Ravens 2013 Draft Class Ready to Shine in 2nd Year

Shehan Peiris@@shehan_peiris_Correspondent IIIJuly 4, 2014

Jun 12, 2013; Owings Mills, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens safety Matt Elam (26) carries the ball during mini camp at Under Armour Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Ravens 2013 draft class was somewhat disappointing last season because we didn’t get to see most of the players. Matt Elam and Marlon Brown were the only rookies who saw over 215 snaps, and four of the team’s first five picks combined for a mere 311 snaps (Arthur Brown: 211; Brandon Williams: 93; John Simon: 3 and Kyle Juszczyk: 4).

Additionally, the last two picks (Aaron Mellette and Marc Anthony) are no longer on the roster, and Anthony joined Allen Patrick (2008) and Cedric Peerman (2009) as the only other Ravens draft picks to not make the final roster, injured reserve or practice squad in head coach John Harbaugh’s tenure.

Just because the rookies were out of sight, however, doesn’t mean they weren’t working, learning and growing. The results will be on display in 2014, when the 2013 class is poised to break out.

Here are the breakdowns and projections for every 2013 draft pick except for John Simon (because I don’t see a “breakout” coming from him this season). Every other member of the Class of 2013 will take on a significantly larger role for the team.

Matt Elam, SS (Round 1, Pick 32)

Elam will be one of the stars of the Ravens defense this year.
Elam will be one of the stars of the Ravens defense this year.USA TODAY Sports

Elam was easily the most impressive rookie, and holding down a starting job as a first-year safety is no easy feat. Even so, Elam was an average NFL starter for most of the season. He played out of position at free safety, gave up a few long completions and didn’t make too many plays.

To his credit, Elam was disappointed with his first year, according to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun: "I wasn't happy about it at all. "That's why I approached the offseason the way I did, getting myself in shape, losing weight, getting myself fit and in shape physically and mentally to get myself right to take the next step."

He finished the season strongly, however, recording 26 tackles and one interception in the last three games.

In 2014, shifting back to his natural position of strong safety, and with a year of experience under his belt, Elam will be a dynamic playmaker.

Firstly, he’ll be allowed to come up into the box and make plays against the run more frequently, which plays to his strengths. Secondly, he’s already impressed his teammates and his coaches with the mental leap he’s made over the offseason, including Lardarius Webb. Matt Zenitz of the Carroll County Times shared the following quote from Webb:

Webb went on to make more unprompted remarks about Elam, per Wilson:

From last year to this year, I see a big jump with his leadership, with him controlling the back end and just being that safety, controlling the calls. I just really like where I see him going. When he's being vocal, he's confident in what he's saying. If he makes a call, that's the call and you're going to play it. ... He speaks with confidence now, and you can just tell.

Head coach John Harbaugh said the same thing in one of his OTA pressers, via Wilson: "He has really good control of the back end. It's pretty seamless. I haven't seen too many miscommunications, and I don't think any when Matt's been back there. He's really grown, so that's been a real plus."

Elam was solid in 2013. He will be a game changer in 2014.

Arthur Brown, ILB (Round 2, Pick 56)

Arthur Brown may not start, but he'll still be a key piece of the defense.
Arthur Brown may not start, but he'll still be a key piece of the defense.USA TODAY Sports

The Ravens were so in love with Arthur Brown that they traded up to draft him in the second round. They certainly didn’t do so with the expectation that he would be a situational player (as a coverage linebacker).

Brown was the most disappointing rookie in 2013, and the general perception outside the organization (as shown by this tweet from Luke Jones of WNST.net) was that the team may have already given up on him when they drafted C.J. Mosley with their first-round pick in this year’s draft.

Mosley is the favorite to start alongside Daryl Smith in the middle of the defense, but that doesn’t mean that Brown will continue to be a non-factor. For starters, those early expectations for his rookie year were too high to begin with.

He was always going to need to bulk up to take on NFL blockers, and a sports-hernia surgery caused him to miss minicamp and OTAs—valuable parts of the rookie experience—and hurt his mental transition to NFL.

Fortunately, Brown has addressed both of those issues this offseason.

Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com reports that the coaches instructed Brown to put on some weight this offseason, and he responded by hiring a nutritionist and attacking his workouts. The result was seven additional pounds of muscle to get up to 235 pounds.

Brown told Mink that he definitely feels a difference on the field, but that he’ll keep adding muscle as long as his speed—his most impressive trait—remains unaffected: "I can feel it. I’m sturdier out there. It’s about taking on those big 300-pound blockers and being able to stand my ground. As long as I can move around, make plays and be productive, my weight will continue to rise."

As for the mental side, one season of practices and meetings has helped Brown get up to speed, according to Zenitz of the Carroll County Times: "I feel a lot further along. There was so much coming into this team from college that I did not know when it came to the defense. It was a whole new system that I had to learn, and I really had to take it all in."

