For the second straight year, the only defensive schemes anyone has truly praised are Chicago’s and Baltimore’s. Ravens conversations have been the most abundant. Roughly two dozen coaches—some close to the team, others only familiar with them from afar—marvel at that Baltimore scheme’s aggression and efficacy. And to a man, these coaches have cited Eric Weddle as the key ingredient.
No one has said Weddle performs at an All-Pro level. At 34, his speed and quickness have diminished, and he’s no longer the soundest tackler. But his IQ is towering and, more importantly, so is his confidence. That has made him the most daring and creative pre-snap disguise artist in football. His willingness to get out of position pre-snap and change his—or a teammate’s—assignment on the fly gives Baltimore’s defense its trademark deceptiveness.
The Ravens tend to play similar six-man matchup-zone coverages from snap-to-snap, but you’re never quite sure who the six zone defenders will be or where they’ll align because you’re never quite sure what to make of Weddle, who moves all over before the snap. This is even truer with Baltimore’s blitz packages.
The Ravens, who are young in key spots on both sides of the ball, see themselves not just as contenders in 2019, but contenders for years to come. A smart, versatile safety is vital to their scheme, and Weddle, at this point, might have only a year or two left in the tank. This year’s free agent safety class is unusually deep and, more importantly, unusually top heavy.
The Ravens will presumably add an experienced safety capable of spearheading their trademark deception. Five-time All-Pro Earl Thomas headlines the free agent crop.
“I wanted to come back here right away,” said Boyle, who compared the free-agency process to being like a rubber band stretched in both directions.
“I didn’t want to go to another team. I don’t think [my wife] Kristina did, either. We love it here. We love the relationships. Is it interesting to see where I can go? As long as I thought [the deal] was fair and something that we wanted here, I would just come back here.”
“I have a lot of pride in what I do. Whether it’s catching a pass or having a really key block on a certain play, I think I get the same satisfaction out of it.”
In a “1950s-like” Ravens read-option offense, the Ravens needed to keep their old-school blocker. With Roman as offensive coordinator and Lamar Jackson under center, the Ravens plan to run the ball a lot. To do that effectively, they must have an excellent blocking tight end.
Boyle, 26, signed a three year contract extension with a maximum value of $18 million and $10 million in guarantees.
MOST IMPORTANT WIDE RECEIVER PRO DAYS - Brad Kelly
STANFORD (APRIL 4)
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside was weighed and measured at the NFL Scouting Combine, and what a measurement it was. At 6’2 and 225 pounds, Arcega-Whiteside checked in with a wingspan of 79 ⅞ inches, good for the 90th percentile among wide receivers. However, Arcega-Whiteside wouldn’t participate in athletic testing, opting to wait until Stanford’s pro day.
The main concerns around Arcega-Whiteside’s game center around separation, as his top-end speed isn’t dynamic on film. His NFL evaluation may hinge on his 40-yard dash, millions of dollars on the line over a 4 second span. The funny thing is, we’ve heard conflicting reports over Arcega-Whiteside’s 40-yard dash.
From people plugged in at Stanford, we have been told that during college, Arcega-Whiteside out-ran safety Justin Reid during 40-yard dash testing. At the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine, Reid blazed to a 4.40 second 40-yard dash. However, we’ve also been told that during training, Arcega-Whiteside’s goal for his 40-yard dash was to get under 4.70s. Likely, his time will fall somewhere in-between. If he’s able to hit 4.55s, his evaluation should hold steady.
Arcega-Whiteside was a bonafide red zone monster at Stanford, collecting 28 touchdowns in 33 games. Opinions are split on whether the Ravens should surround Lamar Jackson with contested catch receivers or speed merchants. If they opt for one of each, J.J. would be a fine Day 2 selection.
1st round, 22nd overall: Clelin Ferrell, EDGE, Clemson
It looks like Baltimore could be in the midst of enacting a significant makeover to the NFL’s top-ranked defense, which would heighten the need for an infusion of young talent on that side of the ball. Ferrell combined for 20 sacks the past two seasons at Clemson and would give Baltimore a new face to build around at a premium position. It’d be especially hard to see the Ravens letting a player like Ferrell slip by if outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs leave in free agency.
3rd round, 85th overall: Riley Ridley, WR, Georgia
If the Ravens use their first-round pick on a defensive player and don’t trade into the second round, they’ll be hoping a receiver of Ridley’s caliber slips to them at this spot. Baltimore absorbed flak for passing on Ridley’s brother Calvin in last year’s draft and won’t want to miss the chance to make amends.
3rd round, 102nd overall: Justice Hill, RB, Oklahoma State
It’s possible the Ravens will sign a three-down running back in free agency or use an earlier pick on a ball-carrier. But if Baltimore is aiming to supplement big, bruising back Gus Edwards rather than replace him, the team should keep an eye on Hill, who ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash at the combine. Hill would provide a new, explosive dynamic to the ground game.
4th round, 113th overall: Beau Benzschawel, OG, Wisconsin
4th round, 123rd overall: Tyre Brady, WR, Marshall
5th round, 160th overall: Sheldrick Redwine, S, Miami
6th round, 191st overall: T.J. Edwards, LB, Wisconsin
6th round, 193rd overall: Byron Cowart, EDGE, Maryland
If available, Ferrell may entice the Ravens to select him at #22 instead of trading back. While not an elite athlete, the Clemson product could serve as a three-down edge that combines run stopping ability with refined pass rushing technique.