Tag Archive | "Mike Wallace"

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Five questions for start of Ravens organized team activities

Posted on 23 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens now holding their first week of organized team activities and opening up Thursday’s workout to the media, below are five questions surrounding John Harbaugh’s team in late May:

1. What will the offensive line look like?

Many have said the Ravens are returning to their roots with such an offseason focus on improving their defense, but the accompanying thoughts of relying on the running game have come without any high-profile additions to an offensive line that no longer sports above-average right tackle Rick Wagner or center Jeremy Zuttah. Is John Urschel or Ryan Jensen even as good as Zuttah, let alone better? Is there a real solution at right tackle in a motley crew of candidates that includes James Hurst, Jermaine Eluemunor, De’Ondre Wesley, and Stephane Nembot? The biggest wild card could be where Alex Lewis ends up despite an internal belief at the end of last season that his best position was left guard. New senior offensive assistant Greg Roman and new offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris deserve the chance to leave their mark on this group, but you need a dominant offensive line to play ball-control football and the Ravens have a long way to go to prove they can have that kind of a group.

2. Are the front office and coaching staff really this confident in their wide receivers?

This offseason feels similar to 2013 when veteran Anquan Boldin was traded away for a sixth-round pick and nothing meaningful was done to replace him, leading to substantial problems for quarterback Joe Flacco and the passing game. There is no shortage of speed with Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, and Chris Moore, but who is going to be that short-to-intermediate receiver who moves the chains and makes tacklers miss like Steve Smith did over the last three seasons? With general manager Ozzie Newsome having not signed a free-agent wideout to this point and not taking one in last month’s draft, it’s become clear that the Ravens are counting on Perriman to live up to his first-round billing and Moore to emerge as another gem from last year’s impressive fourth-round haul. No matter how the likes of Perriman, Moore, and Michael Campanaro look practicing in shorts over the next few weeks, however, it remains almost inconceivable that the Ravens are again going down this path at this position.

3. How will new safety Tony Jefferson be used?

A four-year, $34 million contract is awfully rich for a traditional strong safety, so the bet here is that Jefferson will be deployed in a way unlike any other safety we’ve seen during defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ tenure. With the re-signing of veteran safety Lardarius Webb and the uncertainty at the weak-side inside linebacker spot due to the unfortunate retirement of Zach Orr, it makes sense for the Ravens to use the dime as their primary sub package with Jefferson essentially lining up as a hybrid linebacker in passing situations. His greatest strengths in Arizona were the ability to stop the run and to cover tight ends, which are critical responsibilities for a linebacker in a more conventional nickel alignment. Considering Webb played well in the second half of 2016 and will now be relegated to a part-time role, Jefferson needs to be a difference-making presence to justify the Ravens throwing him so much money that could have been used to address a below-average offense from a year ago.

4. Who steps into starting roles along the defensive line?

The Ravens have plenty of young options up front, but they will be replacing two starters in Timmy Jernigan and Lawrence Guy who also served as useful interior rushers in passing situations. Michael Pierce, Carl Davis, and Willie Henry will be vying for the starting 3-technique defensive tackle job previously held by Jernigan while 2017 third-round pick Chris Wormley will compete with Brent Urban and Bronson Kaufusi for Guy’s old 5-technique defensive end spot. We’ve heard a lot about these names, but Pierce is the only one who saw extensive playing time a year ago and even he is only entering his second season. There isn’t a ton to take away from the non-contact nature of these spring practices, but it will be interesting to see who will be receiving the early reps with the first-team defense. The good news is that re-signed nose tackle Brandon Williams will be there to anchor the rest of a defensive line that will look quite different than it did in 2016.

5. Will Kamalei Correa begin living up to his second-round billing?

The Ravens passed on a few highly-touted prospects such as Myles Jack and Noah Spence to take Correa with the 42nd overall pick of the 2016 draft, making his rookie season that included only 48 defensive snaps that much more disappointing. With Orr having retired, the Ravens need someone to emerge as the starter in the base defense next to C.J. Mosley with Correa appearing to be the most logical candidate on paper. Outside opinions have been split on whether the Boise State product is better off playing inside or outside, but Newsome drafting edge defenders Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams last month signals where the Ravens stand in that debate. The coaching staff acknowledged that they may have put too much on Correa’s rookie plate by having him work at both inside and outside linebacker, but the Ravens need him to make a major leap in his second season or the groans from fans and media about another failed second-round pick will grow even louder. He has to at least begin looking the part this spring.

