Tag Archive | "Torrey Smith"

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Ravens’ deficiencies at key positions costing them dearly

Posted on 19 October 2015 by Luke Jones

It’s too easy to criticize Shareece Wright after the Ravens’ 25-20 loss to San Francisco on Sunday.

The veteran cornerback had the debut from hell for his new team against his old one, twice being burned for touchdowns in pass coverage. But expecting any better from Wright after signing him off the street less than a week ago is akin to wondering why the car you picked out at the junkyard wouldn’t run without extensive work in the garage.

There was a reason Wright had been inactive four straight weeks for the 49ers before he was finally granted his release earlier this month. Despite being signed to a one-year, $3 million contract by San Francisco in March, Wright was graded by Pro Football Focus as the 103rd-best out of 108 cornerbacks to play at least 25 percent of his team’s snaps in 2014.

Head coach John Harbaugh was harsh in his assessment of Wright after the game, but the 5-foot-11 cornerback’s mere presence on the field Sunday was a damning indictment on the state of the 2015 Ravens. And it reflects general manager Ozzie Newsome’s failure to improve one of the most critical positions on the field for a second straight offseason.

Injuries are part of the story, but let’s not pretend that Lardarius Webb has played at a level near what the Ravens envisioned when signing him to a big contract more than three years ago. Will Davis flashed potential in two games before a season-ending knee injury, but he was only acquired when others such as Kyle Arrington and Rashaan Melvin already weren’t cutting it.

After a nightmarish 2014 at the cornerback position, Newsome signed the veteran Arrington — who hasn’t played well — and drafted Tray Walker from Texas Southern to address the problem. To think the fresh-off-the-street Wright was a better option than your fourth-round pick suggests you reached too far in drafting a project you can’t even trust as your No. 4 or No. 5 cornerback on the depth chart.

It doesn’t help that top cornerback Jimmy Smith has been slow to regain his pre-injury form and was burned for a 51-yard reception by the slow-footed Anquan Boldin that set up an eventual touchdown in the fourth quarter. Paid to be a shutdown corner in the offseason, Smith dropped a would-be interception in the first half with plenty of open field in front of him.

A pass rush too dependent on the blitz and suspect safety play — another position that’s struggled the last few years — haven’t done the cornerbacks any favors in 2015, but it’s a position that’s too important in this pass-happy era of the NFL to be this poor. Throwing Wright into such a meaningful role after only a few days to learn the defensive system and with no live-game action under his belt since the preseason was grasping at straws at best. The 49ers knew their former player’s weaknesses and didn’t hesitate to go after him while the Ravens left him on an island with no safety help on Torrey Smith’s 76-yard touchdown catch.

Of course, cornerback isn’t the only position of concern for the 1-5 Ravens as they continue to get little from any receiver not named Steve Smith, who caught seven passes for 137 yards and a touchdown but dropped two other throws in the end zone. Not a single wideout other than the veteran registered a catch in the first half on Sunday as the Baltimore offense started slowly and fell behind 16-3 early.

Kamar Aiken did catch a late fourth-quarter touchdown to make it a one-possession game, but watching Jeremy Ross and Chris Givens — two players who weren’t even with the Ravens in the preseason — playing late in the game again showed the failure that the offseason plan has been in replacing Torrey Smith.

Newsome and the Ravens could not envision first-round pick Breshad Perriman injuring his knee on the first day of training camp, but pushing all of their chips to the middle of the table on a rookie has blown up in their faces in 2015. Drafting Perriman wasn’t the real mistake; not having any semblance of a backup plan to stretch the field was the major error when you acknowledge the history of NFL first-round receivers who haven’t found immediate success on the field.

Watching Joe Flacco stand in the pocket time after time on Sunday — he amazingly wasn’t sacked once despite dropping back 53 times — with no one open to throw to was maddening. The quarterback needs to be better as he threw two inexcusable interceptions leading to six points for San Francisco, but how much can you really expect when he has exactly one reliable option who’s 36 and a collection of castoffs, undrafted free agents, and late-round picks to throw to?

Able to effectively run the ball and stop the run, the current Ravens may be built for success in past eras, but the passing game is more important than ever in today’s NFL. If you can’t throw the football, rush the passer, or play in coverage, you’re not going to win many games and that’s where the Ravens find themselves with only one victory in six weeks.

The problems run deeper — injuries, costly penalties, questionable play-calling on both sides of the ball, and poor clock management are among them — but not having enough talent at wide receiver or in the secondary is a major part of the story.

Before the 2015 season began, Baltimore lacked speed and playmakers on both sides of the ball.

And Wright had nothing to do with that.

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Ravens-49ers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 17 October 2015 by Luke Jones

If we’re being honest, this space has become a punchline so far in 2015.

