Report Card Grades for Every Positional Unit on Baltimore Ravens' Roster
The whole is only as good as the sum of its parts.
In 2011, the sum of the Baltimore Ravens parts were seconds away from a Super Bowl. Now a year later, Baltimore is looking to conquer the final obstacle in their way to football's ultimate prize.
Ultimately, the Ravens (and every other team's) success will depend on how the entire organization functions as one throughout the six-month span between early September and early February.
But to more accurately asses the Ravens' chances, let's look at how each position ranks and analyze how they might fare in 2012.
*Click here to view the Ravens' current roster.
Overall Grade: A
Key Player: Joe Flacco
—Flacco has never missed a start in his career
—While throwing for at least 428 passes each season, Flacco has never thrown more than 12 interceptions.
Analysis: Flacco is a big, durable quarterback who's constantly improving. He proved last season that he can be a playmaker, instead of just being a game manager.
He will have to be a playmaker, at least early in the year, as All-Pro defenders Terrell Suggs (Achilles) and Ed Reed (neck) are dealing with serious health concerns.
Overall Grade: A+
Key Player: Ray Rice
—From Week 16 of 2009 to Week 7 of 2011, Rice touched the ball 521 consecutive times without turning it over.
—Since 2009, Rice has gained at least 1,200-plus yards rushing and at least 550-plus yards receiving each year.
—In 2011, Rice led the NFL in yards from scrimmage (2,068). That comes out to 38.2 percent of the the Ravens entire offense (5,419, h/t pro-football-reference.com).
Analysis: For my money, Rice is the best all-around back in football. When you consider running, receiving, route running, blocking, ball security and durability, I don't think it's an argument.
The Ravens have franchised Rice (a one-year salary of $7.7 million) as opposed to signing him to a long-term deal.
Rice's stock and leverage in negotiations is at an all-time high. Therefore, it would be prudent of the powers that be to sign Rice to a long-term contract very soon.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Overall Grade: B
Key Player: Torrey Smith
—After not catching a pass in the first two weeks of his rookie season, Smith's first NFL reception was a 74-yard touchdown in his Week 3 game at St. Louis.
—He finished that game with five receptions for 152 yards and three touchdowns (all touchdowns were in the first quarter).
This group (along with the defensive line and cornerbacks) is the deepest group on the team. Whoever makes the final cut will know they beat out some very talented players.
Overall Grade: C
Key Player: Marshal Yanda
—The Ravens offensive line allowed 33 sacks in 2011 (12th best, h/t NFL.com)
—Just 33 out of 459 rushing attempts (7.2 percent) last season resulted in negative yardage
Analysis: The loss of left guard Ben Grubbs is huge, no doubt about it. Kelechi Osemele (kuh-LET-chee oh-SEM-uh-lee), the Ravens' second-round pick, figures to be a strong replacement at left guard (or left tackle). But with a quad injury that is keeping him out until training camp, his learning curve figures to be steeper than initially expected (h/t ProFootballTalk).
Michael Oher figures to stay at right tackle, playing alongside Yanda, which could pose a formidable threat to opposing defensive lines for the next decade.
There aren't a bunch of superstars here, but there is definitely talent. The key is for them to harness and focus that talent as a collective unit.
Overall Grade: A-
Key Player: Haloti Ngata
Key Stat: 2011 was Ngata's best statistical season of his six-year career (64 combined tackles, five sacks, five passes defensed and two forced fumbles).
Analysis: The loss of Jarret Johnson (San Diego via free agency), Cory Redding (Indianapolis via free agency) and Terrell Suggs leaves Ngata as the lone veteran whom defenses are used to game-planning against.
However, with the Ravens defense being as complex, multiple and versatile as it is, you have to understand they don't have strictly defensive ends or defensive tackles. The idea is that you don't know who's coming at you, as a typical end or tackle could easily be interchangeable with an outside or middle linebacker on any given play.
Think of the Ravens defensive linemen as a farm system. You might not think they are great now, but by the time you figure it out, you'll see the signs were there all along.
Overall Grade: B-
Key Player: Ray Lewis
—Among active players, Ray Lewis ranks second for most starts in a career (221; one behind the leader, Tony Gonzalez).
