By: Ashley Anderson
There is no position group more stacked for the Baltimore Ravens than their secondary. Following along with Ozzie Newsome‘s belief that you can never have too many corners, Baltimore loaded up on talent in recent years. Now, there are some pressing questions about the group.
Will Tavon Young (Finally) Stay Healthy for the Baltimore Ravens?
When he is healthy, Tavon Young is among the best nickel corners in the NFL. The Ravens invested heavily in Young with a then record-breaking 3-year, $25.8 million deal in 2019. Since then, he has only played in two games. Young restructured his deal last November to give Baltimore some cap relief, but they are still seeking a return on their investment.
Young’s 2019 season was over before it started due to a neck injury that happened in training camp. After working his way back from that, Baltimore was hopeful for a productive 2020. Unfortunately, only two weeks into the season, Young suffered a season-ending knee injury. Prior to that streak of bad luck, Young missed all of 2017 with a knee injury.
Reports out of training camp indicate Young is back up to speed and playing like his old self. Baltimore has become less reliant on him in recent years, but they would love to play Marlon Humphrey at his natural outside position. In a surprise move, the Ravens traded Young’s most likely replacement, Shaun Wade, so they appear confident in his ability to stay healthy.
Although he is not a free agent till, after the 2022 season, Young needs to stack games this year. His return gives a major boost to the secondary, but only if it does not flame out early in the year. Certainly, no one is hoping for a healthy season more than Young himself.
When Will Jimmy Smith Return?
Seeing Jimmy Smith get carted off the practice field gave many fans a touch of PTSD. Like the aforementioned Young, Smith has been dogged by injuries throughout his career. He is a classic example of a player who could have been a Hall of Famer if only he stayed healthy.
Initially, the injury looked pretty serious. Reports quickly came out indicating otherwise, and Baltimore released a collective sigh of relief. Rather than something season-ending, Smith is dealing with a low ankle sprain. At the time, Head Coach John Harbaugh said Smith could return in, “a week or two is what I was told.” That was on August 8th.
Since then, Smith has yet to return to practice. It is possible the Ravens are simply being cautious. Smith is entering his 11th season, and he would benefit more from rest than strenuous practice. Having only played a full season twice in his career, a conservative approach is understandable.
At this point in his career, Baltimore will take what they can get from the oft-injured corner. He still plays at an extremely high level when healthy, and it is a matter of when, not if, he returns.
Who Makes the Cut?
To get to 53, the Ravens have some excruciatingly tough decisions to make. With such a strong secondary, there are bound to be players who are highly capable that simply do not work out numbers-wise. There are definitely some locks, but there may also be some surprises.
Baltimore has already jettisoned their rookie 5th round pick, Shaun Wade, to New England because he was on the roster bubble. In return, they got New England’s seventh-round selection in 2022, and their 2023 fifth-round pick. The seventh-round pick should actually be high in the round because it originally belonged to the Houston Texans.
In their first round of cuts, the Ravens also placed Iman Marshall and Khalil Dorsey on Injured Reserve. Marshall has struggled to stay on the field since Baltimore took him in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Dorsey, an undrafted free agent acquisition in 2020, also suffered season-ending injuries in his first two years.
Roster locks include Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith, Tavon Young, and Anthony Averett at corner. At safety, Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott are also safe, no pun intended. For those keeping score, that is already seven players.
That leaves corner, Chris Westry, hybrid players Brandon Stephens, Anthony Levine, and Nigel Warrior, and safeties Ar’Darius Washington and Geno Stone fighting for their jobs.
Of that group, Stephens is the most likely to be safe. As a 2021 third-round pick, it is highly unlikely the Ravens would part with him, especially since he probably would not clear waivers. Westry has also drawn a great deal of praise during training camp, and his size makes him ideal to provide outside depth. Like Westry, Warrior has put together a strong preseason, and he spent the 2020 season on the Baltimore Ravens practice squad, so he knows the system.
An undrafted free agent out of TCU, Baltimore felt so strongly about Washington that they guaranteed him $100,000. Surely, they want to see what he can do going forward. Stone was a seventh-round pick in 2020 who spent most of 2020 in Baltimore before being waived in December. After a brief stint in Houston, the Texans cut Stone free, and he returned to Baltimore. If the front office lacked faith in him, it seems unlikely they would have brought him back.
That leaves Anthony Levine, aka CoCap. A fan favorite and special teams ace, Levine could find himself on the outside looking in on cut day. Hearts will break around Baltimore if that happens, but football is a business. Levine is an older player whose departure would make way for young, up-and-coming talent.
Baltimore Ravens: The meaning of their preseason game win streak
Bottom line, the Ravens have to do what is best for the team. They created a good problem for themselves in stockpiling their secondary, and now they will have to make some unpleasant decisions. Tonight’s final preseason game against the Washington Football Team will go a long way in helping with those decisions.
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