Incorrectly picking the final outcome of four of the Ravens’ first five games — including the last four in a row — doesn’t inspire confidence when trying to forecast Sunday’s meeting with the San Francisco 49ers. Of course, no one predicted Baltimore to be 1-4 for the first time in franchise history, either.

Only six of the 121 teams to begin a season with a 1-4 record have gone on to make the playoffs since 1990. For now, the Ravens are simply trying to win a game despite an extensive list of key players dealing with injuries.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens meet the 49ers in a meaningful game for the first time since Super Bowl XLVII, which feels much longer than just three years ago for both teams. Counting the 34-31 win in New Orleans, Baltimore holds a 4-1 edge against the 49ers and the teams are tied 1-1 playing in San Francisco. Sunday will mark the Ravens’ first trip to Levi’s Stadium, the site of Super Bowl 50 in February.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens attempt to win their seventh consecutive game against an NFC opponent …

1. Torrey Smith will draw a long pass interference penalty and catch a touchdown against his former team. The 49ers have struggled in the passing game due to the inconsistency of Colin Kaepernick, but the Ravens don’t have a cornerback who can run with the fifth-year wideout since Jimmy Smith is still trying to regain his pre-surgery form with his foot. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will try to provide as much safety help as possible, but the University of Maryland product will catch a touchdown to exact some revenge after the Ravens made little effort to re-sign him in the offseason. The league’s 25th-ranked pass defense will also draw a flag trying to keep up with the speedster.

2. New Ravens cornerback Shareece Wright will see extensive time in the nickel package. With Lardarius Webb doubtful and Will Davis out for the year, Baltimore was trying to bring Wright up to speed as quickly as possible this week. Simplifying schemes might be the best idea for all members of the secondary considering how inconsistent the group has been with technique and coverage assignments. Unlike Kyle Arrington and Asa Jackson, Wright is viewed as more of an outside cornerback, which is something the Ravens need right now. Expectations shouldn’t be very high for Jimmy Smith’s high school teammate, but that’s no different than the rest of the group at this point.

3. Rookie Buck Allen will score his first NFL touchdown as he leads the Ravens in rushing. Even if Justin Forsett does play on Sunday, Baltimore promoting practice-squad member Terrence Magee doesn’t instill confidence that the veteran will have a full workload. Allen had struggled before breaking a 44-yard run against Cleveland, but the Ravens hope that’s the start of the fourth-rounder finding a groove. With No. 2 back Lorenzo Taliaferro done for the season, the Ravens need Allen to step up immediately and he will do that to some degree on Sunday. Against the league’s 17th-ranked run defense, the offensive line will open running lanes and Allen will build on what he did in Week 5.

4. Brandon Williams will collect another sack and three tackles for a loss. The third-year nose tackle has been Baltimore’s best defensive player by a wide margin in 2015 and will be going up against 49ers center Marcus Martin and right guard Jordan Devey, who have been liabilities in 2015. San Francisco wants to feed the ball to running back Carlos Hyde as much as possible, but Williams presence in the middle of the defensive line will make that a difficult proposition. If Ravens outside linebackers can contain the edges and prevent Kaepernick from taking off, Williams will provide plenty of heat in early-down situations and pick up his second sack of the season at some point.

5. Joe Flacco will bounce back from his 2015 fourth-quarter struggles to give the Ravens the edge in a 24-21 win. It’s easy to pick on the eighth-year quarterback for having the worst fourth-quarter passer rating in the NFL this season, but who has he been able to trust to throw to beyond Steve Smith, who hasn’t been out there for the fourth quarter the last two games? Flacco does need to be better in the final quarter, but he can’t do it by himself. The Ravens will take advantage going up against the league’s 31st-ranked defense to make enough plays late in the game to secure a victory. Am I confident in that prediction? You never are when you’re 1-4, but the 49ers are 1-4 and have looked much worse than the Ravens with three of their four losses being by double digits.

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Super Bowl memories couldn’t feel more distant for Ravens, 49ers

Posted on 15 October 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Walking through the Ravens’ training facility in Owings Mills on Wednesday, Joe Flacco noticed a televised replay of Super Bowl XLVII on NFL Network.

But the eighth-year quarterback and Most Valuable Player of that game says he doesn’t reminisce about the pinnacle of his career that night in New Orleans less than three years ago. These days, he and the Ravens are simply trying to turn around the worst start in the 20-year history of the franchise.

Sunday’s regular-season meeting with their opponent in that championship game, the San Francisco 49ers, isn’t creating much nostalgia, mostly because of the dramatic roster turnover since then. Just nine of the 46 Baltimore players active for Super Bowl XLVII are currently on the 53-man roster and only four were Super Bowl starters. In total, only 14 players remain who were with the organization then.