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Flacco unfazed by lack of offseason additions to Ravens offense so far

Posted on 19 April 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It’s no secret that the Ravens have invested heavily in revamping their defense this offseason while an offense that was below average in 2016 has been forced to wait.

With 32-year-old running back Danny Woodhead being the only free-agent addition and right tackle Rick Wagner, wide receivers Steve Smith and Kamar Aiken, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, and center Jeremy Zuttah no longer on the roster, you could understand if Joe Flacco felt anxious, especially when a theme from the Ravens brass’ season-ending press conference was a desire to see better play from the veteran quarterback. But Flacco expressed little concern when asked about the holes that remain on his side of the ball with the NFL draft only a week away.

“It’s the NFL. We have a lot of good guys around here that we are focused on getting better and going out and winning football games with,” Flacco said. “I never really expect too much to happen in the offseason, and whatever does happen, happens. I have been around long enough to know that guys change teams and you get new guys and that can happen all the way up to the time the season starts. You never know.”

Flacco expressing confidence in the players currently on the roster is hardly surprising — it’s the appropriate public stance to take — but two openings on the offensive line and the lack of an intermediate receiver don’t exactly inspire confidence for a team trying to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

So, if the 32-year-old signal-caller isn’t concerned, has he at least approached general manager Ozzie Newsome with suggestions regarding a particular free agent or a positional need?

“If they ask my opinion, then I will give it to them,” said Flacco, who acknowledged hope that the Ravens would bring back former teammate Torrey Smith before he signed with Philadelphia last month. “But I don’t necessarily go up there and push one way or another. Obviously, there are certain things that I can feel strongly about.”

Asked about the possibility of the Ravens bringing back veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin, Flacco chose his words carefully while acknowledging that he had a great on-field relationship with the 36-year-old and that he could still help any team.

Reiterating his confidence in his current teammates, Flacco even went as far as saying he doesn’t think that the Ravens need another wide receiver.

“I think we have a lot of young, talented guys that are ready to make a name for themselves and are going to work really hard this offseason to get that done,” Flacco said. “Whenever you have guys that are working really hard and you have that camaraderie out here and everyone is looking to get better, you are just developing relationships. I think that is all going to help when we get to the field.”

It would be tough to fathom the Ravens not adding another wideout between now and the start of the season, but the organization is clearly counting on 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman and 2016 fourth-round pick Chris Moore to take steps forward this season. Veteran receiver Mike Wallace went out of his way to express his belief that Moore will surprise observers this season despite catching only seven passes as a rookie.

As for the draft, Flacco hasn’t watched any tape of the top prospects, but he did receive some unique perspective on Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis, who was a teammate of Flacco’s brother Tom. Considered one of the top three receiver prospects in the draft along with Clemson’s Mike Williams and Washington’s John Ross, Davis visited with the Ravens earlier this week and would bring the intermediate skill set that they currently lack at the position.

The 6-foot-3, 212-pound receiver caught 97 passes for 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns as a senior and finished his collegiate career with over 5,000 receiving yards and 52 touchdown receptions.

“My brother said, ‘Listen, this is all I know, but he was at another level,’” Flacco said. “He was a really good player. He thought he had really good hands. He thought he was really strong; he could run really well. That is all he knows, but he could definitely tell the difference between him and the guys he was seeing week to week.”

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Ravens open 2017 voluntary offseason workout program

Posted on 18 April 2017 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)

Ravens players officially began preparations for the 2017 season on Tuesday, reporting to Owings Mills for the start of the voluntary offseason workout program.

Of course, most players have been working out on their own for weeks, but this is the first time in which team activities were allowed to be conducted at the practice facility. The first phase of the nine-week program lasts two weeks and involves strength and conditioning work as well as physical rehabilitation. The coaching staff is not allowed to lead players in on-field workouts during this opening part of the offseason program.

This part of the offseason program is officially voluntary, but most players — especially younger ones — are expected to attend regularly.

