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Aug. 08, 2013 - Shasky Clarke

2013 NFL Team Previews, AFC North: Baltimore Ravens - 2nd

2013 NFL Team Previews, AFC North: Baltimore Ravens - 2nd





Joe Flacco is an elite passer with perfect size and underrated athleticism. He is accurate, sees the field well, and consistently protects the ball. But he has not been perfect. One of his biggest issues has been his ability to be accurate and move the ball when pressure is bearing down on him. During the regular season last year, the Ravens pass protection was spotty, especially at the tackle positions. Particularly at left tackle. The fact is, Michael Oher, 'The Blindside', is a subpar pass protector at that spot (ironic isn't it). Flacco's sack rate dropped over 25% once Bryant McKinnie finally became the team's starting left tackle in the playoffs. Conveniently, Flacco finished the postseason with zero interceptions, a near-120 passer rating, and a Super Bowl MVP award. Behind Flacco, athletic Tyrod Taylor provides adequate depth and a decent overall ceiling and skill set.



The Ravens' backfield is one of the most steady and talented in the league. 5'8” sixth-year Ray Rice is an elite all-purpose back with speed, explosiveness, elusiveness and ball skills. He has caught 200 passes over the past three years and is one of the most durable players at his position. Second-year Bernard Pierce has all the talent to be a number one, feature back. A complete back with power and fluidity, he should get more touches in 2013. Anthony Allen is a bruising downhill back.

Arguably the most valuable member of the running game, fullback Vonta Leach is unquestionably the best at his position. Leach is a devastating battering ram with great vision to pave holes in zone run blocking schemes. Houston's backfield severely missed him in 2012 and the Ravens were wise enough, even at a supposedly dying position, to invite the fullback to return. Finally, rookie 6'1” 250-pound Kyle Juszyzyk is listed as a fullback but will play a big role in the passing game as a versatile H-back, move piece.



The big question is whether or not the departure of everyone's favorite 4.7 speed wide receiver will have a significant impact on Baltimore's passing game. Though many would say Anquan Boldin was Flacco's most valuable pass catcher, Torrey Smith was the lone game changer that opposing secondaries had to prepare for every week. Smith is one of the most dangerous vertical threats, but he has underrated, smooth overall route running ability and good hands. Though not elite, he is not a one-trick pony and is primed for a huge statistical season as Flacco's true go-to receiver. There is a tight battle to start opposite Smith, and the competitors will split time throughout the season. Jacoby Jones returns as a big play, vertical weapon with terrific size and athleticism. Third-year Tandon Doss sports great size as well, combined with smooth route running and polished ball skills. Behind those guys, second-year, speedy Deonte Thompson will have his opportunities and solid rookie Aaron Mellette is another massive receiver who brings more physicality to the group. The wild card is the return of maybe the most talented wideout on the roster, second-year 6'5” 220-pound speedster Tommy Streeter who missed 2012 with sprained ligaments.



The bad news for this group: a season-ending injury to Dennis Pitta. The good news: the cupboard isn't bare, yet. If Ed Dickson can stay healthy, the Ravens still have an athletic pass catcher capable of creating separation and being a match-up weapon. Behind him, veteran Billy Bajema presents limited upside for the pass game. Visanthe Shiancoe has always been an excellent athlete for the position but, failing to stick in New England in 2012, it is unclear how consistently polished he will be as a pass catcher.


Offensive Line:

The offensive line transformed into one of the stronger units on the roster once giant twelfth-year veteran Bryant McKinnie solidified the left tackle spot and Michael Oher moved to right tackle. Marshal Yanda is one of the very best right guards displaying the foot quickness and agility of an offensive tackle. At left guard, massive 6'6” 333-pound Kelechi Osemele is another versatile player with the ability to step in at right tackle with no drop off in results. Nonetheless, the Ravens will have to replace their Matt Birk at center, pitting second-year Gino Gradkowski against fellow Pittsburgh native A.Q. Shipley. Shipley is the better athlete but Gino provides more length. Overall, the line should be more effective in pass protection but will have some questions to answer in the long term.



Best Offensive Rookie: FB/TE Kyle Juszczyk

Best Offensive Second-Year Player: RB Bernard Pierce

2014 Draft Offensive Position of Need: Wide Receiver

2014 Draft Offensive Suggestion: WR Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss





Defensive Line:

The Ravens continue to amass versatile talent across their defensive line. The lead guy is All-Pro Haloti Ngata who is slated to start at nose tackle. He wasn't 100% last year, and when healthy, there are few players more dominant on the interior. Arthur Jones continues to develop into an excellent, disruptive well-rounded interior, 3-4 end player going into his third year. The team added experienced Chris Canty and Marcus Spears. Canty is a dangerous pass rusher while Spears is more of an asset for the run defense. Rotating in and providing terrific beef are rookie fire hydrant Brandon Williams and the disappointing Terrence Cody. The line is easily one of the heaviest and stoutest in the league.


OLB/Edge Rushers:

A position of relative turmoil in 2012, and part of the reason the team's defense wasn't quite as elite as it has been historically. While their leading pass rusher Paul Kruger departed to the Browns, the Ravens should still see excellent production from the starters. Terrell Suggs, a relentless beast of a rusher, returns from an Achilles' injury in the best shape of his career. Elvis Dumervil enters from Denver, bringing great edge athleticism and rushing skill. Versatile, unique Pernell McPhee has been a disruptive player in sub-packages. Second-year Courtney Upshaw should still see significant time in base packages, and is a solid, super physical, run defender. It will be interesting to see how much rookie John Simon will contribute given the bodies ahead of him. But he is yet another physical, athletic, relentless, weight-room warrior that will likely play a bigger role in future years.



Last year's starters, long time face of the franchise Ray Lewis and athletic, budding Dannell Ellerbe are gone. While the position will not be a strength for the Ravens defense, the group does possess the size and enough decent talent to fit on one should be a great defense. Veteran Daryl Smith is the best of the bunch and has, for years, quietly been one of the steadiest, most physical linebackers. Jameel McClain is the longest tenured Raven at the position. The team is excited about athletic rookie Arthur Brown, who could win the job. Josh Bynes has a knack for making plays on the ball versus the pass. Second-year Nigel Carr blends a great combination of size and pure, smooth athleticism.



The strength of the defense is definitely the front seven. But the secondary is not short of impressive athletes and physical players. The names run deep, but outside of Lardarius Webb, the cornerback group is still a question mark. Webb is now the franchise playmaker of the secondary. Returning from a season-ending knee injury, he has the instincts, ball skills and athleticism to, similar to an Asante Samuel, make quarterbacks pay for attacking his side of the field. Corey Graham made many plays, stepping up in his absence but may be best suited at nickel. Jimmy Smith has great size and overall athletic ability but uses his hands a little too much when trying to stay on his man. Chykie Brown has also shown up as a long, physical cover guy.



At safety, the Ravens plan to replace Ed Reed with Michael Huff, a fast former top ten pick. Huff has not been quite as productive as he was expected to be, but has the experience and talent to break out as a deep, rangy playmaking free safety. Opposite him, physical and outstanding special teamer James Ihedigbo is the favorite so far to replace enforcer Bernard Pollard. Right now, the coaching staff is valuing experience and knowledge of the defense over pure talent. But it won't be long before Matt Elam will be seen flying around and doling out monster hits. He does have experience covering receivers in the slot.


Best Defensive Rookie: S Matt Elam

Best Defensive Second-Year Player: DE/OLB Pernell McPhee

2014 Draft Defensive Position of Need: Inside Linebacker

2014 Draft Defensive Suggestion: ILB Chris Borland, Wisconsin