Analyzing the options the Ravens have to replace Kyle Fuller

Ravens, Kyle Fuller (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Ravens, Kyle Fuller (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

In Week 1, Kyle Fuller went down with a nasty knee injury. For the Ravens, he was a key piece to the cornerback rotation. So what comes next? I believe the Ravens have everything they need in-house and maybe, we could bring back a familiar friend at another position.

Fuller, who recently switched his number from 17 to 23, was a starting cornerback playing a huge role guarding Jets receivers. In the fourth quarter, Fuller, defending at the goal line landed badly and tore his ACL, effectively ending his season.

Entering the season, Fuller was penciled in as the No. 3 cornerback and primary slot man once Marcus Peters returned. In the interim, he was the No. 2 cornerback and was barely targeted in his debut game. His loss is big, and the Ravens need to adjust accordingly.

But what’s next?

I believe the Ravens are built to withstand this after previous encounters with cornerback depth from the inside.

Brandon Stephens

Brandon Stephens, the Ravens’ third-round pick a year ago, is ready to shine. The college running back drafted as a safety made several big plays last week at cornerback before and after Fuller’s injury. Moving forward, it might be best to stop moving Stephens around.

My understanding of his role this year was as the fourth cornerback and the fourth or fifth safety. A versatile piece in new defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald’s tool kit is now thrust into a full-time cornerback role.

That might just be best for his development.

Allowing him time to settle into one role and hone his craft would be best for him at this stage. Think about Tyrann Mathieu.

In college, the ‘Honey Badger’ was used in the box, at outside corner, in the slot, and at deep safety. He was a versatile piece, and allowing Stephens to become a lockdown corner with the ability to play inside and outside will make him extremely valuable.

Stephens, at the time of his pick, was an under-the-radar prospect, and that was lightly scrutinized by the media, but he’s slowly developed into a bright spot on the defense.

He is currently also on the same timeline as other rising players on the defense as they are right around his age, making this a great time for his game to elevate.

His sure tackling and sticky coverage in Week 1 is just a glimpse of what he can do next. Replacing Kyle Fuller is no simple task, but Stephens is the next man up.

The Ravens’ rookie cornerbacks

The Baltimore Ravens had five fourth-round selections in this year’s past draft. With the 119th and 141st picks respectively, the Ravens selected Alabama’s Jalyn Armour-Davis Damarion “Pepe” Williams out of Houston.

Each has dealt with some ailments throughout the offseason, but they’ve had relatively complete preseasons and build-ups to the season.

Each player was picked in the fourth round but has a chance at outplaying that draft slot. In addition, they play different roles which means that, instead of competing with each other, they will be growing together.

Armour-Davis, the 6-foot-1 corner made a name for himself with the Crimson Tide. In the program’s tenured history, they have a number of successful NFL defensive players, and Armour-Davis is just like many of those before him. In his one year as a starter, he performed well with three interceptions.

He was a playmaker in the secondary and a willing tackler with the ability to guard the boundary. Behind Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, he has some of the best in the game teaching him and can make an impact in limited play, as well as on special teams.

Williams, who goes by “Pepe,” is an underrated player, coming from an underrated school. He’s an athlete who worked hard to make it to the NFL.

He started at the JUCO level where he was an All-American, recording seven interceptions in 2018. He was also a kick and punt returner and showcased that speed and athleticism. After that, he transferred to Houston and was an instant starter.

In his time at Houston between three seasons, he totaled 163 tackles, three interceptions, 10.5 tackles for loss, and a touchdown. He was versatile and a vocal leader on the team. A willing tackler and quicker than he is fast, Williams projects best as a slot corner.

With playing time available that plays to Williams’ skill due to Fuller’s injury, he may have a chance at a better rookie season than the higher-picked Armour-Davis. Either way, both of these rookies have a very good chance of making a sizable impact this season.

The Ravens’ practice squad guys

Two guys who have spent time with the team are on the practice squad roster, Daryl Worley and Kevon Seymour. Both guys come with experience on the outside at cornerback. In addition to them, the Ravens’ practice squad is home to former undrafted free agent safety/nickel cornerback Ar’Darius Washington.

This grouping of guys will get the first shot at the roster spot through them being gameday elevations. Whoever gets the call will need to be available to play in multiple roles including special teams.

