The Ravens have thrown rookies into crucial positions more than once in the John Harbaugh era, and they have been rewarded for their boldness. Joe Flacco in 2008, Michael Oher in 2009 and Torrey Smith last year all changed the complexion of the offense and helped the Ravens make the playoffs. Which 2012 draftees could be big parts of a fifth straight trip to the postseason?
Second-round DE/OLB Courtney Upshaw: The hard-nosed hybrid player who set the tone for Alabama's legendary defense was already going to have an inside track to start in the spot vacated by Jarret Johnson (who left for San Diego in free agency). With Terrell Suggs out for at least month or two after tearing his Achilles, Upshaw could also see some snaps with the first-team defense at rush linebacker. He is pro-ready, and his style of play fits perfectly in the Ravens defense.
Second-round OL Kelechi Osemele, fourth-round OG Gino Gradkowski: Left guard Ben Grubbs bolted for New Orleans in free agency, leaving the Ravens without a proven option to replace him. Osemele is converting from offensive tackle ,and Gradkowski was probably drafted with an eye toward eventually replacing Matt Birk at center. Until recently, both were considered to have as good a shot as anyone on the roster to start in Grubbs' old spot.
The Ravens signed former Cincinnati Bengal Bobbie Williams over the weekend, making him the favorite to start at left guard. Still, Williams was suspended for four games after violating the league's banned substances policy and ended the season on injured reserve (ankle). If he slips up or can't stay healthy, one of the two rookies could be right back in the mix.