Lineup Analysis: Baltimore Ravens
This is the toughest part of the year for a football fan as the draft season is over, the free agency period has really slowed down and fantasy period has not really started. The best news we get are “X team signed X number of picks” boring…
To make this period easier for you, I will be analyzing teams lineups and creating player rankings. This time, I will analyze one of the most talented lineups in the league, a perennial superbowl contender, the Baltimore Ravens.
Quarterback: Joe Flacco
Backup(s): Tyrod Taylor, Curtis Painter
Flacco has been evolving as well as any quarterback in this league in recent years since his accuracy has improved and he is no longer the weak link in Baltimore’s offense. The quarterback position can be considered relatively strong in Baltimore.
The backup quarterback is a weakness though because if Flacco goes down, the only options are the raw Tyrod Taylor and the awful Curtis Painter, fight that should be won by the former.
Running back: Ray Rice
Backups: Bernard Pierce, Antonio Allen
One could make a case for Ray Rice as the top running back in the league excluding Adrian Peterson. He excels in every aspect of the game being good when running between the tackles and skilled for breaking into long runs. In addition, Rice is one of the best pass-catching backs in the league. He may be the most talented player in the whole team and still has a long way to go.
As for the backups, the Ravens just traded up in the third round of the draft to land Bernard Pierce, who is a personal favorite (compared him to Arian Foster). Meanwhile, Antonio Allen has shown promise on preseason and should be a solid complementary option.
Fullback: Vonta Leach
Backup: Chad Diehl
Vonta Leach is hands down the best fullback in the game. He does not offer the pass-catching ability a Marcel Reece does, but his run and pass blocking are really special. The backup spot is given to Chad Diehl, and undrafted rookie from Clemson, who offers good ability in the pass-catching department, which gives him the chance to guarantee a spot in the final roster even though most of the teams only have one fullback.
Wide Receivers: Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith
Slot: Jacoby Jones
Backups: Tommy Streeter, Tandon Doss, David Reed, LaQuan Williams
Perhaps the weakest unit on this team is the receiving corps, integrated by a declining Anquan Boldin, a raw speed receiver in Torrey Smith and some projects in as secondary options. While Boldin is well removed from his greatest days, he is still a capable starter, and Torrey Smith is up-coming and could produce big numbers this season, so the starting lineup is not as shaky as some may think.
The Ravens recently signed Jacoby Jones, who could be a nice slot receiver and should give shore up a bit this unit. The other options are Tommy Streeter, who has huge upside as he is big (6-5, 215) and fast (4.40), but extremely raw; David Reed, who has been underwhelming so far as a receiver (has been better as a punt returner); Tandon Doss, a personal favorite and more than capable of handling the slot; and LaQuan Williams, who came out of nowhere and showed good things as a rookie last year.
Tight End: Ed Dickson
Backups: Dennis Pitta
To me, the most underwhelming player in this team is named Ed Dickson as he came in as a rookie and showed some promise, so when Todd Heap left everyone though he was up for a big year; however he did nothing and delivered a plethora of mediocre performances in both departments: blocking and catching passes. Dennis Pitta has been much better, but he is nothing special. At any rate, I expect Pitta to be the starter sooner rather than later. None of them are anything to be proud about though.
Offensive tackles: Bryant McKinnie (left), Michael Oher (right)
Backups: Jah Reid, Ramon Harewood
Everyone (including me) thought Bryant McKinnie was done following a disappointing 2010 season with the Vikings and his further release due to weight issues. Well, he proved eveyone wrong in 2011 having a really good and rounded season and staying in shape; however it will be tough for him to have another great season as he keeps aging. Michael Oher, on the other hand, had another disappointing campaign, and it looks like he will never be able to take on the blind side (that was fun); nevertheless, he is a solid starter and the Ravens could do a lot worse, as he produced some flashes through the season with great games
There is a guy waiting for his shot on the left side, that is Jah Reid, for whom the Ravens traded up in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Reid is long and athletic The Ravens took him because of his upside as a blind side protector, which could pan out really soon. Ramon Harewood is the other guy waiting for a shot. He is a big, big guy in the mold of Bryant McKinnie. It will be tough for him to find a spot on the starting lineup any time soon.
Guards: Kelechi Osemele (left), Marshall Yanda (right)
Backups: Gino Gradkowski, Howard Barbieri
In my opinion, Marshall Yanda is the best guard in the league over Carl Nicks and Evan Mathis. He excels in past protection and is a monster in run-blocking. The other side was occupied by Ben Grubbs, who left via free agency. Grubbs was a bit over-rate to me and Kelechi Osemele, a massive man with great feet ans the longest arms in the draft, could end up being an upgrade. Osemele could eventually move to right tackle and move Oher to guard as he has upside on the edge of the offensive line. Baltimore’s interior line is great and Osemele should only improve it.
Gradkowski is the backup center, but I am listing him here as well because I believe he would be the main option incase Osemele or Yanda went down as Howard Barbieri, and undrafted free agent in 2011 would be a major risk right away.
Center: Matt Birk
Backups: Gino Gradkowski, Cecil Newton
Matt Birk is entering the end of a great career, but he still gets the job done as he is a very well rounded center with no major flaws (except against Vince Wilfork). Birk will be missed in Baltimore when he leaves. That is why they took Gini Gradkowkski at the top of the fourth round in this year’s draft as he was a hot commodity entering the draft. Gradkowski should take over as Baltimore’s starting center when Birk retires. As for Cecil Newton, I have not seen anything about Cam’s brother, and it will be tough to do so unless there are injuries.
