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Baltimore Ravens 2014 Season Preview

August 31, 2014 in Baltimore Ravens, Coaching Staff, Fanspeak Radio Network, JOE FLACCO, News, NFL SCHEDULE

BALTIMORE RAVENS: 2013 RECORD: 8-8 (3rd, AFC North)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2012, defeated San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII

HEAD COACH (RECORD): John Harbaugh (62-34 in six seasons)

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Gary Kubiak (first season with Ravens)

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Dean Pees (third season with Ravens)

Final Numbers in 2013:

Points Scored 20.0 (25th), Offense: 307.4 (29th), Rushing 83.0 (30th), Passing 224.4 (18th)—-Defense: 335.5 (12th),  Run D 105.4 (11th),

 Pass D 230.1 (12th), Takeaways 24 (19th), TO Diff (-5), Points allowed 22.0 (12th)

KEY ADDITIONS: RB Justin Forest (from Jaguars), WR Steve Smith (from Panthers), TE Owen Daniels (from Texans), TE Crockett Gillmore (third round, Colorado State), C Jeremy Zuttah (from Buccaneers), DT Timmy Jernigan (second round, Florida State), LB C.J. Mosley (first round, Alabama), DB Dominique Franks (from Falcons), FS Terrence Brooks (third round, Florida State), SS Darian Stewart (from Rams)

KEY DEPARTURES: RB Bernard Scott (free agent), RB Shaun Draughn (to Bears), FB Vonta Leach (free agent), WR Tandon Doss (to Jaguars), WR Brandon Stokley (free agent), TE Ed Dickson (to Panthers), TE Dallas Clark (retired), T Michael Oher (to Titans), DE Arthur Jones (to Colts), LB Jameel McClain (to Giants), LB Rolando McClain (to Cowboys), CB Corey Graham (to Bills), SS James Ihedigbo (to Lions)

Recap of 2013 (8-8 second in AFC North, missed playoffs)

Last season, the Baltimore Ravens missed the playoffs for the first since head coach John Harbaugh and QB Joe Flacco arrived in the Charm City in 2008. The 2013 version of the Ravens offense can only be described as offensive to all that watched it each week. Injuries along the O-line wreaked havoc throughout the entire unit, as Flacco was sacked a career high 48 times and tossed more INT’s than TD’s (19-22). The once vaunted rushing attack, led by Ray Rice, finished 30th in the NFL averaging 3.1 yards per attempt. The defense didn't dominate, as it did in years past but it played well enough to keep the club in games considering the fact that it was first season without future HOFers like Ray Lewis & Ed Reed.

Three Reasons The Ravens Return to the Playoffs:

1. New offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak’s scheme:

Gary Kubiak

Courtesy of ICON SMI

The former Texans HC brings his zone based scheme to Baltimore and when looking at the Ravens offensive personnel, it could be a match made if football Heaven. While all eyes will be on Joe Flacco, Kubiak’s offense is a run zone blocking scheme that accentuates the strengths of the quarterback but more importantly, it heavily relies on a powerful running game. If the O-line does its job, the offense can’t help but produce league leading numbers from the men carrying the ball. From 2008-12, Kubiak’s offense was one of only two teams (Denver) to have its total offense, passing offense and rushing offense each rank in the Top 5 at least once during that span. They led the NFL in passing in 2009 and ranked second in rushing in 2011. However, Kubiak’s offense is also predicated on scoring.  His offenses have ranked among the NFL’s Top 10 scoring units 14 times.

 

2. QB Joe Flacco

Many felt that coming off his MVP performance in Super Bowl XLVII Flacco took a step back last season. He finished with a passer rating of 73.1 and a dismal touchdown-to-interception ratio of 19:22. But I’m predicting a nice season for No.5 in 2014. If you know me, then you know this wasn't an easy thing for me to write. Simplifying things for Flacco has become a priority in the new system. Kubiak expects two things of his franchise QB—he wants Flacco to get rid of the ball quicker and improve his completion rate of 59 percent in 2013. The Ravens lived and died on the long ball during the past two seasons. Since 2010, Flacco has thrown 123 passes of 25 or more yards, sixth most in the NFL during that span. The ability to go deep will still be there but Flacco will just take a different approach. They will use more play action and screen passes to set up the long ball. Both will be new concepts to Flacco and the Ravens offense. Despite having limited success with the screen pass at times under Cam Cameron, since 2001, the Ravens have thrown 123 screen passes, fourth fewest during that span.

