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Ready or not, Ravens about to pull back curtain on 2017 offense

Posted on 06 September 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ready or not, the Ravens are about to pull back the curtain on their offense after a summer full of injuries and unanswered questions.

Quarterback Joe Flacco declares that his back feels good and he’s ready to go after missing the entire preseason.

Longtime right guard Marshal Yanda says the Baltimore offense is more committed to the running game than ever after attempting more passes than any team in the NFL the last two seasons.

Wide receiver Mike Wallace believes the group merely needs to trust its abilities.

But even those wearing the deepest tint of purple-colored glasses have to be concerned if they’re being honest, especially with the Ravens opening the season in a place where they haven’t won in nearly six years. To no surprise, head coach John Harbaugh says he believes in his players and their schemes with Marty Mornhinweg in his first full season as offensive coordinator and new senior offensive assistant Greg Roman in charge of fixing a dormant ground attack.

“When you look back at all that stuff, it’s not always completely accurate,” said Harbaugh about outside expectations. “Teams rise up, and they’re better than people thought they’d be. You don’t have to justify it beforehand. You just go and play the games.”

After the Ravens prioritized defense in free agency and the draft and lost a whopping eight offensive players to season-ending injury, suspension, or retirement over the last three months, fans are being asked to take a leap of faith that the offense will be just good enough to complement a defense expected to be one of the best in the NFL this season. Frankly, even that middle-of-the-road standard is a lot to ask considering the personnel losses endured by the league’s 21st-ranked scoring offense from a year ago.

It doesn’t help that the preseason provided no meaningful answers with Flacco sidelined and the projected starting offensive line not playing a single game together. Roman was never going to show his full hand with a running game vowing to be more downhill and physical than in recent years, but a preseason average of 3.1 yards per carry doesn’t spark enthusiasm, either.

The line will have three new starters with two of them — center Ryan Jensen and left guard James Hurst — previously serving as backups and the other — former Oakland right tackle Austin Howard — only arriving in early August. General manager Ozzie Newsome thought so little of his offensive line depth that he acquired two of the Ravens’ three current reserves in separate trades in the last week.

That’s a pretty big leap.

The Ravens lost roughly half of their receiving production from last season while making only two meaningful additions in the skill-position department. Veteran running back Danny Woodhead — if healthy — should help fill the void in the underneath passing game left behind by tight end Dennis Pitta and fullback Kyle Juszczyk while ninth-year receiver Jeremy Maclin fell into Baltimore’s lap in June and will be trusted to become Flacco’s new safety net with Pitta and wide receiver Steve Smith no longer on the roster.

The problem is those two practiced together a total of two days prior to Flacco’s return to the field last weekend. The quarterback acknowledged that their on-field chemistry will be a work in progress in the early weeks of the season.

“Every guy has their own way of doing things, and you build a rapport with guys throughout the course of the year and throughout practice and all of that,” Flacco said. “But the other side of it is that Jeremy is a good player, and he knows how to get open. Things might not be perfect right now, but if he gets open, then I should be able to put the ball on him.

“We have been doing that since we have been six years old. You just have to go back to the basics of things. You can’t overthink things too much.”

No matter how much the Ravens chose to focus on improving their defense in the offseason, they need more from their offense to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. But is there enough to like about this group on paper to believe that will happen?

Though another year removed from his 2015 knee injury, Flacco is coming off back-to-back lackluster seasons and has a lot of catching up to do after being sidelined for more than a month. The aforementioned challenges on the offensive line certainly don’t quell concerns about the quarterback’s back. Backup Ryan Mallett’s play in the preseason made it pretty apparent that the Ravens are going nowhere if Flacco misses meaningful time.

A group of running backs led by starter Terrance West doesn’t appear to have much upside after the season-ending loss of Kenneth Dixon in July. The addition of two running backs to the practice squad certainly appears to reflect that line of thinking.

The current collection of tight ends combined for just six catches last season. Nick Boyle is a dependable blocker, but the Ravens need to get a return on their investments in the 36-year-old Benjamin Watson and 2015 second-round pick Maxx Williams, who are both coming back from serious injuries a year ago.

The wide receiver trio of Maclin, Wallace, and former first-round pick Breshad Perriman probably inspires more confidence than any other offensive position group, but will the offensive line and running game be effective enough for Flacco to effectively utilize these weapons?

And after many called for Harbaugh to replace Mornhinweg since the 2016 offense showed little improvement when he took over for the fired Marc Trestman, the coordinator will be under great pressure to revitalize the downfield passing game and to bring new ideas to the table. He also needs to get more out of his quarterback as he continues to coach that position group.

Much has worked against their offense in the last few months, but the Ravens must find their way on that side of the ball and find it quickly. The Bengals — nor any other early-season opponent — aren’t going to feel sorry for them.