The Ravens will provide media access on Wednesday with quarterback Joe Flacco, cornerback Jimmy Smith, safety Eric Weddle, and wide receiver Mike Wallace scheduled to talk, but photos and video released by the team on Tuesday showed a great number of players in attendance for the first day. That list included Flacco, Smith, Weddle, Wallace, Brandon Carr, Tony Jefferson, Danny Woodhead, C.J. Mosley, Matt Judon, Za’Darius Smith, Tavon Young, Michael Pierce, Carl Davis, Breshad Perriman, Alex Lewis, Ronnie Stanley, James Hurst, Albert McClellan, Kamalei Correa, Anthony Levine, Brent Urban, Sam Koch, Michael Campanaro, Crockett Gillmore, Benjamin Watson, Nick Boyle, and Ryan Jensen.

The second phase of the program lasts three weeks and consists of on-field workouts that may include individual player instruction and drills as well as team practice. However, no live contact is permitted, and the offense and defense may not work against each other.

The final phase of the program permits teams to conduct a total of 10 days of organized team practice activity (OTAs), which are voluntary. No live contact is allowed, but teams may conduct 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills. Teams may also hold one mandatory minicamp for all veteran players during that final phase of the offseason program.

The Ravens will also hold a rookie minicamp beginning May 5, the weekend after the 2017 NFL draft.

Below is the Ravens’ 2017 offseason training program schedule:

First Day: April 18
OTA offseason workouts: May 23-25, May 30-June 1, June 5-6, June 8-9
Mandatory minicamp: June 13-15

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Ravens exercise 2017 option for Wallace, finalize other signings

Posted on 09 March 2017 by Luke Jones

After recording his first 1,000-yard season since 2011, veteran wide receiver Mike Wallace is returning to the Ravens for a second season.

Baltimore exercised its option on the 30-year-old, which will pay him $5.75 million for the 2017 season. After disappointing stops in Miami and Minnesota, the former Pittsburgh Steeler revitalized his career in 2016 by making 72 catches for 1,017 yards and four touchdowns and led the NFL with five receptions of 50 or more yards.

Wallace’s return became a foregone conclusion once former Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith agreed to a three-year, $15 contract with the Philadelphia Eagles earlier on Thursday. Baltimore had discussed a potential reunion with the former Maryland standout and may have elected to let Wallace go to clear some salary-cap space under such a scenario.

With Steve Smith having retired and Kamar Aiken hitting the free-agent market, the Ravens couldn’t afford to lose Wallace with 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman being the most experienced receiver behind him on the depth chart. Baltimore still needs to add a possession receiver to work the intermediate portion of the field, but Wallace, Perriman, and 2016 fourth-round pick Chris Moore make up an interesting trio of vertical threats.

In addition to picking up Wallace’s option, the Ravens officially announced their reported deals with safety Tony Jefferson, running back Danny Woodhead, and quarterback Ryan Mallett.

According to ESPN, Jefferson received a four-year, $36 million contract to become one of the highest-paid safeties in the NFL. The former Arizona Cardinal’s average annual salary of $9 million is the most given to a safety in franchise history, but the total amount is less than the six-year, $44.5 million contract awarded to future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed in 2006.

Baltimore signed Woodhead to a three-year contract — an addition that holds more significance with the news of Kenneth Dixon being suspended for the first four games of the 2017 season — while Mallett received a one-year deal to remain as Joe Flacco’s backup.

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Timing key if Ravens want to reunite with Torrey Smith

Posted on 07 March 2017 by Luke Jones

Former Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith’s pending release from San Francisco sparked a predictable response from many in the city in which he remains highly respected and beloved.

Second on the franchise’s all-time list for touchdown receptions and third in all-time receiving yards, Smith is only 28 and remains an active contributor in the Baltimore community. The former University of Maryland standout also shared good chemistry with quarterback Joe Flacco, whom the Ravens obviously want more from after a disappointing 2016 campaign.

But does a reunion make sense?

After a disastrous run with the 49ers, Smith’s value is clearly lower than it was two winters ago, but most would acknowledge San Francisco’s quarterback situation as the biggest reason for his statistical decline. That understanding could lead to his free-agent market not being as bad as one would think, making a potential return to Baltimore more unlikely.

