Projecting Baltimore Ravens Depth Chart After Peak of Free Agency
The Baltimore Ravens were active in free agency, although they only made one splash by bringing in a player from outside the organization: Steve Smith. There will be more additions if general manager Ozzie Newsome finds the “right player, right price,” but the Ravens are feeling comfortable enough with their roster to make the most of the remaining upgrades via the 2014 NFL draft.
So what does that roster currently look like? Here’s a projection of the depth chart, analyzing which positions need an update.
1. Joe Flacco
Joe Flacco is the unquestioned starter at the quarterback position, but everything is in place for him to bounce back from a disappointing 2013 season to produce a career year. For starters, he has the best receiving corps of his career to throw to and two of the go-to third-down receivers he relies on (Dennis Pitta and Steve Smith).
In addition, he should have a better offensive line in front of him and has the benefit of one of the best offensive minds in the game calling his plays.
Big things are expected of Flacco in 2014.
2. Tyrod Taylor
This is where the quarterback depth chart gets interesting. Obviously, right now, Tyrod Taylor is the only other quarterback on the roster (excluding practice-squad players), so he’s the backup QB.
But head coach John Harbaugh has not been shy about his desire to make an upgrade or at least make it a competition, according to Jamison Hensley of ESPN. Harbaugh said the following at the recent owners meetings:
We've been very happy with Tyrod, and we feel like he has a great future, but we have been a little disappointed how he's played in games certainly. We feel like he's a lot better than he's showed. I know he feels that way, too. We feel like Tyrod's best football is by far definitely in front of him, but he's only got one year left with us, so we need to add a quarterback into the mix, whether it be offseason or in the draft.
For now, Taylor is the backup, but another signal-caller will be added at some point in the offseason.
1. Ray Rice
Ray Rice is still the starter in the backfield, but he may not be in Week 1 if he’s suspended as a result of his legal troubles.
Regardless of what happens, Rice will be the primary back whenever he’s suited up to play and will be a big part of the Ravens offense.
He had a 2013 to forget, as injuries and excess weight slowed him down and nonexistent offensive line play brought him to a crushing halt.
So far, he’s gotten his weight down, and the O-line is still undergoing renovations to help the Ravens rushing attack get back on track.
2. Bernard Pierce
Even though Bernard Pierce is the secondary back, he’s going to be an important member of the ground game. He received around 35 percent of the carries last year and will have a greater share in 2014—especially if Rice misses any games.
With a capable O-line, Rice and Pierce should form an effective one-two punch from the running back position, but more depth is necessary too. Another running back will be added to the mix before the offseason is over.
Fullback: Kyle Juszczyk
Kyle Juszczyk wins this job outright by virtue of being the only fullback on the roster, but he has the opportunity to be an important contributor for the offense thanks to his unique skill set. He’s a tremendous receiver out of the backfield with the hands and athleticism to move all over the field.
The only question is his run-blocking, and it’s not inconceivable that Vonta Leach is re-signed if the Harvard product isn’t up to scratch.
1. Torrey Smith
After a breakout campaign, Smith will be even more effective in 2014 thanks to the other weapons that will draw attention and free up Smith for some one-on-one opportunities.
The former Terrapin has improved every offseason, so there is no reason to expect anything different this time around. Expect a more well-rounded Smith to show up by the time the new season rolls around.
2. Steve Smith
At 34 years old, some are questioning what Steve Smith still has in the tank. The answer is plenty to excel in the role he’ll play for Baltimore.
Smith won’t be asked to make big plays but the contested, intermediate catches that move the chains. He has the toughness and veteran savvy to get the job done, and he’s just the type of security blanket that Joe Flacco has always needed (from Derrick Mason to Anquan Boldin to Smith).
3. Marlon Brown
Marlon Brown was a revelation in his rookie year and has the talent and size to be the third receiver ahead of Jacoby Jones. Realistically, Jones and Brown will get the same amount of playing time, but Brown gets the edge on this depth chart because he has more upside.
4. Jacoby Jones
Jacoby Jones’ primary value is as an All-Pro returner, but he is a big-play receiver for Joe Flacco’s cannon arm and showcased a greater route-running tree over his limited action last year.
