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Breaking down the 2017 Ravens’ initial 53-man roster

Posted on 02 September 2017 by Luke Jones

A year after the Ravens surprisingly released veteran running back Justin Forsett on final cut-down day, there were no real surprises in the formulation of the first 53-man roster for the 2017 season.

The acquisitions of reserve offensive linemen Tony Bergstrom and Luke Bowanko likely pushed veteran Jeremy Zuttah and former practice-squad member Matt Skura off the roster, but cornerback Robertson Daniel and linebacker Brennen Beyer were the only other players from last year’s team not to survive Saturday’s final cuts and neither saw meaningful action in 2016.

More roster changes are inevitable in the coming days as Baltimore has already made two trades to augment its offensive line depth and could look for another running back or a veteran inside linebacker. General manager Ozzie Newsome should have another roster spot to play with once cornerback Maurice Canady is placed on injured reserve as expected. Still recovering from knee surgery, Canady needed to be on the initial 53-man roster to remain eligible for a designation to return later in the season.

The Ravens will certainly scan the open market for potential additions to enhance the roster that’s already been assembled as hundreds of players hit the waiver wire on Saturday. Beginning Sunday, they will also put together a 10-man practice squad with a number of Baltimore players who were cut over the weekend potentially returning to the organization.

Below are some early impressions of the 53-man roster as it stood on Saturday evening:

QUARTERBACKS (2) — Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett
Analysis: The Ravens and their fans will continue to hold their breath until Flacco stays on the field and shows his back is no longer a concern after he was sidelined for the entire summer. However, the fact that there are only two quarterbacks on the roster leads you to believe the organization is confident that Flacco is truly healthy and ready to go. At the very least, you’d expect the Ravens to re-sign Josh Woodrum or another quarterback to the practice squad for some extra depth.

RUNNING BACKS (3) — Terrance West, Danny Woodhead, Buck Allen
Analysis: This group lost much of its upside after Kenneth Dixon suffered a season-ending knee injury right before training camp, but the unrest on the offensive line this summer made it difficult to evaluate the backs. Woodhead figures to be a major part of the passing game if healthy, but how well West fares as the No. 1 back will depend on how effectively the line gels. This is a position the Ravens should explore upgrading, especially if they can find a back possessing some return skills.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5) — Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, Michael Campanaro, Chris Moore
Analysis: The competition among a batch of young receivers on the preseason roster never really materialized as Moore, a 2016 fourth-round pick, did little to distinguish himself and still landed on the roster. The major question will be how quickly Flacco can build a rapport with Maclin, who didn’t sign with the Ravens until the week of mandatory minicamp in mid-June. It’s difficult to identify a trustworthy red-zone threat in this group, but that’s been a problem for this offense for years. 

TIGHT ENDS (4) — Nick Boyle, Benjamin Watson, Maxx Williams, Vince Mayle
Analysis: Few would have guessed Mayle would be one of four tight ends on the roster when there were questions months ago about how the Ravens would pick among six viable options. The losses of Dennis Pitta, Crockett Gillmore, and Darren Waller subtracted production, physicality, and upside from the equation, but Boyle has been solid and Watson and Williams are healthy. It remains to be seen whether the Ravens will get enough production from these tight ends as blockers or receivers.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8) — Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Ryan Jensen, James Hurst, Austin Howard, Jermaine Eluemunor, Tony Bergstrom, Luke Bowanko
Analysis: The Ravens finally have their projected starting offensive line on the practice field, but there are plenty of questions beyond Yanda and Stanley. Newsome attempted to address the depth by making two trades, but neither Bergstrom nor Bowanko are established commodities. Beyond taking a leap of faith that Greg Roman’s blocking schemes will work their magic, there isn’t a ton to love about this group on paper, which is unsettling when your quarterback is just returning from a back injury.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8) — Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Brent Urban, Bronson Kaufusi, Chris Wormley, Carl Davis, Willie Henry, Patrick Ricard
Analysis: Eight defensive linemen in a 3-4 base system are too many, but the Ravens are smart not wanting to lose a talented defensive lineman just to keep an inferior player elsewhere. You would think the organization will attempt to use its defensive line depth to potentially acquire talent at another position of need or will eventually try to stash one with a injury. Of course, don’t dismiss the possibility of Ricard being used more as a fullback and blocking tight end to help justify the high number here.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (4) — C.J. Mosley, Kamalei Correa, Patrick Onwuasor, Bam Bradley
Analysis: Correa hasn’t seized control of the starting job next to Mosley, leaving the door open for Onwuasor or even Bradley to potentially push him for playing time further into the season. The loss of special-teams standout Albert McClellan really hurts their depth as he could play any of the four linebacker positions, a valuable asset on Sundays with only 46 players active. Bradley earned his job with a strong summer, but a veteran addition to compete with Correa would ease some concerns.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5) — Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Tyus Bowser, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams
Analysis: Entering his 15th year, Suggs remains the soul of the defense and is still an above-average three-down outside linebacker, but you have to be intrigued with the young talent and depth here. Judon and Bowser have battled for the starting “Sam” linebacker spot with both looking like viable options while Za’Darius Smith solidified his roster standing as a situational rusher. Williams is raw, but he has shown impressive potential as a pure rush specialist, something this defense needs.

