Ravens Rumors

Ravens Eyeing Increased Role For TE Isaiah Likely

Mark Andrews missed significant time in 2023, and his absence left the Ravens without their top tight end option. It also opened the door to increased playing time for Isaiah Likely, however, and he showed considerable potential.

In total, Likely racked up 411 yards and five touchdowns on 30 catches in 2023, his second year in the league. Much of that production came when Andrews was sidelined, but Baltimore’s offense could look to include both on the field moving forward. That has been showcased by the many roles Likely has seen time in this spring.

The 24-year-old indicated (via Ryan Mink of the team’s website) he has taken snaps in several spots on offense this offseason. Doing so will allow offensive coordinator Todd Monken to find ways to have both Andrews and Likely on the field together. Baltimore rarely used two tight end sets in 2023, but putting the latter in a variety of spots could change that this season.

“It’s being a chess piece, being anywhere ‘Monk’ needs me to be in this offense – whether it’s in the slot, in-line, in the backfield, split out wide by myself,” Likely said of the experiments with his positioning. “The more you know, the more you can stay on the field.”

Likely showed his pass-catching potential as a rookie, and his success when thrust into a starting role in Year 2 will lead to high expectations. The Coastal Carolina product is not known for his run blocking, so giving him looks not only in the slot but on the perimeter would be sensible. Baltimore’s receiving core is led by Zay Flowers, Rashod Bateman, Nelson Agholor and fourth-round rookie Devontez WalkerRunning back addition Derrick Henry does not have a track record of notable production in the passing game, and that should not be expected to change in 2024.

Of course, Henry (along with quarterback Lamar Jackson) being in the fold means the Ravens will remain a run-heavy offense moving forward. Likely’s play to date has garnered interest in a increased workload, though, and it will be interesting to see how that plays out during training camp this summer. Two years remain on his rookie contract, so a strong campaign in 2024 could set him up for an extension.

Ravens G Ben Cleveland Seeing Time At Tackle

We’ve covered the situation surrounding the Ravens’ offensive line position battles in depth already, but with three starting positions alongside center Tyler Linderbaum and left tackle Ronnie Stanley completely open for competition, the updates are sure to continue rolling in. Our most recent update highlights a disappointing development for a perceived favorite to take a starting job.

According to Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic, three of the players competing for starting roles this offseason saw time at both guard and tackle during the team’s organized team activities. Daniel Faalele, newcomer Josh Jones, and Ben Cleveland are the three big men who have shuffled around on the line this spring.

Faalele is a massive human (listed at 6-foot-8, 380 pounds) who has one start in 32 game appearances over his first two years in the league. He has struggled to be effective as a backup tackle, sometimes filling in for the oft-injured Stanley. Moving Faalele inside could make an intimidating run defense even more formidable. Jones was brought in especially because of his versatility on the line, so his shuffling around is no surprise. If Jones doesn’t earn a starting job, he could be another valuable sixth man like the Ravens already have in Patrick Mekari.

Hearing that Cleveland is working outside of his natural guard position is not a great sign. A massive human in his own right (6-foot-6, 370 pounds), the former third-round pick out of Georgia has started seven of 37 game appearances in his three years with the Ravens but has never displayed a true starting ability.

While some viewed him as an early favorite to fill one of the open starting jobs at guard in 2024, Zrebiec now reports that Cleveland’s stock is trending down after he failed to get the first-team snaps that other candidates for the starting jobs got in OTAs. Seemingly falling behind Andrew Vorhees, Malaesala Aumavae-Laula, Jones, Mekari, and potentially even Faalele, Cleveland is now getting shifted out for looks at tackle.

Heading into the final year of his rookie contract, if Cleveland is going to make an impact, it’s now or never. If Cleveland can’t find a way to contribute in 2024, it’s going to be difficult to justify re-signing the former SEC standout. Decision-makers in Baltimore insist that Cleveland is still in the mix for the guard jobs, and perhaps they’re just trying different methods of motivation to pump Cleveland up for training camp, but trying him out at tackle sends an interesting message.

