The Ravens didn’t draft a big rookie class in April: just six picks total, with only five healthy enough to play this season.
But what general manager Eric DeCosta lacked in quantity, he might’ve made up for in quality. Two weeks into training camp, two of his picks are possible Day 1 starters, and another two project as key special teams and defensive contributors. There’s even a standout running back who could make the Ravens’ initial 53-man roster.
“I haven’t seen anything [or] any problems with those guys,” coach John Harbaugh said Friday of the team’s rookie class. “I haven’t seen those guys blink yet, and it’s been a grind for them because they do extra. ... They stay extra after minicamp. They come back in early, and they’re just a bunch of guys that kind of like football. They’re very comfortable in the discomfort of football, and we appreciate that. That’s kind of why we drafted them or brought them in.”
As the Ravens’ preseason opener Saturday against the Philadelphia Eagles approaches, here’s a look at how the team’s draft class (and its top undrafted rookie) is faring.
WR Zay Flowers
What isn’t there to say about Flowers at this point?
Flowers has been one of the Ravens’ best offensive players over the first few weeks of camp. He has smoked and stumbled defensive backs, made impressive catches and shown why the Ravens were thrilled to take him in the first round.
Most of the attention at the position has been on Odell Beckham Jr., and rightfully so, but it’s Flowers who’s consistently flashed with the first-team offense and in individual drills. He figures to have a big role in space and as a downfield target alongside Beckham, Nelson Agholor, Rashod Bateman (once he’s taken off the physically-unable-to-perform list) and tight end Mark Andrews.
“He’s a young player, but a lot of times, you get in front of a younger guy, they’re not as polished,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said of Flowers last month. “Usually, a lot of [times], they’re just kind of raw talent, there’s a lot that they might have to work on, different things. As I’ve gotten older in the league, you guard more and more rookies. But he’s pretty polished. He definitely has that South Florida route running, breaking, cutting, that Amari Cooper, Calvin Ridley, Jerry Jeudy. He has that X-factor that a lot of those South Florida guys have. We had one of those guys in ‘Hollywood’ [Marquise Brown], and you add Zay — I think the sky is the limit with our receiving corps.”
While training camp hype can be hard to deliver on, especially given the Ravens’ poor history of first-round wide receivers, it’s hard not to be impressed by Flowers. If he stays healthy, he’ll be utilized early and often in coordinator Todd Monken’s new offense.
ILB Trenton Simpson
It’s tough for inside linebackers to stand out in camp. Especially rookie inside linebackers. Especially rookie inside linebackers sidelined by soft-tissue injuries.
Such is the case for Simpson, the third-round pick from Clemson who hasn’t practiced since Wednesday. “We’ll probably play it safe a little bit” with his recovery, Harbaugh said Friday. “We’ll see where it goes.”
Even before Simpson’s injury, a substantial role on defense would’ve been hard to come by. All-Pro inside linebacker Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen, one of the defense’s best players in camp, project as every-down players. Malik Harrison is a reliable backup. A bigger role likely awaits on special teams, where the Ravens can make the most of Simpson’s impressive speed (4.43-second 40-yard dash) on coverage units.
Simpson’s inconsistent processing and tackling hurt his draft stock, but his athletic ability can be jarring. In one practice last week, he shoved wide receiver James Proche II to the sideline and bowled over running back Melvin Gordon III. “The twitch, the ability to cover ground, to go from point A to point Z, B, anywhere in between — he’s shown the ability to do that,” Harbaugh said. “He’s got a great attitude, and he works really hard.”
OLB Tavius Robinson
Robinson has been one of the pleasant surprises of camp. Among the Ravens’ rookies, only Flowers and perhaps guard Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu have been more consistent.
“‘T-Rob,’ our fourth-round pick, has been balling,” outside linebackers coach Chuck Smith said Friday.
Despite average pass-rush production at Mississippi, where he had 10 1/2 sacks over two seasons, Robinson’s won his share of battles against the Ravens’ reserve linemen. With his violent hands and strong base, he’s been able to uproot the Ravens’ biggest tackle, Daniel Faalele, and unbalance one of their most composed linemen, Patrick Mekari. Robinson’s also gotten good push as a looper on pass-rush games.
