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 tight contested battles for snaps and a spot on the final roster.
After an injury-ravaged 2021 season, the Ravens’ secondary is slated to be the strength of their defense once again. While they are stacked at safety and are getting the All-Pro perimeter cornerback tandem of Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters back, the release of Tavon Young earlier this offseason means they will need to find a new starting slot corner.
Playing the nickel spot is no longer a part-time or situational role on defense given that offenses across the league feature three and four wide receiver sets more frequently than any other formation. Historically, slot corners in the Ravens’ defense need to be sticky in coverage, fight through traffic, change direction smoothly on a dime, tackle, and rush the passer.
The top two candidates on the roster in the running for the job are rookie Damarion ‘Pepe’ Williams and second-year pro Ar’Darius Washington. Other longshots include undrafted rookies Denzel Williams and David Vareen and possibly second-year pro Brandon Stephens. The 2021 third-rounder is listed as a defensive back on the roster with no specification between corner or safety, since he will likely spend time playing both going forward despite having primarily played safety as a rookie.
Williams was drafted in the fourth round out of Houston where he played on the perimeter but at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, he is the same weight and only an inch taller than Young. He projects best as a slot corner at the NFL level and has already made a good early impression on his coaches and teammates. Williams is a fierce and feisty competitor in coverage and made a few impressive plays on the ball during the on-field portion of the offseason program.
“He might not be the fastest and he might not be the biggest, but I guarantee you [that] the kid has got the biggest heart and he’s a good football player,” Pass Game Coordinator and Secondary Coach Chris Hewitt said. “I always bet on good football players to go out there and do their job. That kid plays with great energy, and he’s going to make us better as a team. I really love the kid and I think he’s going to have a great future.”
Washington is listed as a safety on the roster but he played in the slot during his limited action in the three games he appeared as a rookie. At 5-foot-8 and 176 pounds, the former undrafted free agent in 2021 also profiles as a nickel and he plays with the aggressiveness and physicality to thrive in the role.
If none of the aforementioned candidates seize the opportunity and win the job, the Ravens have Humphrey and veteran free agent acquisition Kyler Fuller to fall back on. Both players are best suited to play on the outside but have experience playing in the slot. Humphrey has proven he can do so at an elite level, whereas Fuller struggled in his short stint playing nickel for the Denver Broncos last season.