At tackle, Cleveland won’t likely be in contention for the starting job over second-round selection Roger Rosengarten out of Washington. Even if Rosengarten fails to earn the starting job, Mekari and Jones both have ample starting experience over Cleveland. Cleveland will need to utilize the next two and a half months to prove he’s worthy of not only a pivotal role this year but also a second contract in the future.

Ravens’ Malik Cunningham Standing Out In Move To WR

In late May, we were made aware that the Ravens had officially changed the position of Malik Cunningham on their roster from quarterback to wide receiver. A long-time admirer of starting quarterback Lamar Jackson, Cunningham initially held the same headstrong attitude towards a position conversion that Jackson once held. According to Ravens editorial director Ryan Mink, Cunningham has changed his mindset, opting to buy in and embrace his new role with the team.

Over his first year in the league, Cunningham has had no shortage of appropriate mentors for his situation. Despite neither player being an active Patriot at the same time as Cunningham, the undrafted quarterback out of Louisville was able to speak with former Patriots wide receivers Julian Edelman and Jakobi Meyers, who both made the conversion from quarterback to receiver at some point in their careers. Reportedly, both veterans told Cunningham that the quarterback instincts don’t abandon you once you switch positions.

Then, late into his rookie season, Cunningham found himself getting signed off New England’s practice squad to join his former Louisville predecessor in Baltimore, joining a backup group that included Tyler Huntley and Josh Johnson. Before the draft, though, the team came to Cunningham and asked him if he would make a full-time change to wide receiver. This move likely influenced the team’s decisions to draft a quarterback in the sixth round and only draft one wide receiver.

Cunningham took time to consider the decision, initially disappointed to once again be asked to move from quarterback. When he had departed from New England, several teammates had sent messages of support to Cunningham encouraging him to continue pursuing his goals of playing quarterback in the NFL. After careful deliberation, Cunningham gave his reply: “I’m all in.”

Cunningham was able to put aside his initial disappointment and focus on what he can do to help the team. He was immediately thrust into the battle for the reserve wide receiver spots and, per Mink, has been a standout at organized team activities and minicamp. Much like Edelman and Meyers told him, his quarterback instincts have helped him to see the field in a different way.

As a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands, Cunningham has the potential to become a surprise contributor for the Ravens in 2024. After swallowing his pride and buying in to the team’s vision for his role on the offense, Cunningham has put himself in the best position to snatch a roster spot to open the season.

Ravens WR Tylan Wallace On Roster Bubble?

For the second-straight season, Tylan Wallace finds himself on the Ravens roster bubble. As Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic writes, the Ravens wide receiver will once again be competing for one of the final spots on the roster.

This isn’t the first time Wallace has found himself competing for his roster spot. Just last year, it seemed like the former fourth-round pick wasn’t going to last in Baltimore. After all, the organization had invested heavily in the position, adding veterans Odell Beckham Jr. and Nelson Agholor along with first-round wideout Zay Flowers. With Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay also sticking around, there didn’t seem to be a clear spot for Wallace.

However, the wideout ended up pushing his way on to the opening day roster with a strong training camp and preseason. Unfortunately, that roster spot didn’t lead to production, as Wallace was limited to a single catch during the 2023 campaign. This followed his first two years in the NFL where he hauled in only six total catches.

Considering his lack of production, it’s not a shock that the 25-year-old once again finds himself on the roster bubble. This time around, Wallace doesn’t face as much competition. Beckham Jr. and Duvernay are no longer on the roster, and the team’s most notable addition at the position was fourth-round rookie Devontez Walker.

When we checked in on the position last month, we heard that Wallace could be a candidate to replace Duvernay as a returner. Wallace filled in for Duvernay briefly during the 2023 campaign, earning AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after scoring a game-winning punt return touchdown. Zrebiec shares a similar sentiment about the player’s special teams prowess, especially with former All-Pro returner Deonte Harty away from OTAs and minicamp while dealing with a personal matter. Zrebiec notes that Wallace was an OTA standout for a second-straight year, with the writer estimating that the player led the Ravens in practice receptions.