“It feels like so long ago,” Flacco said. “It’s disrespectful to even talk about it, because you have so many guys on this team that weren’t a part of it, and they’re trying to be a part of something great in the moment. I am, too. It doesn’t really cross my mind too often, and I think I like it that way.”

Of course, the dominant narrative leading into that Super Bowl was the meeting between John and Jim Harbaugh, but the latter is no longer in San Francisco despite leading the 49ers to three NFC championship games in his first three seasons. Jim Harbaugh now roams the sideline coaching the University of Michigan as the 49ers have slipped into a 1-4 hole under new head coach Jim Tomsula.

The Ravens coach dismissed any notion of it being personal against San Francisco and said he doesn’t have time to think back. Harbaugh and his staff are more consumed with trying to overcome a slew of injuries while also fixing the league’s 25th-ranked pass defense.

“It really doesn’t cross your mind,” said Harbaugh, who added that he hasn’t talked much with his brother as Jim prepares for his own big game against Michigan State this Saturday. “It’s a new challenge, new team, new year. That’s what you focus on.”

This season has also been a great challenge for the 1-4 49ers as they’ve looked even worse than the Ravens, owning the worst point differential (minus-65) in the NFL and losing three games by double-digit margins. Unlike the Ravens who have remained consistent at the top, the 49ers changed their infrastructure with Jim Harbaugh’s departure while experiencing a mass exodus of players this offseason that included abrupt retirements as well as free-agent departures.

Those wholesale changes have resulted in San Francisco having the league’s 29th-ranked offense and 31st-ranked defense through the first five weeks.

The most familiarity from Super Bowl XLVII that the Ravens will experience with the opposing side will be the two who used to be their own: wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. For a passing game lacking weapons and desperately hoping that the 36-year-old Steve Smith is ready to return, the former Ravens wideouts would sure look good in purple now.

But life goes on and the Ravens can at least take solace in knowing they came out on top on that memorable day.

“We had a lot of vets on both teams, too, so you’re always going to have to deal with [change] as well,” said Smith, who admitted he “cried like a baby” leaving the Ravens this past offseason. “I’m not surprised. Being on the other side, the other team, it’s different. It’s weird. We were walking out for the walk-through and they were playing the Super Bowl on the TV. And [49ers left tackle] Joe Staley, we were in the huddle, and he looks at me and was like, ‘You didn’t deserve that.’ We kind of talk trash about it every once in a while, but it’s definitely a sensitive subject.

“I’m still glad that I was on the winning side of that. But I think that change happens, and it’s about what you do next.”

“What’s next?” is the question for the Ravens as only six of the 121 NFL teams — just under five percent — to start 1-4 since 1990 have rebounded to make the playoffs. Regardless of how the next 11 regular-season games play out, Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome must identify which players will be key pieces moving forward.

The results haven’t been there in 2015, but the process of building the next championship team never stops. The Ravens made a difficult task look so easy over the first seven years of Harbaugh’s tenure, making the start of this season so surprising.

Stability at the top gives Baltimore the edge in rebounding more quickly than the team they’ll be playing Sunday as the 49ers were a laughingstock for much of the offseason. For now, both teams appear to be chasing ghosts.

“It’s tough to stay at that level. I think you see that consistently across the board,” Flacco said. “It’s just tough from year to year to keep that same team together and keep injuries down and all those things. It’s unfortunate that we’re both in the same situation right now, because I think we feel as though we have a better team. I’m sure they feel the same way.”

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Perriman undergoes right knee surgery after setback

Posted on 01 October 2015 by Luke Jones

After suffering a setback in a pre-game workout prior to the Week 3 loss to Cincinnati, Ravens rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman has undergone surgery on his injured right knee.

Prior to Thursday night’s game in Pittsburgh, head coach John Harbaugh confirmed that Perriman underwent arthroscopic surgery on his posterior cruciate ligament. The 2015 first-round pick is out indefinitely after the arthroscopic procedure was performed by renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews.

Working out at M&T Bank Stadium with wide receivers coach Bobby Engram on Sunday morning, Perriman pulled up lame and hadn’t participated in light workouts this week after returning to practice on a limited basis on Sept. 24. However, Harbaugh said Tuesday he was unaware of the young wideout suffering any setback when asked by local media who witnessed it Sunday morning.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Harbaugh said. “No idea what you’re talking about.”

Selected with the 26th overall pick of April’s draft to replace free-agent departure Torrey Smith in the vertical passing game, Perriman injured his right knee on the first day of training camp on July 30. It now remains unclear when or if the 6-foot-2 Central Florida product will play in 2015 as the Ravens continue to lack a deep threat in the passing game.

