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Can Tony Jefferson fill the Anthony Levine Sr. role for the Ravens?

Syndication: The Enquirer Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Soon after the conclusion of the 2021 season, veteran Anthony Levine Sr. announced his official retirement after a 10-year playing career with the Ravens. While Levine will no longer be an on-field presence, he immediately transitioned into a scouting and coaching assistant role.

At the height of his career in the mid-2010s, Levine was both a special teams ace and valuable defensive rotational player for the Ravens as a safety/linebacker hybrid. Over the past few seasons, Levine’s defensive snaps had waned but he remained a high-level special teams performer.

Perhaps more importantly, he brought leadership and moxy to the Ravens locker room for many years, which made him one a fan favorite. Someone who is familiar with Levine, having shared the safety room together for many years, is Tony Jefferson II.

A nice subplot of the 2021 season for the Ravens, and maybe a lone bright spot late in the year, was the team’s reunion with Jefferson. They signed the former starter in December to the practice squad amidst myriad of injuries in their secondary. Almost immediately, Jefferson was called up to the active roster and suited up for the final four games.

Not only was it a feel-good storyline for Jefferson to be back in Baltimore, but more so just on the field in general. The last time “TJ” had appeared in a regular season game was October 2019, when he suffered a torn ACL in the Ravens’ Week 5 win over the Steelers.

That offseason, the Ravens released Jefferson. He remained un-signed until last summer, when he joined the San Francisco 49ers gave him a one-year deal. Unfortunately, more injury troubles continued to limit Jefferson and he only appeared in two total games.

When the Ravens signed Jefferson late in 2021, both he and the team’s defense were in much different situations than two seasons ago. The Ravens’ secondary was ravaged by injuries, fielding mostly practice squad call-ups that Jefferson never took the field with previously during his three-year stint in Baltimore. It’s also clear that Jefferson himself is not the same player he was in 2017 and 2018.

During these two seasons and prior to getting hurt in 2019, Jefferson was a full-time starter at the strong safety position. He was one of the Ravens’ leading tacklers, hardest hitters and made a number of impact plays. Few would mistake him as a flawless safety at the height of his career, but he certainly had some memorable highs.

Now, at age 30, Jefferson is no longer in his athletic prime. Multiple injuries in a two-year span will usually do that to an athlete. However, with expectations tempered, Jefferson performed pretty admirably to close out the 2021 season.

Considering he was thrust into action off the street, he looked comfortable (like before) in the Ravens’ system, moved pretty well and had some nice tackles. He played 89 defensive snaps in four games and recorded 17 total tackles and a sack. In addition, Jefferson also played 42 snaps on special teams.

The latter number is of note. His 42 special teams snaps in just four games nearly matched his 2018 total (45) in 14 games. No longer a full-time starter type of defensive player, Jefferson’s eased defensive workload afforded him more playing time in the third facet of the game — the same facet that Levine embraced and dominated during his career.

If the Ravens do re-sign Jefferson, an unrestricted free agent, for the 2022 season or beyond, all signs suggest he could easily slot into the vacancy left by Levine. He brings the same level of veteran leadership and is similarly well-respected in the locker room. For what it’s worth, Jefferson is also a fan favorite type of player, too.

If the his short stint to end 2021 is any indication, Jefferson may actually bring more defensive upside to the table at this stage than Levine did. He is four years younger, after all, and was a higher-end defensive player at their respective peaks.

Any contributions as a rotational box safety and/or dime backer the Ravens could get out of Jefferson would be a plus. This, combined with his special teams ability and veteran attributes, make retaining him a worthwhile, low-risk investment.

It appears Jefferson may have the same idea in mind, also . . .