“We’re paid to do a job and paid to do a job at a high level,” Yanda said. “It doesn’t matter how much time you’re taking off, if you’re injured or sick — it doesn’t matter. You have to go out there and produce. We’re expected to go out there and play winning football on Sunday, and we’re preparing to do that.”

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Zuttah, Reynolds, Taliaferro let go by Ravens in first wave of roster cuts

Posted on 01 September 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens began trimming their roster to the NFL-mandated 53-man limit Friday with few surprises among the cuts.

Veteran center Jeremy Zuttah, oft-injured running back Lorenzo Taliaferro, and wide receiver and former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds were among the most notable names to be released as general manager Ozzie Newsome pared his active roster from 90 to 67 players. Baltimore must set its initial 53-man roster by Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline.

Re-signed by the Ravens two weeks ago after being cut by San Francisco on Aug. 9, Zuttah did not beat out new starting center Ryan Jensen and became expendable with the Friday acquisition of interior lineman Tony Bergstrom from the Arizona Cardinals for a conditional 2018 seventh-round pick. This marks the second time in less than six months that Newsome has parted ways with Zuttah as the former starter had been traded to the 49ers in March.

The undersized Zuttah was not considered to be a great fit in new senior offensive assistant Greg Roman’s blocking schemes, but the Ravens decided to bring him back for another look after guards Alex Lewis and Nico Siragusa suffered season-ending injuries in training camp.

Taliaferro entered the summer atop the depth chart at the fullback position, but he never appeared comfortable at his new position and quickly fell behind undrafted free agent Ricky Ortiz and even rookie defensive lineman Patrick Ricard in the pecking order. The 2014 fourth-round pick showed promise as a rookie, but he had played in only 19 games over his first three NFL seasons because of injuries.

Despite many local fans rooting for him to succeed after a record-breaking collegiate career in Annapolis, Reynolds hasn’t progressed as quickly as the Ravens would have hoped after he spent his rookie season on the practice squad. The 2016 sixth-round pick did not record a reception in the preseason and fumbled a punt in Thursday’s preseason finale in New Orleans. It remains unclear whether the Ravens will look to re-sign him to their practice squad.

Other veterans cut on Friday included tight end Larry Donnell, running back Bobby Rainey, wide receiver Griff Whalen, quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, and cornerback Trevin Wade. The Ravens also waived offensive linemen De’Ondre Wesley, Jarell Broxton, Roubbens Joseph, Jarrod Pughsley, and Derrick Nelson, kicker Kenny Allen, long snapper Taybor Pepper, linebacker Randy Allen, wide receiver C.J. Board, and safety Otha Foster.

Lewis, Siragusa, running back Kenneth Dixon, wide receiver Tim White, cornerback Tavon Young, and linebacker Albert McClellan were all officially placed on season-ending injured reserve. Because they did not remain on the active roster through Saturday’s deadline, none of the aforementioned players are eligible to receive a designation to return later in the season.

It’s worth noting that the Ravens did not place cornerback Maurice Canady on IR yet as he remains a candidate to return later in the season from knee surgery. He would have to stay on the initial 53-man roster until Sunday to remain eligible.

Friday’s transactions leave the Ravens with 67 players on their roster, meaning they must make 14 more moves by the deadline.

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Ravens running back Dixon could miss season with meniscus injury

Posted on 25 July 2017 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 7:25 p.m.)

The Ravens won’t hold their first full-squad practice until Thursday, but they’re already dealing with another major injury.

According to NFL Network, second-year running back Kenneth Dixon could miss the entire 2017 season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee, which usually requires four to five months for recovery. The Ravens had hoped that Dixon’s meniscus would only need to be trimmed, which would have meant a much shorter recovery time.

Dixon was already set to serve a four-game suspension to begin the regular season for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy — he would still serve that ban without pay if on injured reserve — but his long-term absence leaves the Ravens thin at the running back position. According to The Sun, Baltimore is trying to sign veteran Bobby Rainey — who began his NFL career with the Ravens in 2012 — to the 90-man roster.

Former Towson star Terrance West is expected to be the starter after rushing for 774 yards and five touchdowns in his first full season with the Ravens in 2016. Veteran newcomer Danny Woodhead will serve as the third-down back and primary receiver out of the backfield, but Dixon represented the most upside of any running back on the roster, making this a substantial loss.

Former fourth-round pick Buck Allen will also figure to have more opportunities after a disappointing 2016 season. The Ravens have already moved 2014 fourth-rounder Lorenzo Taliaferro to fullback, but he could also factor into the run-game equation if healthy.

