As soon as the lockout ends, the Baltimore Ravens will enter the season with one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. That’s not very surprising since the team has made the playoffs in the four of the last five seasons. The Ravens front office does an excellent job at finding new talent in the draft and free agency, and everyone knows that the Ravens have great players on the roster.
Players like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata are true superstars in the league and er respected and known by every player and fan. They are often the players that come up with game changing plays and that the team builds the roster around. The team would be as good without them, but they also wouldn’t be nearly as good without the depth of solid players around them.
What many people don’t appreciate is exactly how deep the Ravens team is. The Ravens have good players at nearly every position on the team with very little holes, and while it’s true that they have superstars, the true strength of the team is not a few great players but the solid players throughout the roster,
These players don’t get much attention because they do their job well day but aren’t flashy about it. They don’t always come up with the big, highlight-reel plays, but the jobs they perform on a play-by play basis are what allow the Ravens to be consistently good.
Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the NFL. The highlight-reel players will always get the most attention, and the players who work behind the scenes are often overlooked. In this article, we’re going to look at a couple of the best players on the Ravens roster that don’t get the credit they deserve.
Jarret Johnson is the most unheralded player on the Ravens defense and may be the most underrated player on the Ravens roster. Most Ravens fans know who he is, but few appreciate how good he actually is and what he does for the team.
On a roster with Ray Lewis, it’s easy for other Ravens linebackers to get overshadowed. Bart Scott understood that well in his time in Baltimore. Among Baltimore fans, Johnson isn’t unknown as much as he’s underappreciated.
Fans remember his 2009 campaign where he had six sacks and arguable outperformed Terrell Suggs, who had just received a huge payday and was suppose to be the Ravens' best pass rusher that year. Fans want to see sacks from an outside linebacker, and that’s not unreasonable since most of the great 3-4 outside linebackers are sack machines.
However, the Ravens don’t use Johnson like a typical 3-4 outside linebacker. They obviously use him as a pass rusher, but Johnson’s best talent is stopping the run and setting the edge as an outside linebacker. He may be the best run-stuffing linebacker on the roster, and the Ravens allow him use those abilities.
Johnson was a defensive tackle in college, and after they drafted him, the Ravens had Johnson lose weight and switched him to linebacker. Because of his defensive lineman background, Johnson is extremely strong and can stand up to offensive lineman better that the average linebacker.
His strength and run-stuffing abilities allow Johnson to set the edge like a defensive lineman, and his athleticism allows him to flow to the ball like a linebacker. In a recent article, Pro Football Focus said that Johnson was the league’s best 4-3 outside linebacker, because of the way the Ravens utilize him, and that he is a “truly elite linebacker who is unmatched in run defense.”
Much like Terrell Suggs, Johnson is a true hybrid player, a player that isn’t a pure defensive end or a true outside linebacker. The Ravens defense relies on the hybrid abilities of Johnson for flexibility and has been an elite run defense in recent history. Johnson, who maybe the best run-stuffing linebacker on the roster, has be a big part of that success.
On the offensive side of the ball, Matt Birk was easily the most underrated and underappreciated player last season. Birk was signed in 2009 to replace Jason Brown, who was given a large contract by the Rams. Many people don’t appreciate the genius of his signing because they don’t appreciate how good Birk actually has been for the Ravens.
Birk has been a Pro Bowler in the past, and when he left Minnesota for Baltimore, it was assumed that his Pro Bowl days were behind him. While it may be true that his best days are behind him sine he’s 34 years old, Birk is still playing at a very high level and could have been a Pro Bowl candidate last season.
The key to Birk’s game has always be his run-blocking ability, which is outstanding even at his age, but many centers are good run-blockers. What sets Birk apart is his consistency at the position.
Birk rarely makes negative plays and consistently generates good blocks. He was ranked as the second best center in the NFL behind Nick Mangold, the Jets’ Pro Bowl center, by Pro Football Focus. In a comparison between Mangold, who is in his prime, and Birk, Mangold had more “dominant blocks” than Birk, who only registered one compared to Mangold’s eight, but Birk had slightly more “positive blocks” and several less “negative blocks.”
It’s clear that Mangold is the more dominate center right now, but the fact that Birk grades out better in consistency and comparatively in quality is very impressive and indicates that Birk is a big success for the Ravens.
The signing of Birk is impressive when you consider that the Ravens signed the better player, Birk, for much less money than the Rams paid Jason Brown. Upgrading a position and saving money is nearly unheard of in the NFL.
Players like Matt Birk and Jarret Johnson are one of the biggest reasons behind the success of good NFL teams. In today’s competitive free-agent market, the key to success is getting the most bang for your buck, and players who quietly do their job at an elite level and consistently outplay their contracts may be more important to their teams than the superstars.