5. Deonte Thompson
Deonte Thompson won’t have a big role in the receiving corps, especially if the Ravens add a receiver like many are projecting, but he’s a great No. 5 option with the speed to blow the top off the defense from the slot or outside the numbers.
6. Aaron Mellette
Aaron Mellette was sidelined by an injury for his entire rookie year, and as a small-school prospect he figures to benefit from a year of coaching and practicing with the team. It’s unlikely that he sees the field in 2014, but you should keep an eye on how he develops.
1. Dennis Pitta
Dennis Pitta is going to have a tremendous year as Joe Flacco’s favorite target in an offense designed by known tight end aficionado Gary Kubiak.
Behind him, it gets murky.
2. Matt Furstenburg
Matt Furstenburg is the next best tight end on the roster, and that’s not a good sign. Furstenburg is an interesting developmental piece, but he’s not yet ready to be thrust into the role of No. 2 tight end.
Moreover, the secondary tight end will need to be able to contribute to the running game as a blocker—and that’s not Furstenburg’s strength.
LT: Eugene Monroe
The Ravens’ biggest move so far was the re-signing of Eugene Monroe to anchor the left side of the O-line for the next five years. There is no cause for concern there, as Monroe is athletic enough to thrive in Kubiak’s zone-blocking scheme and has the pass-blocking skills to keep Flacco upright.
RT: Rick Wagner
The right tackle position is one of the biggest weaknesses on the roster, but Rick Wagner would be the starter if the season started today.
The Wisconsin product grew into his role as a sixth lineman in goal-line situations, but it’s asking a lot for him to start at right tackle in just his second year as a fifth-round pick.
An upgrade at the position is coming—most probably in the draft.
Backup: Jah Reid
Jah Reid is an athletic player, but he’s fallen out of the O-line rotation. He failed to get a crack at the left guard spot (once Kelechi Osemele was injured) or the sixth lineman spot that Wagner earned.
He’s a valuable depth piece as a swing tackle with the ability to play guard too, but Wagner would be the better bet as a starter.
RG: Marshal Yanda
The Ravens don’t need to worry about Marshal Yanda. He just gets the job done and will be one of the best linemen on the team in 2014.
LG: Kelechi Osemele
Kelechi Osemele is the projected starter at left guard, assuming that his recovery proceeds on schedule. He’s by far the best option on the roster, but his health is a question mark.
Backup: A.Q. Shipley
A.Q. Shipley is naturally a center but took over at left guard once Osemele went down. He’ll be a backup at both positions but shouldn’t be counted on for anything more than that.
Starter: Jeremy Zuttah
Jeremy Zuttah is the Ravens’ newest acquisition, and he was brought in to be the starting center ahead of Gino Gradkowski. He has the size and athleticism to be a perfect fit in the zone-running scheme.
Backup: Gino Gradkowski
It was a nightmarish debut season as the starting center for Gradkowski—one that ended in a demotion to a backup role. The good news is that he had a full year to learn the position and gain valuable experience as a starter in case he’s once again needed in a pinch.
Backup: Ryan Jensen
Ryan Jensen was sidelined by injury last year, but the Ravens saw enough potential to keep him on the active roster instead of shelving him on IR all year. As a small-school product, this year will be a learning experience for Jensen.
1. Haloti Ngata
As one of the best nose tackles in the league, Haloti Ngata will be the disruptive force anchoring the Ravens' defensive line, eating up blockers and stuffing the run.
2. Brandon Williams
Without Terrence Cody in the mix, Brandon Williams is the backup nose tackle, but he’ll also see some snaps at defensive end to replace Arthur Jones.
Williams fared well in his rookie year and displayed the combination of strength and quickness that made the Ravens pick him in the third round. He will be a solid contributor in the D-line rotation.
1. Chris Canty
Chris Canty will need to take on more responsibility without Arthur Jones in the mix since he is now the best and most experienced end on the roster.
2. DeAngelo Tyson
DeAngelo Tyson is the favorite to replace Arthur Jones if no other players are brought in. Tyson was a rotational piece last year and performed well in those limited snaps. He has shown the run-stopping ability to play the role well.