The latest setback is very disappointing for a Ravens team off to its worst start in franchise history. Even if the 2015 season can’t be salvaged, Baltimore would like to see what it has with the first-round pick as the 36-year-old Steve Smith has already announced his intentions to retire at the end of the season.

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What brought the 2015 Ravens to this point?

Posted on 28 September 2015 by Luke Jones

An 0-3 record has brought many questions for the Baltimore Ravens.

Who’s to blame? Is it a lack of talent, poor execution, or the coaching?

A week after head coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees questioned the effort and energy of their defense, the Ravens were gashed to the tune of 28 points and 458 total yards by Cincinnati to fall to 0-3 for the first time in franchise history. Meanwhile, an offense too reliant on Steve Smith in the passing game has lost its way on the ground, ranking 28th in the NFL at just 3.3 yards per carry.

While fans and media try to hand out blame to coaches and players or point to a tough schedule for the poor start, below are seven realities that have contributed to the predicament of the Ravens being the only winless team in the AFC. Some were the result of bad decisions while others were out of their control.

These factors are in no particular order and some clearly hold more weight than others.

Dead cap money

Dead cap space is a reality for every NFL team from year to year, but the Ravens are carrying an incredible $17 million in dead money for two former Pro Bowl players no longer on the roster: Ray Rice and Haloti Ngata. With the cap set at $143.28 million for the 2015 season, general manager Ozzie Newsome was without nearly 12 percent of his cap because of those two alone. When you combine that with the rest of their dead money, the Ravens were unable to utilize more than $21 million (just under 15 percent) of the salary cap for 2015. Baltimore rarely spends big in free agency, but they might have been able to make an impact signing or two with those resources tied to star players who aren’t even on the roster anymore.

Recent draft history

To be clear, not even the great Newsome can be expected to bat 1.000 in the draft, but C.J. Mosley was the first Pro Bowl player the Ravens had drafted since Rice in 2008. The 2013 draft is particularly glaring with the top two draft picks — Matt Elam and Arthur Brown — being non-factors, but the later selections of Brandon Williams and Rick Wagner prevented that class from being a total disaster. Of course, the Ravens’ recent draft issues are only relative to their high standards, but they have selected just one player in the first or second round since 2009 — Jimmy Smith — whom they’ve signed to a second long-term contract at this point. They’ve still found talent, but Newsome must find new game-changers to be pillars of the roster moving forward. And when you miss badly on high picks like Elam and Brown, those positions have to be accounted for with additional resources that could have gone to other areas of need.

Departure of assistant coaches 

Not only did the Ravens begin 2015 with their fourth offensive coordinator in four years, but the absence of Gary Kubiak has been even more pronounced with the running game looking very 2013-esque so far. Of course, it remains to be seen whether Marc Trestman is a fit in Baltimore, but it’s difficult to continue enduring annual coaching changes without a few hiccups at some point. Another oft-overlooked coaching departure from two years ago was secondary coach and current Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. Highly respected by the likes of Ed Reed, Lardarius Webb, and Jimmy Smith, Austin was succeeded by Steve Spagnuolo for a year and the combination of Chris Hewitt and Matt Weiss are now coaching the secondary. It’s not an excuse for the poor performance, but that’s a lot of coaching turnover in what’s been the biggest weakness on the field for the Ravens dating back to last season.

Veteran exits

It’s been a testament to the Ravens to seemingly be able to replace departing veterans with cheaper, younger replacements every year, but the exit of Ngata, starting wide receiver Torrey Smith, rush specialist Pernell McPhee, and starting tight end Owen Daniels was a large group to replace in one offseason, especially when you factor in the dead cap space working against Newsome. At some point, you can only lose so many established players and not have the well run dry — at least temporarily — as young players are still maturing.

Excessive reliance on rookies and inexperienced players

This goes hand in hand with the veteran departures, but the Ravens are relying on more young players at key spots than they have in quite some time. Ideally, even your first-rounders can be worked in slowly like the Ravens did with the likes of Terrell Suggs (one start in 2003) and Todd Heap (six starts in 2001). The 2015 draft class looked great on paper in addressing so many positional needs, but that never meant those rookies would be ready to contribute immediately. So far, third-round defensive tackle Carl Davis is the only pick to make a significant contribution, but the Ravens will hope to see others come on sooner rather than later to prove they can be part of the future. The presence of so many inexperienced wideouts beyond Steve Smith has hindered the offense so far in 2015.