Dixon missed the first four games of the 2016 season after suffering an MCL sprain in his left knee in the preseason, but he returned to average 4.3 yards per carry as a rookie and ranked 11th in yards after contact per carry among 53 running backs with at least 80 carries, according to Pro Football Focus.

He is the third substantial loss the Ravens have sustained on the offensive side of the ball since spring as tight end Dennis Pitta was released after suffering the third major hip injury of his career and third-year tight end Darren Waller was suspended for the entire season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Second-year cornerback Tavon Young sustained a torn ACL on June 1 and is also expected to miss the entire season.

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Ravens receive compensatory pick in third round of 2017 draft

Posted on 24 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens officially learned Friday that they will receive a third-round compensatory pick in the 2017 draft in April.

This marks the first time since 2010 that Baltimore will not have multiple compensatory picks in the draft. The maximum number of compensatory picks allotted to a team in a single draft is four.

Trying to revamp a roster that missed the postseason for the third time in four years, general manager Ozzie Newsome will have a total of eight selections — his standard choice in each round as well as the third-round compensatory pick at 99th overall — in this year’s draft. It’s worth noting that compensatory picks are permitted to be traded beginning this year.

The Ravens lost guard Kelechi Osemele, quarterback Matt Schaub, and linebacker Courtney Upshaw as unrestricted free agents and signed unrestricted free agents Benjamin Watson and Eric Weddle last offseason, a net loss of one free agent that put them in line for the single compensatory pick. Osemele signed a five-year, $58 million contract with the Oakland Raiders, which fetched the Ravens the third-highest overall compensatory pick in this year’s draft and their earliest one since 2014.

Determinations for compensatory picks are based on a formula considering the salary, playing time, and postseason honors earned by unrestricted free agents who left their teams the previous offseason.

Since the compensatory pick program started in 1994, the Ravens have led the NFL in receiving 48 compensatory choices as the organization has often resisted signing unrestricted free agents over the years while losing many of their own. Green Bay is second with 38 compensatory picks over that same period of time.

Compensatory choices have been used on the likes of Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk and starting right tackle Rick Wagner in recent years. Baltimore selected defensive tackle Willie Henry (fourth round), running back Kenneth Dixon (fourth round), and cornerback Maurice Canady (sixth round) with three compensatory choices last year.

Below is a history of the Ravens’ compensatory picks since 1996 with the round in which the player was selected noted in parentheses:

1996: none
1997: LB Cornell Brown (sixth), QB Wally Richardson (seventh), S Ralph Staten (seventh), DT Leland Taylor (seventh)
1998: TE Cam Qualey (seventh)
1999: G Edwin Mulitalo (fourth)
2000: none
2001: none
2002: WR Javin Hunter (sixth), RB Chester Taylor (sixth), S Chad Williams (sixth)
2003: FB Ovie Mughelli (fourth), OT Tony Pashos (fifth), C Mike Mabry (seventh), S Antwoine Sanders (seventh)
2004: WR Clarence Moore (sixth), WR Derek Abney (seventh), G Brian Rimpf (seventh)
2005: QB Derek Anderson (sixth)
2006: RB P.J. Daniels (fourth), TE Quinn Sypniewski (fifth), P Sam Koch (sixth), CB Derrick Martin (sixth)
2007: LB Antwan Barnes (fourth), FB Le’Ron McClain (fourth), QB Troy Smith (fifth), LB Prescott Burgess (sixth)
2008: OL Oniel Cousins (third), OL David Hale (fourth), S Haruki Nakamura (sixth), RB Allen Patrick (seventh)
2009: none
2010: none
2011: CB Chykie Brown (fifth), DE Pernell McPhee (fifth)
2012: S Christian Thompson (fourth), CB Asa Jackson (fifth)
2013: FB Kyle Juszczyk (fourth), OT Rick Wagner (fifth), OL Ryan Jensen (sixth), CB Marc Anthony (seventh)
2014: TE Crockett Gillmore (third), DE Brent Urban (fourth), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (fourth), G John Urschel (fifth)
2015: CB Tray Walker (fourth), TE Nick Boyle (fifth), G Robert Myers (fifth)
2016:
DT Willie Henry (fourth), RB Kenneth Dixon (fourth), CB Maurice Canady (sixth)

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Five young players the Ravens need more from in 2017

Posted on 13 February 2017 by Luke Jones

It’s no secret that the Ravens are facing one of their most critical offseasons in franchise history.

Most focus in the coming weeks will be on the quest to find the next Steve Smith or Terrell Suggs via the draft, free agency, or trade, but a team with as many needs as the Ravens must see real improvement from within. It’s not realistic to expect general manager Ozzie Newsome to be able to address every positional concern by external channels, and the lack of contributions from several early draft picks in recent years is a big reason why the Ravens have missed the playoffs in three of the last four seasons. When you’re also picking in the middle of each round in the draft and don’t have a lucrative amount of salary-cap space, young players already on your roster must be ready to take a meaningful step forward.

