  I think it’s more likely he will be cut and find a new home.

Jones (0/+4): Travis rotated throughout the first half (22 snaps) and was not as dominant as in the first 2 games.  He had a pressure of Trask when not fooled by the boot right (Q2, 3:51).  He also missed a tackle at the LoS (Q2, 8:25).

Kelly (+1/+1): He got another long look against the Bucs (47 snaps) split early and late.  To summarize:

  • (Q1, 10:11):  He made a quick tackle of WR Godwin for PL6 (5 + 1) [1]
  • (Q1, 9:01):  He was unable to get off the block by WR Palmer on PL11 (-7 + 18) [2] from Mayfield to WR Geiger
  • (Q1, 8:26):  He lost coverage of WR Godwin on PR11 TD in back of EZ between him and Stone
  • (Q1, 5:42):  He was pancaked by TE Kieft to help lead RB White RM9
  • (Q4, 7:05):  On 3rd/5, Trask threw INC for WR Warner 4 yards [4] as Kelly was bearing down for the tackle to force punt
  • (Q4, 2:32):  On 3rd/5 with ATS, Trask thew 30 yards [5] in EZ for WR Miller, but Kelly was able to dislodge before the catch was completed to force a FG attempt

Lucien (0/+2): Jeremy entered late in the second quarter and played the rest of the game (44 snaps) following a 63 snap effort just 5 days prior.  He’ll be remembered for 2 consecutive awkward plays from this game:

  • (Q4, 9:11):  He stumbled as the Hayes deflected the pass to WR Johnson to which the receiver reacted well but Jeremy knocked the ball free (PD) on the way down.  I don’t believe it would have been an interception, even had he moved smoothly given how Johnson reacted.
  • (Q4, 9:00):  He took a cleat to the helmet on his tackle of the hurdling Laird on his 21-yard run

He has put together an impressive preseason which included 17 tackles (2nd on the team) including 6 defensive wins without a miss.  He also allowed opposing QBs just 4.4 YPP when he was targeted and contributed a QH (negated by DH) as a pass rusher.  Given how quickly he has made progress at the safety position (these were his first 3 games there), I expect the Ravens will try to keep him on the practice squad.

Maulet (-1/-2):  DNP.  He has $220,000 of guaranteed money on his contract but I don’t see how he beats out Ar’Darius Washington for a spot.  He might be back on the practice squad as an insurance policy.

Mayfield (0/-2):  He played some SCB in the 2nd half (21 snaps) but did not see any time on the outside.  I don’t see him as a PS candidate at this point.

Moon (0/0):  Jeremiah started the game at OLB and rotated throughout (56 snaps).  Summarizing by racing-form notes:

  • (Q1, 3:17):  He assisted Harrison on a tackle of RB White RM3
  • (Q2, 2:00):  He was in coverage of RB Vaughn 2 yards [5] and reached across his body for a PD
  • (Q3, 13:38):  He set the edge vs pulling RG Stinnie to bubble RB Tucker on RR1 cleaned up by Hayes
  • (Q3, 0:50):  He was blocked by TE Taula to help lead Tucker RM4

Nichols (0/0):  Rayshad entered on the third drive and played rotationally for the remainder of the game (35 snaps).  He contributed a pair of pressures (loop over Ojabo to flush Trask right, Q3, 3:24; Rushed unblocked to flush Trask left, Q4, 8:20).  He missed the tackle of Tucker (Q3, 1:28) just past the LoS.

Ojabo (-1/-1):  David played through the 3rd quarter, primarily as a situational pass rusher.  He did not record a single pressure as I scored it and he has only 1 in 3 games this preseason.  I have 3 notes where he was handled on Tampa runs, including overplaying the RL12 reverse to Otten and then getting blocked by TE Kieft.  The Ravens have invested heavily in Ojabo both in terms of draft capital and positional coaching and by their deployment Saturday are clearly unhappy with David’s progression.

I expect him to play primarily as a situational pass rusher this season and it would not shock me if he is deactivated at some point.

Phillips (+1/+3):  Del’Shawn finished up an outstanding camp/preseason with another fine game that included contributions to 8 tackles and 4 defensive wins.  For the preseason, he finished with 21 tackles, the 6th highest total in the entire NFL and I did not register a single missed tackle.

As a 4th-year player, he would have to clear waivers if cut, so I don’t see the Ravens taking that risk.

Robinson (0/-2):  Tavius rotated at OLB for the first half (17 snaps).  Of note, he did not play at all after intermission, but Ojabo continued to rotate in for situational pass rush opportunities throughout the 3rd quarter.  He dropped to coverage only once, so I see him as only a situational rusher for 2023.  Is anyone else a little disappointed to see so little preseason pressure from the OLB group with the hiring of Chuck Smith?