Injuries to Terrell Suggs and Breshad Perriman

All teams endure injuries, but these two have been difficult to overcome in the early stages of 2015 with Suggs being the emotional leader of the defense and an important part of the pass rush and Perriman representing offensive upside. When you consider the exits of Ray Lewis, Reed, and Ngata over the last few years, Suggs’ season-ending injury brought the end of the old guard of Baltimore defense. Meanwhile, it was no secret that Perriman would be the replacement for Torrey Smith as the vertical threat in the passing game. The Ravens hope their 2015 first-round pick will still contribute in his rookie season at some point, but the passing game has been too dependent on Steve Smith with only a collection of late-round picks and former rookie free agents behind him in the receiver pecking order.

Big contracts not paying off

No, Joe Flacco’s record-setting deal is not part of this discussion, regardless of arguments that some fans and media have tried to make over the last couple years. But the Ravens haven’t had an impressive run with other long-term deals over the last few years for various reasons, some out of their control. Starting in 2012, Newsome has rewarded the likes of Rice, cornerback Lardarius Webb, tight end Dennis Pitta, and left tackle Eugene Monroe with big contracts that have produced disappointing results. Other deals such as the ones given to Pro Bowl outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil and four-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda have worked out, but the overall return hasn’t been what the organization anticipated with most of these big-money contracts. It’s too early to judge Jimmy Smith’s contract despite a rough 2015 start, but he’s certainly the next one under the microscope.

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Is paralysis by analysis hurting Ravens at receiver?

Posted on 07 April 2015 by Luke Jones

A month after watching starting wide receiver Torrey Smith depart via free agency, the Ravens have expressed a strong sentiment this offseason.

They’re not panicking at the wide receiver position. Of course, a tight salary cap left them on the outside looking in with the top options available on the free-agent market, but the Ravens have given no clear indications that they’ve actively been trying to add a solid veteran to a mix that includes a soon-to-be 36-year-old Steve Smith and no other receiver who registered more than 24 catches last season.

Instead, the organization has talked up its current group of young receivers — Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, and Michael Campanaro — while attempting to throw cold water on the notion that they’re desperate for a starter. Last week, owner Steve Bisciotti spent more time discussing the need for a pass rusher and another tight end rather than a wide receiver in a conference call with season-ticket holders.

Of course, it’s the season of smokescreens around the NFL, so anything said at Wednesday’s pre-draft press conference should be taken with a heavy grain of salt. But you can count on general manager Ozzie Newsome, assistant general manager Eric DeCosta, head coach John Harbaugh, and director of college scouting Joe Hortiz offering the same synopsis of the wide receiver position that they typically do.

“The wide receiver draft class is deep,” Harbaugh said at the league meetings in Arizona last month. “I think there are options for the Ravens in rounds one through seven. It’s always hard. Every position is different. We’ve done studies on that as far as the success rate in different rounds at different positions.

“Receiver is a little bit of a crapshoot in the first round. It turns out, it’s a crapshoot in every round. A lot of receivers, they’ve been seventh-round picks, fifth-round picks, third-round pick receivers that have turned out to be Hall of Fame-type players. Then, you’ve got first-round picks that have never really done anything. Obviously, your chances are higher the higher you pick a guy. But it’s hard to predict.”

Harbaugh’s right on both accounts. This year’s draft class of wide receivers is one of the best in recent memory with many analysts projecting upwards of five or six being taken in the first round with plenty of quality depth available in subsequent rounds.

Drafting a wide receiver is a tricky proposition with the results all over the map around the league. The Ravens have certainly had a slew of misses with first-round disappointments Travis Taylor (2000) and Mark Clayton (2005) as well as a number of other failed picks before finally hitting on Torrey Smith in the second round of the 2011 draft.

But the expression of being able to take a receiver in any of the seven rounds will remind observers of the Ravens’ recent years in which they haven’t drafted a wideout outside the sixth or seventh round since 2011. It’s fair to wonder if some paralysis by analysis exists with the Ravens not taking even a moderate risk at the position in any of the last three drafts when wide receiver was at least a consensus area to improve.

The run began in 2012 with the sixth-round selection of Tommy Streeter, who never played a regular-season snap in Baltimore.

“Really the whole draft, there are guys in each round that can help us,” Hortiz said prior to the 2013 draft when the Ravens needed a receiver after trading Anquan Boldin. “There is a really solid core group of guys in the middle rounds that I think will go in the second or third round that will be solid, dependable starters in the NFL.”

The Ravens came away with only Aaron Mellette in the seventh round that year and struggled in the passing game on their way to missing the playoffs for the only time in the Harbaugh era. Mellette never played a snap for the Ravens, but the organization deserves credit for signing Brown as an undrafted free agent that year and he’s exceeded expectations in his first two seasons.

Last year when Torrey Smith was entering the final season of his rookie contract and newcomer Steve Smith was entering his 14th NFL season, Newsome repeated a familiar assessment about another class of wide receivers held in high regard.

