As is the case every year, the Baltimore Ravens will have some tough decisions to make at the close of training camp. With an influx of talent this offseason, in the form of both returning players and newly added ones, Baltimore will have to cut ties with players it once had high hopes for. That point seems especially pertinent at the safety position.
The Ravens added a star, Eric Weddle, through free agency. He’ll start alongside another solid veteran transitioning to the safety position: Lardarius Webb. The primary backup for both players will be Kendrick Lewis, a 28-year-old with 81 pro starts under his belt. Since most teams typically carry four safeties, that leaves Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks fighting for one job.
Deciding between them won’t be easy for the Ravens, who were optimistic about both players when they were drafted. The 25-year-old Brooks, a third-rounder in 2014, hasn’t played much due to injury and a crowded depth chart above him. Elam, a 2013 first-rounder, has gained plenty of playing time and failed to deliver results.
Elam was thrust into the starting lineup as a rookie and, as could be expected, had his ups and downs. He did, however, improve as the year went along. His play declined in his second season, though. Elam struggled in tackling and coverage, two things safeties have to perform well. He was eventually pulled from the starting lineup.
While reports out of training camps only carry so much significance, many did peg Elam as a bounce-back candidate heading into last season. Unfortunately, a torn biceps cost him the opportunity to redeem himself. Elam sat out all of 2015 to nurse the injury. In turn, Baltimore declined his fifth-year option, making 2016 his last opportunity to impress Ravens brass.
To his credit, Elam hasn’t shied away from this high-pressure situation. He’s saying the right things, staying humble in the face of adversity. Football, though, remains a cutthroat business. If Elam doesn’t show significant improvement over the next month or so, he could be out of Baltimore.
As for Brooks, there isn’t much to assess. He has notched 27 tackles to this point in his career. A torn MCL and ACL are largely to blame for that lack of production. Again, however, football’s a results-oriented game. With the depth Baltimore has at safety, it could have a hard time hanging onto Brooks as he catches up to the speed of the pro game.
Then again, that sort of injury takes time to fully recover from; a fully healthy Brooks could become quite the asset for Baltimore’s defense. As you can see from his combine results here, the Florida State product has remarkable athleticism. His NFL.com draft profile speaks to a rangy cover man who trusts his instincts and plays the run aggressively. The Ravens have use for a player like that; it’s just a matter of whether or not Brooks can become that player.
Yes, Baltimore can find a way to retain both men. Brooks played some nickel corner his rookie year. If the Ravens still hold high hopes for Brooks, they could retain him as a hybrid corner-safety. However, given the depth Baltimore has at corner, that leaves Brooks walking a thin line.
If it does come down to a one-on-one competition, Elam should be favored. It’s rare that a team cuts a first-round player before his first contract expires. The investment is simply too great. Brooks does have the advantage of being a relative unknown, however. The Ravens haven’t seen him fail nearly as much as Elam, which is why he’s more appealing.
Your author’s admittedly flip-flopping a bit here. This battle’s simply too close to call before Baltimore’s in the thick of training camp. That’s what’ll make Elam-versus-Brooks a fun clash to watch over the next few weeks.