The defense showed out last week against the New Orleans Saints, forcing six turnovers in a 17-14 win, with strong games from several young defensive backs.
While the Ravens are certainly excited about their <href=”https://heavy.com/sports/baltimore-ravens/pff-secondary-ranking-ravens/” target=”” rel=”noopener”>elite secondary, those standout performances will force the team to make some difficult cuts before the regular season. The roster construction math is getting tricky, as additional roster spots for defensive backs will have to come at the expense of some other position.
With only two preseason games to go, players who have yet to stake their claim to a roster spot will need to break out against the Panthers.
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Here are five players that need strong performances on Saturday to remain in contention to make the team.
Jaylon Ferguson entered into the league with a lot of hype after breaking former Raven Terrell Suggs’ NCAA career sack record at Louisiana Tech with a total of 45 sacks.
Baltimore took ‘Sack Daddy’ Ferguson in the third round of the 2019, but he’s failed to live up to that billing, recording only 4.5 sacks in his first two seasons.
The Ravens lost their top two edge rushers, Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue, in the offseason, which initially appeared to open up an increased role for Ferguson. But general manager Eric DeCosta had other plans, drafting Odafe Oweh and Daelin Hayes and signing veteran Justin Houston to bolster the Ravens’ outside linebacker corps.
With Tyus Bowser and Pernell McPhee already on the team, the Ravens now have six OLBs, two more than they had on their 53-man roster at the start of the regular season last year. That would suggest that Ferguson could be the odd man out, especially if the Ravens want to keep their breakout defensive backs on the roster.
Ferguson performed well against the Saints, constantly disrupting the offense and playing through the whistle on every down. He will need to keep up that level of effort and engagement against the Panther to merit a roster spot.
Justin Ellis & Broderick Washington
The Ravens have four roster locks on the defensive line, three of whom are veterans over the age of 30, which will require them to carry at least one more player. Again, however, their talented secondary may take priority, leaving only one more roster spot for a defensive lineman.
Ellis, a seven-year veteran, has provided solid depth for the Ravens for the last two years, but at 30 years old, he has limited upside for a team that already has three aging linemen. He started against the Saints with a solid performance but didn’t stand out enough to guarantee a roster spot.
Washington was drafted in the fifth round out of Texas Tech in 2020, but only recorded eight appearances for the Ravens last season. He was stout against the run and also forced a fumble last Saturday against New Orleans. Washington is six years younger than Ellis, potentially giving him an advantage in Baltimore, where the forward-thinking front office is always planning for the future.
Chris Board & L.J. Fort
The mention of Chris Board and L.J. Fort on this list may surprise some fans, but the aforementioned roster squeeze will affect the inside linebacker group as well, especially with safety standouts Ar’Darius Washington and Geno Stone capable of playing in the box, as well as veteran Anthony ‘Co-Cap’ Levine Sr.
Bowser and Hayes also have the versatility as OLBs to drop back in coverage as, potentially reducing the need for extra inside linebackers on the team.
At least one of Board and Fort will make the team, but it remains to be seen which one.
Fort played nearly the entire game against the Saints, including on special teams, notching two solo tackles and 0.5 sacks. He brings more experience and veteran savvy than Board, especially against the run. While he is 31 years old, the Ravens’ other ILBs, Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison, were both drafted last year, so the Ravens don’t need to worry about the position’s future. His steady, consistent play could be exactly what the Ravens are looking for to maintain stability in their inside linebacker group.
Board is 24 years old, and offers a better blitzing profile than Fort with his athleticism. But Board struggled to read the game from the middle of the field last year, suggesting that he has a ways to go before he is ready to contribute on a regular basis. His ability to get to the quarterback figures well into defensive coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale’s blitz-happy defense. If he can make plays and avoid mistakes against the Panthers, he’ll improve his chances at making the team.