Below is a look at five young players the Ravens need more from in 2017 in order to make it back to the postseason:

1. LB Matt Judon

The edge rusher topping the list is a product of need more than a reflection of his 2016 performance as Judon collected four sacks and played as well as you could expect from a fifth-round rookie hailing from a Division II program. With Suggs turning 35 in October and Elvis Dumervil potentially being a cap casualty, the Ravens view Judon as their best internal option to boost a pass rush that lacked punch. At 6-foot-3 and 275 pounds, he possesses the ideal frame to go along with a great deal of confidence to eventually step into a starting role. The Ravens should seek a real addition in this department, but improvement from Judon would go a long way in helping make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable.

2. WR Breshad Perriman

The 2015 first-round pick would move to the top of the list if the Ravens were to cut speedy veteran Mike Wallace for cap purposes, but it’s difficult to project Perriman being anything more than a No. 2 option without dramatic improvement in his third season. Injuries have stunted his development, but he hasn’t shown the route-running ability or hands to make you believe he can be a No. 1 guy, making this a big offseason for him. Of course, this doesn’t mean he can’t become a productive vertical threat along the lines of former Raven Torrey Smith, but expecting more than that feels too ambitious at this point.

3. LB Kamalei Correa

The debate continues whether Correa is better suited to play inside or outside linebacker, but the fact that he saw only 48 defensive snaps as a rookie is eerily familiar to failed 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown. Whether it’s replacing the retired Zach Orr inside or working as an edge defender, Correa should find ample opportunities in 2017 if he’s able to play at this level. After spending minimal time with him during the pre-draft process, the Ravens probably weren’t thrilled to run into some coachability issues with Correa, but he wouldn’t be the first to initially struggle with the maturity learning curve of the NFL.

4. LB Za’Darius Smith

Appearing on this list two years in a row is never a good sign for a player’s development, but Smith was unable to establish himself as an every-down edge defender despite receiving extensive playing time in the absence of Dumervil over the first three months of the season. The 2015 fourth-round pick managed only one sack in 494 defensive snaps and struggled to set the edge as a run defender, which led to him being a healthy scratch in three of the final six games of 2016. There’s still hope that Smith can become an effective defensive player, but regression from his rookie season was hardly an encouraging sign.

5. G Alex Lewis

Like Judon, Lewis’ inclusion on this list is a product of circumstance more than his performance as he played respectably as a rookie shifting between left guard and left tackle. The 2016 fourth-round pick fared much better at left guard, and the Ravens would love to see him become their third-best offensive lineman behind perennial Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda and first-round left tackle Ronnie Stanley. With right tackle Rick Wagner a free agent and the Ravens ideally seeking an upgrade from Jeremy Zuttah at center, Lewis needs to make left guard a spot at which the organization need not worry.

Honorable mentions: RB Kenneth Dixon, DE Bronson Kaufusi, DT Carl Davis, DT Willie Henry

Dixon possesses more upside than any other back on the roster, but the presence of the effective Terrance West and the bigger need to improve the offensive line — and overall commitment to the running game — keep him out of the top five after a solid rookie campaign. The status of free-agent defensive linemen Brandon Williams and Lawrence Guy will factor heavily into how much need the Ravens will have for the development of these three defensive linemen, but they’d still like to get some real bang for their buck with talents selected in the third and fourth rounds of the draft.

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Reviewing Ravens’ 2016 draft class after one season

Posted on 17 January 2017 by Luke Jones

Even with two of their first three picks being non-factors as rookies, the Ravens couldn’t have been much happier with the early return on their 2016 draft compared to what they’ve seen in recent years.

Owner Steve Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome, and head coach John Harbaugh all pointed to the 11-man class as reason for optimism despite Baltimore missing the playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons. And there’s plenty of room for growth, especially with third-round defensive end Bronson Kaufusi missing the entire season with a broken ankle suffered early in training camp.

The success of first-round left tackle Ronnie Stanley was expected, but an unprecedented fourth round that included five selections could be the difference in this being the Ravens’ best draft class in several years. Three of those five players filled meaningful roles as rookies, an impressive feat for Day 3 picks.

“I think we are going to find some really good players there,” Bisciotti said. “I hope one of them turns out to be elite. I hope that we have those kind of guys. I hope Alex Lewis turns out to be as good as Kelechi Osemele was as a second-round pick, and our first indication is that he may be that good, but we will see. I hope he does not disappoint. I hope [Kenneth] Dixon does not disappoint. That is what we are hoping for — that we see that kind of growth.”