With only a year remaining on Wallace’s rookie contract, the Ravens may simply opt for a younger player at the position. If that ends up coming to fruition, Wallace will surely get another chance based on his collegiate track record alone. The Oklahoma State product finished his college career having earned a pair of All-American nods.

Ravens S Kyle Hamilton Underwent Minor Surgery

One of the newest defensive stars to wear the purple and black, young Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton recently underwent a minor surgical procedure, according to Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic. The purpose of the surgery was to remove some “loose bodies” from the first-team All-Pro’s elbow.

Hamilton has a bit of injury experience in his short NFL career but not anything that has held him out for too long. Twice, knee injuries have flared up on a knee that bothered him at Notre Dame, as well. He also underwent surgery following his rookie season for an injury to the hand and wrist area. He missed a single game as a rookie as well as the final two games of the team’s most recent campaign, at which point Baltimore’s postseason qualification was already determined.

After a rookie season that saw Hamilton rank as the NFL’s top safety, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the Ravens made Hamilton a major focal point of their 2023 defense. He started at safety alongside Geno Stone as Marcus Williams spent six of the team’s first nine games injured.

Realizing that they had three viable starters at safety, Baltimore began to take advantage of Hamilton’s versatility, deploying him all over the defense. According to PFF, Hamilton spent 301 snaps at safety, 465 in the slot, 236 in the box, five at cornerback, and even 58 snaps on the defensive line, very literally covering the gamut of defensive positions. With an increased responsibility, Hamilton still graded highly with PFF, ranking as the sixth-best player at his position in 2023.

With Stone now in Cincinnati, the Ravens may have to adjust how they utilize Hamilton this season. Hamilton and Williams will continue to start at safety. In order to deploy Hamilton how they did last year, though, the team will need to find another quality starter at the position. Fourth-year undrafted safety Ar’Darius Washington could be a solution. After two years in a mostly reserve role, Washington was expected to make a much bigger impact on the defense at nickelback in 2023, even earning his first career start before suffering a season-ending chest injury in Week 2 of the season.

After Washington, two rookies could potentially make an impact. The team drafted Sanoussi Kane out of Purdue in the seventh round of this year’s draft. While not too much of a ballhawk, Kane is a physical defender who can make an impact as a strong safety covering the run and tight ends.

There’s been more buzz, though, about undrafted rookie signee Beau Brade out of Maryland. Brade was projected to be an early Day 3 draft pick but somehow fell off the board altogether. Baltimore took advantage and signed him as a free agent. Brade boasts some versatility to be interchangeable at the safety and nickel positions and could push Kane and even Washington for a bigger role that allows Hamilton to roam like he did last year.

The recovery for Hamilton’s recent procedure is approximated at two to three weeks. While he’ll miss the remainder of any physical activities before the team’s summer break, the Ravens are confident that he’ll be back by training camp.

Commanders, Lions, Packers, Ravens Interested In K Jake Bates

As expected, Jake Bates‘ UFL season has generated NFL interest. A number of teams are in on the recent spring/summer league specialist, whose previous NFL path did not include any game action.

The Michigan Panthers kicker has received interest from the Commanders, Lions, Packers and Ravens, according to KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson. All four teams have requested meetings with Bates, per Wilson, and ESPN.com’s John Keim notes the Commanders will be the first team to host the young specialist. That meeting is set for today.

Washington’s kicker need formed recently, after the team released offseason pickup Brandon McManus after a lawsuit alleging sexual assault emerged. The Commanders have already signed kicker Ramiz Ahmed, but the Washington Post’s Nicki Jhabvala notes the team is looking to hold a competition between the recent signee and another option. The team also auditioned Andre Szmyt on Tuesday, per Jhabvala. Szmyt kicked for the UFL’s St. Louis Battlehawks this season.

With the UFL’s regular season ending, NFL teams are free to hold workouts. UFLers can be added next week, after the league’s weekend championship game. Considering the success the Cowboys have enjoyed with USFL players in recent years — including All-Pro kicker Brandon Aubrey, a summer 2023 addition — several of the new UFL’s top players will land opportunities to attend NFL training camps. Bates will almost definitely be one.

