If the 2023 regular season started this upcoming Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens would be fielding quite an impressive starting lineup.
However, as currently constructed, if they were to sustain one or more injuries at certain positions, it’d be a major cause for concern and seriously threaten their chances of making a deep playoff run.
While they are well-stocked at every position on offense after investing heavily to remodel their wide receiver room and further fortify their offensive line depth via both free agency and the draft, their three biggest areas of concern are on defense.
Here is the trio of position groups that could use some clarity through competition and performance, followed by suitable and realistic veteran free-agent reinforcement options.
After opting not to address the position widely viewed as their most glaring, even ahead of wide receiver by some pundits, the first post-draft move that the Ravens made was to acquire fifth-year veteran Rock Ya-Sin. While he provides a competent replacement for Marcus Peters across from three-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey, the quality of depth behind them remains perhaps the biggest unknown and source of concern on an otherwise loaded roster.
The team currently has a bit of a logjam of unproven young corners that have been drafted in the last two years and some uninspiring journeyman veteran options vying for backup spots on the perimeter. There is also the starting nickel job that is up for grabs now that 2022 first-rounder Kyle Hamilton is transitioning to starting strong safety.
Unfortunately, neither 2022 fourth-rounders, Jalyn Armour-Davis nor Pepe Williams, have been able to stay on the practice field to stake their claim to one of those roles due to injury after up-and-down rookie seasons. In the fifth round of this year’s draft, the Ravens selected NFL legacy and former Stanford standout Kyu Blu Kelly who will likely have to work his way up through standing out on special teams, as is customary around the league for most Day 2 and 3 picks.
As far as current veteran options that are currently on the roster, both Kevon Seymour and Daryl Worley are replacement-level players that mostly project to be core special team contributors more than quality depth options. The wildcard among this group is former 2019 second-round pick Trayvon Mullen who has started 31 of his 46 career games and also happens to be the cousin of franchise quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Veteran FA option: Bryce Callahan
The eight-year veteran is an established slot cornerback that can also play on the perimeter. He has played on some elite defenses during his career in stints with the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos. He has 56 career starts under his belt and is coming off a 2022 season with the Los Angeles Chargers where he recorded a career-high three interceptions according to Pro Football Reference.
The Ravens could potentially have the next great pass-rushing tandem in the league if 2021 first-rounder Odafe Oweh and 2022 second-rounder David Ojabo deliver on the hype they’ve been garnering this offseason. They could even prove to be the best outside linebacker duo that Baltimore has seen since Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil racked up a combined 65.5 sacks from 2013-2016.
That is a lot of pressure to place on a pair of former high school teammates who haven’t proven much in their short time in the league. Oweh didn’t build off a promising rookie campaign in the way many had anticipated and hoped for in 2022. Nearly all of Ojabo’s rookie season was wiped out as he worked his way back from a torn Achilles that he sustained during last year’s pre-draft process.
Although the team is still solid on edge with six-year veteran Tyus Bowser, who will still likely open most games as the starting SAM and fourth-round rookie Tavius Robinson, the rest of their depth chart behind them doesn’t inspire much confidence. The remainder of the room is comprised of undrafted rookies Kelle Sanders and Malik Hamm as well as 2022 undrafted free agent Jeremiah Moon.
Veteran FA option: Justin Houston
The 12-year veteran and four-time Pro Bowler proved that he can still bring the heat and be a disruptive force off the edge last season when he led the Ravens with 9.5 sacks in a resurgent season. At 33 years old he seemed to have found the fountain of youth once he started being used as a situational pass rusher and less of an every-down player.
While the team could stand to add a veteran corner or two, they would be set at edge defender with the signing of just one experienced player. Houston just seems like the obvious and arguably best candidate given his proven effectiveness in defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald’s scheme.
The Ravens were looking into the veteran safety market not too long after they traded away veteran Chuck Clark to the New York Jets following the start of the new league year. That was likely because they know that while they’re well-stocked with players that are experienced at playing free safety at the NFL level, the same can’t be said at the strong safety spot.
Even though Hamilton is slated to take over Clark’s starting spot next to six-year veteran Marcus Williams, both Macdonald and head coach John Harbaugh have spoken at various times during the offseason about still wanting to utilize his versatile skillset. He was such a dynamic weapon as a hybrid slot defender during the second half of his rookie season and finished as the highest-graded safety in the league according to Pro Football Focus.
In order to free him up to continue being used in a multitude of ways, they’ll need to have confidence in the competency and effectiveness of the primary backup option behind him. Harbaugh said that third-year pro Brandon Stephens will focus more on safety this summer and preseason but all 15 of his career starts are at either cornerback or free safety. Fourth-year pro Geno Stone is more than capable of playing in the box but is best suited playing free safety as well.
A key component in being able to deploy a DIME sub-package defense is having a defensive back that is capable of coming down into the box and lining up in the slot over a tight end or wide receiver. Hamilton fits that description to the letter and proved that he can perform those duties at a very high-level last year. What the Ravens need now is a player that can come onto the field and comparably fill in at strong safety when Hamilton is needed to resume his hybrid role.
Veteran FA option: John Johnson III
The six-year veteran has been a full-time starter for the vast majority of his career with 80 starts in 86 career games. After being played out of position at free safety during his three-year stint with the Cleveland Browns, he might be open to a return to playing the strong spot on a heavy rotational basis with the Ravens.
Despite a bit of a down year that resulted in the second lowest overall PFF grade of his career with a 62.8, Johnson still started all 17 games and recorded 101 total tackles, four tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, half a sack, four pass breakups, and one interception according to Pro Football Reference.