The Baltimore Ravens are known as one of the best drafting franchises in the entire NFL. ESPN ranked Baltimore as having the first-ranked front office and draft in their most recent ‘Future‘ power rankings. Over the team’s 27 years as a franchise, the combination of Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta has been incredibly efficient at finding and developing talent. This extends to their collective group of undrafted free agent standouts. Ar’Darius Washington could be the next hidden gem.
Prior to the start of the 2020 season, the Ravens had a 16-year streak in which at least one UDFA made the initial 53-man roster. Washington was considered a Day 2 prospect going into the 2021 NFL Draft by many pundits but went undrafted. It is speculated that he slipped out of the draft due to his size. At 5’8″ 176 lbs, Washington is one inch shorter and 14 lbs lighter than Tyrann Mathieu.
Washington has started his NFL journey strong and could become an important depth piece to a team that heavily values their secondary. Shaun Wade has probably been the Ravens best rookie defensive back but Washington has been giving him a run for his money. Baltimore is historically a team that finds diamonds in the rough and Washington could be their next UDFA gem.
UDFA Safety Ar’darius Washington Could Be the Next Gem for the Ravens
Washington’s scouting outlook
Washington’s rank fluctuated depending on who was evaluating him. Pro Football Focus had Washington as their sixth-ranked safety, The Draft Network had him as their 12th-ranked safety, and the Athletic’s Dane Brugler had Washington as his eighth-ranked safety. He was viewed as a top-200 (commonly top-150) player by the majority of pundits and ranked as high as the 57th-overall player on PFF’s final Big Board of 2021.
While the knock on Washington was his size, he was constantly praised for his physical play in college. Washington’s ability to get to the ball and create incompletions helped him only allow 15 catches on 35 targets in coverage over his past two seasons at TCU. He was also highly renowned for his ball skills. In 2019, Washington led his team in interceptions with five and had a total of 12 pass breakups. He was projected as a developmental-free safety with nickel flexibility due to his small frame.
Washington’s physical traits may not be a red flag. But his 4.61u 40-yard dash time left a lot to be desired. He is already a smaller prospect. Play speed cannot be a problem for a safety who may have a tough time matching up against bigger players. His coverage awareness allows him to consistently find the ball. He can occasionally get caught with his eyes in the backfield, though, and react slowly to play fakes.
Overall, Washington is a smart and physical safety whose size may limit him in the NFL. However, that does not mean he won’t be a successful pro.
Where Washington fits in Baltimore’s defense
DeCosta and the Ravens have made it known that they like depth in their secondary. While Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott played in all 16 games last season, no Ravens cornerback was able to play the entire season. Marlon Humphrey led the Ravens corners in games played with 16. Four other cornerbacks started at least one game. Baltimore has drafted a cornerback in six of the past seven drafts.
Tavon Young, if healthy, will likely begin the season as the Ravens starting slot corner. He has not played more than two games in an NFL season since 2018. He remains one of the highest-paid slot corners in the league. Humphrey has also shown nickel-flexibility due to Young often being out of the Ravens lineup. However, if Young were to get hurt again, Washington has made a very strong case to be his replacement.
Ben Cleveland’s pass sets were spotty today. Sitting way too far back and narrow feet off the ball.
Tyree Phillips had an awesome day. He bodied Daelin Hayes on back to back reps.
Ardarius Washington had a beautiful pass break up late, peeling off his man to save a TD
— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) August 4, 2021
Washington was very impressive in his preseason debut against the New Orleans Saints. While the defensive back was listed as a free safety on the depth chart, he played mainly from the slot and in the box. Washington was caught with his eyes in the backfield on play-action early in the game but bounced back with a forced fumble and jumped a route to nearly force another turnover later in the game. He also had a chance at a sack as a free runner but failed to wrap up the quarterback.
Then against the Carolina Panthers, he had a rather impressive pass defense matched up against the six-foot Ishmael Hyman. If Washington wants to stand out from the other defensive backs in the 2021 Ravens draft class, he is doing a great job. There is a chance the final 53-man spot comes down to Washington or Brandon Stephens.
Ar’Darius Washington has a good chance of making the Ravens
If the Ravens truly want to fit Washington on their roster, they will be able to do so. Baltimore’s starting five defensive backs will be locks to continue in their current roles but outside of Jimmy Smith, the rest of the defensive backs are question marks. Nine defensive backs made the Ravens initial 53-man roster in 2020 with eight currently on the Ravens roster. However, they also kept five inside linebackers which will almost certainly not be the case in 2021. That extra roster spot will most likely be a defensive back.
Despite the UDFA streak ending for Baltimore in 2020, Washington has a great chance to start a new streak in 2021.
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