Bates, whom the Texans cut after barely a week during training camp last year, caught attention for making multiple 60-plus-yard field goals early this season. This included a 64-yarder. The long-range makes placed the Michigan kicker back on the NFL radar, and his second chance figures to feature a more thorough look. That said, Bates proved shakier down the stretch of the UFL season. He missed field goals five field goals over the Panthers’ final four games; that followed a two-miss performance in an April Michigan-Memphis matchup. Overall, Bates went 21-for-28 on field goals this season.

The Lions were connected to the in-state UFL team’s kicker early during the season, and the team used multiple kickers (Riley Patterson, Michael Badgley) in 2023. Detroit re-signed Badgley this offseason and added UDFA James Turner. But the team has been looking into adding another piece here, and Bates’ leg strength certainly caught attention.

Anders Carlson remains the frontrunner to kick for the Packers, but special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia mentioned a potential spring league addition (via The Athletic’s Matt Schneidman) before training camp. Green Bay’s roster already houses two other kickers — Greg Joseph, Jack Podlesny — so a Bates addition would certainly be interesting from a roster-allocation standpoint ahead of training camp. Carlson went 27-for-33 last year but missed four extra points and then missed a kick in the Packers’ narrow divisional-round loss to the 49ers.

It would obviously surprise if Bates ended up in Baltimore, given that the Ravens employ arguably the best to ever do it. Justin Tucker is going into his 13th NFL season. Bates, 24, stands to land somewhere soon. His Houston work last summer does not make it a lock he will be one of the 32 kickers in Week 1, but the UFL work will give him a shot.

Latest On Ravens’ Depth At Receiver, Guard

The Ravens haven’t done much to address the receiver position this offseason, as the team is set to return much of the same depth chart in 2024. As the coaching staff navigates the last few receiver spots on the roster, they could ultimately decide to add some reinforcement. As Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic writes, “it’s not impossible” that the Ravens add a wide receiver before the start of training camp.

Zay Flowers, Rashod Bateman, and Nelson Agholor are all but locked in atop the depth chart, and fourth-round rookie Devontez Walker will surely account for another spot. With Odell Beckham Jr. and Devin Duvernay out the door, the Ravens will likely have two more holes to fill at the position. Zrebiec points to Tylan Wallace and Deonte Harty as the most likely candidates for the role, especially considering their ability to replace Duvernay as a returner.

The Ravens have a handful of other notable players who will be competing for one of the receiver spots. Malik Cunningham is a former QB-turned-WR who the Ravens snagged off the Patriots practice squad last season. The team is also rostering Sean Ryan, the team’s lone 2023 UDFA who stuck around at the position.

The current grouping of unsigned veteran receivers isn’t very inspiring, with the likes of Michael Thomas, Hunter Renfrow, and Corey Davis leading the list. While Zrebiec hinted that the Ravens could look to add to the position prior to training camp, the organization could also await the assorted wideouts who will shake loose during the preseason.

Elsewhere in Baltimore, Zrebiec notes that the team is having an open competition with their two starting guard spots. While Ben Cleveland would be the favorite for one of the starting nods, Zrebiec believes the lineman will have to prove he can stay healthy and consistent. Zrebiec also believes former seventh-round pick Andrew Vorhees will eventually work his way into the starting lineup, although the team could temporarily turn to a more experienced option like Josh Jones.

Giants TE Darren Waller To Retire

Throughout much of the offseason, the future of Darren Waller has been in question. The veteran tight end has been expected to retire for some time, though, and to little surprise that is the direction he has elected to move in.

Waller has informed the Giants he will hang up his cleats, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports. The 31-year-old made it clear he would make a final decision no later than the break between mandatory minicamp and training camp. With the final aspect of New York’s offseason program set to take place over the coming days, the team can now move forward knowing Waller will not be in the fold.