CORNERBACKS (6) — Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, Jaylen Hill, Sheldon Price, Maurice Canady
Analysis: The Ravens haven’t had this kind of outside corner depth in a long time with Humphrey likely to push the veteran Carr for his starting spot at some point in 2017. Tavon Young’s spring knee injury was a blow to the nickel spot, but the undrafted Hill may have been the best story of the summer after only receiving a tryout during rookie camp weekend. With safeties Lardarius Webb and Anthony Levine expected to play the nickel and dime spots, respectively, five cornerbacks are likely enough.

SAFETIES (5) — Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Lardarius Webb, Anthony Levine, Chuck Clark
Analysis: The depth here is strong after Jefferson was signed to a lucrative deal to be a major factor against the run and in covering tight ends. There is plenty of room for defensive coordinator Dean Pees to be creative in the secondary with Webb and Levine having so much versatility. The rookie Clark will likely be more of a special-teams contributor than anything else, but the Ravens needed another safety with their primary backups projected to be so involved in sub packages.

SPECIALISTS (3) — Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
Analysis: This trio enters its sixth consecutive season together. That continuity is just one reason why these three are so tremendous at what they do.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 13-9 win over Buffalo

Posted on 27 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 3-0 in the preseason with a 13-9 win over Buffalo, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The narrative remained the same for the third preseason game with the defense excelling and the offense struggling to move the ball. Maybe the defense will be up to the task in 2017, but winning 13-9 games leaves very little margin for error.

2. I’ve said this before, but the defensive depth continues to impress as there’s been little drop-off in play from the opening quarter to the final minutes of each game. Ozzie Newsome isn’t going to be able to keep a few defensive players who definitely would have stuck in the past.

3. After averaging 3.5 yards per carry in the first half of the first two preseason games, the Ravens gained 41 yards on 16 carries in the first two quarters against the Bills. The running game is even more important with Joe Flacco’s situation, but it hasn’t shown many encouraging signs.

4. Baltimore was credited with six passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. The secondary has been strong and the young outside linebackers have received plenty of attention, but this deep defensive front has been very disruptive this summer.

5. Watching Justin Tucker make tackles or even pick up a fumble in Miami last week makes for a fun story until he suffers a close call like he did on Saturday night. The Ravens really need their All-Pro kicker to show more restraint, especially in a meaningless preseason game.

6. Rather than asking whether Jaylen Hill makes the roster, I’m now wondering how long it will be before he carves out a meaningful role on the defense. Lardarius Webb has had a strong summer at the nickel, but there’s a reason why he was moved to safety two years ago.

7. Nothing enhances the enjoyment of preseason football more than a combined 17 penalties for 156 yards in the first half. Our poor eyes.

8. Patrick Onwuasor alternating series with Kamalei Correa at inside linebacker was one of the more interesting developments of the third preseason game. He’s only 227 pounds, but Onwuasor plays with a mean streak that was evident in his rookie season and just continues to improve.

9. Filling in for the injured Danny Woodhead, Taquan Mizzell presented himself well by catching six passes for 54 yards and a touchdown. His skill set is similar to Woodhead’s, which hurts his roster chances and makes him intriguing at the same time.

