Ravens will turn to DeShon Elliott following the release of Earl Thomas
Heading into training camp, Baltimore Ravens third-year safety DeShon Elliott was on the roster bubble and even though his talent is undeniable, he needed to prove that he could stay healthy just to make the team this year.
Fast forward three weeks later with just three weeks until the season opener and he now finds himself in the starting lineup and will be counted on to assume a much larger role in Baltimore’s defense in 2020 than he or anyone was anticipating following the release of veteran Earl Thomas on Sunday.
The seven-time Pro Bowler who signed a massive four-year deal worth $55 million had his contract terminated for “personal conduct that adversely affected” the team per an official statement. This has opened the door for Elliott to put his talents on full display and his coaches believe that it is his time to shine.
“It’s his time,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “So here we go.”
Elliott was selected in the sixth round back in 2018 out of Texas, the same college where Thomas attended. He possesses difference-making potential that he has flashed at times and has been eager to hit the field but to this point in his career, he has had his path to extensive playing time hindered by veterans ahead of him on the depth chart and injuries.
He had each of his first two seasons in the league cut short by season-ending injuries. His rookie season ended before it really began after he suffered a broken forearm in the preseason. Last year he appeared poised to ascend to a starting role after Tony Jefferson sustained a torn ACL in Week Five, but he went down with a season-ending knee injury of his own a week later.
Elliott has been limited to just six regular-season games with zero starts. He only has six total tackles and one pass deflection in just 40 defensive snaps in his career. While he may not be a household name just yet, those within the organization have been impressed with him since he first arrived and believe that his patience will pay off with this unexpected opportunity.
“DeShon has been ready to go ever since he got here as a rookie. I’ve been really impressed with him since the time he came in here,” Pass Defense Coordinator Chris Hewitt said.
“He’s definitely deserving of play. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do when he gets out there. He’s definitely ready to go. He has a great chemistry out there with the rest of the guys, and they’re hyped up to have him out there.”
Elliott plays and practices with a lot of energy and confidence which will serve him well in his first crack at a starting role in Defensive Coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale’s aggressive scheme that will allow him to use his instincts and range to his full advantage.
“He’s definitely a confident young man – sometimes too confident,” Hewitt said with a chuckle. “He definitely doesn’t lack for confidence in any endeavor. He’s just that kind of kid. He’s an Energizer Bunny. He comes in the building and he’s just ready to go. When he gets out on the field, he brings energy to the rest of the defense. He’s just one of those guys. I love the way that he plays.”
Since Thomas’ dismissal on Friday he has been taking reps with the first-team defense for the last two days and it appears that his promotion will be permanent for the foreseeable future. On Sunday during the team’s first practice at M&T Bank Stadium, Elliott was one of the defensive standouts and even scooped up a pair of fumbles.
He has built a reputation on the team as a ball magnet who often finds himself breaking up and intercepting passes in practice. Now that Elliott will have the opportunity to showcase his nose for the ball as a full-time starter, he’ll have a chance to impress the rest of the league in a similar fashion that he has to his coaches and teammates over the last two and a half years.
“He attacks whatever is in front of him,” Hewitt said. “Right now, it’s to get ready to play against Cleveland.”
The Ravens will be debuting a new starting safety tandem for the second time in as many years when they welcome their AFC North division rival Cleveland Browns to town except this time it won’t feature a prized free-agent acquisition that started his career with another team. Instead, it will be two homegrown talents that began their tenure with the Ravens as late-round picks who many envisioned as long shots to make the roster and would primarily play on special teams.
While Elliott wasn’t able to capitalize on Jefferson’s untimely injury, Chuck Clark who was a sixth-round selection a year before Elliott in 2017 out of Virginia Tech did seize the opportunity and made the most of it. He made 12 starts and recorded career highs in total tackles with 73 and pass deflections with nine. He also logged two forced fumbles, an interception, three quarterback hits, and his first career sack.
Clark is one of the smartest players on the team and helped stabilize Baltimore’s secondary that got off to a shaky start to the season. He parlayed his out of the blue breakout year into a three-year contract extension worth $16 million this offseason. If Elliott can take a similar jump in production and impact in his third season then the Ravens could still boast the best backend in the league in 2020.