Projecting Baltimore Ravens' Most Heated Roster Battles This Offseason
They may be the defending Super Bowl champions, but the Baltimore Ravens have lost seven starters. The competition will be fierce to replace them.
There will be competition at every level of the defense, from the defensive line on back to the secondary. Though the offense lost just one starter, it will not be immune from competition, as the Ravens will struggle to replace the departed Anquan Boldin.
Here's a look at each offseason battle, including a predicted winner.
Wide Receiver: Tandon Doss vs Jacoby Jones vs Deonte Thompson vs David Reed
Torrey Smith will be starting at wide receiver this year. Any depth chart beyond that is anyone's guess.
Tandon Doss, Jacoby Jones, Deonte Thompson and David Reed will all be vying to replace Anquan Boldin's production, and who will do so remains to be seen.
Jones will definitely be part of the puzzle, but he is really a better fit as a third receiver. The value Jones brings to special teams should keep him from being the starter. Also worth noting is that Jones was never ever to capitalize on the Houston Texans' hole at wide receiver in his stint there, so there is reason to doubt that he could become a quality starter in Baltimore.
That leaves Doss, Thompson and Reed, with Doss as the front-runner. Doss has the most experience of that group and the most career production, but he struggled with drops last season.
Thompson, meanwhile, has the most upside and talent of the group. He showed a knack last season for getting open with his burning speed and making acrobatic catches away from his body.
The dark horse is Reed, who hasn't produced much in his three years in Baltimore. The Ravens brought him back on a two-year contract, though, so they must see something in Reed.
Finally, the Ravens would shock nobody by finding a veteran either by trade or through free agency. The free agents available aren't great, but roster cuts could change the field significantly. If that doesn't happen, then a trade is definitely a possibility.
Projected Winner: Deonte Thompson
As far as I'm concerned, no Raven did more with fewer snaps last year than Deonte Thompson. He only played in mop-up duty, but he always stood out. With a year in the Ravens' system, Thompson has the potential to be a breakout performer. I expect the Ravens to pick up a starter through trade or free agency, but in that group, I'll take Thompson.
Nose Tackle: Brandon Williams vs Terrence Cody vs Haloti Ngata
The Ravens have a hole at nose tackle that only a 330-pound man could fill. Thankfully, the Ravens have three of those on the roster in Brandon Williams, Terrence Cody and Haloti Ngata.
Cody has started for the Ravens in the past, but he has been lackluster when he's been on the field. For a man Cody's size, he gets pushed around a lot. Cody is even worse in passing situations, as he offers next to no pass rush.
Ngata hasn't played nose tackle in the Ravens' scheme, but he has the size and strength to do so. The Ravens have enough depth at defensive tackle to move Ngata inside if Williams and Cody falter.
I don't expect Williams to falter, though. Williams is built like a more solid version of Cody, showing superior weight-room strength and vastly superior foot quickness. He will need some seasoning after playing his college ball at the Division II level, but Williams' upside is through the roof.
Predicted Winner: Brandon Williams
As long as Williams develops even marginally, he will be the starter at nose tackle. Though he'll have to earn it, Williams is the most talented player at the position and could be a starter for 10 years.
Defensive End: Chris Canty vs Arthur Jones vs Marcus Spears
The Ravens weren't bad at defensive end last season, but they still decided to address the position, bringing in Chris Canty and Marcus Spears to add competition. Now, those two will compete with Arthur Jones to be the starter.
Spears is a decent run defender but provides little pass rush. He'd be best as a rotational run defender.
The real competition is between Jones and Canty. Canty has a long track record of success, possessing the body of a stout five-technique and the burst of a quick-twitch three-tech. He is excellent in all phases of the game.
Jones is shorter and perhaps a bit more stout, but his burst doesn't quite measure up to Canty's. Both will be used, but only one can be the starter.
Predicted Winner: Chris Canty
Canty is the perfect five-technique in terms of skill set. He plays the run well and should significantly upgrade the Ravens' pass rush as well.
Inside Linebacker: Art Brown vs Jameel McClain vs Albert McClellan vs Bryan Hall
The Ravens need two new starters at inside linebacker, and they have a stable of players ready to fill the void.
Jameel McClain has the best shot to contribute right off the bat. He has been a starter for the Ravens the past two years, but injuries kept him off the field for most of last season. As long as McClain is healthy, he'll likely earn a starting spot.
Opposite him, Arthur Brown, Albert McClellan and Bryan Hall will compete for snaps.
Brown is a second-round draft pick with loads of potential. The Ravens had to have drafted him with a starting job in mind.
McClellan is hybrid linebacker capable of playing any position in the Ravens' 3-4 defense. His versatility is both a blessing and a curse, as McClellan can play any position, but he might not be good enough to start at any of them.
Finally, Hall is a converted defensive tackle who should excel at taking on blockers. His conversion will be a story to watch, but it will definitely be difficult for him.
Predicted Winners: Jameel McClain and Arthur Brown
A healthy McClain is a surefire starter, and Brown would be the ideal complement with his speed and aggressiveness. The duo complement each other perfectly and would be a fantastic duo to replace Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe.
Cornerback: Corey Graham vs Jimmy Smith
One battle that is flying under the radar is that between Corey Graham and Jimmy Smith to replace Cary Williams at cornerback. This will be a big battle to watch though, as the Ravens' secondary could be a weakness.
Graham played ahead of the injured Smith last season, and he impressed with his coverage ability. Though Graham isn't particularly physical, he is quick enough to hang with receivers and has decent ball skills.
Smith has more upside, but his stiff hips have held him back badly. Quicker receivers have taken advantage of Smith on a regular basis, and he is extremely prone to penalty as well.
Predicted Winner: Corey Graham
The only reason Smith is considered a possible starter is because of his status as a first-round pick. His play on the field has not reflected that status, meaning Graham is the best option across from Lardarius Webb.