10. Bubble players filling a prominent role on special teams included Chris Matthews, Sheldon Price, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Robertson Daniel, and Vince Mayle. That doesn’t mean they’re all making the roster, of course, but that tends to be an indication of any tiebreaker with another bubble player.

11. Marshal Yanda has been one of my favorite players for a long time, but seeing him as the last offensive player out of the tunnel during stadium introductions says a lot about the current state of that side of the ball.

12. Breshad Perriman and Marlon Humphrey showed encouraging signs before the game. Perriman ran at three-quarters speed and was cutting and running routes effectively while Humphrey looked like someone ready to return to the field, backpedaling and sprinting at full speed.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 31-7 win over Miami

Posted on 18 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 2-0 in the preseason with a 31-7 win over Miami, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The offensive line was again a mess as third-stringer Jarrod Pughsley starting at right guard was surprising to even beat reporters. Evaluating this group without Marshal Yanda and Ronnie Stanley on the field is very difficult, but there were too many penalties and not enough room in the running game.

2. You have to like the defensive depth as the starters were again impressive and the reserves held the Dolphins to just 17 yards in the second half. I also like seeing how frequently the Ravens are using Anthony Levine in the dime package. He’s a good fit for that role.

3. Ryan Mallett was better than last week, but he threw two interceptions and still isn’t pushing the ball downfield, a problem that Joe Flacco had in this offense last season. His third-down conversions to Benjamin Watson and Mike Wallace were good throws, but there still wasn’t much to like here.

4. Both interceptions came on passes intended for rookie Quincy Adeboyejo, who didn’t present himself well on either. The first came on a deep route he ran poorly and the second was on a pass thrown behind him that was catchable. Quarterback and receiver have to take some blame on both.

5. Jaylen Hill finished with a team-leading three tackles and two pass breakups. At this point, the rookie free agent from Jacksonville State might have to play himself off the roster not to make the team. He looks like he belongs despite being undersized.

6. Say what you want about the absence of Flacco and the current state of the offensive line, but fumbles by Wallace and Terrance West in the first eight minutes of the game had to drive John Harbaugh crazy. This offense isn’t good enough to overcome potential turnovers and penalties.

7. It’s been a quiet camp for Maxx Williams, but his third-down reception to move the chains late in the first half and his 40-yard catch and run in the third quarter were eyebrow-raising plays. The 2015 second-round pick showed toughness and some explosiveness that hadn’t been seen this summer.

8. Donald Payne had one of the more impressive sequences of the night as the rookie linebacker forced a fumble on a kickoff midway through the second quarter and sprinted down the field to flatten the returner on the next one. That will grab the attention of Harbaugh and Jerry Rosburg.

9. The Ravens have been using Patrick Ricard as a fullback in practices for the last week or so, but that might say more about the current fullbacks on the roster. Regardless, it’s fun to see a 6-foot-3, 304-pound defensive lineman playing that spot.

10. Josh Woodrum has played very well against second- and third-team defenders and is putting himself in the conversation for a spot on the practice squad, but he’s not going to be the one to supplant Mallett if the organization decides to upgrade the backup spot.

11. Justin Tucker picking up a fumble and trying to run reminded me of the scene in “Major League” when Willie Mays Hayes makes a basket catch to end an inning and manager Lou Brown welcomes him back to the dugout saying, “Nice catch, Hayes. Don’t ever [expletive] do it again.”

12. We’re spoiled here in Baltimore and it was only a preseason game, but that showing from Miami was one of the worst special-teams performances I’ve seen in a long time.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-3 win over Washington

Posted on 11 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their preseason opener in a 23-3 final over Washington, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I made my feelings clear about the Ravens defense at the conclusion of draft weekend, and the group didn’t disappoint in the preseason opener. Playing fast and physical, Baltimore held the Redskins to a measly 47 yards and four first downs in the first half. You could see the potential.

2. Brent Urban was the best player on the field, bringing inside pressure and consistently penetrating the backfield against the run. He finished with two forced fumbles, a sack, and four tackles to lead a revamped defense. Not bad for his debut as the starting 5-technique defensive end.

