Ranking the 7 Biggest Upgrades Baltimore Ravens Made This Offseason
That the Baltimore Ravens went 8-8 in 2013 was quite an achievement given the injuries, youth and lack of talent at numerous key positions. On the bright side, this meant there were obvious areas where improvements could be made. With a clear roadmap, general manager Ozzie Newsome went into the offseason knowing he had to target certain positions while sticking to his mantra of “right player, right price.”
With training camp, preseason and the actual season still to come, the jury is still out on how Newsome fared this offseason, but this slideshow is an early ranking of the seven most important upgrades of the summer.
Since this is an examination of “upgrades,” there are two main factors that make up the ranking criteria. The talent of the new (or in one case, returning) player is obviously a significant component of the ranking, but it is also important to consider how much better he is than his predecessor from the 2013 depth chart, and the extent of the upgrade will be the tiebreaker in the rankings.
7. Timmy Jernigan
Timmy Jernigan was a steal in the second round, and his potential alone earns him a place on this list. That said, he can’t be any higher because it’s still unclear how well his game will translate to the NFL and because there was a lot of talent on the defensive line last year.
Jernigan is a player with the chance to soar up these rankings over the course of training camp, however, if he can continue to show the flashes of physical dominance that he displayed in OTAs.
The reigning BCS champion’s place in the D-line rotation is still uncertain, but he figures to be a primary backup at nose tackle or defensive end at the very least. He has all of the tools to be a force in the future, but he may not be a major upgrade in his rookie season.
6. Justin Forsett
Justin Forsett is probably the fourth-string running back, but that’s exactly why he’s on the list. The Ravens had no quality running back depth last season beyond Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, so both players had to fight through nagging injuries that hampered them for the majority of the season.
Forsett is not a star—he’s not even a starter—but he’s an excellent backup because of his versatility. He is an effective, speedy runner with the hands to make plays out of the backfield and the agility to make defenders miss in the open field.
As a change-of-pace back, Forsett is a very nice addition for the Ravens, and his familiarity with Gary Kubiak’s offensive system makes him even more valuable in Baltimore.
The veteran running back will play an important role in the offense; just being able to rely on a backup RB is a substantial improvement for the position group.
5. Owen Daniels
Owen Daniels is a relatively unknown commodity at this point because of the broken fibula that cut his 2013 season short. Despite that uncertainty, he is just two years removed from a Pro Bowl season and is feeling 100 percent healthy based on comments he made to Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com:
I’m kind of getting older now, but my body feels good after coming off last year. The injury is a non-issue. I had to knock some rust off the first couple days after not playing football since last October, but I’m feeling better as I go along through OTAs.
His injury was a freak accident after a member of the San Francisco 49ers landed on his leg awkwardly, so there is no reason to expect any durability issues this season. If Daniels is fully healthy, he’s an enormous upgrade over Dallas Clark as the secondary tight end on the roster. Realistically, a healthy Daniels would be an upgrade over last year’s No. 1 TE for much of the season, Ed Dickson.
Like Forsett, Daniels has plenty of experience in Kubiak’s offense but he will play a much larger role in the TE-friendly system. He’ll be asked to do more in-line blocking than his earlier years, but Daniels will form a very good positional duo with Dennis Pitta.
4. C.J. Mosley
Daryl Smith was the anchor of the Ravens defense in 2013, but finding an inside linebacker to line up next to him wasn’t very easy.
Josh Bynes started for the first six games, while Jameel McClain made a return from a serious spinal cord injury to start the last 10 games next to Smith—with a sprinkling of Arthur Brown in passing situations for coverage purposes.
None of those players were bad, but they weren’t particularly good either. Smith will have a true partner in crime this season thanks to the addition of C.J. Mosley.
The rookie has looked like a veteran and impressed many of his teammates during OTAs—like Joe Flacco, who commented on the Alabama product in one of his press conferences (h/t to ESPN’s Jamison Hensley):
He is a natural, man. He looks like he covers ground out there really well. It’ll be interesting, once we get the pads on, to see some of the running backs and [Mosley] and some of our other guys go toe to toe a little bit.
It’s hard to put Mosley higher on the list without seeing him in action for real, but he has the talent to be a star in the middle of the defense—which would certainly make him a major upgrade over the Bynes-McClain-Brown committee.
3. Kelechi Osemele
Kelechi Osemele isn’t a new addition, but that doesn’t mean he’s not an upgrade. He is now fully healthy and back in the starting lineup at left guard. In the process, he’s replacing A.Q. Shipley, who struggled mightily at the position and looked consistently overmatched on a physical level.
That won’t be the case for Osemele, who has the physical tools to be a dominant guard like his compatriot Marshal Yanda.
His neighbor on the line, Eugene Monroe, is impressed with Osemele’s conditioning according to Jamison Hensley of ESPN:
He's back to his usual self, running around. He's one of the best conditioned guys on the field—just grinding, trying to get better. We're having to slow him down a little bit because it's been a while since he's played.
The offensive woes of 2013 can all be traced back to the O-line, so any upgrade to the unit is a significant one…which leads us to No. 2 on the list.
2. Jeremy Zuttah
Every position on the O-line struggled to some extent last year, but none struggled as much as Gino Gradkowski—whose individual problems affected the rest of the line.
Ozzie Newsome pounced on the opportunity to trade for Jeremy Zuttah, and ESPN analyst Louis Riddick loved the fit according to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun:
Based on what Gary Kubiak wants to do with a lot of bootlegs, waggles, designed roll-outs and an outside zone running game, that all plays right to Jeremy's strengths. He's very athletic. He can execute cut-off blocks, get to the second level, pull and finish with aggressiveness.
He can really move well laterally in pass protection. He can do all the things that won't allow him to get exposed one-on-one as he did at times in the Tampa scheme. If you look at him as a center and guard, he's much better at center. At guard, that's where he got overextended, got up on his toes and didn't have consistent hand usage. He's a natural center.
We need to see Zuttah with his new teammates, but the talent and athleticism are definitely there. Zuttah is a tremendous upgrade over Gradkowski, and his presence could be the glue that holds the entire O-line together.
1. Steve Smith Sr.
No player combines outstanding talent with a position of need more than Steve Smith Sr—hence his No. 1 spot on the list. Joe Flacco was certainly responsible for his own downfall last season, but you can’t overlook the complete lack of weapons he had at his disposal.
The signing of Smith gives the Ravens a go-to receiver that can make tough catches in the mold of Anquan Boldin.
Even though he’s a No. 2 receiver, he’s an enormous upgrade at that spot over Marlon Brown and Jacoby Jones—who are both better suited to be third options.
Additionally, Smith’s value extends far beyond the field and into the locker room thanks to his swagger, leadership, competitiveness and work ethic.
Smith will be a significant boost for the Ravens offense, giving them a playmaker they sorely lacked in 2013.