The Ravens re-signing Smith only makes sense if they’re going to move on from Mike Wallace, who is coming off his first 1,000-yard season since 2011. The two have similar skill sets and Baltimore already has young speedsters Breshad Perriman and Chris Moore on the roster, meaning there are already enough vertical threats at Flacco’s disposal.

An even trade-off from a financial standpoint would make little sense as few would argue that Smith is as good as Wallace, but signing the former Raven to a three-year deal at a reasonable rate would make the older Wallace expendable if you can save some real dollars in salary cap space for 2017. Those savings could then go toward finding that veteran possession receiver the Ravens desperately need.

Wallace will be 31 in August, and the Ravens must exercise his 2017 option this week, which includes a $4.75 million base salary and a $1 million roster bonus. In other words, general manager Ozzie Newsome must act quickly if he wants to bring back Smith, who may have thoughts of thoroughly testing the open market anyway. Needless to say, it would be unwise for the Ravens to part with Wallace before having an agreement in place with Smith since they’re already looking to add one receiver as it is.

Even if the Ravens aren’t interested in re-signing Smith, his availability could work in Newsome’s favor to sign Wallace to an extension, which would presumably lower his $8 million cap figure for the upcoming season.

With the front office already having so many other balls in the air in a critical offseason, you have to seriously question whether a Wallace-for-Smith swap is worth the time and effort.

Elam update

For those who’ve inquired about former Ravens safety Matt Elam’s status for this week’s Ed Block Courage Awards after his arrest in Miami last month, he will not be participating.

Elam was voted as the 2016 recipient by his Baltimore teammates, but former Ravens cornerback and 2007 Ed Block Courage Award recipient Samari Rolle will instead represent the organization this year.

Below is the statement from the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation:

After Matt Elam’s incident, the Foundation contacted the Baltimore Ravens on how we should proceed. With the Ed Block Courage Award as the only league-wide honor that is voted on strictly by the players, the team decided to move forward  with Matt as their recipient, as it was decided by his teammates. The organization had no influence over the nomination.  

They did agree that the Foundation should do what was in our best interest. As the main focus of our event is the community outreaches at the Rita R. Church Rec Center and the Baltimore Ravens Courage House (St. Vincent’s Villa), we decided to not include him in those events.

Tampering time

Beginning at noon on Tuesday, teams may begin negotiating with the certified agents of free agents from other teams, but deals cannot be officially completed until 4 p.m. on Thursday.

What does that really mean?

This legal “tampering” period will produce reported agreements over the next two days despite the NFL’s annual warnings not to do so. The truth is that tampering goes on throughout the NFL — the scouting combine in Indianapolis has long been a haven for such discussions — and likely starts even earlier now with this two-day negotiating window that was introduced with the current collective bargaining agreement.

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Harbaugh planning to have Wallace back with Ravens

Posted on 01 March 2017 by Luke Jones

Of the many names considered to be potential salary-cap casualties this offseason, wide receiver Mike Wallace has largely been viewed as the veteran the Ravens most need to retain.

With Steve Smith now retired and Kamar Aiken likely to depart via free agency, Baltimore has little experience behind Wallace on its current wide receiver depth chart. And while his $8 million cap figure for 2017 isn’t exactly cheap, an organization that’s frequently struggled at the receiver position shouldn’t be quick to part ways with a 1,000-yard receiver who will only turn 31 in August.

Speaking to reporters at the NFL combine in Indianapolis on Wednesday, head coach John Harbaugh didn’t confirm that the Ravens would be picking up their 2017 option on the speedy veteran, but he made it clear what his preference is.

“Mike Wallace was a big, integral part of our team last year,” Harbaugh said. “Mike Wallace is a topflight competitor. Mike Wallace is a guy that has a chip on his shoulder. That’s what you love about him. The guy wants to compete, he wants to be great, and he works that way, so I want Mike Wallace on our football team.

“Circumstances, contracts, salary cap — all that — are another conversation that you have about every single guy, but my anticipation is that Mike Wallace will be a part of our team. I know he’s working to be a part of our team, and I’m planning to have him back next year.”

Wallace caught 72 passes for 1,017 yards and four touchdowns, but his production faded in the second half of the season as he recorded just 24 catches for 282 yards over the final six games. The six-foot receiver did not record a 100-yard game or catch a touchdown over the last eight contests as quarterback Joe Flacco and the passing attack struggled to push the ball down the field.