3. With eight key players sitting out, I’m not sure what anyone could have reasonably expected from the Ravens offense. The running game wasn’t overly productive at 3.6 yards per carry in the first half, but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg stuck with it and the group played turnover-free football.

4. Those absences aside, Ryan Mallett did nothing to silence his detractors by averaging an ugly 3.2 yards per pass attempt. John Harbaugh said Mallett played “winning football” after the game, which was reminiscent of Brian Billick’s descriptions of Kyle Boller after the many defense-led wins of yesteryear.

5. The start of the game certainly felt familiar with the defense forcing a three-and-out, the offense going three-and-out, and Sam Koch placing a punt inside the 5-yard line.

6. After a miss from 43 yards that was negated by a penalty, Justin Tucker later restored order to the universe with a 59-yard field goal to end the first half. Yes, he’s missed a few more in camp than I recall in previous summers, but I’ll guess he’ll be OK.

7. Second-round pick Tyus Bowser had an strong debut with three tackles, a quarterback hit, and solid all-around work at outside linebacker, but fellow rookie Tim Williams struggled to set the edge and remains a work in progress as anything more than a situational pass rusher for now.

8. Rookie free agent Jaylen Hill showed why coaches have been impressed with him in practices as he defended the deep ball effectively and picked off Colt McCoy late in the first half. His night would have been even better had he not whiffed on a corner blitz.

9. Tim White made a superb adjustment on a 33-yard touchdown pass from Josh Woodrum late in the third quarter and looked capable as the return specialist in the first half. The rookie free agent’s speed has stood out since organized team activities in the spring.

10. Keenan Reynolds returning a punt 46 yards was the feel-good moment of the night as Harbaugh’s smile on the sideline epitomized how much everyone is rooting for the former Navy star. He still has a long way to go to crack the 53-man roster, but he’s improved from last year.

11. The best news of the night was the Ravens seemingly escaping the game without any major injuries. In contrast, Washington lost linebacker Trent Murphy and safety Su’a Cravens to knee injuries. Coaches hold their breath every second of the preseason.

12. First-round pick Marlon Humphrey went through a rigorous pre-game workout and appears poised to return to practice after a week-long absence. However, Breshad Perriman was nothing more than an observer and doesn’t appear particularly close to returning from a hamstring injury.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on first week of training camp

Posted on 01 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winding down their opening week of training camp, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Injuries have been a story for years, but the current run since June 1 is staggering. The Ravens revamped their training program over the last two offseasons in response to having a combined 39 players on injured reserve in 2014 and 2015. They’re not turning a blind eye to this.

2. The offense has definitely fared poorly with Joe Flacco sidelined, but let’s not shortchange the defense through all the criticism for Ryan Mallett and company. The collective quarterback play has often looked inept, but this Baltimore defense has much potential. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

3. Crockett Gillmore had lofty expectations in the final year of his rookie contract, making his latest injury a disappointment for a player who showed much promise in 2015. Assuming he doesn’t make a miraculous return this season, he will have missed 31 games over the last three campaigns.

4. The award for biggest change in body type goes to Matt Judon, who looks 20 pounds lighter than he did as a rookie. Aiming to be the strong-side outside linebacker, Judon dropped weight over the summer to be better in coverage. He’s looked the part in the first few practices.

5. Don’t sleep on Matt Skura, who is a reserve center and has filled in for Marshal Yanda during full-team drills. After spending last season on the practice squad, the Duke product has a big opportunity with John Urschel retired and Nico Siragusa now out for the year.

6. I’ve counted as many as 10 different players taking reps as a punt or kick returner so far. Undrafted rookie wide receiver Tim White is a name to watch, but this appears to be a wide-open competition, which is nothing new since Jacoby Jones’ release a couple years ago.

7. The injury was lost in the wash, but the indefinite loss of Maurice Canady is a tough blow after slot cornerback Tavon Young went down for the season in the spring. Lardarius Webb has been working in the slot with veteran newcomer Brandon Boykin off to a slow start.

8. The first-round selection of Marlon Humphrey didn’t receive much enthusiasm in April, but the 21-year-old has shown impressive composure and has made plays early in his first training camp. The presence of Brandon Carr eases the immediate need, but the Alabama product has impressed.

