With players reporting to training camp on July 28th, and the NFL season a little less than two months away, fans and coaches will be looking for the position battles to start taking place. The Ravens will have some interesting fights for starting spots which are up in the air. QB and CB might be locked in for the Ravens, but the ILB, OLB, and KR/PR positions still have contenders waiting to show what they can do. Here is an early look into the Ravens’ depth chart clash and who I predict will come out on top come September.
With the selection of Patrick Queen in the first round of the Draft, the ILB position might be the most crucial make or break spot on the Ravens’ roster. The Ravens will hope Queen is ready come September to flourish at RILB, but if Queen should not be ready, who could take over? This short list consists of Chris Board and Olaro Alaka, both of whom have very little starting experience. L.J. Fort will get the start at LILB having had an average season last year next to former Raven Patrick Onwuasor.
Even though it is very unlikely to see anyone other than Queen and Fort starting Week 1, Board and Alaka may still receive a chance here and there to support the starters. Queen definitely has the potential to start and have an impact early on and Fort will be a suitable starter for now. Nonetheless, the Ravens still must be vigilant at ILB considering the lack of depth and experience they have at the position.
Before the 2020 NFL Draft, OLB was one of the few positions the Ravens knew they needed some depth. There were also concerns Matthew Judon might not return, which made OLB especially important. So the Ravens selected Malik Harrison in the 3rd round out of Ohio State. Since we now know Judon will be with the Ravens this season, the tension at OLB has slightly dissipated, but could still develop some under-the-radar position battles.
The Ravens depth at OLB consists of Pro Bowler Matthew Judon, Tyus Bowser, Jaylon Ferguson, Pernell McPhee, Jihad Ward, and newly acquired Malik Harrison. Before training camp even starts, we know Matthew Judon will be starting as an edge rusher due to his fantastic 43 tackle, 9.5 sack, 4 forced fumble season. This being said, the other OLB position is still up for grabs. Tyus Bowser and Jaylon Ferguson showed potential to start after last season, and Pernell Mcphee and Jihad Ward are both solid go-to veterans. Still, I expect to see a big push from rookie Malik Harrison to try and get the second spot next to Judon. Harrison’s 49 tackle, 4.5 sack 2019 season was very impressive and screams he has the ability to start come September.
I predict we will see Judon and a mix of playtime between Harrison, Bowser, and Ferguson on Week 1. While I do think Harrison will show why he should start, I can’t see the Ravens totally buying-in on him for the start of the season, so Bowser and Ferguson will still get time.
Over the last few seasons, the Ravens have had multiple kick returners and punt returners. We’ve seen Devin Hester, Lardarius Webb, Cyrus Jones, and currently De’Anthony Thomas. While Thomas is a solid returner, having had 259 total returning yards on punts and kickoffs last season, I think there’s a chance to see some new faces return for Baltimore.
One possibility comes in the form of recently drafted SMU wide receiver James Proche, who was a huge part of SMU’s return game. Proche gained 164 returning yards on punts alone last season and was an impact blocker when not returning. Another possible returner for the Ravens is speed demon Marquise Brown. Even though he hasn’t returned for the Ravens before, his speed is still extremely dangerous and could be utilized on special teams in addition to offense.
Despite the Ravens seeming very comfortable with De’Anthony Thomas returning on both punts and kickoffs, there are some other options to take advantage of during the season. There is a 99.99% chance Thomas will start Week 1, but keep an eye out for Proche and Brown to enter the mix, especially on punt returns.
While most of the Ravens starting spots are already locked in and sealed, these few positions could see some changes throughout the season. It is fairly easy to see who could start Week 1, but moving into the middle and end of the season we could see some changes especially at ILB, OLB, and KR/PR. Until then, we can only watch the progress made in training camp as NFL fans anxiously await the beginning of the 2020 regular season.