Nose Tackle: Terrence Cody
Backups: DeAngelo Tyson, Nick Jean-Baptiste
Terrence Cody has been a solid nose tackle, but the Ravens; however, more was expected from him as he was a hot commodity on draft-day two years ago as he is massive and surprisingly athletic for his size. The listed backups are the rookies DeAngelo Tyson and Nick Jean-Batiste, a seventh round pick and an undrafted free agent respectively (Both of them personal favorites, especially Jean-Baptiste). Nevertheless, I believe that if Cody went down, the Ravens would move Halot Ngata to nose tackle and move Arthur Jones to the starting lineup as the defensive end position is much deeper for the Ravens.
Defensive Ends: Haloti Ngata, Pernell McPhee
Backups: Arthur Jones, Bryan Hall.
This might be the strongest unit in Baltimore as Haloti Ngata is one of the best defensive linemen in football and Pernell McPhee was a beast in the limited snaps he saw as a rookie last year. Arthur Jones could start in many teams as he is incredibly talented and physically gifted. Jones may actually start over McPhee, but I am projecting the later because of his dominant rookie season. The next in the depth chart should be Bryan Hall, an undrafted free agent in 2011 that did not make the team that year, but, from what I heard, absolutely dominated in the practice squad. He could earn some playing time.
Inside Linebackers: Ray Lewis, Jameel McClain
Backups: Dannell Ellerbe, Brendon Ayanbadejo
Ray Lewis is one of the greatest players in NFL history and at 37, he is still one of the top players in his position. He is still aggressive and very good against the run; meanwhile, despite the age, he is still pretty good defending the pass. Jameel McClain on the other hand, struggles when dropping into coverage, but he is pretty solid against the run. The Ravens could do a lot worse than McClain next to Ray Lewis.
As Jameel McClain struggles when he drops into coverage, it is a good thing that Dannell Ellerbe, McClain’s backup, excels in that department. Ellerbe could really compete for the starting job against McClain and maybe start some games. Brendon Ayanbadejo, the other backup, is a veteran who is a rock-solid special teamer, but you do not want him in your starting lineup as he is a liability against the run and does not excel defending the pass.
Outside Linebackers: Terrell Suggs (Injury), Paul Kruger
Backups: Courtney Upshaw, Sergio Kindle
Terrell Suggs is one of the top 5 players in the league for me regardless of position. He excels in every aspect of the game being a fearsome pass rusher, solid against the run and incredibly athletic when dropping into coverage. Unfortunately, Suggs will not be able to play until late in the season due to a torn Achilles. When the Ravens stole Courtney Upshaw in the second round the past draft, I questioned the move because of the need factor. Well, now it looks like the best pick in the whole draft. Courtney Upshaw will be a legitimate candidate for defensive rookie of the year and fits well Baltimore scheme making Suggs’ loss not as terrible.
The player who will benefit the most from the increased playing time he will see is Paul Kruger. I expect a breakout season for the Utah product as he shined real potential picking up 5.5 sacks in relatively few snaps last season. I expect double-digit sacks this year.
As for the Sergio Kindle, this may be his last shot for proving himself a good player and take off him the bust label. Kindle will receive few snaps in a crowded an deep pass-rushing corp. He will have to stand out on those snaps to earn more playing time.
Cornerbacks: Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith
Nickel: Cary Williams
Backups: Chykie Brown, Asa Jackson, Corey Graham
Lardarius Webb is one of the five best cornerbacks in the league and had a monstrous campaign in 2011 not allowing a single touchdown in the whole year. He received a huge contract in the attempt of the Ravens to retain one of their top players. Meanwhile, Jimmy Smith, Baltimore’s first round pick in 2011, did not play much last year, but should earn the starting gig this year. Smith has great coverage skill and if he lives up to his potential, the Ravens could be in their way to have the best cornerback duo in the league.
The player who will move out of the starting lineup is Cary Williams, who had a really underwhelming 2011 campaign looking lost in coverage at times. I would not be surprised if he lost the battle for the third corner.
The next guys in the depth chart are Asa Jackson, a fifth round rookie who had a great senior bowl week ajd could compete for the nickel cornerback gig; Chykie Brown, a fifth round pick in 2011 who was a personal favorite and could also compete for the nickel position; and finally, Corey Graham, an offseason addition from the Chicago Bears who will give a needed amount of experience in this young, but talented corp.
Free Safety: Ed Reed
Backups: Christian Thompson
Ed Reed played much better in 2010 than what he did this past year; however, he still was one of the best safeties in the league. I expect Reed to keep that up for two or three more years. Opposing quarterbacks will be relieved when he retires. However, a capable successor is already being forged in fourth round rookie Christian Thompson, whose style of play really reminds of Ed Reed (all proportion saved). Thompson was somewhat of a reach in the fourth round; however, the Ed Reed similarities are there and I trust Ozzie Newsome’s eye in this kind of picks.
Strong Safety: Bernard Pollard
Backups: Sean Considine
When the Ravens signed Bernard Pollard last offseason, I really thought they wasted their money. Well, he proved me wrong playing extremely well against the un and staying solid in coverage. He is a sure and furious tackler as most know. The Ravens could do a lot worst. The Ravens better hope Pollard does not get hurt because they lost Haruki Nakamura and Tim Zbikowski to free agency and their next best option is the veteran Sean Considine, acquired this offseason by Baltimore, but he should not start in this league under any circumstances.