“I would say that’s a position where you could probably draft a player in any of the seven rounds, and I think our board stacks that way,” Newsome said. “If there is an opportunity for us to add another receiver, we will definitely do it based on the way our board is stacked right now.”

The Ravens did take Campanaro in the seventh round, and the 5-foot-9 Wake Forset product shows some promise to be a contributor if he can remain healthy. But he was unable to do that last year as he dealt with two different hamstring injuries and a rib injury. As Harbaugh has suggested, Campanaro can’t be counted on until he proves he can stay on the field.

The lack of movement to add a veteran through free agency or trade over the last month only raises the need to add a wide receiver in the draft. And even though the consensus top three receivers in the draft — West Virginia’s Kevin White, Alabama’s Amari Cooper, and Louisville’s DeVante Parker — are expected to be gone by the time the Ravens pick 26th in the first round, a number of intriguing options should be available over the first two days.

Yes, it’s the one position in the draft in which the otherwise-shrewd Newsome has struggled, but the Ravens can’t focus so much on risk aversion that they’re caught standing on the sideline while receivers come off the board in the first few rounds.

A repeat of two years ago cannot happen if the Ravens want to be back in championship contention for 2015.

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Harbaugh says Ravens keeping all options open at receiver

Posted on 24 March 2015 by Luke Jones

Speaking to reporters at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix on Tuesday, head coach John Harbaugh says the Ravens are keeping their options open at the wide receiver position.

After releasing Jacoby Jones and allowing starter Torrey Smith to depart via free agency, Baltimore has yet to add a wideout to the current roster while veteran options available on the market have dwindled over the last two weeks. The top remaining free-agent receivers include Michael Crabtree, Greg Jennings, Nate Washington, Denarius Moore, and Hakeem Nicks.

Despite limited options, Harbaugh isn’t shooting down the possibility of the Ravens signing a free agent to add to the current mix.

“We’d be interested in adding any position right now, wide receiver being one of them if it’s the right guy,” Harbaugh said. “Again, it’s got to fit. It’s got to fit as far as the player, the personality, the talent obviously, a fit for our offense, and — of course — the financial part of it.”

Many have pointed to the draft as the best avenue to find Smith’s long-term replacement, and Harbaugh agreed with assessments of 2015 being a very deep class. Though it’s a statement that’s been uttered by the Ravens’ brass in past seasons, Harbaugh suggested there should be viable options at the receiver position in all seven rounds of the draft.

General manager Ozzie Newsome would figure to have a good chance to hit on a receiver with 10 choices over the first 203 seletions of the draft, but the organization owns a poor track record drafting receivers with Smith having represented the biggest success story in the 20-year history of the franchise.

Many have pointed to the likes of Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong, Central Florida’s Breshad Perriman, Auburn’s Sammie Coates, and Ohio State’s Devin Smith as potential fits in the first or second round. But you won’t find a more unpredictable position in the draft other than quarterback.

“It’s always hard. Every position is different,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve done studies on that as far as the success rate in different rounds at different positions. Receiver is a little bit of a crapshoot in the first round. It turns out it’s a crapshoot in every round. A lot of receivers, they’ve been seventh-round picks, fifth-round picks, third-round pick receivers that have turned out to be Hall of Fame type players. Then, you’ve got first-round picks that have never really done anything. Obviously, your chances are higher the higher you pick a guy, but it’s hard to predict.”

Regardless of how that crapshoot might play out or whether they’re able to add a veteran through free agency or a trade, the Ravens know they’ll need more contributions from young receivers already on the roster such as Kamar Aiken, Michael Campanaro, Marlon Brown, and Jeremy Butler.

Beyond veteran Steve Smith (79 receptions for 1,065 yards) and running back Justin Forsett (44 catches for 263 yards), the Ravens don’t have another player on the current roster who made more than 24 receptions last year. In 2014, Aiken and Brown were solid No. 3 and No. 4 receivers in the passing game while the rookie Campanaro showed some flashes (seven receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown) in very limited playing time.

The bar will be higher for the coming season.

“They are going to have to handle more. That’s going to be their job,” Harbaugh said. “They are excited about it, they want to handle more. They’ll have their opportunity to prove it.

“I think Campanaro is a talented guy in the slot. He’s gifted as far as getting open, catching the football, and making plays after the catch. I’m excited to see if he can stay healthy and grow. Aiken is a strong receiver that’s just gotten better every single practice and every single day. If he continues to improve like that, he’ll be a very good player.”

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Who’s left on wide receiver market for Ravens?

Posted on 16 March 2015 by Luke Jones

A week after watching Torrey Smith depart to sign a five-year, $40 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers, the Ravens appear no closer to filling the gaping hole left behind at the wide receiver position.

