With Ravens head coach John Harbaugh announcing Monday that cornerback Jimmy Smith would be sidelined a few weeks with a mid-foot sprain, the news sparked a debate many fans might not want to think about.
Other than quarterback Joe Flacco — there’s no disputing that he tops the list — who is the one player the 2014 Ravens can least afford to lose in the middle of the season? We’re not talking about pondering offseason changes or considering who will become a free agent, but it’s merely a question of which player other than Flacco is most indispensable to the Ravens’ fortunes between now and the end of the season.
When you take into account the Ravens’ lack of depth at cornerback and the struggles they’ve already had in the secondary this season, Smith tops my list as he was the only defensive back playing well enough to significantly limit an opponent’s passing game. It’s difficult to find quality cornerbacks in the modern NFL that’s driven by offense, but Smith has been graded as the fourth-best corner in coverage by Pro Football Focus this season.
Even though fellow starting cornerback Lardarius Webb has improved from where he was a month ago, you’re still not seeing the kind of play from him that we saw prior to his second ACL injury in 2012. And the options beyond him, Dominique Franks and Chykie Brown, clearly aren’t starting-caliber players, making Smith’s loss one that will cause restless nights for Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees.
The Ravens aren’t necessarily doomed, but they’re going to need a robust pass rush in the coming weeks for that secondary to hold up without Smith.
Of course, the Ravens have a handful of others whose loss would be a significant blow.
Five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata is having his best season in a few years and provides so much versatility in being able to play multiple techniques on the defensive line.
What more can be said about veteran wideout Steve Smith, who leads the Ravens in receptions and receiving yards by a wide margin?
You might be able to find a serviceable kicker to fill in for Justin Tucker, but his range from beyond 50 and pinpoint accuracy inside that mark are skills that shouldn’t be taken for granted, especially in games when your offense isn’t firing on all cylinders.
Veteran Jeremy Zuttah was the only significant offseason addition to an offensive line that was a disaster in 2013. Would the Ravens hold up with Gino Gradkowski or John Urschel filling in at that critical center position?
And the man next to Zuttah, three-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, has only graded out as the best guard in the NFL by PFF with the Ravens running more effectively to the right side all season.
Would running back Justin Forsett receive your vote with Bernard Pierce struggling mightily and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro the only other option?
The Ravens saw firsthand Sunday what it was like to be without tight end Owen Daniels with only rookie Crockett Gillmore and former practice-squad member Phillip Supernaw behind him, and we know how offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak values the position.
Would Terrell Suggs or Elvis Dumervil be your choice even though outside linebacker is the deepest position on the roster for the Ravens?
Beyond Flacco, who is the player the 2014 Ravens can least afford to lose? Be sure to consider roster depth at any given position as this isn’t a simple question of who is the best player.
Vote in our poll and leave a comment below if I’ve overlooked someone entirely.