Luckily for all three of these players, they have extensive experience with the Ravens and have experience in multiple roles. Having versatility is key in new defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald’s system.

Washington played in three games last season mainly on special teams. He can play safety and in the slot at cornerback but is undersized. He is scrappy and a willing tackler which can get him on the field, but he may not get the first chance as opposed to the more experienced options.

Last year, Seymour started two games for the Ravens and appeared in nine. As a corner and special teams player, Seymour recorded 25 tackles, three for a loss, and one sack. He was deployed as a boundary corner, slot man, and blitzer, and showcased the versatility necessary for this defense.

Worley, a former third-round pick of the Carolina Panthers, spent just a little bit of time with the Ravens last season appearing in one game. In that game, he recorded five tackles. He also showcased some playmaking ability in the preseason.

The veteran of the bunch, Worley has a great chance at being the first call-up from the practice squad in the secondary this year.

In addition to these three, the Ravens recently added veteran T.J. Carrie to the practice squad. The fourth defensive back on the practice squad will need to learn the defense but may be the most talented and reliable when healthy.

Carrie has been a starter throughout his career starting 54 of 118 games. With all that experience, most of the starts came early in his career with the then Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns.

With seven career interceptions, Carrie is a potential option that can make a lot of sense at cornerback. He has experience and has been proven a reliable player, one who head coach John Harbaugh is excited to have around.

A familiar friend for the Ravens

Tony Jefferson, a Week 1 practice squad elevation for former defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s New York Giants, did not record a single statistic. But like his role with the Ravens, his 20 percent of defensive snaps came with the role of being a veteran leader.

He only appeared in four games for the Ravens last season and played well with 19 tackles and a sack. He was a veteran presence and helped elevate the guys around him — a sneaky valuable trait that earned him a contract to re-sign.

When he didn’t make the 53-man roster it was a surprise to many and a slight letdown for Jefferson who decided to join the Giants’ practice squad. You have to hope that Jefferson would be open to the Ravens signing them to their active roster.

With a roster spot open post-injury, Jefferson can come and fill a role in the secondary. This may not be a direct replacement though, similar to how Washington can come up from the practice squad and be a replacement at safety to help Stephens focus on the cornerback position.

He would be the fifth safety and can play in the box on downs that the Ravens go nickel or dime packages.

The added benefit of the Jefferson signing would be the obvious leadership and experience. He has been on winning teams and knows the system after spending the preseason with the Ravens. With that, we know he is in game shape and ready to play immediately.

Contributing on special teams is also something the Ravens value and something Jefferson has experience doing at a high level. I think this is a likely option, but in the meantime, expect the practice squad guys to have the first shot at the roster spot.

The best option to replace Kyle Fuller

Well, the best and most likely options are two different things. I personally believe the Ravens have everything they need to be successful, but adding a veteran to the group, one with playoff experience, is probably the best option.

Looking at familiarity with the team, I would love to see Tony Jefferson return. The veteran is loved in the locker room and fills a need. He is a leader and knows the defense already.

Other veteran options that could be considered are Chris Harris, A.J. Bouye, Joe Haden, or familiar friend Jimmy Smith. All of these options have good experience and would be welcomed additions.

With that being said, the options on the team are strong. Stephens, a third-round pick a year ago, will be given the opportunity as the next man up. The rookies are likely to play, and we will see a call-up from the practice squad, if not two.

The Ravens have dealt with blows to the secondary before and are not afraid to get ahead of the problem and try every option. With the options presented, as well as the bevy of options on the market, look for the team to go in-house first and look outside the organization if need be.

If all else fails look for a return of Smith or Jefferson to highly interest the Ravens.

For now, I will project an early return for Marcus Peters this weekend in a limited role. Brandon Stephens will step into a starting role. With that, the rookies will be the primary backups and relied upon heavily.

As a backup plan, I see the Ravens calling up Kevon Seymour first. He provides versatility and has played effectively on special teams in the past.

Look for the Ravens to quickly elevate a successful practice squad member or move to sign a player swiftly before marquee matchups in Week 4 against the Buffalo Bills and Week 5 versus the Cincinnati Bengals.

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For now, the Ravens have a large number of options. In a matchup versus high-powered receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, the Ravens have a great first challenge ahead.