3. Kapron Lewis-Moore
Kapron Lewis-Moore is a wild card since he didn’t play at all last year. He practiced for three weeks at the end of the season, but he was one of the more solid defensive prospects along the D-line in his draft.
He doesn’t have elite upside, but he’s a very stout run defender and has drawn comparisons to Arthur Jones for his frame and style of play.
1. Terrell Suggs
Terrell Suggs signed an extension to keep him in Baltimore for the rest of his career, but the Ravens don’t know which Suggs they’ll be getting: the dominant all-around player for the first half of the 2013 season or the lethargic defender who was invisible for the second half of the season.
The reasons for his decline are unclear, but Suggs still has the tools to one of the best all-around OLBs in the league and heads a talented position for Baltimore.
2. Elvis Dumervil
Elvis Dumervil had a great first year in Baltimore and showed he is still an elite pass-rusher. He’ll be back in that role in 2014, lining up opposite Suggs in passing situations and pinning his ears back on his way to the opposing quarterback.
3. Courtney Upshaw
Courtney Upshaw will split snaps with Elvis Dumervil depending on whether it’s a running or passing down. Upshaw is a tremendous run defender and consistently sets the edge and makes plays to shut down the opposing ground game.
4. Pernell McPhee
Pernell McPhee may be tasked with playing more defensive end out of necessity, but whatever position he plays, he’s a pass-rusher.
5. John Simon
In his rookie year, John Simon was primarily a special teams player. That won’t change in 2014 due to the abundance of talent ahead of him on the depth chart.
1. Daryl Smith
Re-signing Daryl Smith was a big win for the Ravens defense, and he’s a definite starter in the middle of the Baltimore defense.
With the skill set to do everything you need from the position, Smith continues the tradition of excellence and hard work set by Ray Lewis.
2. Arthur Brown
Arthur Brown will get every chance to earn the starting job, but he’ll need to prove that he can take on blocks, shed and make plays in the running game.
3. Josh Bynes
Josh Bynes will be the downhill thumper if Brown hasn’t earned his run-stopping chops yet. Bynes performed well in that role last year, but he’s a two-down player with limited athleticism and coverage ability.
4. Albert McClellan
Albert McClellan has been asked to play so many different roles for the Ravens, and he’ll be asked to provide depth at inside linebacker this season. His niche is as a special-teamer, and he won’t contribute on defense very regularly.
1. Lardarius Webb
Based on how the defense ended the year, there isn’t a big difference between Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith at the cornerback position in terms of skill and effectiveness.
Webb finally looked healthy and has the speed to kick inside and cover the slot when three or more receivers get on the field.
2. Jimmy Smith
Smith is a nice complement to Webb as the physically imposing press cornerback who can match up with the bigger receivers that are becoming more prevalent in the league. The Ravens are set with the first two cornerbacks, but a nickelback is a necessary part of the defense, and that’s where the questions can be found.
3. Chykie Brown
Chykie Brown is currently slated to be the third cornerback, replacing Corey Graham, but that’s an iffy proposition. Brown has grown by leaps and bounds in his time with the Ravens, but it remains to be seen whether he’s ready for a prominent role on defense.
4. Asa Jackson
Asa Jackson missed a lot of last year due to suspension, but he’s right up there with Brown as corner No. 3. Jackson probably won’t be ready from a technical standpoint to play cornerback for extended minutes.
SS: Matt Elam
After a year of playing free safety, Matt Elam will slide over to his more natural position as an in-the-box safety who blows things up by lining up near the line of scrimmage. Elam was excellent in this role last year and looks ready for an outstanding sophomore season with the position change.
FS: Omar Brown
There are a number of potential starters who could be listed here, showing just how unclear the situation is. Omar Brown has displayed playmaking potential in the past, so he gets the nod right now, but another player will probably be brought in at the position.
Backup: Darian Stewart
Darian Stewart is athletic enough to play free safety but is more of an enforcer than cover guy, so it'll be interesting to see how he fits into the Ravens defense.
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