2009 Baltimore Ravens Preview
Prediction: 11-5 (Second AFC North)
Head coach: John Harbaugh (Second year)
QB Joe Flacco: At 24, he has one of the brightest futures for any quarterback in the NFL.
RB Willis McGahee: Was hurt all of 2008, but looks to be healthy heading into 2009. If he can shine this year, he may play out his entire contract.
FB Le'Ron McClain: After an All-Pro season in 2008, it'll be difficult for McClain to repeat.
WR Derrick Mason: One of the most consistent receivers in the NFL.
WR Mark Clayton: At 5'10”, he's small, but can make an impact.
TE Todd Heap: The team drafted OT Michael Oher, so Heap will have more of an impact on the passing game.
LT Jared Gaither: The 22-year-old had a good season last year and has All-Pro potential.
LG Ben Grubbs: The 2007 first-round pick has shown durability the last two seasons.
C Matt Birk: At 32, he's aging. But six Pro Bowls speak for themselves.
RG Marshal Yanda: He's underappreciated, but makes an impact on the line.
RT Michael Oher: There is a battle between Willie Anderson and Oher, and due to youth and versatilty, the rookie takes it.
QB Troy Smith: Had he not gotten sick, he would have started last season.
RB Ray Rice: One of the best third-down backs in the league, and when McGahee leaves, he's the running back.
WR Demetrius Williams: Can be a reliable No. 3...when healthy.
WR/KR/PR Yamon Figurs: One of many track athletes in the NFL.
TE L.J. Smith: Leads league in dropped passes, injuries, and missed blocking assignments every year.
OG Chris Chester: The Oklahoma alum is the backup guard and can even be the Ravens future center.
DE Trevor Pryce: Entering the last year of his contract and could end his career a Raven – in 2009.
DT Kelly Gregg: Had a solid 2007, missed all of 2008.
DE Haloti Ngata: Played defensive tackle in 2008 and was snubbed of a Pro Bowl. Shifts back to DE with Gregg returning.
LB Tavares Gooden: The Miami alum will replace Bart Scott.
LB Jarret Johnson: A converted defensive tackle was a constant in the backfield in 2008.
LB Ray Lewis: Does anything need to be said?
LB Terrell Suggs: With contract issues, this could be his last year with the Ravens.
CB Domonique Foxworth: The Baltimore native signed a four-year contract with the Ravens the day free agency began and has great playing speed.
FS Ed Reed: Does anything need to be said?
SS Dawan Landry: After solid 2006 and 2007 seasons, Landry missed most of 2008. It'll be huge to have him back.
CB Fabian Washington: A great cover corner, Fabian needs to work on tackling.
DE Dwan Edwards: The 2003 second-round pick is starting to blossom.
DE Paul Kruger: Has a high motor and great character.
LB Jameel McClain: Known as the “safety machine.”
LB Antwan Barnes: Can make impact as a pass-rushing linebacker.
LB Jason Phillips: Was an emotional leader in college and quietly productive for Texas Christian.
FS Haruki Nakamura: Provided some great play on special teams and appears to be the guy at free safety when Reed leaves.
SS Tom Zbikowski: Like Nakamura, is a good special teamer, and if Nakamura isn't ready when Reed leaves, can prove to be a good replacement.
CB Lardarius Webb: The rookie is small, but versatile and can do whatever it takes.
CB/KR Chris Carr: Signed for a bargain, and provides great return presence, as he carried the Titans special teams last year.
2009 Ravens Draft Class
1 (23) - Michael Oher, OT, Mississippi.
2 (57) - Paul Kruger, DE, Utah.
3 (88) - Lardarius Webb, CB, Nicholls State.
5 (137) - Jason Phillips, LB, TCU.
5 (141) - Davon Drew, TE, East Carolina.
6 (185) - Cedric Peerman, RB, Virginia.
The Ravens fell in love with Oher's great personality, versatility, and work ethic. They may even decide to throw him into the fire immediately. Now, it's unlikely they will call for a position switch and put Oher at left tackle and Gaither on the right side, but since Oher is so versatile, the team will likely decide to put him at right.
That is, if he earns a job. Kruger is a speedy defensive end who, if Trevor Pryce leaves after the year, may start in 2010.
Webb was a confusing decision because the Ravens have stocked up on cornerbacks the last two offseasons, but Webb can play corner, safety, and can play a significant role in the return game. Phillips may end up being the future emotional leader of the Ravens, as he was at Texas Christian. He's not very athletic, but is very productive.
Davon Drew was an odd selection with Cornelius Ingram on the board, but Drew is productive, can block a lot better than Ingram, and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron can utilize his tight end like no other offensive coordinator can. Peerman was even more confusing, with all the running backs the Ravens had, but he was the best player available.
The Ravens went into this offseason with a busy road ahead of them. The dominant linebacking trio of Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Bart Scott were scheduled to enter free agency.
