It sounds encouraging to say the Ravens can make a second-half run for postseason contention.
After all, expectations were soaring going into the season and the AFC currently consists of three undefeated teams — New England, Denver, and Cincinnati — and just two other teams (New York and Oakland) above .500. Baltimore’s second-half schedule consists of five home games and just two contests against teams currently sporting winning records.
Anything could happen, right?
Then, you remember the Ravens have two wins in two months.
And they just lost Steve Smith — their best pass-catching target in an otherwise underwhelming group — for the rest of the season.
While still expecting the Ravens to win more games and to remain competitive in the second half of the season — all eight of their contests have been decided by one possession — it would be irresponsible not to have at least one eye toward the future. Finishing closer to .500 while continuing to rely more on veterans and street free agents with no long-term future would only give the Ravens an inferior draft pick for 2016 and not really assist in the goal of building the next championship-caliber roster.
The Ravens can continue trying to win while still taking a longer look at some younger players in the second half of the season. It makes more sense for 2016 and beyond to give a few more opportunities to younger options in hopes of seeing at least a couple real pieces emerge by season’s end. Needless to say, general manager Ozzie Newsome must improve talent on both sides of the ball, so wouldn’t you prefer seeing what some recent picks can do — good or bad — instead of those players remaining as unknowns?
It’s worth remembering that the Ravens are just 2-6, so how much drop-off could there really be evaluating some younger players at certain spots?
Only including players who’ve taken fewer than 100 snaps on offense or defense — rookies like Maxx Williams and Za’Darius Smith have played more — below are seven players who should receive more playing time in the second half of the 2015 season.
7. CB Tray Walker
2015 defensive snaps to date: 8
Rationale: The Ravens acknowledged Walker was more of a project when they selected him in the fourth round of this year’s draft, but it still hasn’t been encouraging that he remains behind Shareece Wright and Kyle Arrington — two veterans who haven’t played well — on the depth chart. Throwing the 6-foot-2 Texas Southern product into the starting lineup would be hasty, but you’d like to see him receive enough snaps to determine whether he can be a viable No. 3 or No. 4 cornerback in 2016. If he’s not up to that task by then, it’d be difficult to label his selection in the fourth round as anything but a major reach.
6. LB Arthur Brown
2015 defensive snaps to date: 0
Rationale: C.J. Mosley has struggled in coverage and Daryl Smith hasn’t played the run particularly well in 2015, making it fair to ask whether the Ravens should finally attempt to carve out a role for their 2013 second-round pick to determine whether he can even be a part-time player in Baltimore. Given Brown’s speed, defensive coordinator Dean Pees could even consider using the linebacker as an occasional blitzer off the edge in an effort to put more pressure on the quarterback. The Ravens have seen something in Brown to hold on to him even this long, so why not give him a real look, even in nickel situations?
5. WR Chris Givens
2015 offensive snaps to date (with Baltimore): 82
Rationale: The former St. Louis Ram has more experience than anyone else on this list, but the Ravens need to continue giving him more snaps, especially with Smith done for the season. Givens had been a sponge around Smith prior to the latter’s injury, so it will be interesting to see if the speedy receiver can apply any of the veteran’s lessons to his own play. No one should confuse him with a starting-caliber receiver, but you’d like to see if Givens can establish himself as a No. 3 or No. 4 guy for the future. In his four games with the Ravens, he’s outperformed Marlon Brown and deserves to play over him.
4. DE Brent Urban
2015 defensive snaps to date: 0
Rationale: It’d be nice to see the 2014 fourth-round pick finally get on the field after not even playing in a preseason game to this point in his career. John Harbaugh recently said Urban is close to returning to practice after suffering a torn biceps early in training camp. Though Lawrence Guy has emerged as a solid option at the 5-technique defensive end spot behind Chris Canty, Urban’s 6-foot-7, 295-pound frame makes him an intriguing option as an interior pass rusher. With Canty turning 33 next week, the Ravens would feel good about that position if Urban can stay healthy and contribute down the stretch.
3. S Terrence Brooks
2015 defensive snaps to date: 54
Rationale: The Ravens have had problems at the safety position dating back to Ed Reed’s final season in Baltimore, and veteran newcomer Kendrick Lewis hasn’t done much to quell those concerns in 2015. Brooks has had an up-and-down start to his NFL career, but he showed good athleticism and aggression against Cleveland in Week 5 before injuring his thumb. Whether Pees uses him at the nickel spot or at safety next to Will Hill, Brooks’ development would go a long way in improving a secondary in need of more athleticism and play-making ability than it’s had in recent years.
2. RB Buck Allen
2015 offensive snaps to date: 81
Rationale: This isn’t a plea for the Ravens to bench veteran Justin Forsett in favor of the rookie fourth-rounder, but Allen has shown more burst recently and is more likely to impact the future than the 30-year-old starter. In general, Baltimore needs more from a running game currently tied for 21st in the NFL and Forsett won’t be able to carry that workload alone. In a perfect world, you’d like Allen to show enough to at least pencil him in as a strong No. 2 option in 2016 after the Ravens invested fourth-round picks at the position in each of the last two drafts. At least 10 touches per game seems reasonable.
1. WR Breshad Perriman
2015 offensive snaps to date: 0
Rationale: Many have called for the first-round pick to be placed on injured reserve considering he’s only practiced a couple times since spraining the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on the first day of training camp. But at 2-6, it’s worth waiting a little longer to see if Perriman can make it back for the final month of the season. His absence is even more frustrating with Smith out for the year as the Ravens had hoped they were drafting their No. 1 receiver of the future. They won’t be able to make that determination, but a healthy Perriman on the field for at least a few games in 2015 would be a good sign.