The former Pro Bowler faced major expectations upon his arrival with the Giants, which came about last offseason via trade. He was attached to a three-year, $51MM pact, but much of that will now come off the books given this decision. Waller’s retirement will create roughly $11.6MM in cap space while incurring a dead money charge of just over $2.4MM in 2024 and ’25. Given the nature of the free agent market at this time of year, of course, the team will be hard-pressed to find a starting-caliber replacement.

Plenty of snaps will be available to 2022 fourth-rounder Daniel Bellinger once again. He served as New York’s starter as a rookie, but his role diminished last season with Waller in place. The Giants added Theo Johnson in the fourth round of this year’s draft, and he will aim to carve out at least a rotational place in the team’s offensive plans. Veterans Jack Stoll and Chris Manhertz are also in the picture at the tight end spot.

Waller began his career as a sixth-round pick in 2015. His Ravens tenure consisted of sparse usage and a one-year suspension in 2017 for a violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. After joining the Raiders, however, he saw a major uptick in production. During the 2019 campaign, the Georgia Tech product posted 1,145 yards. He followed that up with a 107-1,196-9 statline one year later, cementing his status as one of the top pass-catching options at the position around the league. Hamstring injuries became a problem over the past three years, however.

Over time, the missed action increasingly became an issue for the Raiders, and Waller’s injuries were a key factor in the decision to find a trade partner. The Giants paid only a compensatory third-round pick to acquire him last March, but Waller’s tenure in the Big Apple will go down as a notable disappointment. Injury consideration was a central component of his decision-making process with respect to attempting at least one more year in the league, something which would have seen him receive as much as $12MM.

Instead, Waller will call it a career after eight seasons and nine years in the NFL. With over $42MM in career earnings, he will now turn his attention to his post-playing endeavors. The Giants, meanwhile, will prepare for training camp with added financial flexibility but a vacancy on the TE depth chart.

Latest On Ravens’ Offensive Line

The Ravens’ offensive line is set to look very different from the group that started throughout their 14-3 campaign last year. Baltimore was home to the league’s MVP winner and top rushing offense thanks in part due to the contributions of right tackle Morgan Moses (now with the Jets), right guard Kevin Zeitler (now with the Lions), and left guard John Simpson (also with the Jets). With the departures of Moses, Zeitler, and Simpson, the team needed to address three starting positions along the offensive front this offseason.

The Ravens will see a few familiar faces return to start in 2024. Tyler Linderbaum, who has excelled since being drafted in the first round in 2022, will return with two years and a fifth-year option remaining on his contract. He has been the top-billed center as advertised, grading in the top seven players at the position each year, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Ronnie Stanley also returns at left tackle. The blindside blocker’s inability to stay on the field continued in 2023, though with marked improvement. Though he made 13 starts last year, he only played 100 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in four of those games, often subbing out to be replaced by swing tackle Patrick Mekari.

Mekari returns, as well, set to reprise his usual role as the sixth man on the offensive line. At this point in his career, the veteran Cal product has started games at every position along the offensive line, often grading out better than the players he replaces. Mekari’s value as an emergency starter at any position makes it hard to dedicate him to a single starting spot, but at the end of the day, Baltimore is going to want to start its five best linemen.

To fill the three starting positions vacated, the Ravens are looking internally at draft picks from the past four years. At right tackle, rookie second-round pick Roger Rosengarten is expected to start at some point this year, per Jamison Hensley of ESPN, a bit more certain of a prediction than we had previously received on the subject. The Washington product will compete for the job with 2022 fourth-round selection Daniel Faalele. Faalele has only seen one start in his two years of play, but thanks to the continuous injuries to veterans like Stanley and Moses, Faalele has gotten a good number of injury-relief snaps with the first-team offense.

The drafted players competing for the two guard spots are 2021 third-round pick Ben Cleveland and last year’s sixth- and seventh-round picks, respectively, Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu and Andrew Vorhees. Cleveland has made starts in each year since getting drafted (seven starts total) but has failed to give Baltimore enough confidence to hand him the reins to the starting role. His starts have always come at the end of the season, usually when the team’s postseason fate has already been decided. In the team’s past two postseason appearances, Cleveland has failed to make a start despite staring the final games in each season.