Below is a look at each of the Ravens’ 2016 draft picks after one season:

OT Ronnie Stanley
Drafted: First round (sixth overall) from Notre Dame
2016 role: Despite missing four games in October with a foot injury, Stanley started 12 games and was rated as Pro Football Focus’ best pass-blocking tackle over the final eight weeks of the regular season.
Long-term view: Considering Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden wasn’t even asked to play left tackle as a rookie, the Ravens are pleased with Stanley, who is on track to be a potential Pro Bowl pick one day.

LB Kamalei Correa
Drafted: Second round (42nd overall) from Boise State
2016 role: Correa practiced both inside and outside in training camp before seeing just 48 defensive snaps in nine games and eventually being placed on injured reserve in late December.
Long-term view: Baltimore enters the offseason viewing Correa as a limited rusher and as more of an inside backer, making the choice to pass on talents like Noah Spence and Myles Jack more questionable.

DE Bronson Kaufusi
Drafted: Third round (70th overall) from Brigham Young
2016 role: The 6-foot-6, 285-pound lineman missed most of spring workouts with a back injury and suffered a broken ankle early in training camp, which cost him the rest of his rookie season.
Long-term view: Kaufusi needed to add lower-body strength and flexibility, so it’ll be interesting to see how he projects with Lawrence Guy a free agent and Brent Urban entering the final year of a rookie deal.

CB Tavon Young
Drafted: Fourth round (104th overall) from Temple
2016 role: Despite a 5-foot-9, 177-pound frame, Young played admirably as a rookie and started the final 11 games of the season, debunking the notion that he could be no better than a slot corner in the NFL.
Long-term view: The Ravens would be wise to add a corner with better size that would at least allow Young to move inside in the nickel package, but he deserves to be in the mix for a starting role.

WR Chris Moore
Drafted: Fourth round (107th overall) from Cincinnati
2016 role: Despite seeing just 162 offensive snaps and catching only seven passes for 46 yards, Moore was a key special-teams contributor and scored two touchdowns on punt plays.
Long-term view: The 6-foot-1 receiver shows some potential as a complementary vertical threat and will be in the mix as a kick returner, but this will be an important offseason for his development.

OL Alex Lewis
Drafted: Fourth round (130th overall) from Nebraska
2016 role: Splitting time between left guard and left tackle, Lewis made eight starts and was steadily improving before missing six of the final seven games of the season with an ankle injury.
Long-term view: The clear favorite to be the starting left guard in 2017, Lewis has the potential to develop into an above-average starting guard and to be a solid left tackle backup moving forward.

DT Willie Henry
Drafted: Fourth round (132nd overall) from Michigan
2016 role: Henry did not appear in any of the Ravens’ first nine games before he was placed on injured reserve in mid-November.
Long-term view: The free-agent status of nose tackle Brandon Williams will play a big part in determining how many opportunities Henry and 2015 third-rounder Carl Davis will see in the rotation.

RB Kenneth Dixon
Drafted: Fourth round (134th overall) from Louisiana Tech
2016 role: After missing the first four games with a knee injury, Dixon steadily saw his role increase as he averaged 4.3 yards per carry on 88 attempts and had three touchdowns as Terrance West’s backup.
Long-term view: The Ravens have talked about adding another running back with high-end speed, but Dixon showed impressive toughness and is the early favorite to be the starter in 2017.

OLB Matt Judon
Drafted: Fifth round (146th overall) from Grand Valley State
2016 role: In 308 defensive snaps, the 6-foot-3, 275-pound edge rusher finished with four sacks and 27 tackles as a member of an outside linebacker rotation missing Elvis Dumervil for much of the year.
Long-term view: Judon flashed promise and leapfrogged Za’Darius Smith, but the Ravens need him to step up substantially with Terrell Suggs a year older and Dumervil a potential salary-cap casualty.

WR Keenan Reynolds
Drafted: Sixth round (182nd overall) from Navy
2016 role: The former quarterback spent the first 16 weeks of the regular season on the practice squad before the Ravens promoted him to the 53-man roster and deactivated him for the season finale.
Long-term view: The 5-foot-10 receiver has a long way to go, but the Ravens didn’t want to risk him signing a reserve-future deal elsewhere, proving they still see potential in the former Midshipmen star.

CB Maurice Canady
Drafted: Sixth round (209th overall) from Virginia
2016 role: Canady saw special-teams action in four games before a hamstring injury landed him on IR in early October.
Long-term view: A 6-foot-1, 193-pound frame makes Canady a developmental candidate as an outside cornerback, but he will be competing for a roster spot in training camp.

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How did Ravens offense stack up at each position in 2016?

