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Five Breakout Candidates For Ravens

June 24, 2019
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti told season-ticket holders earlier this month that while the major turnover this offseason -- particularly on defense -- was "a shock to the system," he is comfortable with the players who now have the opportunity to step into starring roles this year.

Indeed, training camp fosters opportunity for players who have been behind established veterans earlier in their careers and now find themselves at or near the top of the depth chart, perhaps for the first time.

As wide receiver Chris Moore said, "I've always had some vets in front of me, but this year, I'm the vet."

Here are five such players who could be primed for a breakout season in 2019:

ILB Chris Board

In a position group that lacks depth, the undrafted second-year linebacker has a chance to move into a starting role in the middle of the Ravens' defense. Defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale said he could easily see Board becoming the next in a long line of undrafted players to make an impact at inside linebacker for the Ravens.

Board figures to compete with Kenny Young for the weak-side linebacker spot, and the competition could last through training camp and into the season. As with many of those other undrafted inside linebackers -- think Bart Scott, Jameel McClain, Albert McClellan, Dannell Ellerbe, Zach Orr, Onwuasor -- Board initially made the roster based on special teams play. He recorded a team-high 12 special-teams tackles last year. 

Board played just a handful of defensive snaps, but throughout the spring, Board got plenty of reps with the starting unit, and the Ravens love what they see in his range and speed.

"He can run. I mean, my goodness, he can run," Martindale said. "He played out in a lot of space at North Dakota State really as a nickel. ... His instincts are really showing up as an inside 'backer."

TE Hayden Hurst

The Ravens' first pick in last year's draft never really recovered from a training camp foot injury, missing the first four games and finishing with 13 catches for 163 yards and one touchdown. 

The 6-foot-4 Hurst reported to OTA workouts this year at about 265 pounds, adding 20 pounds of muscle since last season, and he said, "I've got a lot to prove" after his disappointing rookie season. Mark Andrews was the breakout star among the tight ends last season, but a healthy Hurst could be a major factor in offensive coordinator Greg Roman's system that relies heavily on that position. 

Head coach John Harbaugh said he has sensed fire in Hurst this spring.

"He's definitely a man on a mission," Harbaugh said.

WR Chris Moore

Moore, who turned 26 this month, got the endorsement of none other than Bisciotti on his conference call with fans when he said, "I wouldn't be surprised to see Chris Moore being a breakout candidate." 

With the departure of receivers Michael Crabtree and John Brown, and with rookie first-round pick Marquise Brown still recovering from foot surgery, Moore, a fourth-round pick out of Cincinnati in 2016, has a chance to establish himself as a starting receiver alongside Willie Snead. 

Moore's career has been more defined by his jack-of-all-trades special teams play, and until now he has had a modest offensive role, with a total of 44 catches in three seasons. He made a career-high 19 catches for 196 yards and one touchdown last year. 

"It's my opportunity to step up and make the plays and show these guys why I'm here," Moore said.

Harbaugh said, "That's the expectation for Chris. ... He practices really hard, he works hard in the weight room, he knows the offense very well, and he makes spectacular catches out here very often. He and I have had that conversation: 'Let's go.' I think it's his time, so he has to go do it."

DE Chris Wormley

With defensive end Brent Urban leaving as a free agent this offseason, Wormley has a chance to seize a full-time starting role for the first time in his career. Urban started every game last year, but the fact that the Tennessee Titans signed him away to a modest one-year, $1.25 million deal suggests the Ravens felt comfortable with what was in the cupboard behind him.

That includes Wormley, a third-round pick out of Michigan in 2017. The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Wormley averaged about 25 defensive snaps a game last season, making six starts at defensive tackle alongside Urban. He finished with 16 tackles and one sack.

In noncontact drills this spring, Wormley showed some burst and was disruptive, batting down some passes.

"Chris is a very steady, very consistent player," Harbaugh said, noting his long arms and strength. 

"His pass rush continues to improve," Harbaugh said. "He has some smoothness and slipperiness about him as a push rusher."

ILB Kenny Young

If Board doesn't have a breakout season, then Kenny Young probably does, since one of them figures to hold down one inside linebacker spot alongside Patrick Onwuasor, who is sliding into the middle linebacker role previously held by C.J. Mosley. On a defense that puts a premium on speed, the 6-foot-1, 234-pound Young fits in well.

A fourth-round pick out of UCLA last year, Young showed flashes as a rookie, with a career-high 10 tackles in a win against the Denver Broncos in Week 3. He made three early-season starts and finished with 47 tackles, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble.  

As to whether the so-called rookie wall was a factor, Young totaled two tackles during the final four games, playing a season-low eight defensive snaps in the regular-season finale.

Still, Young knows a starting job is there for the taking, and Harbaugh has said both Young and Board played like starters this spring. That should be one of the more compelling positional battles this summer and could last into the season.

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox