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2019 season bold predictions: Safety

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Will replacing Eric Weddle with Earl Thomas pay dividends in the defensive backfield?

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NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Los Angeles Chargers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The safety position has long been an area of strength for the Ravens and next season figures to be no different. After releasing three-year starter Eric Weddle, Baltimore found the best possible replacement with Earl Thomas.

Going on age 30, Thomas has six Pro Bowl nods and three first-team All-Pro selections under his belt. He’s a perfect fit for Don Martindale’s defense and is, in the eyes of many, the closest thing to Ed Reed the league has seen since Reed’s retirement.

Eslewhere, the main safety core from last sesaon remains intact, including SS starter Tony Jefferson, Anthony Levine Sr., Chuck Clark, and DeShon Elliott, the latter of which missed all of last season after suffering a broken forearm in the preseason.

Tony Jefferson records 100+ tackles

In his two seasons with Baltimore, it feels like Tony Jefferson has yet to truly assert himself and reach his full potential. While he’s been a source of impact plays, Jefferson’s strong run-stopping and tackling skills have been somewhat mitigated by struggles in pass coverage. However, entering his 7th career season, Jefferson appears primed for his best performance yet. Having Earl Thomas roaming in the secondary will allow Jefferson to play closer to the line of scrimmage, where he’s at his best. The Ravens lost their leading tackler, C.J. Mosley, in free agency. Jefferson had 74 tackles last year and 96 tackles in his last season with the Cardinals in 2016. Playing in more of a box safety role will give Jefferson more opportunities to utilize his pursuit and nose for the ball.

Earl Thomas wins Comeback Player of the Year

More often than not, this award is given to an offensive player, usually a quarterback or one of the skill position players. However, Earl Thomas a great chance to become just the third defensive guy to earn Comeback Player of the Year since 2005. Thomas suffered a broken leg during the Seahawks Week 4 tilt against Arizona last season, marking the third consecutive season in which Thomas didn’t play all 16 games. Returning from injury after an ugly split with his former team, you can bet Thomas will be extra motivated for more reasons than one. The veteran safety had 22 tackles and three interceptions in just four games last season, which earned him a 91.3 overall grade from Pro Football Focus. By all indications, Thomas has almost fully recovered from his tibia injury and is set up for success in his first season with the Ravens.

Anthony Levine Sr. plays more snaps at linebacker than safety

“Co Cap” has been an underrated contributor on the Ravens defense over the past few seasons. Levine was instrumental in the team’s Week 17 victory over the Browns last season, as he recorded multiple pass deflections in the final two minutes. While safety is more of his natural position, Levine has always been more of a safety/linebacker hybrid. His skill set and versatility is valuable and figures to take on extra importance next season. Baltimore has great depth at safety with DeShon Elliot and Chuck Clark on the depth chart. However, the same can’t be said at linebacker. With Mosley gone, the Ravens will be relying on Patrick Onuwasor and Kenny Young as the starting duo next season. After those two, however, things are a bit murky. Even if they bring in another player in free agency, Levine should be a consistent part of the linebacker rotation.

DeShon Elliott forces multiple turnovers

Before the signing of Thomas, I was high on DeShon Elliott as a seamless replacement for the departed Eric Weddle. This obviously won’t be the case, but Elliott is still a talented player with high upside. It’s unfortunate that his rookie season was cut short before it began, but we saw flashes in the preseason of what Elliott can do when given the opportunity. In just a few exhibition games, he showcased a knack for making plays and a nose for the ball. Elliott won’t play a significant role next year so long as Thomas and Jefferson are in the fold, but he could find his way onto the field in limited spurts. If he can carve out a role for himself in some fashion, Elliott is capable of making an impact.