After months of ongoing trade rumors, the Ravens and Ray Lewis agreed to terms, as the future Hall of Famer signed a seven year, $44.5M contract. But don't be fooled. This is really a three year, $22M deal with incentives.
Terrell Suggs had a breakout season in 2008, but wasn't awarded with a long term extension, as he was again slapped with a franchise tag. The odd-man out turned out to be Scott, who signed a six-year, $48M free agent contract with the New York Jets, reuniting with former defensive coordinator and current Jet head coach Rex Ryan.
Say what you will about quarterback Joe Flacco getting tons of help from a dominant defense and a great run game; Joe flat out made plays. Flacco has an incredibly strong arm, exhibits great poise, and isn't fast, but shockingly mobile for a guy as big as Joe (6'6", 235).
The Ravens have some good backup quarterbacks, with Troy Smith, a former Heisman Winner and a very athletic player, and John Beck, who reunites with Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
Smith is a truly sad story. After Kyle Boller struggled throughout the preseason and eventually got hurt, it looked as if it was Troy's job to lose. However, he got sick, lost tons of weight, and didn't return until Week Eight, only to see Flacco manning the quarterback position.
Now, his spot as a backup is in jeopardy. Newcomer Beck, 27, is a Brigham Young alum whose dominant college career has yet to translate to the NFL. While he may get his shot elsewhere, his best chances are as a backup for Baltimore. Beck has a legitimate shot to beat Troy Smith for the backup job. Talk about the difference of a year.
As any defensive coordinator will tell you, the Baltimore Ravens had a powerful run game in 2008, and some claim the strong ground attack opened up the passing success Flacco had. The Ravens received most of their help on the ground from fullback Le'Ron McClain, who ran the ball 232 times for 902 yards and scored ten touchdowns.
At fullback, those numbers are almost Madden-like. Not only does McClain do a great job in the backfield, the Ravens also have Willis McGahee and Ray Rice. McGahee had a strong season in 2007, running 294 times for 1,207 yards and scoring seven touchdowns.
Unfortunately, the Ravens went 5-11 that year and finished the season losing nine of 10. In 2008, the Ravens turned their season around, but McGahee battled injuries all year long and ran for just 671 yards.
If McGahee can stay healthy, he's one of the most effective running backs in the league, as during the last two games of the 2009 season and throughout the playoffs, fans saw that.
Ray Rice did a phenomenal job last year as a third-down back. He missed some action after suffering an injury in a 24-10 win over the Washington Redskins. With McGahee talking his way out of Baltimore, Rice could be the Ravens future No. 1 back, as the one time he did start, he ran for 154 yards on 21 carries.
Going into the offseason, many Ravens fans wanted that big play wide receiver to help out Joe Flacco. However, the Ravens opted not to do so in the draft or via free agency, and decided to add depth to the offensive line.
The Ravens have an incredibly consistent wide receiver in Derrick Mason, who gained 1,037 yards last season and was like a security blanket for the rookie Flacco. As the year progressed, Flacco started utilizing his other targets more, such as Mark Clayton, who had amazing showings against the Bengals and Jaguars.
Demetrius Williams returns healthy, and can be one of the most reliable No. 3 receivers in the NFL—when healthy. The Ravens don't have a clear cut No. 4 receiver and have some candidates that include Marcus Smith, Ernie Wheelwright, Yamon Figurs, and undrafted free agent signee Eron Riley.
The Ravens added depth to the tight end position over the offseason, signing free agent L.J. Smith to a one year, $1.5M deal and drafting East Carolina alum Davon Drew in the fifth round with the 141st overall pick.
The Ravens now have four guys who can potentially start at tight end—Todd Heap, L.J. Smith, a now healthy Quinn Sypniewski, and Drew.
With Oher drafted, Heap won't be blocking as much, and we can see the Todd Heap of old, the one who is easily a Pro Bowler and can gain anywhere from 600-800 yards. With offensive coordinator Cam Cameron at the helm, it's quite possible.
We all know what Cameron turned Antonio Gates into. Smith will play a very minimal role this season. He has an uncanny ability to consistently lead the league in dropped passes, missed blocks, and injuries.
Sypniewski, on the other hand, comes back from an injury that forced him to miss all of 2008. At 27, he's got a bright future ahead of him. In 2007, he had a respectable year, catching 34 passes for 246 yards and scoring one touchdown. I call it respectable with Kyle Boller throwing to him.
At 6'6”, 270, he's a physical specimen and could be the Ravens' future tight end. Davon Drew is the leading candidate to be the Ravens future at the position. Though he lacks the size or long arms Sypniewski has, Drew is productive (43 REC, 695 YDS, 3 TD as a senior), and with assistance from Cameron, can develop into a good tight end.