Ross (0/0):  Josh entered the game at the start of the third quarter and played in rotational pairings with Welch and Simpson for the remainder of the game (29 snaps).  He missed an opportunity to tackle RB Tucker for a loss of 3 (Q3, 13:38), but that slowed down the runner who was dropped by Hayes for a gain of 1.  He had 5 other contributions to tackles, 2 of which were defensive wins.  His face mask penalty on the Ravens first punt of the 2nd half afforded the Bucs a short field (Q3, 13:48).  He dropped to cover 10 times and was not targeted, but he bit on a boot left (following the run to the right) which left him out of position to contribute to the tackle on Durham’s PL8 (-5 + 13) [1] (Q3, 11:13).

It would be nice for the Ravens to inject more youth into their special teams linebackers, but Ross has not shown enough to earn a spot over Harrison or Phillips and is probably headed for the practice squad.

Sanders (+1/+1):  Kelle entered in the second quarter and played rotationally for the rest of the game (39 snaps).  He did a reasonably good job closing down the edge.  What was more impressive was his ability to stay at home on Tampa’s many boot plays, which included a number where Trask, a RH QB, rolled left.  To summarize:

  • (Q2, 3:16):  He was not fooled by boot and pressured Trask on PL9 (8 + 1) [1] to WR Jarrett
  • (Q2, 2:00):  He beat TE Durham inside for pressure to flush Trask right where he threw short and INC
  • (Q3, 11:13):  He was not fooled on boot as Trask threw BOQ to TE Durham PL8 (-5 + 13) [1]
  • (Q3, 9:36):  He rag dolled TE Dafney as Trask, with BOQ, overthrew Geiger in back of EZ
  • (Q3, 4:28):  He held the right edge vs pulling LG Leverett then shed him to tackle Tucker RM2
  • (Q3, 3:57):  He had unblocked pressure off the ORS as Trask threw PR1 (-1 + 2) [5] to Tucker
  • (Q3, 2:12):  He pursued Trask late through roll right to force short throw away
  • (Q3, 0:19):  On 3rd/3, he was blocked by RT Walton to help Tucker burst through for RM9
  • (Q4, 15:00):  He scraped down the LoS to tackle Tucker RM1
  • (Q4, 9:00):  He was kicked out by the pulling RG Molchon to open a big hole for RB Laird RM21
  • (Q4, 3:26):  He rushed unblocked off the OLS for pressure as Trask threw to TE Taula PL10 (10 + 0) [1]

Seymour (0/+2):  DNP.  The Ravens held out key backups at several positions, including CB.  He and Brandon Stephens will begin the season as the top 2 backups on the outside and either may also be a potential backup at SCB.

Simpson (+1/-1):  Trenton did not enter until late in the 2nd half (Q3, 5:10) and played parts of the last 3 drives (22 snaps).  He made a tackle of Laird for PL1 (1 + 0) [1]. He blitzed through the right B gap and ran over the RB Laird for what appeared from the broadcast angle to be a QH (Q4, 7:05) in a play reminiscent of his steamroll of Patterson the week before for S-7.  Also of interest was a snap he took at OLB (Q4, 3:24) on 3rd and 7.  On that play, he failed to contain Trask, who left the pocket for RR8 to convert.  Trenton’s coverage was generally excellent on both RBs and TEs both in terms of recognition and man-to-man responsibility down the field.  His roster spot is in no jeopardy, but I don’t think he’ll be the first player to see time at WLB if Queen is either traded or injured.

Stephens (0/+1):  DNP.  See Seymour above.  Stephens probably starts the season as next man up on the outside.

Stone (0/0):  He started and played the first 5 drives (27 snaps), paired with Daryl Worley.  It was a difficult game for him but his roster spot and role as the top safety backup is not in any jeopardy.

Urban (0/+2):  Brent continued to supply space eating in the run game and acted as an obstacle to throwing lanes. He’s answered doubts about his skills declining with age with an effective set of preseason snaps.  I expect he’ll be cut on Tuesday but subsequently rejoin the roster prior to the opener once injuries are sorted out.

Washington, A. (+1/+5):  Ar’Darius beat TE Kieft inside for a QH (Q1, 0:43) and also registered an unblocked pressure off the ORS (Q1, 15:00).  Those were his only 2 pass rush assignments.  He was not beaten in coverage, surrendering just 1 reception for 3 yards where he forced a low, outside throw (Q2, 0:59).  Other than perhaps Kyle Hamilton, the Ravens don’t have anyone as good to play SCB.  Washington’s emergence at nickel has been the most significant problem addressed during the Ravens camp/preseason.

Welch (-1/0):  He lost coverage of RB Brown on his PL24 (-1 + 25) [2] which was a bad end to a preseason where he’s played solidly overall.  Unfortunately, he plays at the Ravens position of greatest depth and is a 4th-year player (like Harrison and Phillips) with a little less to offer on defense.  All 3 players have similarly broad special teams roles.  I think there is a chance Welch will be claimed, but if he is not, he might rejoin the Ravens practice squad or look for another team with depth issues at the position.

Worley (0/+3):  Daryl again exited in the first half (27 snaps) and appears to have the 4th safety spot secured.  His special teams contributions and versatility to play CB are something the Ravens value.

Defensive MVPs:

  1. Del’Shawn Phillips
  2. Tae Hayes
  3. Kyu Kelly

Honorable mention to Brent Urban, Ar’Darius Washington, and Kelle Sanders