With most of the major free agent signings now out of the way, the core of the Baltimore Ravens is in place for the 2009 NFL season. The following is a positional breakdown of the Ravens current roster (as of Mar. 23, 2009) and a preview of what path the Ravens may take in the Draft next month.
Joe Flacco, Troy Smith, Todd Bouman
After a standout rookie season in which he narrowly missed becoming only the third rookie QB in NFL history to throw for 3,000 yards and leading Baltimore to the AFC Championship game, Joe Flacco has entrenched himself as the face of the Baltimore offense for years to come.
A slow start in the first quarter of the season was overshadowed by several excellent performances throughout the remainder of the year, and gained this young offense's confidence and respect.
Possessing elite arm strength, outstanding accuracy on deep routes and surprising athleticism for a player his size, Flacco has all the tools to become one of the league's premier quarterbacks, and will look to improve on his impressive rookie campaign.
Troy Smith will provide good insurance as the team's backup QB, and can step right in should Flacco go down. Smith is also used occasionally in special packages on offense.
Willis McGahee, Ray Rice, Le'Ron McClain
Filling in for an injured McGahee, McClain established himself as a dangerous short yardage HB, and was often asked to carry the majority of the load.
However, McClain must show an improvement with his ball security, and had problems dropping easily catchable balls thrown his way as well. McClain's primary role in the offense this year will likely be as a short yardage back.
McGahee and Rice will split duties in between the 20's. McGahee was plagued by injuries last year, but when healthy is a dangerous runner who can bounce to the outside as well as he can run between the tackles, and is a threat to break off big yardage at any time. Rice brings a totally different look on the field.
A quick, shifty runner who has excellent ball skills and hands, Rice will see a lot of time as the team's third down back in addition to spelling McGahee.
Last year's fourth-ranked rushing attack figures to get even better this year with a healthy and more experienced offensive line returning.
Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, Marcus Smith, Yamon Figurs
With Mason turning 35, Clayton looking like a possible first-round bust and Williams already developing an injury-prone label, the WR corps is in need of a major overhaul.
Mason may still have one more good year left in the tank, but at this point in his career is mainly a possession receiver who has lost a step and is beginning to show signs of wear and tear on his body.
Still, one of the league's best route runners and possessing great hands, Mason is QB Joe Flacco's go-to reciever and the Ravens' main weapon through the air.
Clayton has yet to develop into the deep threat that Baltimore was hoping for when they drafted him 21st overall in 2005, and has been very inconsistent throughout his career.
This may be his make or break year in Baltimore, as he will be eligible for free agency after the season. Clayton showed flashes of potential at times, and is still building a repertoire with Flacco, so he will likely be given one more chance to take over the No. 1 spot at receiver.
Williams was an unpolished player with mountains of potential coming out of Oregon in 2006. Three years later, he has not shown much signs of progression when he has been healthy enough to play. He could also be on the fringe this season if he does not stay healthy and produce.
Marcus Smith's rookie season was quiet, and didn't see much time on the field. Although still a bit raw, Smith has all the measurables to be a force at WR.
A project who will need another year or two before Baltimore knows what exactly they have, Smith is a player to keep an eye on over the coming season.
With so many questions surrounding the position, look for Baltimore to target WR's early in the draft. The Ravens recently brought in Darrius Heyward-Bay and Kenny Britt for private workouts with Flacco, and have also shown interest in Hakeem Nicks.
Todd Heap, L.J. Smith, Quinn Sypnewski
The signing of former Eagle's TE L.J. Smith was a great move on the Ravens part, providing depth and flexibility at the TE position.
Although Smith has come under fire in recent years for injury and alleged attitude problems, when healthy and motivated, is a very effective receiving option that would allow Baltimore to run confusing two-TE sets in combination with Heap.
Heap's production last year fell off due in large part to the offensive scheme put in place by new OC Cam Cameron. Despite his reputation as one of the league's best receiving TE, Heap was often asked to stay at the line to help bolster a young offensive line.
When he was running routes, Heap showed that there is still a lot of mileage left in him, and should see more opportunities this year if the offensive line improves upon it's pass protection.
Sypnewski is the best blocker of the three and will see occasional playing time in two-TE formations.
Jared Gaither, Ben Grubbs, Matt Birk, Marshall Yanda, Willie Anderson
Led by C Jason Brown and first year starter OT Jared Gaither, this young and talented unit played very well, even dominant, at times last season.
The loss of Brown to free agency was negated by the pickup of six time Pro Bowler Matt Birk, and could actually serve to strengthen the line further. Birk is a proven leader whose pass blocking skills will be a big factor playing in the AFC North.
With the retirement of LT Jonathan Ogden, Gaither stepped right in and quietly had a tremendous season, even while battling injuries most of the year. Gaither will only improve in his second year as a starter, and should be a force for years to come.
OG Ben Grubbs has so far lived up to expectations as Baltimore's first round pick in 2007. A very well rounded player with few weaknesses, Grubbs should have multiple trips to Hawaii in his future, and will combine with Gaither to invoke memories of Ogden and Mulitalo in their heyday in Charm City.
At age 33, C Matt Birk is entering the twilight years of his career, but is still capable of playing at a very high level, and will provide much needed veteran leadership to the young offensive line. He will instantly upgrade the pass protection schemes and will open up the center lanes in the ground attack.
OG Marshall Yanda returns from spending last year on the IR after a very promising rookie season.
A blue collar type, Yanda isn't overpowering or very athletic, but shows excellent technique and good football intelligence. An asset in both pass protection and opening up running lanes, Yanda will be a long time fixture at OG.
OT Willie Anderson returns for his 14th NFL season. A massive, powerful veteran, Anderson is perfect for the Ravens smash-mouth style of football. As long as he can remain healthy, Anderson will be the bulldozer Baltimore needs at right tackle.
A very talented crew with a great mixture of youth and experience, look for a big year from the Ravens' offensive line.
Defense and Special Teams coming soon.
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