Teams across the league will be reporting for training camp very soon and the Baltimore Ravens have a handful of position groups that will feature contested battles for snaps and a spot on the final roster.
With their influx of high-end talent and incredible depth at safety, the Ravens may decide to carry fewer inside linebackers in 2022 than they ever have in team history. There are likely only two locks to make the roster barring injury at this moment. The first is Patrick Queen, who is heading into a pivotal third season, and the second is veteran Josh Bynes who has been a stabilizing force in the middle of the defense in two of the last three seasons.
That leaves the likes of Malik Harrison, Kristian Welch, and a trio of undrafted rookies in what will be a tight battle for the third and possibly final roster spot at the position. Given that the Ravens have several safeties that can contribute on special teams and come down in the box to play dime linebacker in sub packages, the Ravens might opt to keep just three or four ‘true’ inside linebackers on the final 53-man roster.
Harrison was drafted in the third round of the 2020 NFL draft and like Queen, he is entering a crucial season in his young career. After showing some promise in limited opportunities as a rookie and starting five of the first seven games in 2021, he fell out of favor with his coaches and down the depth chart after recovering from a gunshot wound he suffered during the bye week. Harrison was relegated to primarily playing a special teams role and saw the field for just one defensive snap in the final seven games of last season. His spot on the roster is far from solidified, he could even get put on the trading block if he doesn’t show out in training camp practices as well as preseason games.
The Ravens have a rich history of finding and developing undrafted inside linebackers into at least core special teams contributors that could earn their way onto the field for meaningful defensive snaps.
Welch is the latest example of that as played 31 snaps on defense down the stretch after playing just one through the team’s first 10 games of the season. He appeared in 16 games, finished with 13 combined tackles, and played 85 percent of the team’s total special teams snaps. The days of the Ravens carrying special teams only players on the roster are likely over so Welch will need to prove that he can give Harrison and Bynes a run for their money in the race for the starting job next to Queen to make the cut this year.
The three undrafted inside linebackers that are longshots but still shouldn’t be counted out are Auburn’s Zakoby McClain, Michigan’s Josh Ross, and Navy’s Diego Fagot. Each member of the unheralded trio will need to consistently outshine their more tenured teammates in both practice and the preseason to give themselves the best case to make the team.
Ross is the most familiar with the playbook the Ravens will be using this year given that first-year Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald was his play caller during his final and most productive year with the Wolverines in 2021.
“Punish the lead”— Full-Time Dame (@DP_NFL) January 2, 2022
A lost art to playing mike backer, taking on iso/lead blocks. Pullers leading the RBs up the guy.
Josh Ross (#12) squares up the puller and sticks him in the chest. Clogging the lane for the RB.
I love the competitive toughness! pic.twitter.com/8V6omykMnc
McClain is a gifted athlete who showed a more natural feel and consistency in coverage at Auburn than some of the inside linebackers the Ravens have had on the field over the last two seasons, outside of Bynes.
Fagot is a hardnosed throwback thumper that plays fast and physical downhill. He played his college ball in the Ravens’ backyard so they likely have been keeping tabs on him for years.
While Harrison likely wouldn’t clear waivers if cut, even if he had a quiet preseason given his age and original draft status, the other four could very well make it through and will be prime practice squad candidates that could be called up at any point in the season as needed.