Aumavae-Laulu and Vorhees are both interesting cases. Aumavae-Laulu was a finalist for the starting left guard job last offseason as a rookie, eventually losing out to Simpson. After not landing the gig, Aumavae-Laulu essentially served a redshirt season, failing to make an appearance in 2023. Vorhees joined Aumavae-Laulu in his redshirt season, recovering from an ACL tear suffered at the scouting combine last year. The USC product was widely viewed as a first- or second-round pick before the injury, allowing the Ravens to bookmark the seventh-rounder as an eventual candidate to start once healthy. Vorhees was also viewed as a candidate to start at right tackle before the draft, but with Rosengarten joining the locker room, Vorhees can likely focus on the interior.

There is at least one outside candidate vying for a starting role. Baltimore signed Josh Jones in free agency back in March as a potential competitor for a starting guard role. Jones has plenty of starting experience over his time with the Cardinals and Texans, starting 24 of 60 game appearances at both guard and tackle. Even if he can’t beat out Cleveland, Aumavae-Laulu, or Vorhees for a starting gig, he could join Mekari as one of two extremely versatile backups.

In the end, there is a lot to look forward to in offseason position battles. Linderbaum and Stanley seem fixed at their center and left tackle starting spots, respectively. Rosengarten should start at right tackle eventually, and if he’s not ready to start Week 1, Mekari, Faalele, Jones, or even Vorhees could man the spot in the meantime. The guard spots are mostly blind right now as the Ravens wait to see who develops into the roles best out of Cleveland, Aumavae-Laulu, Vorhees, and Jones. Expect it to be some combination of two of those four. And even if they fail to earn starting jobs, Mekari and Jones stand to represent two of the stronger backup options in the league and could fill in if any of the new starters falter early.

Regardless of who ends up where, the line is guaranteed to look extremely different in 2024. It will be up to offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris, new assistant offensive line coach Travelle Wharton, and new run game coordinator Travis Switzer to make sure the line is as productive as last year’s unit. Having Lamar Jackson and Derrick Henry in the backfield should do wonders in helping towards achieving that goal, as well.

AFC Staff Updates: Shazier, Ravens, Chiefs

Patrick Queen has arrived in Pittsburgh and the Steelers are hoping that he will fill the role as a top three-down, off-ball linebacker that the defense has lacked since the medical retirement of Ryan Shazier. While Shazier can’t put on the pads and join Queen out there, the Steelers may be getting the next best thing, as Shazier has been assisting the coaching staff during the first two weeks of organized team activities, according to Mark Kaboly of The Athletic.

Shazier isn’t working with the linebackers right now, as you may rightfully assume. The former linebacker is reportedly helping out running backs coach Eddie Faulkner in OTAs. Still, Shazier will be around for Queen to pick his mind, and after seeing how much Queen’s game improved with the arrival of a leader like Roquan Smith in Baltimore, having Shazier on the sideline may be just what Queen needs as he regains an LB1 role.

Here are a few other staff updates from around the AFC, starting with a couple of departures in Queen’s old clubhouse:

  • The Ravens are saying goodbye to three longtime staffers from their front office this offseason. The team announced today that senior advisor to the general manager Pat Moriarty, senior player personnel executive Vincent Newsome, and senior video operations advisor Jon Dube are all transitioning out of their roles. Moriarty has been with the franchise since they were the Browns in 1994. He has long been key in the team’s management of their salary cap. Newsome, a former NFL safety, worked as a high-profile pro scouting executive, analyzing other rosters and keeping a close eye on the waiver wire. The team tabs him as being instrumental in the acquisition of such key veterans in the past as Matt Birk, Anquan Boldin, Elvis Dumervil, Steve Smith, and Eric Weddle.
  • Lastly, the Chiefs recently promoted Will Christopherson, per Neil Stratton of SucceedinFootball.com. Christopherson had been working as an NFS scout since joining Kansas City in 2022. He’ll now work as an area scout, patrolling the mid-Atlantic region.