“He’s not afraid of anybody. He’s not,” Smith said. “He is physical. He’s getting at these guys. He is a hard worker. He’s going to definitely be an asset. And I believe in the future, the Ravens fans are going to love that draft pick in the future. I think he’s going to help us some this year.”
Robinson’s camp hasn’t been blunder-free — he was the likely culprit of a long off-tackle carry by running back Melvin Gordon last week — but his build and quick-twitch athleticism give him a solid floor for a rookie. At an imposing 6-6, 258 pounds, he still moves well enough in the open field to hang with backup quarterbacks Tyler Huntley and Josh Johnson on scramble attempts.
CB Kyu Kelly
Kelly, a fifth-round pick, has yet to distinguish himself in camp. The Stanford standout had an interception in a one-on-one against wide receiver Shemar Bridges last week, a rare feat for cornerbacks, but he’s otherwise blended in with the Ravens’ reserve defensive backs. As with many young corners, Kelly struggles at times to turn and locate the ball, leaving him vulnerable in the red zone and on back-shoulder throws.
Kelly is the son of former NFL cornerback Bryan Kelly, and defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald praised his mature approach to camp last week. “He’s here every morning working out when I’m in there with the guys and going through the process,” he said. “The training room speaks very highly of him and his approach and his mentality. On the field, the message to him was just, ‘Let’s go; let’s go compete. All right, take the step every day that you need to.’”
Kelly’s spot on the roster is secure, but he’ll need a strong preseason to show he’s deserving of more than just special teams snaps.
OL Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu
If Aumavae-Laulu wins the starting left guard job — and he enters the preseason opener as the slight favorite over John Simpson — the sixth-round pick could be in line for the most snaps of any Ravens rookie this season.
Few could have predicted that when the Oregon tackle was taken No. 199 overall, seven spots after the draft’s first punter. Ravens officials were initially noncommittal about where Aumavae-Laulu fit best along the line. Even general manager Eric DeCosta called him “a real strong developmental guy.”
Two weeks into camp, though, reviews have been rave. He’s fared well in team drills and in one-on-ones. Harbaugh said Wednesday that Aumavae-Laulu “continues to make steady progress” and has has done “nothing to make you think he’s been slowed down, or nothing to disappoint.” Offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris praised his “tremendous work ethic” and his openness to learning and applying new lessons. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley said he’s “a quick learner” who has “put in all the effort that he needs to put in.”
The speed of the game can overwhelm the 6-5, 325-pound Aumavae-Laulu at times, especially given his limited experience inside. But whoever replaces Ben Powers at left guard will have Stanley and center Tyler Linderbaum, two of the NFL’s most talented linemen, to lean on. If that’s Aumavae-Laulu, the Ravens could have one of the draft’s biggest steals.
OL Andrew Vorhees
Vorhees, the seventh-round pick from USC, is expected to sit out the 2023 season while he recovers from the torn ACL he suffered at the NFL scouting combine. Vorhees was placed on the active/non-football-injury list last month but has been a regular spectator at camp practices.
RB Keaton Mitchell
As an undrafted rookie, Mitchell has a steep climb to make the 53-man roster. But there’s no doubt he’s making a name for himself at practice.
Mitchell, a star at East Carolina, has been one of the Ravens’ most active and perhaps their most productive running back at camp. That’s partly because of his versatility; the Ravens have deployed him as a runner, a receiver out of the backfield and a returner.
“Keaton is a guy that I think can go out and play anywhere you ask him to play,” special teams coordinator Chris Horton said Thursday. “Again … I told him before, I’m going to put you on kickoff. I want to see you run. I want to see some physicality, and I think he’s got the right mindset, he’s got the right makeup. We’re going to let him return some punts. We’re going to let him return some kicks. We’re going to let him play some punt out at gunner. We’re just going to give him every opportunity to make this football team and put himself in position to make this football team.”
Last week, Mitchell put together a strong string of practices. In 11-on-11 periods Friday, he broke off multiple runs of 10-plus yards, including two in a row. He nearly had a long touchdown reception down the left sideline before he was forced out of bounds. He’s caught the ball well and shown good explosiveness.
With four veteran backs ahead of him, there’s a strong chance Mitchell doesn’t make the Ravens’ initial roster. But the preseason should offer him an opportunity to showcase his talents and make him a top candidate for the Ravens’ practice squad.
Honorable mention: TE Travis Vokolek, OLB Malik Hamm.