Posted on 09 January 2017 by Luke Jones

We know the sum of their parts didn’t add up to a trip to the postseason for the Ravens, but where exactly did their offensive players stack up at each position across the NFL in 2016?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or picking postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few realistically have the time — or want to make the effort — to watch every player on every team extensively enough to develop an informed opinion.

How many times did you closely watch the offensive line of the Tennessee Titans this season?

What about the Los Angeles Rams linebackers or the San Diego Chargers cornerbacks?

That’s why I appreciate projects such as Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 and the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus. Of course, neither the NFL1000 nor PFF should be viewed as the gospel truth of evaluation and they have their limitations, but I respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when so many of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis.

Below is a look at where Ravens offensive players rank at their respective positions, according to those outlets:

QB Joe Flacco
NFL1000 ranking: 27th
PFF ranking: 26th
Skinny: These kinds of sites have rarely been kind to the veteran over the years (Football Outsiders also ranked him 29th), but Flacco must be better in 2017 if the Ravens are to return to the playoffs.

RB Terrance West
NFL1000 ranking: 38th
PFF ranking: 12th
Skinny: West may not be a game-changing back, but he did enough to establish himself as a regular contributor in an NFL backfield after his career was at a crossroads just a year ago.

RB Kenneth Dixon
NFL1000 ranking: 39th
PFF ranking: 23rd
Skinny: The 2016 fourth-round pick was trending upward late in the season and displays impressive toughness for a 212-pound back, making him the early favorite to be the starter in 2017.

FB Kyle Juszczyk
NFL1000 ranking: first
PFF ranking: first
Skinny: You can debate how much value a fullback brings to an offense in today’s NFL, but there was apparently no arguing over who was the best all-around talent at the position in 2016.

WR Steve Smith
NFL1000 ranking: 20th
PFF ranking: 37th
Skinny: The 37-year-old didn’t catch as many passes or finish with as many receiving yards as Mike Wallace, but replacing the retired Smith is clearly one of the top challenges of the offseason.

WR Mike Wallace
NFL1000 ranking: 24th
PFF ranking: 42nd
Skinny: The speedy Wallace profiles best as a No. 2 wideout, but the Ravens couldn’t have asked for much more from the 30-year-old as he posted his first 1,000-yard campaign since 2011.

WR Breshad Perriman
NFL1000 ranking: 78th
PFF ranking: 88th
Skinny: The 2015 first-round pick flashed at times, but these sites agree with the consensus opinion that the Ravens can’t count on the inconsistent Perriman to step into a starting role in 2017.

WR Kamar Aiken
NFL1000 ranking: 102nd
PFF ranking: 95th
Skinny: Targeted 77 fewer times than he was in 2015, Aiken didn’t receive enough opportunities, but he didn’t always take advantage of those chances, either, and is a likely departure via free agency.

TE Dennis Pitta
NFL1000 ranking: 16th
PFF ranking: 50th
Skinny: The fact that Pitta caught more passes than any tight end and was ranked so low by both outlets reflects a yards per catch (8.5) average that was 55th of 56 players with 60 or more receptions.

TE Crockett Gillmore
NFL1000 ranking: 45th
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The 2014 third-round pick showed exciting potential in 2015, but he’s played in just seven of Baltimore’s last 20 regular-season games because of various injuries.

TE Darren Waller
NFL1000 ranking: 75th
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The Ravens have quite an inventory of tight ends — all with baggage — but Waller has the most upside if the former receiver puts in the work and continues learning the finer points of the position.

TE Nick Boyle
NFL1000 ranking: 85th
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The Delaware product looks like a reliable blocker as a No. 2 or No. 3 tight end, but two performance-enhancing drug suspensions in two years make him difficult to trust in the long run.

LT Ronnie Stanley
NFL1000 ranking: 19th among left tackles
PFF ranking: 25th among all offensive tackles
Skinny: A four-game absence due to a foot injury disrupted an encouraging rookie season, but Stanley allowed only one sack over his final eight games and made PFF’s top 25 players under age 25 list.

RT Rick Wagner
NFL1000 ranking: 21st among right tackles
PFF ranking: 19th among all offensive tackles
Skinny: Wagner isn’t a Pro Bowl talent, but the Ravens would be wise to retain his rock-solid services if the free-agent bidding doesn’t get out of hand this offseason.

G Marshal Yanda
NFL1000 ranking: first among all guards
PFF ranking: first among all guards
Skinny: It’s amazing that Yanda continued to play at an elite level after a left shoulder injury eventually forced him to move from right guard to the left side, but he’s just a special player.

G Alex Lewis
NFL1000 ranking: 35th among all guards
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Switching between tackle and guard so frequently in the first half of the season hurt the rookie’s development, but Lewis was settling in nicely at left guard before his Week 10 ankle injury.

