With the 2021 NFL draft less than two weeks away, the Ravens will welcome a fresh group of young talent that will impact their fortunes for the upcoming season and especially beyond.
These rookies will also make an impact on players already on the roster, ranging from stiffer competition and fewer opportunities to a diminished role or even unemployment. That’s why observers so often say the NFL should stand for “not for long” when considering the high turnover rate for rosters every year.
Below are five players who could feel the effects of this year’s draft class in the coming season or beyond:
OLB Jaylon Ferguson
The 2019 third-round pick appearing on this list for a second straight year isn’t surprising given the uncertainty at the outside linebacker position, but it’s difficult to know what to really make of Ferguson, who probably had a better 2020 season than credited for despite his reduction in playing time amidst the outside linebacker numbers game. After responding to the Yannick Ngakoue trade with the best game of his career against Pittsburgh in Week 8, Ferguson didn’t do much to stand out the rest of the way and was a healthy scratch for four of the last six games counting the playoffs. What the Ravens do in the draft could be the difference between Ferguson stepping into a starting role in his third season or continuing to be little more than a role player in the rotation.
WR Devin Duvernay
You can’t compose a list like this without including a receiver, right? The rookie from Texas certainly made his mark in the return game and flashed his athletic gifts on offense, but Duvernay had only three offensive touches after Week 13 and played just eight offensive snaps in the playoffs. Though veteran slot receiver Willie Snead’s departure in free agency seemingly opens up more opportunities for Duvernay and fellow 2020 draft pick James Proche, adding a wide receiver in the early rounds of the draft could create a steeper climb to playing time, especially with veteran Sammy Watkins now in the mix. Duvernay is one of the real wild cards on this 2021 roster.
S DeShon Elliott
The 2018 sixth-round pick from Texas also appears on this list for a second straight year, but the reason is much different this time around as we anticipated he’d be the No. 3 safety in 2020 before the unceremonious dismissal of Earl Thomas last August. After appearing in just six games over his first two seasons due to injuries, Elliott brought a high floor as a rock-solid 16-game starter next to fellow safety Chuck Clark. However, the 24-year-old Elliott is entering the final year of his rookie contract and recorded no interceptions and just four pass breakups last season, leading some to clamor for a free safety with ball skills in this draft. Perhaps last year’s experience will help bring out the playmaking ability Elliott showed in college for his pivotal contract year.
OL Tyre Phillips
What do the Ravens envision for the 2020 third-round pick from Mississippi State? Phillips began his rookie year as the starting right guard, but veteran newcomer Kevin Zeitler will now fill that role. Is Phillips a leading candidate to start at left guard if Bradley Bozeman moves over to center? Does Baltimore have enough confidence to make Phillips the primary swing tackle considering the injury history of Ronnie Stanley and the uncertain future of Orlando Brown Jr.? Any additions to the offensive line via the draft will help shape this overall picture, but the versatility shown by Phillips over 418 offensive snaps in his first season makes his standing more interesting to monitor than some of the other young interior line options.
DT Broderick Washington
It’s no secret Baltimore’s top four defensive linemen in terms of 2020 snaps — Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, Derek Wolfe, and Justin Ellis — are all 30 or older and only one is under contract beyond next season (Wolfe), meaning general manager Eric DeCosta really needs to add youth with upside to this group. Fellow 2020 selection Justin Madubuike looks the part of a starting-caliber piece for the future, but Washington, a fifth-round pick from Texas Tech, failed to distinguish himself when Campbell and Williams were sidelined in the second half of the season and was active just once after Week 12. Even putting aside his legal problems, Washington could be on thin ice, especially after the Ravens didn’t hesitate to move on from disappointing 2019 fifth-round pick Daylon Mack before last summer’s training camp.