Setting Realistic Training Camp Expectations for Notable Ravens Rookies
After going 8-8 and failing to reach the playoffs, the Baltimore Ravens are looking for a bounce-back season in 2014.
Getting strong performances from the rookies will be key to this rebound. This year's draft class not only has several potential contributors, but also a few guys capable of starting this season.
Given Baltimore's recent history in the draft, there's reason to believe that several rookies will see significant snaps in 2014.
Last year, first-rounder Matt Elam became the full-time starter at free safety early in the season. Defensive linemen John Simon and Brandon Williams, as well as linebacker Arthur Brown, were used as backups.
For the 2014 Ravens to get back to the postseason, they will need contributions from this year's rookie class as well. Here is a breakdown of what should be expected of each draft pick in both training camp and potentially in the regular season.
Not every undrafted rookie is included, but a few who could make the 53-man roster and play a significant role are on this list.
Round 1: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
The Ravens boosted their depth at linebacker by selecting C.J. Mosley of Alabama with their first-round pick. In 2013, Mosley won the Butkus Award as the top linebacker in college football and was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
He started all 13 games at inside linebacker and was Bama's leading tackler for the second-consecutive season, racking up 108 tackles, nine tackles for loss and five pass breakups. He was also a finalist for the Lombardi and Nagurski awards.
Mosley was arguably the best player on the board when the Ravens were on the clock, and he now adds to an interesting competition at inside linebacker.
The Ravens utilize a 3-4 defense that features two inside linebackers, and Mosley is expected to compete with 2012 second-rounder Arthur Brown for the starting job at weak-side inside linebacker.
He's probably not beating out the starting strong-side backer, Daryl Smith, who led the Ravens in tackles last season and signed a new four-year, $16 million deal this offseason.
Of all the rookies Baltimore got this offseason, Mosley will be the one with the highest expectations.
Training Camp Goal: Beat out Arthur Brown for a starting inside linebacker spot.
Season Goal: Play at least 50 percent of defensive snaps.
Round 2: Timmy Jernigan, DL, Florida State
Baltimore entered the draft needing to bolster their defensive line after letting Arthur Jones walk in free agency.
With the 48th-overall pick in the draft, the Ravens selected Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan to do just that.
The 6'2", 300-pound Jernigan notched 108 tackles (19 for a loss) and six sacks over the past two seasons for the Seminoles. During that time, FSU won two BCS bowl games, including the 2014 BCS National Championship.
He goes from one championship program to a Ravens team that just won the Super Bowl in 2012. Could Jernigan be one of the missing pieces that gets them back there?
Jernigan's playing time depends on where the Ravens decide to play him, and how they choose to use Haloti Ngata.
Jernigan played nose tackle in college, but that's where Ngata, a five-time All-Pro selection, is currently slated to start. But Ngata is capable of moving to defensive end in the Ravens' 3-4 scheme. If he plays there in 2014, that opens up a wealth of playing time for Jernigan.
According to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun, that's exactly what Baltimore is considering. But they could also move Jernigan to defensive tackle.
There's a starting job open on the left side of the defensive line, and Jernigan is among the top candidates along with Brandon Williams, DeAngelo Tyson and Kapron Lewis-Moore. The Ravens also could shift over Pro Bowl nose guard Haloti Ngata and have Williams play nose tackle.
If Ngata remains at nose tackle, Jernigan will have to play defensive tackle or defensive end. Regardless, he's a very talented player who should contribute as a rookie, but he first must find a role to do so.
Training Camp Goal: Find a role on the defensive line.
Season Goal: Play 30 percent of defensive snaps.
Round 3: Terrence Brooks, S, Florida State
The Ravens entered the NFL draft with a void at safety after starter James Ihedigbo left in free agency. With the 79th-overall selection, Baltimore took safety Terrence Brooks out of Florida State.
One of the more complete safeties in the draft, Brooks is an athletic freak who can cover well and come down and support the run. This past year with Florida State, Brooks recorded 56 tackles and two interceptions and helped FSU win the BCS National Championship.
Last year, Brooks started 13 games (five at free safety, eight at strong safety), so he's capable of playing both safety spots. That said, Matt Elam is a quality strong safety, and there's more playing time up for grabs at free safety.
As a rookie, Brooks will challenge Darian Stewart for the starting free safety spot. At worst, he'll get significant playing time on both defense and special teams.
Training Camp Goal: Beat out Darian Stewart for starting free safety spot
Season Goal: Play 50 percent of defensive snaps
Round 3: Crockett Gillmore, TE, Colorado State
With the 99th-overall pick, Baltimore drafted Colorado State tight end Crockett Gillmore. As a senior in 2013, Gillmore started all 14 games, catching 47 passes for 577 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
The Ravens needed to add some youth at TE this offseason, and they did so with Gillmore. One tactic new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak loves to feature is schemes with multiple tight ends.
While Gillmore will have a chance to earn playing time as a rookie, veterans Owen Daniels and Dennis Pitta will get the majority of TE snaps.
But Gillmore could step into an even bigger role in 2015 when Owen Daniels' one-year deal expires. Gillmore isn't going to do much as a rookie, and expectations for him this year should be kept low.
Training Camp Goal: Win the third tight end spot.
Season Goal: Play 15 percent of offensive snaps.