9. Maxx Williams deserves ample time to get his football legs back under him, but he hasn’t moved particularly well so far in his return from a secretive knee surgery that had never been performed on an NFL player. The Ravens could really use contributions from their 2015 second-round pick.

10. Young pass rushers take time to develop, but Tim Williams has stood out in individual drills. His quickness is evident as he blew past a rookie offensive tackle who hadn’t even gotten out of his stance Tuesday, and he’s even gotten the best of Ronnie Stanley from time to time.

11. Rookie free agents to watch in the preseason include defensive end Patrick Ricard and cornerback Jaylen Hill as well as White. It wouldn’t shock me to see Ricard become the next undrafted defensive lineman to stick, but we still have a long way to go.

12. How rough has the first week of training camp been? Justin Tucker even missed consecutive field goal tries from 49 yards on Tuesday, something I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him do in practice. I’ll go out on a limb and predict that he’ll be OK, however.

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Continuity still rules at top of organization for Ravens

Posted on 26 January 2017 by Luke Jones

As open positions go, the Indianapolis general manager job figured to present some appeal to Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta.

Baltimore’s bitter feelings aside, the Colts have built a nice tradition of winning over the last two decades with much of the credit going to the arrival of Peyton Manning in 1998. Indianapolis currently has a franchise quarterback in the prime of his career in Andrew Luck, something most teams with a GM opening can’t proclaim.

DeCosta obviously knows head coach Chuck Pagano, who served as a defensive assistant for the Ravens for four years.

Colts owner Jim Irsay hardly has a spotless reputation, but Bill Polian ran his football team for 14 years before the recently-fired Ryan Grigson was in charge over the last five seasons. He’s far from perfect, but there are worse — and less patient — owners for which to work.

Still, DeCosta didn’t surface among the candidates the Colts announced they’d interview despite a report earlier this week about their wish to talk to him about the job. He’s once again staying put.

Perhaps it’s a sign that the Ravens brass doesn’t perceive things to be as dire and broken as some critics do. Steve Bisciotti acknowledged in early January that “the pitchforks are out” for head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome after missing the playoffs for the third time in four years, but the Ravens owner also spent plenty of time expressing confidence in his guys and never gave the impression that 2017 was a nonnegotiable “playoffs-or-bust” scenario.

“You have a bad team when people are pointing fingers, and you see that with dysfunctional GMs and coaches that can’t get along and things like that, and we just don’t have that,” Bisciotti said. “I have a coach that is carrying a burden, I have a GM that is carrying a burden, and I have a quarterback that’s carrying a burden. They’re all stepping up and taking a greater percentage of the blame than they probably deserve. To me, that’s the definition of quality leadership.”

Bisciotti is a man of conviction and won’t fire people simply because the outside world is calling for it. It’s become obvious that DeCosta has a similar will after passing on plenty of chances to run other football teams over the last several years.

If DeCosta sensed the boss was on the verge of blowing things up next offseason, you’d think he would have at least wanted to explore the possibility with the Colts.

We’ll see if valuing continuity pays off for both Bisciotti and DeCosta over the next few years.

“I want my fans to know that I think John can coach better. I think Ozzie and Eric can draft better. I think Joe [Flacco] can play better,” Biscotti said earlier this month. “If all of them do it — and I think they’re capable and determined to be better — then I think next year we’re sitting here with a playoff-caliber team, and I really believe that. If you get improvement from quality people, I believe that they can collectively bring this team back to prominence.”

Birds of a feather

I wouldn’t expect many fans to be pulling for New England in Super Bowl LI anyway, but there are several former Ravens with the NFC champion Atlanta Falcons.

The list is headlined by 2012 second-round pick Courtney Upshaw, who has converted from outside linebacker to the defensive line for the Falcons. Guard Chris Chester was a reliable member of the Ravens’ offensive line for the first five years of his career and started 16 games for Atlanta in his 11th season.

Of course, Matt Schaub served as the Baltimore backup in 2015 and became the first Ravens quarterback not named Flacco to start a game since Troy Smith at the end of the 2007 season. Cornerback Deji Olatoye and wide receiver Aldrick Robinson also had brief stints with the Ravens.

Falcons tight ends coach Wade Harman spent 15 years with the Ravens and was part of the coaching staffs that won Super Bowls in 2000 and 2012.