G Vladimir Ducasse
NFL1000 ranking: 47th among all guards
PFF ranking: 59th
Skinny: Re-signed to the roster in October, the 29-year-old played the way you’d realistically expect him to and shouldn’t be viewed as anything more than veteran depth if he were to be re-signed.

C Jeremy Zuttah
NFL1000 ranking: 26th
PFF ranking: 13th
Skinny: Though PFF graded Zuttah as a slightly above-average center in 2016, the Ravens believe upgrading this position is a major key to improving their below-average offense next season.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 16 loss to Pittsburgh

Posted on 27 December 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens falling 31-27 to Pittsburgh on Christmas Day to be eliminated from postseason contention, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The sting of a Ravens loss shouldn’t discount appreciation for what was a classic between these AFC North adversaries. This rivalry has lost some juice in recent years, but both teams deserve praise for one that was as good as it gets without being a playoff game.

2. That sentiment aside, the fourth-quarter defense must be addressed. I’ve been a supporter of defensive coordinator Dean Pees and believe he has done a good overall job with a unit lacking star power, but the Ravens have allowed 102 of their 294 total points in the final period this season.

3. If this is it for Steve Smith, Sunday was a strong final performance in the national spotlight as he caught seven passes for 79 yards and a touchdown. He’s 35 yards shy of an 800-yard season, which is exceptional for a 37-year-old coming off a serious Achilles injury.

4. It looked like 2016 was going to be a breakout year for Timmy Jernigan after he collected a sack in each of the first three games, but he’s recorded just one quarterback takedown since the Week 8 bye and hasn’t even registered a tackle over the last three games.

5. Breshad Perriman had a bad drop on the Ravens’ final touchdown drive, but I liked seeing Joe Flacco go right back to him on the next play for a 15-yard completion on third-and-10. This is going to be a huge offseason for the 2015 first-round pick to improve.

6. Counting the postseason, Baltimore is 11-22 on the road since Super Bowl XLVII with two wins against teams that finished with a winning record. The first was the 2014 wild-card victory over Pittsburgh and the other against the Steelers last year when Mike Vick started in place of Ben Roethlisberger.

7. The toughness with which he runs is impressive, but Kenneth Dixon won’t become a three-down back until he improves in pass protection. That has to be a goal for both him and Terrance West to work on this offseason.

8. The Ravens masked it well this season, but their pass rush ultimately cost them. According to Pro Football Focus, Roethlisberger was pressured on just four of his 33 dropbacks. It’s tough trying to blitz with Jimmy Smith out, but the defense needs more disruption from a four-man rush.

9. Terrell Suggs deserves praise for how he played this year, but the 34-year-old has gone without a sack in his last four games and had a combined one tackle against New England and Pittsburgh this month. Ozzie Newsome needs to find high-impact help at the position to help him out.

10. We all know health is the major concern with Michael Campanaro, but watching him these last two weeks makes you wonder why the Ravens didn’t part ways with Devin Hester a month sooner. Campanaro, Perriman, and Chris Moore are young players who should play more against Cincinnati.

11. I understand it’s in a coach’s fiber to do everything he can to win, but the organization should consider the dangers of exposing its most important players to injury in a meaningless road game against the Bengals. Does anyone sincerely care about finishing 9-7 compared to 8-8?

12. The seat is warm for John Harbaugh after missing the playoffs in three of four years, but firing him would be harsh after only one truly lousy season (2015). A once-proud franchise, Buffalo has had six head coaches since Harbaugh’s hiring. Finding someone even as good is hardly a given.

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Ravens-Eagles: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 17 December 2016 by Luke Jones

It was a tough week for the Ravens.

After a humbling 30-23 loss to New England that never felt that close, veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs acknowledged the Ravens were “a little messed up” after oozing confidence the previous week. Of course, they had to turn the page quickly knowing they’ll likely need to win out to earn an AFC North championship and a home playoff game.

On the other side, Philadelphia has lost four straight and six of its last seven after a promising 4-2 start under first-year head coach Doug Pederson. Much like Baltimore, the Eagles have struggled on the road and haven’t won an away game since Week 2.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the fifth time in regular season history with the Eagles holding the advantage with a 2-1-1 mark. The Ravens are 1-0-1 against Philadelphia in Baltimore.

Below are five predictions for Sunday …

1. Kenneth Dixon will rush for a career-high 75 yards and a touchdown. I’m a fool for predicting prosperity for a running game in which the Ravens have shown a lack of interest for most of the season, but a rainy and windy forecast for Sunday’s game should force offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to commit to the ground attack. Dixon was one of the few bright spots against the Patriots and continues to pry away touches from incumbent starter Terrance West. The Eagles are 15th in the NFL against the run, meaning Dixon should be able to find room to help keep the offense on schedule.

2. Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham will disrupt the pocket as Joe Flacco throws for a touchdown and an interception. The offensive line has improved its play in recent weeks, but right guard Vlad Ducasse and right tackle Rick Wagner will have their hands full against Cox and Graham, who have combined for 10 1/2 sacks this year. Their pressure will prevent Flacco from exploiting cornerbacks Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin and will force him to check down often. The passing game will be better than it was against New England, but it will be another up-and-down performance.

3. Eagles receiver Jordan Matthews will rack up 90 receiving yards and a score. The absence of Jimmy Smith spells problems for the Ravens, but that will be minimized against rookie quarterback Carson Wentz and a mediocre group of receivers. Matthews does present an issue while working primarily out of the slot and is capable of putting up good numbers if he’s finally over a lingering ankle injury. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees would be wise to have rookie Tavon Young travel with Matthews, but the third-year wideout is more likely to have success against slot corner Jerraud Powers.

4. Elvis Dumervil will collect 1 1/2 sacks against Philadelphia’s fifth right tackle of the season. The Eagles have had significant issues at the position since Lane Johnson began serving a 10-game ban, and the Ravens should be aggressive in going after Wentz instead of allowing him to stand in the pocket. If rookie Isaac Seumalo gets the nod at right tackle, Dumervil needs to exploit him while fellow veteran Terrell Suggs is matched up against tough left tackle Jason Peters. Knowing the secondary is missing its top corner, the Ravens must get Dumervil and the rush cranked up for the final stretch.

5. The Ravens will prevail in a 21-17 final over the Eagles. It’s always tricky bouncing back from a Monday night road game, but Philadelphia is playing out the string and the Ravens have proven to be a good team at M&T Bank Stadium with a 5-2 home record. The weather makes this one a little more unpredictable and it’s still difficult to trust the Baltimore offense, which will make this a closer game that some might expect. Even without Smith in the secondary, the defense will rise to the occasion to protect a late lead and put the Ravens in position for their showdown with Pittsburgh next week.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 13 win over Miami

Posted on 06 December 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens blowing out Miami in a 38-6 final on Sunday to remain tied atop the AFC North, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. How badly did Joe Flacco need a performance like that? It was the first time he’d thrown more than one touchdown pass in a game against a team not named the Cleveland Browns in over a year.

2. Considering his salary cap figure is the second highest on the team and fourth among NFL safeties, Lardarius Webb stepping up in response to Eric Weddle’s recent challenge to elevate his play is an encouraging development. His end-zone interception in the second quarter was sensational.

3. Kyle Juszczyk might be the best fullback in the NFL, but he saw his lowest snap total on Sunday since Week 3. I couldn’t help but think that was a positive development in getting more dynamic receivers on the field to help the passing game.

4. Using the same starting offensive line for the third straight game — the first time the Ravens have done that since the first three weeks of the season — resulted in zero sacks and just two quarterback hits allowed against the Dolphins’ talented front four. Continuity is critical with line play.

5. Remember how the Ravens ranked last in the NFL with just six interceptions last season? Their three-pick performance against Ryan Tannehill gave them 14 for the season, which is tied for second in the league entering Week 14.

6. Count me among those who expected the Ravens to run the ball more in the second half, but I sometimes wonder if some care more about the run-pass ratio than scoring points and accumulating yards. Taking issue after the highest scoring output in over two years is silly.

7. I’m not sure I’ve seen linebackers more clueless in coverage than Miami’s were. Flacco and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg were smart to attack the middle of the field to exploit them.

8. Of the nine Ravens players selected on Day 2 of the draft since Super Bowl XLVII, just two — Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan — were active for Sunday’s game. That isn’t easy to overcome as an organization.

9. Terrance West has averaged a solid 4.0 yards per carry this season, but Kenneth Dixon is gaining 5.9 yards per attempt over his last four games after averaging 1.5 yards per carry in his first four games back from injury. It’s getting tougher and tougher to hold the rookie back.

10. Miami’s complaints about the field at M&T Bank Stadium are noteworthy after the switch to natural grass this season, but the Ravens didn’t seem to have any problems. It will be interesting to see how the surface holds up for the Army-Navy game and the Philadelphia game in Week 15.

11. The Ravens have surrendered the fifth-fewest pass plays of 25 or more yards this season, but they’re on pace to produce fewer pass plays of 25 or more than they did last year when they lacked any viable vertical threat. This offense has disappointed, but I wouldn’t have guessed that.

12. I understand John Harbaugh’s team was really banged up at the time, but watching the New York Jets play Monday reminded how maddening that Week 7 loss was. The Ravens remain in good position now, but that one still hangs over their heads as a potential season-killer.

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