Round 4: Brent Urban, DL, Virginia
With the 134th-overall pick in the draft, the Ravens selected defensive tackle Brent Urban out of Virginia. In 2013, Urban was an All-ACC Honorable Mention pick after starting eight games (he missed four due to leg injury) and collecting nine pass breakups.
The 6'7", 300-pound Urban has the ability to play defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense or defensive end in a 3-4 defense.
However, this is the second defensive lineman the Ravens have drafted after picking Timmy Jernigan in the second round. That means it's going to be hard for Urban to find playing time as a rookie. Don't expect Urban to do much as a rookie other than serve as depth.
Training Camp Goal: Make the roster as a backup defensive lineman.
Season Goal: Play 10 percent of defensive snaps.
Round 4: Lorenzo Taliaferro, RB, Coastal Carolina
With the 138th pick of the 2014 NFL draft, the Baltimore Ravens selected running back Lorenzo Taliaferro out of Coastal Carolina.
This past year, the 6'2", 230-pound Taliaferro was named the Big South Offensive Player of the Year. He led the conference with 1,729 rushing yards on 276 carries and 27 touchdowns in 15 games. He added 23 catches for 153 yards and a pair of scores.
Because of uncertainty at the running back position, Taliaferro could earn playing time as a rookie.
As Jeff Zrebiec of The Baltimore Sun notes, starting running back Ray Rice is facing a suspension from the NFL because of his aggravated assault charge at an Atlantic City casino this offseason. This after rushing for just 660 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games.
Backup running back Bernard Pierce is recovering from offseason surgery on his shoulder labrum, but should be ready for the start of training camp. These two situations could mean Taliaferro gets extra reps in training camp to showcase his skills.
This could translate into more playing time in the regular season. That said, when Pierce and Rice are healthy and playing, Taliaferro will mostly be used as the third or fourth RB.
Training Camp Goal: Make the roster as a backup running back and earn playing time when Rice is suspended.
Season Goal: Play 15 percent of offensive snaps.
Round 5: John Urschel, G, Penn State
With the 175th-overall pick, the Ravens drafted offensive guard John Urschel out of Penn State. He started all 24 games at right guard from 2012-13 with the Nittany Lions.
Because Urschel can play both guard and center, he provides good value at this spot and can help upgrade an offensive line that finished 30th in rushing yards during the 2013 NFL season.
The Ravens also gave up 48 sacks, tied for the fourth-most of any NFL team. Getting Urschel will help ensure that doesn't happen again in 2014.
As a rookie he'll have to compete for a roster spot, as players drafted this late are rarely assured of a spot on the final roster. With the Ravens having just three guards currently signed, though, Urschel has a great chance to make the opening-day 53-man roster.
Training Camp Goal: Make the roster as a backup guard.
Season Goal: Remain on the 53-man roster.
Round 6: Keith Wenning, QB, Ball State
The Ravens drafted Ball State's Keith Wenning with the 194th-overall pick. A dual-threat QB in college, Wenning set multiple school records, including pass completions (1,035), attempts (1,642), passing yards (11,402) and touchdowns (92). He also had 13 career rushing touchdowns.
Wenning looks like a solid developmental prospect who could eventually become a nice backup behind Joe Flacco.
That said, he'll be a backup as a rookie and probably the the third-string QB behind Flacco and Tyrod Taylor.
Training Camp Goal: Make the roster as a backup QB.
Season Goal: Remain on the 53-man roster.
Round 7: Michael Campanaro, WR, Wake Forrest
Baltimore moved into the seventh round and selected Michael Campanaro out of Wake Forest. They gave up a sixth-round pick in the 2015 draft in order to select Campanaro with the 218th pick.
Campanaro entered the 2013 season with high expectations, but his college career ended prematurely after he suffered a season-ending broken collarbone in November. He still earned second-team All-ACC honors after catching 67 passes for 803 yards and six touchdowns in eight games.
Over four years, Campanaro had a productive college career with a school-record 229 catches for 2,506 career yards and 14 touchdowns.
He would have been drafted higher if not for that injury that cost him games in '13. This could be a steal if he's healthy once training camp opens.
Campanaro has a chance to at least make the roster as the fifth or sixth WR, and he could earn playing time if he performs well in training camp and carries it into the regular season.
Training Camp Goal: Make the roster as a backup wide receiver.
Season Goal: Play 10 percent of offensive snaps.
Undrafted Rookie: James Hurst, OT, North Carolina
As of now, I'm projecting one undrafted free agent to make the Ravens' final 53-man roster, and that's North Carolina's James Hurst. The Ravens are thin at offensive tackle after letting starting right tackle Michael Oher walk in free agency. Currently the unproven Ricky Wagner is the projected starter with Ryan Jensen, a converted guard, as his backup.
The Ravens didn't address the tackle position in free agency or the draft, but they did sign a good tackle after the draft in Hurst.
After a solid senior season, Hurst entered his final college game projected as high as a first-round pick in this year's NFL draft, according to The Associated Press' Aaron Beard (via CBS Charlotte). But in the Belk Bowl against Cincinnati, Hurst broke his leg.
The injury made him untouchable in the draft, as he was still rehabbing as all 256 picks were made without his name being one of them.
If he's fully recovered from his injury, Hurst will make the 53-man roster and give Baltimore depth at offensive tackle. He may even challenge Wagner for the starting right tackle spot.
Training Camp Goal: Make the roster as a backup offensive tackle.
Season Goal: Play sparingly in mop-up duty and on special teams.