Brown expanded on that statement to Mink: "Everything just makes more sense now. It’s really comprehending the defensive scheme and knowing my role and how it relates to the other 10 players. Experience is valuable. It set a solid foundation that I can build upon this year."

Brown isn’t the only one noticing a difference. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees raved about Brown’s progress to Clifton Brown of CSNBaltimore.com: "Art Brown has improved light years from a year ago. This guy has really had a great camp I think. He is so improved from a year ago. I’m really excited about him."

Brown is still likely to come off the bench in 2014, but he looks to be a greatly improved player who will be a part of an impressive trio of ILBs. Moving forward, he will join Mosley in the middle to form an athletic and instinctive linebacker duo in the mold of Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.

Brandon Williams, DT (Round 3, Pick 94)

Brandon Williams is the favorite to replace Arthur Jones in the starting lineup.
Brandon Williams is the favorite to replace Arthur Jones in the starting lineup.USA TODAY Sports

Adjusting to the mental requirements of the NFL is tough for any rookie, but the learning curve was steeper for Brandon Williams as a Division II star making the leap to the pros. He admitted as much to Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com: "Physically I was fine. Football is football. The mental jump was just learning a whole new playbook, getting schemes right.  But that’s done now. I’m in my second year and I’m ready to go."

If he does have the mental side of things down, he has the physical tools to be a dominant force along the defensive line.

Coach Harbaugh elaborated on those tools to Wilson of The Baltimore Sun:

Brandon has looked really good. He continues to get in great shape. The way he’s built, you’re not going to see that body type too much. The amount of muscle he has packed on that frame of his is pretty incredible.

He’s explosive, he’s quick, but he’s playing [with good] fundamentals. [Defensive line coach] Clarence [Brooks] has done a great job with him. I’m looking forward to when the pads get on, just to see how he does.

In addition to his combination of size, strength and acceleration, Harbaugh pointed to his versatility as a trait that should help his case to win more playing time, via Wilson.

He’s a defensive tackle. To me, that means you can play the nose, you can play any one of the shades, you play play zero-nose, you can play the shade, which is a gap-control on the center. You can play an inside-shade on the guard.

You can play head-up on the guard or you can play a three-technique, which is the outside-shade on the guard. That versatility, and Haloti can do the same thing, that gives you guys that can move around a little bit.

There is plenty of talent along the defensive line, but Williams is considered one of the favorites to replace Jones in the starting lineup, according to ESPN’s Jamison Hensley (note: the “he” Hensley refers to is Harbaugh):

Even if he doesn’t start, Williams will be a difference maker along the D-line this season.

Kyle Juszczyk, FB (Round 4, Pick 130)

Juszczyk is an interesting toy for Kubiak to play with in the offense.
Juszczyk is an interesting toy for Kubiak to play with in the offense.USA TODAY Sports

If you were nonplussed when the Ravens drafted a Harvard fullback in the fourth round, you weren’t alone. But Kyle Juszczyk isn’t your grandfather’s fullback. He’s athletic, dangerous in space and possesses a pair of reliable mitts that helped him catch 125 passes over his career with the Crimson.

That said, he caught zero passes for Baltimore last year and was only on the field with the offense for four snaps.

This season will be a different animal for two reasons: his familiarity with the team and the introduction of Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator. Juszczyk touched on both in one of his offseason press conferences (h/t to Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com): "This season has already been so much better for so many different reasons. I love the new offense, I love what they have me doing, I love that I’m getting more time with the first team. But this is also my second year, and, man, what a difference a second year makes."

Gary Kubiak’s offense in Houston used the fullback position well thanks to the versatility of James Casey, and Kubiak sees some of Casey in the Harvard product, according to Wilson of The Baltimore Sun:

I’ve been very impressed with Kyle. We haven’t put the pads on yet, so fullbacks get judged when you put those pads on, but he reminds me a lot of a kid I had for a couple of years, James Casey.

He played really well for me. He’s athletic and can make some plays down the field. I like fullbacks that can run, because there’s such a separation between them and the tailbacks.

Kubiak touches on a key point: Fullbacks get judged when the pads are on. The extent to which Juszczyk is involved in the offense will still be dictated by his run-blocking. He wasn’t ready to be a lead blocker last year, which caused the Ravens to re-sign Vonta Leach and make Juszczyk a special teams player only.

Nevertheless, the man they call “Juice” will definitely have a bigger role as a receiver in the offense, according to Gerry Sandusky of WBAL-TV:

Juszczyk gave us a more detailed idea of how important he could be when he shared the following tidbit with Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com: "Coach Kubiak has said in our meetings that he could see me catching 40 or 50 balls this year, which would be a great start. I wouldn’t mind that one bit."

Juszczyk’s ceiling is as high as his run-blocking, but he’s going to emerge as a useful checkdown option for Joe Flacco this season thanks to an offensive coordinator who can take advantage of his unique skill set.

