The Ravens finalized their 53-man roster on Tuesday. There are still some moving parts as the team places players on injured reserve and re-signs veterans that were cut. However, the majority of the depth chart has come full circle ahead of Week 1.
Of the eight players the Ravens drafted this past April, only five will be on the active roster to begin the season. First-round pick Rashod Bateman is on short-term injured reserve as he recovers from a groin injury. Fifth-rounders Shaun Wade and Ben Mason are now members of the Patriots; Wade via trade and Mason via practice squad after being cut by the Ravens.
That leaves Odafe Oweh, Ben Cleveland, Brandon Stephens, Tylan Wallace and Daelin Hayes as the quintet of the drafted players who will suit up next Monday night.
Oweh and Cleveland were expected to be Day 1 contributors from the moment they were drafted. While neither may begin the season as starters, their path to playing time has been clear from the get-go. For the players drafted after them, projected roles were a bit more murky prior to training camp and the preseason.
What the past several weeks have shown, though, is that while now trimmed-down, the 2021 Ravens’ rookie class could make a significant impact right away. Stephens, Wallace and Hayes appear primed for bigger roles than many anticipated. All indicators suggest they’re up to the challenge.
Stephens has had a fairly quiet offseason but in the case of a defensive back, that’s usually a good thing. It means he hasn’t been on the wrong end of any poor defensive plays. He didn’t having any highlight reel moments in three preseason games, per say, but looked the part of the a legitimate contributor in the secondary.
The Ravens lined up him at safety, nickel, and outside corner at times, highlighting his versatility. Regardless of what position he occupied, Stephens seemed to be in the right place at the right time more often than not.
For a prospect who began his collegiate career as a running back, Stephens’ quick acclimation to playing defensive back in the Ravens system is impressive. He’s listed as the No. 3 safety behind Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott and is likely to see the field often in dime packages as an extra safety or cornerback.
Wallace has a big opportunity in front of him, in large part by virtue of injuries at the wide receiver position. With Bateman and Miles Boykin out and Marquise Brown and Sammy Watkins having missed large portions of training camp and preseason, Wallace has been one of the few healthy mainstays at the position.
He didn’t light up the box score in the preseason but showed improvement. After going null in the exhibition opener, Wallace caught five passes for 63 yards and a touchdown against the Panthers and Washington. If not for a dropped touchdown in the end zone, his stat line would look even better.
Wallace is one of the only pure “outside” receivers on the roster. This, as well as his ability to create yards after the catch (YAC), should afford him double-digit snaps early on in the season. The Ravens could call upon his services especially against the Chiefs in Week 2.
Hayes, the only fifth-round pick remaining, has been a pleasant surprise. After putting together strong practices throughout training camp, the Notre Dame product was a consistent contributor in the preseason. Known for his coverage ability as an outside linebacker, Hayes demonstrated underrated pass-rushing skills.
He created pressure on numerous occasions. Like Stephens, he seems to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time — which speaks to his high football IQ. Hayes might be lower on the depth chart at his position than the other aforementioned rookies, but a path to playing time certainly exists.
Hayes is the ideal backup SAM linebacker behind Tyus Bowser because of his pass coverage skills. ‘Wink’ Martindale rotates and mixes and matches so much at the outside linebacker position that Hayes is likely to see his fair share of snaps early in the year.
One thing I’ve really like about Hayes is his willingness to try different rushes in his first NFL games (preseason). Works a nice ghost technique of this snap: https://t.co/31Vt2ynDC4— michael crawford (@abukari) August 29, 2021
Not even mentioned above is safety Ar’Darius Washington, who played his way onto the 53-man roster despite going undrafted. He too has impressed and could be an early contributor as a safety/nickel hybrid.
Washington was a leading snap-getter in the slot on defense during the preseason. His performance made Shaun Wade expendable and the Ravens evidently liked him enough to release Nigel Warrior, another talented young defensive back.
This offseason has definitely been a bit bumpy for the 2021 rookie class as a whole, especially in comparison to last season. Any time your first-round pick — Bateman, not Oweh — suffers an early injury, it’s certainly an unfortunate setback. Cleveland missed valuable practices and preseason action because of a concussion, and the Ravens likely would not have foreseen cutting ties with two of their draft picks earlier in the offseason.
Despite these developments, the Ravens’ rookies have shown promise and are well-positioned for success as the start of the regular season nears.
Which rookie do you think will make the most immediate impact in 2021?
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