For the most part, the Baltimore Ravens enter with a roster that is fairly set in 2021. Many of the spots have been long fortified. Some spots, such as right guard and right tackle have been filled with new acquisitions. Over the full offense, defense, and special teams, few slots are yet to be determined. Let’s take a look at the 2021 Ravens position battles entering the season.
2021 Ravens Position Battles
Slot WR: Rotation
During the 2021 season, the Ravens are unlikely to have a true slot receiver in the recently departed Willie Snead mold. Almost every receiver on the Ravens roster, except for Miles Boykin, will likely play at least some snaps in the slot.
First-round pick Rashod Bateman was excellent in the slot at Minnesota, but he projects as a boundary wide receiver in the NFL. Marquise Brown‘s size might be interesting to exploit in the slot, but he also will likely work best on the outside. The likes of Sammy Watkins, Devin Duvernay, and Tylan Wallace will likely fight for snaps in the slot. 2020 draft pick James Proche may only have a shot of staying on the roster if he can secure the slot receiver role.
Even tight end Mark Andrews will venture into the slot from time to time as a change-up to the general Ravens offense. While Baltimore does not need to have a guaranteed slot receiver, having a go-to option will be helpful for Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore passing often.
Left Guard: Ben Bredeson vs Ben Cleveland vs Ben Powers
The other four slots on the offensive are entrenched. Ronnie Stanley will start at left tackle once healthy. Bradley Bozeman will slide from left guard to center this season. New acquisition Kevin Zeitler will fill in at right guard. Former Pittsburgh Steeler Alejandro Villanueva will start at right tackle after the Orlando Brown trade. This leaves the left guard open.
This is the purest competition on Baltimore‘s roster as both slot wide receiver and any defensive back group can fluctuate depending on the matchup. The starting left guard would be expected to play about 1,000 snaps this season. As of now, none of the three Bens have taken full responsibility for the left guard spot. Ben Powers, a 2019 draft pick, has been on the team the longest, but he has 542 total offensive snaps. Ben Bredeson was the 2020 draft pick and played just 48 offensive snaps in 2020. Ben Cleveland was taken in the third round of the 2021 draft, and he projects to be the best of the bunch.
The key here is getting a guard that can play about 1,000 competent snaps for Baltimore‘s passing and rushing offense. While Cleveland might be the best of the group, he has his flaws in pass protection. Powers and Bredeson may be better in pass protection early, but it seems Cleveland will have the upper hand during camp because of his excellent run-blocking showcase at Georgia.
Nickel DB: Rotation
Similar to the offensive line, four out of the five slots in the secondary are secured. Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters will be on the field for between 95 and 100% of snaps. Safeties DeShon Elliott and Chuck Clark will also be on the field as much as humanly possible. This leaves the fifth defensive backs slot, the nickel. Jimmy Smith is the lead dog here as he can play on the boundary, letting Humphrey slide inside and take away particularly dominant slot receivers. This is useful within the division as the likes of Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham, and JuJu Smith-Schuster often find themselves in the slot.
If Smith is not the fifth defensive back on the field, expect the likes of either Tavon Young or Shaun Wade to fill the void. Young, the former starting slot cornerback for Baltimore, has missed much of his career due to injury, but he is a competent slot corner when he plays. While his presence would limit Humphrey to being on the boundary all the time, Young has shown the ability to be a good slot quarterback in the NFL.
Wade, on the other hand, played slot corner at Ohio State in 2019. In 2020, we moved to the boundary, Wade was lit on fire by Big Ten opposition and Alabama. Wade could transition to safety, but as long as he does not play on the boundary, Baltimore likely got a steal in the fifth round.
While Brandon Stephens was the higher pick in the 2021 NFL draft, expect Wade to be the fifth defensive back when needed. Wade has experience in the slot as well as outside, while Stephens only played two years of cornerback at SMU. Early in his career, Stevens projects to be a special team or more than a productive asset to the Baltimore secondary.
With just under three months until the beginning of the regular season, camp battles will shape the rest of the Ravens roster. Most of the roster is set in stone, barring injuries, but these three slots may be filled as the summer comes and goes.
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