—Lewis currently ranks 26th all time in career starts, and if he started every game in 2012, he'd move up to No. 15 on the all-time list.
—In the last four years, Lewis has averaged over 121 tackles, despite playing in only 12 games in 2011.
Analysis: After Lewis, the best linebackers on the team (aside from Suggs) are Jameel McClain (inside) and Paul Kruger (outside, assuming he doesn't line up at defensive end). Courtney Upshaw is probably going to be a Pro Bowl player within three years, but for now, he's still a rookie.
Granted, the linebacker position is not the strength of the Ravens. But with Lewis still at the center of the defense maximizing the talents of those around him, you won't be given much opportunity to doubt them.
Overall Grade: A+
Key Player: Lardarius Webb
—In the 2011 regular season, the Ravens pass defense ranked first in opposing quarterback rating (68.8) and fourth in yards allowed per game (196.2).
—In the 2011 postseason, the Ravens pass defense ranked first in interceptions (five) and third in yards allowed per game (209).
—Last season, Webb notched 67 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and five interceptions. The Jets' Darrelle Revis, acclaimed as the game's best cornerback, had just 52 tackles and four interceptions.
Analysis: In the two games the Ravens played in their 2011 postseason, their defensive backs held T.J. Yates and Tom Brady to the following combined stat line: 39-of-71 (54.9 percent completion) for 423 yards, zero touchdowns, five interceptions and an average quarterback rating of 43.2.
In the AFC title game, the Ravens forced Brady into just his fourth multi-interception game out of the 19 games he played all year (playoffs included).
What's more is that this unit is big, averaging nearly 6'0" and over 190 pounds per player. They're also really young, with an average age of 24 and a half.
Overall Grade: B+
Key Player: Ed Reed
—Reed ranks second on the all-time list for interception return yardage (1,463, h/t pro-football-reference.com). He needs just 21 interception return yards to eclipse Rod Woodson for first place on the all-time list.
—The closest active player to Reed's mark is Charles Woodson, who ranks 17th all time, with 896 interception return yards.
—Reed holds the record for the longest interception returned for a touchdown (107 yards), set in Week 12 of the 2008 season versus the Eagles.
Analysis: Let's just say this: If Reed isn't healthy, the Ravens' safeties aren't in good shape. His talent and leadership are extremely rare.
Bernard Pollard is a hammer at strong safety and should be able to organize the back end in the event Reed has to miss a few games.
Overall Grade: C
Key Player: Sam Koch
Key Stat: In each of his six NFL seasons, Koch has had at least one punt of 60 yards (or more) and has had at least 20 punts downed inside the 20-yard line.
Analysis: Koch is great. Billy Cundiff is not. I give Koch an "A" and Cundiff an "E."
Although it's not possible, try to put aside Cundiff's monumental miss in the AFC title game five months ago. His 2011 season as a whole was bad. He converted only 75.7 percent of his field goal attempts, which was a 14 percent drop from his 2010 season average.
Rookie Justin Tucker (Texas) is the only challenger to Cundiff's starting spot. But as is the life of an NFL kicker, it's a week-by-week situation.
Overall Grade: A+
Key Member: John Harbaugh
—Harbaugh has led the Ravens to a playoff berth and at least one playoff win in each of his first four seasons with the team.
—Harbaugh holds a 68.8 percent regular-season winning percentage (first among active coaches) and a 55.6 percent postseason winning percentage (10th among active coaches) as the Ravens head coach (h/t pro-football-reference.com).
Analysis: Harbaugh has proven in a short period of time that he's an exceptional NFL head coach.
He's won most of the big games in which he's coached, and he's able to keep his players focused and motivated despite success and failure.
From personal experience, I will attest that Harbaugh is very savvy, not divulging any important information despite the media's best efforts. Not too many head coaches can do that.
Dean Pees will take over the role of defensive coordinator from Chuck Pagano, who left Baltimore to be the head coach in Indianapolis. Pees coached the Ravens linebackers during the last two seasons.
Before that, in his first year as an NFL coach, Pees won a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots, coaching their linebackers. After coaching the Patriots linebackers again in 2005, he was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2006 (a position he held through 2009).