Rick Wagner, OT (Round 5, Pick 168)

Wagner has surprised everyone by emerging as the favorite to start at RT.
Wagner has surprised everyone by emerging as the favorite to start at RT.Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

Immediately after the 2013 draft, the chance of Rick Wagner starting at right tackle in 2014 seemed minuscule. After Week 1, where Wagner gave up three sacks while replacing an injured Michael Oher, it looked impossible.

But lo and behold, it is becoming a reality. Wagner has been impressive enough that the front office hasn’t deemed it necessary to bring in a rookie or free-agent tackle to challenge him.

Count Kubiak as one of the coaches who is impressed with Wagner’s performance, according to Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com:

To me, Ricky has been – I don’t want to say he’s a surprise, because I expected him to play well – but I think we put a lot on his plate early walking in here as a starter, new scheme and those types of things.

He has responded and hasn’t missed a rep. He plays very hard in what we’re doing, so we just have to keep going. But I’ve been very pleased with Ricky.

Wagner has the size (6’6”, 310 pounds) for the position, and he’s looked far more comfortable than his Week 1 debacle when he was thrown into the fire against a Broncos defense that had a big lead and was sending pressure mercilessly.

Director of pro personnel Vince Newsome talked to Zenitz of the Carroll County Times about Wagner’s development:

I think Rick Wagner has really taken to the position, and he's maximized it. As much as you can do in underwear out there, he has done it. He's going up against Elvis Dumervil all the time ... so Ricky Wagner is getting probably the best experience you can possibly get.

Once they put on pads, we'll get a better sense of how he's handling it. And once the bullets get a little faster, we'll see how he really does, but I think Ricky Wagner is doing well for right now.

As Newsome suggested, Wagner’s true tests will come in training camp and the preseason when the pads are on and the defense is truly trying to sack the quarterback. But for now he seems locked in as the starter.

Kapron Lewis-Moore, DE (Round 6, Pick 200)

Lewis-Moore is excited to get on the field after his "redshirt" rookie season.
Lewis-Moore is excited to get on the field after his "redshirt" rookie season.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Lewis-Moore is obviously set to have a better 2014 season because he’ll actually be on the field. The Ravens were comfortable drafting him despite his torn ACL, and they could start to reap the rewards this year.

The Notre Dame product was a leader for a very talented Fighting Irish defense in college, and he has great size and strength to step in along the D-line and contribute immediately.

Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com singled out Lewis-Moore as one of the players who boosted his stock this offseason:

Lewis-Moore worked with the first-team defense during the offseason, and he could help make up for the loss of defensive tackle Arthur Jones. Lewis-Moore isn’t showing any lingering issues from the knee injury, and he clearly spent his rookie season bulking up for the NFL. The Ravens use a heavy rotation along the defensive front, and Lewis-Moore is in line for one of those spots.

Lewis-Moore is definitely in the mix to replace Jones in the starting lineup, but he will be a factor in the D-line rotation regardless.

Ryan Jensen, OL (Round 6, Pick 203)

Jensen looks like a long-term utility backup along the O-line.
Jensen looks like a long-term utility backup along the O-line.Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

Ryan Jensen is listed here as OL because he doesn’t have a single position. Instead, he’s just an offensive lineman, and that’s one of the reasons that he figures to play an important role for the Ravens moving forward.

The coaches liked Jensen enough to keep him on the active 53-man roster last year despite the fact that he never suited up, and he’s done more this offseason to earn their praise.

He was viewed as a backup guard and center last season, but he’s taken reps at tackle this season and held his own, according to ESPN’s Hensley:

Jensen is a little undersized, but he’s tough and has the versatility to play every spot on the line. He may never become a starter, but he’s the type of intelligent and flexible player the Ravens love to have around to provide depth and fill in wherever necessary.

Being on the field at all will be a step up for Jensen, but this season marks the start of what will hopefully be a long career in Baltimore.

Class of 2013

Initially, the 2013 class looked like a flop. Ozzie will be all smiles after 2014.
Initially, the 2013 class looked like a flop. Ozzie will be all smiles after 2014.GAIL BURTON/Associated Press

The class of 2013 should have four starters (Elam, Williams, Juszczyk and Wagner) this season along with very good backups in Brown, Simon, Lewis-Moore and Jensen.

Considering the long-term potential of Elam and Brown to become high-quality starters at their positions, this draft class has the talent to be great.

At the end of the 2013 season, the verdict for the group was mostly one of disappointment. The end of the 2014 season will bring a very different conclusion.

Shehan Peiris is B/R's Lead Featured Columnist covering the Baltimore Ravens and a co-host of Ravens Central Radio, a weekly podcast on the Pro Football Central radio network that focuses on all things Ravens-related. For the latest Ravens news, draft analysis and links to episodes of Ravens Central Radio, follow me on Twitter:

Follow @shehan_peiris

Follow @RavensCRadio


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