After Jonathan Ogden retired in the 2007 offseason, the Ravens offensive line would look bizarre.
The Ravens have great youth on the line. Jared Gaither, 23, is one of the bright left tackles in all of football, and despite the team drafting Oher, the Ravens have opened contract extension negotiations with Gaither and don't want him to leave Baltimore any time soon.
In the 2007 Draft, the Ravens addressed the offensive line immediately, adding former Auburn left guard Ben Grubbs. Grubbs has been great with the Ravens in his first two seasons, and didn't miss a start last year. While the Ravens have great youth on the line, the center position is where they decided to add a veteran.
Literally one hour after re-signing Ray Lewis, it was announced that six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk had signed a three-year, $12M contract with the Ravens. Birk, 32, is in the latter stage of his career, but can definitely still play and is among the elite centers in all of the NFL.
On the right side, the Ravens will have youth. Marshal Yanda, 24, was drafted in the third round of the 2007 Draft by the Ravens and despite rarely being talked about, is an asset on the team. He is the future of the Ravens at right guard, and has the versatility to play center.
Right tackle is a very interesting situation.
Last year, the team brought in Willie Anderson as a last second free agent signee. The signing worked out perfectly, as Anderson was a good stopgap at right tackle throughout the year. However, Anderson is 34 years old, as offensive linemen seldom last that long. The Ravens decided to add some youth, bringing in Oher, who I project to start.
After an off year in 2007, the Ravens defense rebounded to post a dominant defense in the 2008 season in which they, yet again, didn't allow a 100-yard rusher, while forcing turnover after turnover after turnover.
The Ravens defense should be even better in 2009. On the defensive line, Trevor Pryce is going into a contract year, Kelly Gregg is coming back 100 percent healthy, and Haloti Ngata is playing his natural position—defensive end. The Ravens actually have some capable backups in Dwan Edwards, Brandon McKinney, and now, Paul Kruger.
The Ravens linebacking core has always been dominant. 2009 should be no exception. Ray Lewis goes into the season playing under a new contract, Terrell Suggs goes in trying to earn the long term extension he wants, Jarrett Johnson is developing into a very good linebacker, and Tavares Gooden should benefit immensely under the tutelage of the trio.
Unfortunately, the Ravens weren't able to retain Bart Scott, but as Terrell Suggs said: “You can't always have your big brother fight for you.”
This Baltimore team finally has young, stingy cornerback play. Last year, the Ravens had Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister lined up to start before the season. But now, it's 25 year olds Fabian Washington, Domonique Foxworth, and possibly Chris Carr if injury occurs.
The comforting thing for the Ravens is that these corners can make up for it with playing speed. If McAlister or Rolle get burned, you could basically forget about the receiver getting tackled. With Foxworth or Washington, you can count on it.
Ed Reed is a playmaker. We know this.
But something that will be crucial for the Ravens as a defense going into next season is the health of Dawan Landry. He was victim to a concussion last season in Week Three, but returns healthy for 2009.
Folks, remember, this is the same Dawan Landry who had 70 tackles, five interceptions, and scored a defensive touchdown as a rookie in 2006. Ed Reed, we don't have to worry about. He's going to get his seven interceptions, block his punts, and score his three defensive touchdowns.
One of the interesting things to follow on the Ravens is the kicking situation. Who will the kicker be? Will it be Steven Hauschka or undrafted free agent signee Graham Gano? Gano was a steal in the undrafted free agent period, to say the least.
The No. 1 kicker going into the draft, he didn't even get drafted, and now has a chance to start. Hauschka has the range, but it's always good to have competition, especially at such a vital position.
The Ravens have one of the best punters in football in Sam Koch. Koch seemed to have an uncanny ability to pin the opponents deep, and was recently signed to a second round tender. The Ravens now have a strong return game, as well.
Jim Leonhard departed, but Chris Carr signed a free agent contract, Lardarius Webb was drafted in the third round, and Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura will make impacts on the return game as well.
The Ravens will miss Bart Scott
Folks, this isn't true. Bart Scott was a good linebacker in his tenure for the Baltimore Ravens, but at the same time, we've seen countless defensive stars leave the Ravens (Adalius Thomas, Jamie Sharper, Tommy Polley, etc.) and never really dominate the league like they did in Baltimore.
The Ravens have five guys who could step in Scott's role (Jameel McClain, Tavares Gooden, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Prescott Burgess, and Jason Phillips). Like they always have, I expect one of these guys to play as well as Scott.
I think because Jim Leonhard had a good season last year and truly became another product of the system, Baltimore Ravens fans forgot about Dawan Landry. In 2006, as a rookie, he had 70 tackles, and five interceptions. His 2007 season wasn't as good, but still managed to compile 82 tackles.
He was on pace for another good 2008 until he got hurt. People forget about Landry, but he is a better safety than Leonhard.