Fri, 24 Sep 2021

Late for Work 7/28: Let the Linebacker Battle Begin

Baltimore Ravens
28 Jul 2021, 23:25 GMT+10

Kyle Barber

The first day of training camp is underway and jockeying for the 53-man roster has commenced. Among these competitions is one of great curiosity: inside linebacker.

Second-year linebacker Patrick Queen is the incumbent at the top of the depth chart, but following the LSU product are a few worthy teammates hoping to secure the No. 2 role. Last season, the competition consisted of linebackers L.J. Fort, Malik Harrison and Chris Board. According to The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer, they all possess specific traits of value.

"At least the competition is clear: L.J. Fort, Malik Harrison, Chris Board and perhaps Kristian Welch, all with their own strengths and weaknesses," Shaffer wrote. "Fort has the most experience. Harrison, a third-round pick last season, has the most potential. Board was the group's top blitzer in 2020. It could be that their roles swing from game to game, depending on the matchup. One week, Harrison might feature heavily against a top running team. Another week, Fort or Board might be better off next to Queen."

The unique aspect to this competition depends on Ravens Defensive Coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale electing to keep one of these players on the field in third-down situations or go with an extra defensive back. If Martindale picks the former, CBS Sports' Johnathan Jones sees Board as the favorite.

"Wink Martindale had a healthy rotation at this spot last year among Chris Board, L.J. Fort and Malik Harrison, with Fort getting the most snaps of the trio followed by Harrison and then Board," Jones wrote. "Fort and Harrison were the top choices on early downs for the Ravens while Board got more than a third of his snaps on third down alone. On third down he had 2.5 sacks and eight pressures. If Board can show improvement as a run-stopper this camp, he could see more time on earlier downs."

As mentioned, Martindale could avoid making a choice on any second linebacker and going with six defensive backs. According to Shaffer, that was something Martindale did frequently in 2019, but not in 2020.

"Or maybe Martindale plays more like he did in 2019, when the Ravens used dime personnel (six defensive backs and typically one inside linebacker) on 44% of their snaps, according to Football Outsiders," Shaffer wrote. "Last year, the team's rate dropped to 16%, meaning the team relied more on two-inside-linebacker groupings."

Three 'Sleepers' Who Could Make Ravens' Roster

Training camp offers an opportunity for unknown or lesser-known players to crack a final roster.

Most know the surefire players to make a roster, but there are the last three or four spots up for grabs, and Baltimore Beatdown's Vasilis Lericos offers his "sleepers" to make the Ravens 2021 roster.

S Nigel Warrior

"The Ravens are precariously thin at safety behind starters Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott," Lericos wrote. "Third-round rookie defensive back Brandon Stephens, who lined-up primarily at cornerback in college, is expected to serve as the third safety. This presents an opportunity for Warrior, an All-SEC performer in 2019. He spent last season on Baltimore's practice squad but has the tackling ability and ball skills to thrive as a dime safety after a full offseason of practice and preseason experience. If Warrior emerges as a viable backup, Baltimore's safety situation will improve considerably."

The Ravens have a history of developing undrafted talent into players worthy of final roster spots or more. Last season was the first time in 16 years the Ravens didn't keep an undrafted rookie on the initial 53-man roster.

Another player mentioned by Lericos is cornerback Davontae Harris, saying if he can't make the roster for his defensive play, there's a way for him to stay in Baltimore by way of special teams. However, Ebony Bird's Justin Fried thinks Harris will have a tough time making the team because of a surplus of talent at cornerback.

"[Harris] held his own in limited action, but it's hard to see him making the team given the depth the Ravens have at cornerback," Fried wrote. "Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Tavon Young, Jimmy Smith, and Anthony Averett are all roster locks. The same is likely true for fifth-round pick Shaun Wade who should be competing for snaps at nickel cornerback. That's not even including third-round pick Brandon Stephens who has experience playing cornerback. There's also former undrafted rookie Khalil Dorsey who has impressed the coaching staff."

Rashod Bateman Falls Outside Top Five Rookie Wide Receiver "Madden" Ratings

"Madden" player ratings have slowly been released and wide receiver Rashod Bateman is rated outside the top five rookie wide receivers, placing No. 6 with a 72 overall.

"Another first-round pick, in the five games Rashod Bateman started in the 2020 season before opting out he led Minnesota with 472 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Bateman, a deep threat archetype in Madden NFL 22, has an uncanny ability to separate, especially downfield, and comes into the game with 90 Speed, 90 Acceleration, and 87 Agility ratings. In 2019, Bateman was his team's MVP, ranked eighth in the FBS with 20.3 yards per catch, and posted the second-most receiving yards (1,219) in a single season in Gophers history, with 11 touchdowns."

Bateman is the slowest of the six rookie wide receivers released, with only a 90 speed rating, but is tied for highest awareness, with a 75 rating.

While Bateman hasn't commented on his rating, defensive end Calais Campbell let it be known he was unhappy with his 90-overall rating on Instagram.

Campbell shared his goals with the media yesterday, stating he wants to notch eight more sacks to break 100 sacks in his career. If he does so by Week 10, there's no doubt his "Madden" rating will jump

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