The Baltimore Ravens are a franchise that have prided themselves on their defense. Since 1996, the team has seen some of the greatest defensive players in NFL history play for them, including the likes of linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed.
In 2019, the Ravens defense improved dramatically over the season, thanks to mid-season acquisitions and a change in style. The strength of the Ravens defense is their secondary, with top-tier players at both cornerback and safety. Let’s examine the Ravens’ depth at safety.
Earl Thomas: Future Hall of Fame Safety?
After a long stint as part of the famed Seattle Seahawks ‘Legion of Boom’ defense, the Ravens signed Earl Thomas to a four-year, $55 million deal last year. Thomas returned from a broken bone in his leg that ended his 2018 season, returning in a new role.
The Ravens asked him to play a lot more in-the-box safety, in fact, he played more in 2019 than 2015-2018 combined. He had more quarterback pressures, 15, than in 2013-2018 combined. Despite playing more at the line of scrimmage, Thomas remained excellent in coverage. PFF rated him as the 16th best safety in 2019, a good figure considering he was with a new team and returning from a serious injury.
At 31 and entering his eleventh year, Thomas is reaching the end of his prime. His salary is significant, but he remains a top-tier safety in the NFL. Thomas anchors a young group of safeties in Baltimore.
Chuck Clark: The Unheralded Safety
Chuck Clark has done nothing but impress since the Ravens drafted him in the sixth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. He’s a physical safety at 6’0 and 205 pounds and perfectly suits the Ravens’ defensive philosophy.
Clark’s versatility and leadership are massive for the Ravens. He led the team in tackles last season with 73 combined tackles and plays over 75% and 50% of defensive and special teams snaps. Chuck also plays ‘Mike’ linebacker in certain sub-packages.
Clark also took over play-calling duties mid-season and this was a definite factor in their improvement as the season wore on. His play was at a high level, PFF rated him the 36th best safety in 2019. This high-level play and versatility are why he earned a three-year, $16 million extension in February.
Anthony Levine Sr.: The Special Teams Ace
Anthony Levine Sr. is a very underappreciated part of Baltimore’s defense. He’s been with the franchise since 2012 and has carved out his role as a special teams ace. Levine is a leader of that unit entering his eleventh NFL season. Special teams are valued highly in Baltimore, which helps explain why Levine has been with the team for eight years now.
He also plays a role as a dime package safety, a role that was reduced with Brandon Carr’s transition to safety last year. With Carr now departed, Levine can reclaim a role he had previously excelled in. In March this year, Baltimore re-signed him to a one-year, $1.8 million deal.
DeShon Elliot: The Inexperienced Safety
The Ravens used a sixth round pick in 2018 to select DeShon Elliot, but have yet to see his capabilities on the field. Elliot has only played in six games in his first two years. He missed his entire rookie season with a broken forearm and was placed on IR on October 15th last year with a knee injury.
Elliot’s flashed potential in training camps but needs to stay healthy so he can produce consistently on the field. He has good size and speed at 6’1, 210 pounds, and a 4.58 40-time, but needs to step up in 2020. With veterans like Tony Jefferson, Brandon Carr and Brynden Trawick departing in free agency, Elliot can earn a sub-package depth role this year.
Jordan Richards Provides Safety Depth
The Ravens signed Jordan Richards on October 24th last year, two days after being released by the New England Patriots. Richards is on his fourth NFL team in five years but was re-signed to a one-year veteran minimum deal by Baltimore in February.
Richards played almost exclusively on special teams and provides experience to the position group. He also provides depth at safety and will hope the host of departing free agents at the position help him earn a defensive role in 2020.
Geno Stone: The Rookie Safety
Baltimore used its seventh round draft pick this year to select strong safety Geno Stone from Iowa. He was highly productive at the college level. His best skill is his high football IQ and plays with an aggressive style that makes him a willing tackler.
He lacks ideal size and speed at 5’10 and 210 pounds, with a 4.62-40. He also primarily played zone coverage in college and so will need time to develop his man coverage skills. Stone will likely earn a role on special teams in 2020 and should feel confident in making the team.
Nigel Warrior Looking to Make Team
Baltimore signed Tennessee strong safety Nigel Warrior as an undrafted free agent this year. Warrior blossomed in 2019, earning All-SEC honours. He dramatically improved his coverage abilities, with four interceptions.
His primary skill is with run support and his physical play style suits the Ravens. Warrior needs time to further develop his coverage abilities to an NFL level but has the potential to be another undrafted free agent gem Baltimore develops. He is a good candidate for the Practice Squad in 2020.
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