If that’s not enough, Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn is a Salisbury graduate, adding another local flavor to the mix.

Give Tucker a chance

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Ravens kicker Justin Tucker hit a 75-yard field goal during Wednesday’s Pro Bowl practice.

There was no defensive line for Tucker to kick over and the ball was on a tee, but I’d still like to see AFC head coach Andy Reid give him a chance to try one from 65 yards or longer at some point during Sunday’s Pro Bowl. It’s a meaningless game, so why not?

No love for Juszczyk

It’s bad enough that Kyle Juszczyk’s last name was misspelled on his Pro Bowl practice shirt on Wednesday, but then the fullback was left out of the dodgeball tournament, something in which he wanted to take part.

I guess fullbacks still aren’t getting the respect they deserve.

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Ravens long snapper Cox invited to Pro Bowl for second straight year

Posted on 18 January 2017 by Luke Jones

Despite missing the playoffs, the Ravens will have an even stronger presence at the Pro Bowl after long snapper Morgan Cox was added as a “need” player on Wednesday.

For the second straight season, Cox was invited to take part by Kansas City head coach Andy Reid as he continues to be viewed as one of the best long snappers in the NFL. The seven-year veteran will join kicker Justin Tucker, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, and linebacker C.J. Mosley as participants while veteran guard Marshal Yanda, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, will not take part because of a shoulder injury.

“Playing in the Pro Bowl for a second time is a huge honor for me,” Cox said in a statement released by the team. “All the hard work that we put into this game is validated when you receive such an honor. I’m proud to represent a great organization like the Ravens, who are among the NFL’s best.”

Cox has snapped for two other Pro Bowl selections — Billy Cundiff in 2010 and Sam Koch last season — and will have the opportunity to play with his kicker in the Pro Bowl later this month. Tucker was named to his second Pro Bowl in late December and credited Cox’s work for making that possible.

This past season, the 2010 undrafted free agent out of Tennessee played in every game, snapping on all 80 punts, 39 field goal attempts (38 successful), and 27 extra points (all converted).

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Tucker, Yanda receive 2016 PFWA honors

Posted on 16 January 2017 by Luke Jones

The honors keep coming for Ravens kicker Justin Tucker.

Already named to his second Pro Bowl and his second AP All-Pro team, the fifth-year kicker was named to the Professional Football Writers of America All-NFL team for the second time in his career. Tucker completed one of the greatest seasons ever for a kicker, going 38-for-39 on field goal attempts and remarkably making all 10 of his tries from 50 yards and beyond.

His only miss of the season came on a block in Week 14 when New England’s Shea McClellin jumped over long snapper Morgan Cox in an impressive display of athleticism.

Tucker was the only Raven named to the PFWA All-NFL squad, but six-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda was voted to the PFWA All-AFC team for the fifth time in his career. Yanda continued to play at an elite level in 2016 despite a shoulder injury that cost him three games and forced him to move from his customary right guard spot to the left guard position.

The injury forced Yanda to pull out of the Pro Bowl, but the veteran lineman was also named to the second-team AP All-Pro team earlier this month.

Former Ravens guard Kelechi Osemele was also named to the PFWA All-NFL and All-AFC teams in addition to being invited to his first Pro Bowl and being named to the first-team All-Pro squad in his first season with the Oakland Raiders.

2016 PFWA ALL-NFL TEAM

Offense

QB – Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

RB – Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys; David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

WR – Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers#; Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons*

TE – Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

C – Travis Frederick, Dallas Cowboys

G – Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys*; Kelechi Osemele, Oakland Raiders

T – Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys#; Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns&

Defense

DE – Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans; Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders*

DT – Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams*; Damon Harrison, New York Giants

OLB – Vic Beasley, Atlanta Falcons; Von Miller, Denver Broncos#

MLB – Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks

CB – Marcus Peters, Kansas City Chiefs; Aqib Talib, Denver Broncos

S – Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs*; Landon Collins, New York Giants

Special Teams

PK – Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens

P – Johnny Hekker, Los Angeles Rams*

KR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings*

PR – Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

ST – Matthew Slater, New England Patriots

 

* – repeat selection from 2015

# – consecutive selections from 2014-16

& – consecutive selections from 2013-16

 