When looking at his targets following the snap, Joe Cool must work through his progressions quickly to find the open receiver. If he does, he should complete 60 to 65 percent of his throws and finish with a passer rating around the mid-90s. Matt Schaub had a completion percentage of 60 percent or better in all seven of his seasons with the Texans, and a rating of 90-plus in five. Flacco has a better set of skills than did Schaub and an overall better compliment of weapons this season than Schaub ever did in Houston. Flacco finished the preseason with a 64.4 completion percentage, two TD’s, no INT’s and a passer rating of 102.5. The completion percentage and passer rating would be career highs and Baltimore is 35-6 when Flacco produces at least a 95 passer rating and 18-3 when he’s been able to hit 110 or better.

Flacco is a winner, plain and simple. His 62 regular season wins rank second to Drew Brees since 2008 and are the most by a starting QB in his first six seasons in NFL history. There are no more excuses for Flacco; his success will depend on him in 2014 and I’m betting Flacco finally has that breakout year.

3. Ray Rice Returns to Form:

and more of this....

Ray Rice Returns to Form

Rice will serve a two game suspension to start the season for violation of the leagues conduct policy stemming from his February elevator incident in Atlantic City NJ. But once Rice returns—-so should his game. He looked great in limited play during the preseason, which is at least a bit soothing to Ravens fans considering No.27 is coming off his worst season as a pro. Last season, Rice played in 15 games while battling a hip injury and rushed for a mere 660 yards on 214 carries with just four rushing touchdowns.

As a team the Ravens ended with 1,328 yards on the ground, the lowest yardage total in franchise history, while their 83 rushing yards per game was the third-worst in the NFL. Some of this was due to the performance of the offensive line. According to Pro Football Focus, the Ravens offensive line had the sixth-worst run blocking in the league. The play calling was a bit unusual at times as well. Take the game in Buffalo last season when Flacco threw 5 INT’s. Baltimore threw the ball 50 times and ran it a mere nine times. One could also point to the Green Bay Packer game at home and the play calling sequence which led to three unnecessary points for the Packers just before the half. For the record, Baltimore lost both games by a combined five points (3 in Buffalo—2 at home to GB) and winning either of them would have been enough for a sixth straight playoff trip.

As his system will do for Flacco, Kubiak’s scheme will benefit Rice—perhaps even more. As a team during the preseason, the Ravens pounded the ball on the ground. Baltimore finished the preseason as the NFL’s best rushing offense, averaging 171 yards a game. The Ravens averaged 15.2 more yards per game than the second-ranked Eagles. In this system, Rice is likely to return to the back that is a three time Pro-Bowler and owns the NFL’s most total yards from scrimmage (8,487) dating back to the 2009 season, registering 42 games where he’s gained 100-or-more total yards. As he has in the past (see 4th & 29) Rice will play a pivotal role in helping Flacco out of trouble.

Kubiak’s offense will prevent defenses from keying on Rice as a passing option out of the backfield. How critical is it that Rice returns to the duel threat back he was for his first five seasons—-very critical when you consider the following. Rice ranks first in the NFL in catches and second in receiving yards by a RB since 2008, amassing 369 receptions for 3,034 yards. Rice also owns 104 catches for 961 yards on third down during this time, tying Darren Sproles (104 for 1,042) for the most such catches and second-most such yards among NFL RBs.

Three Reasons the Ravens Fail to Make the Playoffs:

The Secondary:

Webb, Smith & Jackson

Smith, Webb & Jackson

Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith proved to be a solid CB duo last season, and both will once again be the starters in 2014. However, there are concerns here. Webb has had an injury-filled career and while he did recover from his most recent ACL tear to play in all 16 games last season, he’s currently dealing with a back injury that kept him out of the preseason. Smith, whose play improved seemingly every down last season, also failed to finish the preseason, and has a tendency to be “nicked up” prone. While both are good players both can inconsistent from one series to the next and take unnecessary penalties, which chew up big chunks of yards.

The top backup at the position, Asa Jackson was also injured in the preseason and missed the final two exhibition games. By the way, it’s worth noting Jackson has never played a down during a regular season game.

As of today (Saturday August 31) all of the Ravens injured CB’s returned to practice and are expected to play in the season opener. If either Webb or Smith miss significant time there isn't much on the depth chart. Corey Graham, who could play outside or in the slot, is in Buffalo. Chykie Brown, who has appeared in 39 games with one start over parts of three seasons in Baltimore, is also listed on the depth chart.