With the only players remaining on the roster with more than 24 receptions last season being the soon-to-be 36-year-old Steve Smith and starting running back Justin Forsett, it would be quite a risk for the Ravens to count solely on this spring’s draft to find help at the wide receiver position. Of course, limited salary cap space has prohibited Baltimore from pursuing more expensive options such as Andre Johnson over the last week.

Below is a look at seven veteran receivers who remain on the open market:

Dwayne Bowe
Age: 30
2014 stats: 60 caches, 754 yards, zero touchdowns
Skinny: Bowe has most recently visited with the Cleveland Browns and would appear to be one of the better options remaining on the market, but he’s also eclipsed the 800-yard receiving mark just once in the last three years. Working with Joe Flacco as opposed to Alex Smith would certainly help his cause, but the Ravens may not want to deal with questions about his work ethic and off-field trouble.

Greg Jennings
Age: 31
2014 stats: 59 catches, 742 yards, six touchdowns
Skinny: Jennings isn’t the deep threat that he was in his early days with the Green Bay Packers, but an unsettled quarterback situation was likely the biggest variable explaining his numbers dipping in Minnesota over the last two years. Considering he wouldn’t count against the compensatory pick formula since he was released, Jennings would make sense for the Ravens at the right price. 

Michael Crabtree
Age: 27
2014 stats: 68 catches, 698 yards, four touchdowns
Skinny: The market has been unusually quiet for the 2009 first-round pick, making you wonder if his asking price is too high coming off a disappointing final year with San Francisco. Never considered a speedster, Crabtree is less than two years removed from a torn Achilles tendon, which makes you wonder if his 2014 season was his new ceiling or only a stepping stone in regaining his pre-injury form.

Stevie Johnson
Age: 28
2014 stats: 35 catches, 435 yards, three touchdowns
Skinny: There is debate over how much the 6-foot-2 Johnson has left, but he proved to be productive when given opportunities in the San Francisco passing game last season. He had a reputation for being a knucklehead in Buffalo, but Johnson had three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with the Bills and New England and San Diego have shown strong interest in him in recent days.

Denarius Moore
Age: 26
2014 stats: 12 catches, 115 yards, zero touchdowns
Skinny: The ultimate buy-low candidate, Moore showed promise as a vertical threat in the Oakland offense in his first three years, but the speedster was a non-factor for the Raiders last season. If you’re looking to take a flier on a receiver who could stretch the field after the Ravens parted ways with Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, Moore wouldn’t be the worst addition to add to the mix.

Nate Washington
Age: 31
2014 stats: 40 catches, 647 yards, two touchdowns
Skinny: Washington has quietly put together a decent NFL career as a complementary receiver, and he has still averaged at least 15.8 yards per catch in each of the last three seasons with Tennessee despite messy quarterback play. He’s no Torrey Smith, but he still has some ability to be a factor in the vertical passing game as a role player.

Hakeem Nicks
Age: 27
2014 stats: 38 catches, 405 yards, four touchdowns
Skinny: Consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with the New York Giants must feel like a long time ago for Nicks, who had underwhelming numbers while playing with Andrew Luck in Indianapolis this past season. He’s still young enough to turn around a career that’s trending in the wrong direction, but his disappointing numbers in 2014 will be hard for Nicks to sell to potential suitors.


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Torrey Smith joins ex-Raven Boldin in San Francisco

Posted on 10 March 2015 by Luke Jones

After teaming together to beat San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII, former Ravens wide receivers Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin have reunited as members of the 49ers.

As expected, the 26-year-old Smith agreed to a reported five-year, $40 million contract that includes $22 million guaranteed after announcing Sunday that he would not be returning to the Ravens. Apparently, it was his former teammate who helped recruit Smith to San Francisco as the pair remained friends after Boldin was traded to the 49ers two years ago. Smith also has a relationship with 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, a fellow University of Maryland alum.

After reportedly turning down a five-year, $35 million offer from the Ravens before the 2014 campaign, Smith made out well in free agency despite a down season in which he caught only 49 passes for 767 yards. It remains unclear whether a similar offer from the Ravens was still on the table considering the organization’s significant salary cap problems stemming in part from the release of Ray Rice last September.

Smith will provide the 49ers the deep threat in the passing game they’ve sorely lacked for a number of years.

Meanwhile, the Ravens will need to replace their biggest draft success at the wide receiver position in franchise history after selecting Smith in the second round of the 2011 draft. He finished his run in Baltimore ranking second in franchise history in touchdown receptions and third in receiving yards.

Baltimore is scheduled to visit Smith, Boldin, and the 49ers during the 2015 regular season.

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Replacing Torrey Smith even more difficult than saying goodbye

Posted on 09 March 2015 by Luke Jones

The reasons why it’s difficult to say goodbye to Torrey Smith go far beyond receiving yards and touchdown catches for the Ravens and the city of Baltimore.

