The Ravens qualified for the postseason for the third straight year and registered their first playoff victory in six years, but where did their individual players stack up across the NFL in such an unusual 2020 campaign?
Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or handing out postseason honors, media and fans spend much time discussing where players rank at any given position, but very few watch every player on every team closely enough to develop opinions as informed as we’d like to claim.
Truthfully, how many times did you watch the Detroit Lions linebackers this season? What about the Las Vegas Raiders offensive line? And the Seattle Seahawks cornerbacks?
That’s why I respect the efforts of Pro Football Focus while admitting their grades are hardly the gospel of player assessment. The exhaustive effort to evaluate players across the league shouldn’t be dismissed when most of us watch one team or maybe one division closely on any kind of a regular basis.
We’ll look at each positional group on the Baltimore roster in the coming days, but below is a look at where Ravens safeties stacked up across the NFL this past season followed by a positional outlook going into 2021:
2020 defensive snap count: 1,065
PFF ranking: 27th out of 94 qualified safeties
2021 Week 1 age: 26
Skinny: From the time he became a starter in the first half of the 2019 season, the former sixth-round pick from Virginia Tech has been a rock-solid presence in the secondary as well as the signal caller in the defensive huddle. Clark may not wow you with his physical tools, but his football intellect is praised by coaches and teammates alike as he effectively manages Wink Martindale’s deceptive and aggressive defense.
2020 defensive snap count: 1,046
PFF ranking: 28th out of 94 qualified safeties
2021 Week 1 age: 24
Skinny: Limited to 40 defensive snaps over his first two seasons because of injuries, Elliott was one of Baltimore’s biggest question marks after the problematic Earl Thomas was jettisoned during training camp, but the 2018 sixth-round pick from Texas finished second on the team behind Clark in defensive snaps, providing both physicality and much-needed stability. With Elliott entering the final year of his rookie contract, the question now becomes whether his performance can hit another level after he didn’t make a ton of plays on the ball in 2020.
2020 defensive snap count: 30
PFF ranking: n/a
2021 Week 1 age: 34
Skinny: The longtime special-teams captain and pending free agent saw his lowest defensive snap total since 2015 despite appearing in all but one game, making it pretty apparent he no longer factors into the defensive plans after a previous run as Baltimore’s dime back. Even if Levine does return in 2021, it would be a stretch to consider him a significant depth piece in the secondary at this stage of his career.
2020 defensive snap count: 15
PFF ranking: n/a
2021 Week 1 age: 28
Skinny: Much like Levine, Richards is a safety by title only as he led the Ravens in special-teams snaps last season and has played just 16 snaps on defense since arriving in 2019. Special teams coordinator Chris Horton and head coach John Harbaugh do value his presence considering Baltimore re-signed him to a one-year deal in late January.
2021 positional outlook
After years of volatility and underwhelming returns on substantial investments at the safety position in the wake of Hall of Famer Ed Reed’s departure, the Ravens shouldn’t take for granted the high floor provided by Clark and Elliott at a very affordable rate. Still, desiring more playmaking ability on the back end of the defense is understandable after the duo combined for just one interception and eight pass breakups in 2020. At the very least, the organization needs to add more depth with long-term upside as the only other young safety on the current roster is 2020 undrafted free agent Nigel Warrior, who spent his rookie season on the practice squad. The Ravens could also revisit using Jimmy Smith — who will turn 33 in late July — at safety after injuries at cornerback sunk those plans early in the 2020 season, but he wouldn’t be a long-term answer, of course. Safety may not be the organization’s greatest need since both starters are returning after combining to play 2,100 snaps, but not adding an attractive No. 3 option to use in sub packages and develop into a starting option would be asking for problems.