Baltimore Ravens: Why the Ravens Have the Best Secondary in the NFL

Shawn BrubakerContributor IIMay 27, 2012

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22:  Lardarius Webb #21 of the Baltimore Ravens reacts after a play against the New England Patriots during their AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Pessimism seems to surround the Ravens. Ed Reed is starting to become a sideshow, Ray Rice is locked in an intense contract negotiation and Terrell Suggs is ailing.

There is little to be excited about right now for the Ravens.

One group, however, looks to change that this season, and despite his mouth becoming a distraction, Reed is very much a part of this group.

The Ravens secondary is something to be excited about, which bears reminding in a time when things seem dark for the team. With its combination of depth and talent, the Ravens secondary is the best in the NFL.

The star of the group is clearly Reed. While he has lost some athleticism, he has proven continuously that he is among the most clutch players on the team, capable of making big plays in the biggest of situations.

For proof, look no further than his tremendous performance against the Houston Texans in the playoffs.

Reed played like a heavyweight boxer fighting his last fight. He threw his body around with reckless abandon, and in doing so, he broke up several passes and came up with multiple big plays.

Simply put, without Reed patrolling the secondary, the Ravens would not have beaten the Texans that day.

Reeds' partner in crime, Bernard Pollard, is no slouch himself.

While his lack of coverage ability could make him a liability on some teams, Pollard is a perfect fit for the Ravens defense and an excellent complement to Reed.

Pollard excels at playing downhill football, stopping running plays and short passes with ease. He is a big hitter who should only improve in his second year in Baltimore.

At cornerback, the Ravens possess one of the best young corners in the NFL in Lardarius Webb. 

Webb started his career well in his rookie year, but he slumped a bit in his sophomore season. He made up for it in a big way last year, however, leading the team in interceptions and shutting down several big name receivers.

Most impressively, Webb did a tremendous job of covering the Patriots' Wes Welker in the AFC Championship game. He controlled Welker throughout the day and was a major playmaker in the secondary.

Across from Webb, the Ravens aren't sure whether Cary Williams or Jimmy Smith will be the opening day starter, but either way, the Ravens feel confident.

Williams was the starter last year, and while he had his moments, he was only marginal in coverage. His length is useful in certain situations, but his average athleticism prohibits him from shadowing top receivers.

Regardless, Williams had a solid year last year and is a good fit in the Ravens defense. This year, though, he'd be best suited to being used in nickel situations.

That's because Jimmy Smith should be ready to take on the load of being a starting cornerback in the NFL.

Smith has similar size to Williams, but much better athleticism and natural instincts. He was considered among the most talented players in the 2011 NFL draft, but he fell due to character concerns.

He has been completely clean in the NFL, however, and after getting his feet wet last year, he should be ready to take on a starting role and put that talent to use.

Beyond the Ravens' top three lies a glut of talent that will be vying for defensive snaps.

Corey Graham is the most experienced of the group, as he has years of experience playing both special teams and defense. He was actually a very solid cornerback in nickel situations in Chicago, and he is probably first in line for snaps in the Ravens' dime package.

Danny Gorrer has the potential to eat into Graham's snaps, though, as he showed in 2011 that he has the talent to compete in the NFL. His performance against the New York Jets' Santonio Holmes was a season highlight for the Ravens defense, and he has the ability to have a repeat performance in 2012.

Finally, Asa Jackson was drafted mainly for his special teams prowess, but his impressive athleticism could help him find a role in the Ravens' defensive packages as well.

If there is an issue in this secondary, it would be a lack of depth at safety, but Sean Considine is a steady performer as a backup, and fourth-round draft pick Christian Thompson could develop into a starting caliber safety within a year or two.

All in all, the Ravens have at least four starting-caliber cornerbacks, a solid strong safety and one of the best free safeties to ever play the game.

Webb should continue to improve in 2012 and earn his first Pro Bowl berth, while Smith should break out and become a solid cover corner across from Webb. Williams, Graham and Gorrer will all play well in passing situations, while Asa Jackson learns the nuances of the game, ready to step in if needed.

At safety, Reed will likely continue to degrade ever so slightly, but he will remain among the top safeties in the NFL. Pollard will be his normal steady self, doing a solid job of keeping plays in front of him while providing the occasional highlight-reel hit.