At safety, the Ravens are blessed with young talent but with youth comes inexperience. Matt Elam struggled in his rookie season and was quiet in camp while third round pick Terrence Brooks started to come on. The former FSU star is a ways from starting and sits behind Darian Stewart, whom the Ravens signed from the Rams. However, Brooks may prove to be valuable as he slid down and played some corner in the preseason and didn’t look all that bad.

Technically, the Ravens were below average in the NFL last year generating 40 sacks, if they fail to build on that number in 2014, opposing QB’s may have their way with a secondary that isn't yet ready to shut down any portion of the field. This could have a trickle-down effect. The Ravens want to play a ball control offense with the ability to hit the big play—but if they are forced to play catch up or become involved in shootouts that could spell doom and a second straight year of missing the playoffs.

2 The Youth of the Team Fails to Deliver

During the first 5 years of the John Harbaugh era in Baltimore, veteran leadership keyed the team’s success. Early on, along with Ray Lewis & Ed Reed there was Todd Heap and Derrick Mason. During the Super Bowl season of 2012, Lewis, Reed and players such as Anquan Boldin, Bernard Pollard and Danelle Ellerbe were all key veteran contributors. Due to retirement, free agency or in Boldin’s case, a trade, all are gone. Each, while their contributions considered invaluable were seen as road blocks to this truly being John Harbaugh’s team. With all of them gone in 2013, the Ravens finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs—you could hear the whispers that maybe just maybe Harbaugh couldn't do it without some of them, which is why all of the young talented players GM Ozzie Newsome has drafted in the last four three years must now step up and become play-makers.

Speaking of the draft and excluding this past Mays selections, there have been 47 players drafted by the Ravens since their last Pro Bowl player, running back Ray Rice in 2008.  They have drafted good players but not Pro Bowlers. No one could have predicted the success the Ravens enjoyed by selecting players such as Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, Jamal Lewis and Terrell Suggs. In the franchise's first 13 drafts, the Ravens selected 19 Pro Bowl players, which was tied with the New England Patriots for the most during that period. Now, the Ravens are one of four teams who have failed to select a Pro Bowl player since 2009, and the others (Jaguars, Jets, and Raiders) have all fired their general managers during that time.

It’s not entirely fair to criticize the Ravens but expectations are rising. In 2012, the Ravens won their second Super Bowl with 39 homegrown players on their 53-man roster. In comparison, the Seahawks won the championship three months ago with 29 players who were drafted by the team or signed as undrafted rookies. You can’t’ say that the draft classes since haven’t produced talented players. Being a perennial playoff team means they've been able to add productive starters such as offensive tackle Michael Oher, cornerback Lardarius Webb, tight end Dennis Pitta, defensive lineman Arthur Jones linebacker Courtney Upshaw and wide receiver Torrey Smith . Without any of the above players, the Ravens aren't Super Bowl champions in 2012.

However, if this team is going to return to the playoffs, players such as Bernard Pierce, Matt Elam, Brandon Williams, Arthur Brown and rookies CJ Mosley and Lorenzo Taliaferro must step up and produce when called upon. Teams that consistently make the playoffs in the NFL get solid contributions from their younger players. The Ravens have always been fortunate to have veterans play above their age in this league. While it’s not expected that all become Pro-Bowl caliber players, the Ravens current crop of veteran leadership may not be capable of carrying this team, as their processors once did. You need not look any further than last season for proof of that.

3 The Division:

downloadOne of the biggest reasons the Ravens have experienced so much success during the Harbaugh / Flacco era is because of how the team has done versus its own division, the tough AFC North. Since 2008, the Ravens, Bengals and Steelers have combined to post an amazing 171-116-1 record. The North has been arguably the best division in football during this span. Winning nearly 60 percent of their games, the three teams have combined for 12 playoff appearances, while the Ravens & Steelers have appeared in five AFC Championship games and three Super Bowls, with each team winning one. The Steelers lost to Green Bay in Super Bowl XLV in Dallas. The Bengals do not have any post season wins during this time but Baltimore & Pittsburgh combined to post a 14-6 mark in January and February.

Harbaugh’s teams have been able to win twice as many games against the division as they have lost (24-12). The team was just 18-18 vs the division prior to his arrival. Baltimore is 13-11 against the Steelers and Bengals since Harbs took over in 2008.

With that said and according to my calculations, it’s likely the Ravens will need to sweep one of their three divisional foes in order to make the playoffs—and even 4-2 may not be good enough to win the division. The Bengals managed to win the division last year by posting a 3-3 record but that’s the exception and certainly not the rule. Since 2007, the average number of division wins recorded by the division champ has been five. On three occasions, the division winner went undefeated within the rugged AFC North (Baltimore 2011, Cincinnati 2009, & Steelers 2008).