The Ravens must exercise their $4.75 million option for Wallace by the end of the league year next week or he would become a free agent. Should they use that option, Wallace would then be owed a $1 million option bonus a few days later.

It remains unclear whether general manager Ozzie Newsome intends to use the option or is attempting to work out a contract extension that would presumably lower Wallace’s cap figure and keep him beyond 2017. As for the other candidates to be cap casualties, Harbaugh wasn’t giving anything away despite the start of free agency being just over a week away.

“We’re bringing everybody back until we’re not,” Harbaugh said. “I think circumstances dictate that, so every one of those guys is in a little bit of a different position and different story.”

NOTES: Harbaugh confirmed that the Ravens would not be applying the franchise tag to nose tackle Brandon Williams or any of their other pending free agents. However, the organization remains in talks to re-sign him as well as right tackle Rick Wagner and Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk. … The Ravens have had discussions about re-signing backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, but they could also look to the draft to fill that need, according to Harbaugh. … Despite missing the postseason for the third time in four years and entering the offseason with a plethora of needs, Harbaugh expressed confidence that the Ravens will be back to playing at a high level in 2017. “I know we can be a great football team. There’s no doubt in my mind we will contend for a championship next year.”

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Ravens shouldn’t fret about making substantial changes

Posted on 22 February 2017 by Luke Jones

With the start of the new league year and free agency just two weeks away, we all know which Ravens players stand out as potential salary-cap casualties by now.

A few are easy calls while others have accomplished plenty in their NFL careers and are fan favorites. Most are over the age of 30, which is when you need to ask whether you’re paying too much for what a player used to be rather than what he is today.

After missing the playoffs for the third time in the last four years and lacking difference-making talent atop the roster, what is the realistic goal for 2017? Is the Ravens brass aiming to improve just enough to sneak into the playoffs to avoid being fired — a perceived ultimatum that exists at least in the minds of many outsiders — or is the organization focused on building its next championship team? Of course, incremental improvement and eyeing the long term aren’t mutually exclusive, but these two ideas may offer different viewpoints of the following veterans with questionable cap figures for 2017.

2017 cap figure Pre-June 1 cut savings 2017 dead money
CB Kyle Arrington $2.767M $2.1M $667K
LB Elvis Dumervil $8.375M $6M $2.375M
S Kendrick Lewis $2.267M $1.8M $467K
TE Dennis Pitta $7.7M $3.3M $4.4M
WR Mike Wallace $8M $5.75M $2.25M
TE Benjamin Watson $4M $3M $1M
S Lardarius Webb $7.5M $5.5M $2M
CB Shareece Wright $5.33M $2.667M $2.667M
C Jeremy Zuttah $4.607M $2.393M $2.214M

How many of these potential cap casualties can you envision being as good as or better than they were in 2016? Which of these talents are instrumental to the next championship-caliber team?

With the retirement of Steve Smith and the lack of other established talent at wide receiver on the current roster, cutting Wallace would be a tough pill to swallow without knowing what’s to come in free agency and the draft and also acknowledging the organization’s poor track record at the position. The rest of the players on the list have different degrees of remaining value, but it’d be difficult to say any would be terribly difficult to replace when factoring in either the cost to retain them or the depth at their positions — or even both.

It’s no secret how dependent the Ravens have been on older players the last couple seasons, which is fine when on the cusp of a championship like they were five years ago. But continuing down the same road with a group that’s proven to not be good enough seems counterintuitive when you’re in need of game-changing talent and more cap space. Some of the best teams in franchise history had obvious flaws and positions of weakness, but they had enough playmakers capable of masking them.

Cleaning house doesn’t mean general manager Ozzie Newsome should be hellbent on spending lucrative money on free agents just for the sake of doing it. But if cutting Webb and Pitta means the Ravens can have a healthier cap to go sign an established talent like Pierre Garcon, I’ll take my chances leaning on more youth at those other positions. The same even goes for the tipping point in trying to re-sign a free agent such as Brandon Williams, who is a very good player but plays a position at which the Ravens have consistently found talent over the years.

