Training camp is just a few short weeks away and comes the time to know who will produce the most for the Ravens next season. This is a list of the 10 players who will have the best seasons for Baltimore in 2012.
10. Courtney Upshaw (OLB):
With the Suggs injury and Jarrett Johnson leaving in free agency, the Ravens really lucked with Upshaw falling in their laps in the early second round. His numbers were not eye popping at Alabama, but he is a complete player in the front seven, that will contribute in every facet of the defense. It’s safe to expect at least 8 sacks and 50 tackles from a player that will a starting position early, as a three down linebacker.
9. Pernell McPhee (DE):
After an absolute stellar rookie season, McPhee will crack the starting lineup, taking over for the departed Cory Redding. He has the rare ability to rush the passer from the three-technique and with the all the talent surrounding him, he still will not have to worry about double teams. McPhee is another young building block for the future of the defense, which a rising sack total in his sophomore season is definitely realistic.
8. Torrey Smith (WR):
Smith grew leaps and bounds after breaking out during the Rams game last season. He proved he can perform under pressure in the playoffs, but still has a lot to learn about playing the Wide Receiver position in the NFL. His elite speed carried him last season and with a full season to develop upon his route tree, Smith should officially take over as the number one receiver. He should make his presence known early and often, with his first of many 1000 yard seasons for the Ravens.
7. Joe Flacco (QB):
Joe seemed to have turned the corner if the AFC Championship game, out dueling Tom Brady. He needs to build on his consistency to make the next step into the elite class of QB’s, without having dreadful performances like in Jacksonville last season. With Ray Rice and Anquan Boldin as the consummate professionals, and the development of young targets like Torrey Smith, Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson, Flacco should enjoy his best season under center.
6. Vontae Leach (FB):
Leach has been the best fullback in the league for several years now and the Ravens should expect more of the same out of him in 2012. There will be a bigger burden to protect Flacco as well, with the state of offensive line in flux. Leach will be the driving force to the entire offense, similar to what Lorenzo Neal did for so many years, including his stint in Baltimore.
5. Cary Williams (CB):
Lardarius Webb had his break out season last year, but with that comes added attention from the opposing offense. Jimmy Smith is the big name, but Cary Williams is probably more ready to take over the other corner position. With that, he should see a lot of balls thrown his way, which could lead to a banner year for the young corner with 6-7 interceptions.
4. Ray Rice (RB):
This is the biggest risk on the list, even though his production seems like a fore gone conclusion. The Ravens need to make sure his contract situation does not leak late into training camp or Rice may have a tough time getting his legs under him (similar to what Chris Johnson went through last season). Even with that, he should have another stellar season that leads him to Hawaii.
3. Jameel McClain (ILB):
Last season, everyone started to witness the changing of the guard in the middle of the Ravens defense. McClain definitely outplayed Ray Lewis last season, and will take the next step in becoming the new leader of a team looking at a changing of the guard. McClain will lead one of the best defenses in the league in tackles, while eventually being weaned into taking over the play calls as well.
2. Haloti Ngata (DT):
Everyone in the league already recognized how good he really is, naming him the 9th best player in the NFL (according to their Top 100 list). He is the center piece to the entire defense, clogging the middle for everyone else to roam free. His ability to take on several blockers, while being disruptive in the backfield will not show up on the stat sheet but is obviously recognized league-wide.
1. Marshal Yanda (OG):
With Ben Grubbs departure, Yanda is the longest tenured offensive line man on the Ravens. With so, he will be expected to take on the leadership role, while directing traffic for Flacco and Rice. Yanda made his first Pro Bowl last season, but it certainly will not be the last; he will rise to become one of, if not the best, guards in football by seasons end.