Others have played better and longer for a franchise approaching its 20th season in Charm City, but few have left the kind of impression the 26-year-old wide receiver did in his four seasons with the Ravens. His heartfelt farewell released Sunday night only scratches the surface in revealing the man as both a football player and, more importantly, a citizen who’s made a difference in the community — and will apparently continue to do so with his stated intention of continuing to make Baltimore his offseason home.

From the heartbreaking — but inspirational — story of his upbringing in Virginia to his days with Ralph Friedgen at the University of Maryland, Smith has grown up before our eyes in some ways. We watched him handle the tragedy of his younger brother’s death with courage and grace while excelling on the field and ultimately helping the Ravens taste the glory that was two division titles, three playoff appearances, and a win in Super Bowl XLVII.

But it can be a cruel business as the Ravens have deemed Smith’s price tag too expensive — a difficult salary-cap picture certainly didn’t help — and the 2011 second-round selection is seizing his first and best chance to receive a lucrative payday elsewhere. You can understand general manager Ozzie Newsome’s decision to walk away from a player who never lived up to the billing of becoming a true No. 1 receiver in the same way that you can respect Smith not being willing to leave millions of dollars on the table in a sport that only guarantees so much.

Even with that common ground of understanding for both sides, it doesn’t change the reality of the Ravens needing to replace Smith on the field.

It’s going to be difficult.

His critics frequently bring up his shortcomings and reiterate that he isn’t a true No. 1 wideout, but those weaknesses shouldn’t sell short his talents as a strong No. 2 option who has suited the strong-armed Joe Flacco perfectly over the last four seasons. His ability to both stretch the field and make big plays shouldn’t be discredited because of a disappointing 2014 season that still included a career-best 11 touchdown catches.

It isn’t only about speed as fast but limited receivers such as Jacoby Jones, Yamon Figurs, and Patrick Johnson have proven over the years. Even if his route-running and hands aren’t as consistent as you’d like, Smith has shown much more talent than straight-line speed.

The six-foot, 205-pound receiver finishes his four-year run in Baltimore ranking third on the franchise’s all-time list in receiving yards and second in touchdown catches, numbers that bring two distinct thoughts to mind. One, he’s been one of the most productive receivers in team history despite having only played four seasons. Second, it reflects how little success Newsome and the Ravens have found at the position in nearly two decades.

And that’s where the real concern lies as Smith represents the franchise’s only significant success story in drafting and developing an impact wide receiver. They finally hit in 2011, but the Ravens have selected a laundry list of disappointments or outright busts at the position that includes Johnson, Travis Taylor, Ron Johnson, Devard Darling, Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, Figurs, Marcus Smith, David Reed, and Tandon Doss.


To be fair, Newsome has found success over the years in plucking veterans off the market including Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, and, most recently, Steve Smith, but a few duds have been mixed in there as well in Lee Evans, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and Kevin Johnson. Of course, Newsome has been one of the best executives in the NFL for almost 20 years and no organization bats 1.000, but the Ravens have routinely been lacking at the receiver position and that’s without even mentioning the decision to dump Boldin two offseasons ago without replacing him for the 2013 season.

Yes, I know that dead horse doesn’t need to be beaten again.

There might be enough of a track record to trust Newsome to at least find a respectable veteran band-aid — Houston’s Andre Johnson would provide more than that if the cost is within the Ravens’ modest means this offseason — but finding a vertical threat as effective as Smith won’t be as easy. The goal is improving the passing game — not treading water or getting slightly worse — and veteran free-agent options such as Michael Crabtree, Cecil Shorts, Eddie Royal, and Nate Washington hardly make you do cartwheels and won’t all be cheap, either.

Not having a vertical threat for Flacco is akin to asking a home-run hitter to try to settle for more singles and doubles. It doesn’t mean he won’t succeed, but you’re not going to maximize your return.

Maybe the Ravens will hit on a future No. 1 receiver with the 26th overall pick in this year’s draft, but their track record suggests finding Torrey Smith’s replacement won’t be that simple and Steve Smith will be 36 this year. The organization is optimistic about its young receivers like Kamar Aiken, Michael Campanaro, Marlon Brown, and Jeremy Butler, but none have shown enough ability to reasonably project a starting role without a major drop-off.

You can understand and respect the Ravens needing to make a difficult financial decision in watching Torrey Smith depart. Newsome has six months to figure it out before the 2015 season kicks off, so it would be silly to push the panic button now.
But there have been too many failures and not enough successes at the wide receiver position over the years to feel great about what will come next.

You just hope the Ravens won’t take as long replacing Torrey Smith as they did to find him.

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