This roster has many needs and very few free agents or potential cap cuts who are indispensable. The known is more comfortable than the unknown, but the Ravens can’t afford to be in love with their own ingredients when the recipe just hasn’t added up in recent years.

To be clear, adding dynamic playmakers to the roster is easier said than done, no matter how much pundits have hammered the Ravens about it over the last few years. It often involves luck as much as anything else, evident by the fact that Baltimore had two future Hall of Famers — Ray Lewis and Ed Reed — fall late into the first round in the franchise’s first seven drafts. The Ravens are certainly aiming to find a few playmakers in this April’s draft, but they will still hope that a Kenneth Dixon takes a giant leap like Ray Rice did in his second year or that a Breshad Perriman finally takes off in his third season.

Still, the idea shouldn’t be to spend to the cap on an OK collection of veterans in the meantime. Focusing on more of a youth movement might result in some early 2017 pains, but it can yield more meaningful future gains than retaining veterans with steep price tags and rapidly-approaching expiration dates.

You either have something special or you need to be building something special.

The Ravens have been stuck in between for too long now.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts counting down to free agency

Posted on 15 February 2017 by Luke Jones

With the start of NFL free agency only three weeks away, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts on the Ravens, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Ravens now have until March 1 to potentially use their franchise tag on one of their pending free agents, but a projected $13.5 million number for nose tackle Brandon Williams would cripple Ozzie Newsome’s efforts to improve the roster. I’d be surprised if it’s a real consideration.

2. With 19 teams having more than $30 million in salary cap space, it’s tough to like Baltimore’s chances of re-signing either Williams or right tackle Rick Wagner once the league-wide negotiating window begins on March 7. The clock is ticking.

3. Even if you buy into the continuity with Marty Mornhinweg remaining the offensive coordinator, John Harbaugh not hiring a new quarterbacks coach is a tough sell in light of Joe Flacco’s body of work since Mornhinweg was hired as his positional coach in 2015. Rattling some cages wouldn’t have hurt.

4. The promotion of Chris Hewitt to secondary coach will be interesting to monitor after he was demoted in favor of Leslie Frazier after the 2015 season. The absence of Jimmy Smith aside, the defensive backfield was much more organized this past season, a credit to Frazier and safety Eric Weddle.

5. I understand the temptation to cut Mike Wallace to save $5.75 million in cap space, but the organization’s history at the wide receiver position makes it extremely difficult to trust the decision to willingly part with a 1,000-yard wideout with excellent speed.

6. Little free-agent discussion has centered around Lawrence Guy, but you wonder how easily the Ravens would replace him at the 5-technique defensive end spot. Injuries have hindered Brent Urban’s development, and Bronson Kaufusi missed his rookie year with a broken ankle. There’s a lot of unknown at that position.

7. When I hear critics say that the coaching staff has failed to develop talented draft picks in recent years, I then wonder why these “suppressed” talents aren’t catching on elsewhere to a meaningful degree. Linebacker John Simon did become a productive player in Houston, but who else?

8. I’ve opined plenty about Dennis Pitta and his $7.7 million cap figure, but there’s no diminishing the human element with what he’s been through. Asking him to take a pay cut with incentives for the second straight offseason is a tough sell, but it would probably be for the best.

9. If the Ravens covet a specific offensive playmaker, pass rusher, or cornerback in the pre-draft process, I’d like to see a greater willingness to jump up in the first round to get their guy. The roster needs a high-end difference-maker more than additional solid players in later rounds.

10. Despite much discussion about the tight end position, Maxx Williams has been all but forgotten. Few specifics are known about the procedure the 2015 second-round pick had to correct a cartilage problem in his knee, but he doesn’t turn 23 until April. You hope the issue is finally behind him.

11. The money may not make sense in the end, but I still see Pierre Garcon as the best free-agent fit at receiver. The 30-year-old eclipsed 1,000 yards in a deep receiver group and plays with toughness. The close proximity to where he’s played the last five years doesn’t hurt, either.

12. With Matt Birk eligible for Hall of Fame consideration next year, it reminds me of the issues the Ravens have had at center since his post-Super Bowl XLVII retirement. Jeremy Zuttah’s 2014 arrival brought improvement from the overmatched Gino Gradkowski, but upgrading this spot would help the offense immensely.

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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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stevesmith

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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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