2016 PFWA ALL-AFC TEAM

Offense

QB – Tom Brady, New England Patriots#

RB – Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers, DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans

WR – Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers&; T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts

TE – Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

C – Rodney Hudson, Oakland Raiders*

G – Kelechi Osemele, Oakland Raiders; Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens#

T – Donald Penn, Oakland Raiders; Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns&

Defense

DE – Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans; Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders*

DT – Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals*; Ndamukong Suh, Miami Dolphins*

OLB – Lorenzo Alexander, Buffalo Bills; Von Miller, Denver Broncos&

MLB – Dont’a Hightower, New England Patriots

CB – Marcus Peters, Kansas City Chiefs*; Aqib Talib, Denver Broncos

S – Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs*; Devin McCourty, New England Patriots

Special Teams

PK – Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens

P – Pat McAfee, Indianapolis Colts

KR – Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

PR – Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

ST – Matthew Slater, New England Patriots@

 

* – repeat selection from 2014

# – consecutive selections from 2014-16

& – consecutive selections from 2013-16

@ – consecutive selections from 2011-16

 

2016 PFWA ALL-NFC TEAM

Offense

QB – Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

RB – Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys; David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

WR – Odell Beckham Jr.*, New York Giants; Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons*

TE – Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers#

C – Travis Frederick, Dallas Cowboys

G – T.J. Lang, Green Bay Packers; Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys#

T – Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys#; Trent Williams, Washington Redskins*

Defense

DE – Cliff Avril, Seattle Seahawks; Brandon Graham, Philadelphia Eagles

DT – Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams*; Damon Harrison, New York Giants

OLB – Vic Beasley, Atlanta Falcons; Ryan Kerrigan, Washington Redskins

MLB – Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks

CB – Janoris Jenkins, New York Giants; Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals*

S – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Green Bay Packers; Landon Collins, New York Giants

Special Teams

PK – Matt Bryant, Atlanta Falcons

P – Johnny Hekker, Los Angeles Rams&

KR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings*

PR – Marcus Sherels, Minnesota Vikings

ST – Dwayne Harris, New York Giants

 

* – repeat selection from 2015

# – consecutive selections from 2014-16

& – consecutive selections from 2013-16

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 31 December 2016 by Luke Jones

Playing out the string.

Though the Ravens are closing out a regular season at Paul Brown Stadium for the fifth time in the last six years, this marks the first time that neither Baltimore nor Cincinnati is going to the playoffs since 2007 when John Harbaugh was still the special teams coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles. Even with nothing to play for beyond pride, the Ravens have declared their intentions to play all healthy veterans, a move that some have criticized in fear of a serious injury to a key player.

Meanwhile, the Bengals will miss the postseason for the first time since 2010 and have shut down several injured veterans such as wide receiver A.J. Green (hamstring) and tight end Tyler Eifert (back) in recent weeks.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the 42nd time in franchise history with Baltimore owning a 21-20 edge. The Ravens are seeking their first season sweep of the Bengals since 2011 and can also secure a 5-1 AFC North record, their best division mark since going 6-0 in that same season.

Below are five predictions for Sunday afternoon:

1. Justin Tucker will attempt a 60-plus-yard field goal. The two-time Pro Bowl kicker is a remarkable 10-for-10 on tries from 50 yards and longer and needs only one more to have sole possession of the single-season NFL record. The weather in Cincinnati should reach the mid-40s with minimal wind, conditions that are suitable enough to try a long field goal. Tucker has had one of the best kicking seasons in NFL history and deserves a chance to hit a season-long field goal at the very least.

2. Mike Wallace will reach 1,000 receiving yards for the first time since 2011. This is hardly going out on a limb with the first-year Raven just 16 yards shy of the mark, but Baltimore should make a conscious effort to get Wallace involved early after he was held to just four catches for 21 yards in Pittsburgh last week. Though the Ravens haven’t always utilized him well this season, Wallace has provided them with the vertical threat they sorely lacked after Torrey Smith’s free-agent departure.

3. Andy Dalton will throw for two touchdowns against a secondary once again without Jimmy Smith. It’s not a coincidence that the five highest passing totals allowed by the Baltimore defense this season have come in games in which the No. 1 cornerback missed significant time, a clear indication of the lack of depth in the secondary. The Ravens found a fourth-round gem in rookie Tavon Young, but finding another outside corner should be a priority this offseason.

