STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Last season's playoffs ended in a fizzle for the Ravens. Baltimore put up just three points in a turnover-ridden game against the eventual AFC Champion Colts. The 17-point loss wasn't endemic to the rest of the season, however. A 9-7 record and four losses by three points or fewer have head coach John Harbaugh's club legitimately asking “what if?”
There's no question about Ray Rice. The 5-8 back thrived in the team's feature role after working in a committee in 2008. Rice led the team in both rush attempts (254) and receptions (78), and should be even more indispensable to Baltimore this season. The front office also committed $3.6 million to retain Willis McGahee (12 rushing touchdowns) as a goal-line back. The tandem will prove very formidable behind an offensive line returning five starters.
The passing game is a bigger concern. Joe Flacco looked lost against the league's best defenses, as did the team's pass blocking. In five games against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Green Bay, Flacco threw five touchdowns to eight interceptions, and the offensive line gave up 18 of the team's 36 sacks on the season. An ankle injury contributed significantly to Flacco's late-season slide, however a dearth of targets didn't help either. Derrick Mason, at 5-10 and 35 years old, was once again the team's only consistent downfield threat. The addition of Anquan Boldin in the offseason should spur the offense, providing the physical presence in the red zone that Mark Clayton and Kelley Washington couldn't.
The front seven on defense will showcase again after giving up just 3.4 yards per rush to lead the league last season. The Ravens helped themselves in a big way during April's draft, picking up Terrence Cody and Sergio Kindle. And though Ray Lewis may have lost a step, behind a massive defensive line, he'll be free to make plays on instinct and grit alone.
The secondary is another issue. Particularly at corner, the Ravens can't get bodies on the field, much less quality ones. Chris Carr is better known as a return man, and Dominique Foxworth didn't perform up to his contract last season, while both Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb are recovering from season-ending ACL tears. Ed Reed staved off retirement one more year to return at safety, but a nerve impingement in his neck significantly limited his effectiveness at times.
Still, on paper, the team has no otherwise glaring weaknesses. The maturation of young talent combined with a solid nucleus of veterans on both sides of the ball made Baltimore one of the toughest teams in the AFC last season. With an infusion of talent at key positions and another year to improve, they hope to turn those close calls into wins. If they can, the Ravens will be 2010 Super Bowl contenders.
Round, Overall, Player
2. (43) Sergio Kindle, LB, Texas-Arguably the best pass rusher in entire draft, though concerns about his knee and character caused him to fall out of first round.
2. (57) Terrence Cody, DT, Alabama-A mountainous run-stuffer but must watch the weight.
3. (70) Ed Dickson, TE, Oregon-Great college pass-catcher who needs to develop as a blocker.
5. (156) David Reed, WR, Utah-A polished route runner unafraid of traffic, who will get a look in the return game as well.
5. (157) Arthur Jones, DT, Syracuse-A potential difference-maker if he can overcome injury concerns.
6. (194) Ramon Harewood, OT, Morehouse-Humongous (6-6, 350) and incredibly strong, but still very raw.
Anquan Boldin, WR (Cardinals) Will likely step in as the No. 1 target and give the Ravens a big upgrade in red zone.
Donte’ Stallworth, WR (Browns) Upgrades the receiving corps as a third or fourth option.
Kelley Washington, WR (FA) Ravens upgraded the position with Boldin and Stallworth.
Dwan Edwards, DE (Bills) Had been an important part of the rotation at defensive end.
Frank Walker, CB (FA) Not much of a loss talent-wise, but the team desperately needs depth at corner.
FLACCO: TIME TO SHINE
For the first time in years, Baltimore fans could see an offense to match the team's defensive reputation. A young offensive line shows a lot of promise, the receiving corps got a major boost from Anquan Boldin and Donte' Stallworth, and Ray Rice is a budding star. Joe Flacco ought to be another reason for optimism, but his ugly play to end the season has some doubting his abilities. In the team's last four games, including two playoff appearances, Flacco threw two touchdowns to four interceptions for a 52 percent completion percentage and just 5.2 yards per attempt. An ankle injury contributed more to his slide than coaches would let on, but even before injuries became an issue many questioned his ability to carry the offense on his shoulders when the running game wasn't working. Flacco returns fully healthy and with enough tools around him to succeed. If he can shake off the late-season demons of 2009, then the Ravens' offense could thrive.
THE Ray Rice COMMITTEE
Heading into 2009, discussion centered on how the Ravens would split carries between Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain. By Week 4 the answer became increasingly clear. Rice ran for 103 yards on 11 carries and added 49 yards on five catches against the Patriots. In the same game, McGahee had just six total touches for 24 yards and McClain was officially a fullback. Rice's versatility as a runner and as a receiver will make him one of the top picks in fantasy drafts this season. McGahee did see a lot of goal-line carries last year (12 rushing touchdowns to Rice's seven), hampering Rice's value. Still, Rice will see the bulk of the touches in what should be a better offense overall. If he can he steal some of those goal-line touches from McGahee, few will be able to match his production in 2010.
ROOKIES VYING TO TAKE OUT HEAP
Todd Heap turned in a nice sleeper season for fantasy owners last year. His numbers weren't incredible, but he exceeded expectations with 53 catches for 593 yards and six touchdowns, his best totals since the 2006 season. With the upgrades in the receiving corps this offseason, the Ravens are ready to put up better passing numbers, and Heap, theoretically, should be a beneficiary. Unfortunately for him, the Ravens selected two tight ends, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, with their third- and fourth-round picks in April's NFL Draft. Dickson has great size, speed and hands, but needs to improve his blocking. Pitta, already 25, is more well-rounded and ready, some believe, to challenge Heap this season. Even if neither rookie unseats the veteran, at the very least there's signs that the clock is ticking on Heap's run.
DECLINING: No longer the sole focus of the Ravens’ passing game, Derrick Mason finally gets some relief after so many gritty seasons. Unfortunately, his numbers should dip.
SLEEPER: Donte’ Stallworth has the speed to stretch the field in his return from a season-long suspension.
SUPERSLEEPER: David Reed is a tough, polished route runner in the Mason mold and could contribute in the return game, if not as a third or fourth receiver.
Ray Lewis, LB 133 tackles last season at 34 years old. Still phenomenal behind a gigantic defensive line.
TERRELL SUGGS, LB Supposedly recommitted and ready to return to his 2008 form.
Ed Reed, S If he can stay healthy, he’s a stud. That’s a big if.
RotoWire Rank: 8