4. Steve Smith will catch a touchdown and produce 80 receiving yards in his final NFL game. Joe Flacco throws to Smith often anyway, so there’s no reason to think the 37-year-old won’t be featured heavily. The mantra “Play like a Raven” has become a cliché in recent years, but the former Carolina Panther epitomizes the idea with the kind of intensity and physicality on which the success of this franchise was built. The Ravens are fortunate to have had the future Hall of Famer pass their way.

5. The Ravens will win in Cincinnati for the first time in exactly five years in a 23-17 final. Rarely have the Ravens ever looked like they were going through the motions under Harbaugh, which is why I expect them to play hard despite having their playoff hopes crushed last week in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the Bengals have been out of the playoff hunt for weeks while rumors have circulated about Marvin Lewis’ future. With an opportunity to send Steve Smith out on a positive note, the Ravens will win their first road game in over three months and finish the season with a respectable 9-7 record.

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Tucker living up to big contract and then some for Ravens

Posted on 29 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Kickers are a volatile bunch, making a long-term investment in one a risky proposition.

Former Pro Bowl selection Blair Walsh lost his job earlier this season just 16 months after Minnesota made him one of the highest-paid kickers in the NFL. Former Raven Billy Cundiff’s infamous miss in the 2011 AFC Championship came one day shy of exactly a year after he’d signed a five-year extension on the heels of a Pro Bowl campaign.

It’s safe to say Ravens kicker Justin Tucker has lived up to his record-setting contract and then some in the first season of a four-year, $16.8 million that included a record $10.8 million guaranteed for a kicker. His near-perfect season was recognized Thursday when the local media voted him the Ravens’ Most Valuable Player for the 2016 season.

Tucker was named to his second Pro Bowl last week and has missed just one field goal in his last 19 games dating back to last December. He’s quite a weapon for an offense that struggled frequently in 2016.

“It is not only his volume of work; it is the kicks he has made in circumstances and yardage,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “He has had a lot of long range kicks, a lot of wind and things to deal with in the stadiums we have played in. He has been spot-on. He has been excellent.”

An MVP honor being given to a kicker is viewed by many as an indictment on the rest of the 53-man roster — especially when it happens twice in four years — but that sentiment shouldn’t diminish Tucker’s greatness in 2016. Despite being tied for 26th in touchdowns scored this season, the Ravens could thank their kicker’s incredible consistency for keeping them in the playoff hunt until Pittsburgh eliminated them last Sunday.

Tucker has gone an exceptional 37-for-38 on field goal attempts with his only blemish a 34-yard attempt that was blocked on an impressive display of athleticism from New England’s Shea McClellin in Week 14. Twenty-four of those successful field goals have been from 40 yards or longer as he regularly turned drives stalling short of the red zone into valuable points.

He’s one of only five qualified kickers not to have missed an extra point this season, and he and Dan Bailey of Dallas are the only full-time kickers not to have missed one since the extra point became a 33-yard try last season.

Of the Ravens’ six wins by a single possession in 2016, Tucker hit three or more field goals three times and at least two field goals in all six. He’s also hit two game-winning field goals in the fourth quarter this season, extending his reputation for delivering in clutch situations. And after receiving some criticism for going just 8-for-19 on tries from 50 yards and beyond in the previous two seasons, Tucker has gone an amazing 10-for-10 on attempts from that long range in 2016.

In other words, Baltimore having no more than an average kicker this season would have likely resulted in a losing season and elimination from playoff contention a couple weeks sooner.

Upon being named team MVP, Tucker was sure to credit long snapper Morgan Cox and holder Sam Koch as well as Rosburg and kicking consultant Randy Brown for their parts in his success, but the most accurate kicker in NFL history deserves the praise he’s received and then some.

“We have a great group around here, and I can’t brag on them enough,” Tucker said. “To be able to turn our hard work into accolades is very cool, but at the same time, we know we still have work to do.”

Tucker hasn’t done it alone, but he’s the one making the big bucks.

And he was worth every penny in 2016 as other teams around the league experienced headaches at the kicker position.

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