The Ravens will need to continue taking advantage of the Cleveland Browns. Under Harbaugh, the team is 11-1 vs the Brownies but Cleveland does appear poised to be better than their four-win record last year; even at just four wins, one of those was still over the Ravens, the first time that had happened since 2007, a year before Flacco and Harbaugh arrived.

Schedule:

AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC South, NFC South
Swing Games: San Diego, at Miami
Opponents ’13 Record: 46.1% (28th)

Speaking of winning within the division, the Ravens will have an opportunity to establish what type of team they want to be very early. Baltimore will start with three straight AFC North games before hosting Carolina.

New OC Gary Kubiak will need to have his offense ready to play, as three of the first four teams the Ravens face all finished in the top 10 in defense last season. The other team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, finished No.13 in team defense in 2013 and figures to be much improved in 2014. Starting less than 2-1 in the division would put the purple and black behind the eight ball early.

That may sound like a tough start but even with the fourth easiest schedule; nothing is ever as it seems in the NFL. As they usually do in October, the Ravens will take to the road. Baltimore will play four of five games away from M&T Bank Stadium where they are 39-9 under Harbaugh. It begins with an Oct. 5 trip to AFC South favorite Indianapolis, where the Ravens are 0-5. After a road game in Tampa Bay and a home contest against Atlanta, the Ravens play consecutive road games at Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

If the Ravens can survive that stretch— and outside of a trip to New Orleans Thanksgiving week– they have a favorable homestretch. Their final seven opponents combined for a 45-67 record (.401) in 2013. Baltimore should finish strong over the final month, as they face the Dolphins, Jaguars, Texans, and Browns in the final four weeks of the season. Harbaugh’s teams are 34-18 in November & December, so he knows how to prepare his teams for a stretch run.

Prediction:

Not so Fast Joe

Not so Fast Joe

Missing the playoffs was a huge underachievement for the 2013 Ravens. However, if the team returns to the playoffs in 2014, then Ozzie Newsome, John Harbaugh and company will have completed one of the quickest rebuilding-retooling efforts in the last 10 to 15 years. Lost in the expectations of last year’s transition was replacing nine contributing players (seven starters) from the Super Bowl winning team. The two biggest issues were on defense and at wide receiver.

Newsome has spent two drafts taking care of the defense. The Ravens selected eight defensive players with their first nine picks combined in each of the last two drafts. Players such as CJ Mosley, Matt Elam and Timmy Jernigan were drafted to help rebuild the toughness, regain the quickness and recapture the middle of the field—all areas the Ravens dominated or at least controlled during their top ranked defensive days. At WR, the Ravens signed veteran wideout Steve Smith to take over the Anquan Boldin role, re-signed Jacoby Jones, and added TE Owen Daniels from Kubiak’s old team in Houston. They also kept seven WR’s on the final 53 man roster.

John Harbaugh said he wants the defense to be a top 5 unit in 2014—that might be a bit too much to ask but it may not matter if the offense can finally do their part on a consistent basis. Joe Flacco simply must be better than he was last year and the Ravens rushing attack must be the engine that makes the offense go. Flacco is the guy that drives the engine but he must work within the system. If he does, I see Flacco passing for 4,100 yards with 25 TD’s. Despite sitting for the first two games, RB Ray Rice should hit 1,200 all-purpose yards. Anything less than that in 2014 and the Ravens are no better than 8-8 and then the pressure really starts to mount in the charm city.

There will be growing pains on offense with a new system and on defense, where the Ravens have a lot of youth and inexperience at critical areas. They could lose a game or two to start the season that many feel they should have won but it won’t be too late to figure it out once Halloween is has passed. Given the potential for an easy strength of schedule to finish the year, the Ravens should win nine games but I’ll say they win a game late many didn’t expect them to win (New Orleans). I look for a return trip to the playoffs and one more victory on the Harbaugh / Flacco playoff resume.

Final Record: 10-6

Second in AFC North (first Wild Card Team)

Ravens Heated In Final OTA Session

June 20, 2014 in Baltimore Ravens, Coaching Staff, JOE FLACCO, Roster

How much one can tell about a team’s upcoming season during June mini-camps and OTA’s is yet to be decided. However, if intensity is a measuring stick then the Baltimore Ravens should have a bounce back season in 2014. Some of the hottest temperatures of the early summer hit the Baltimore area just as the Ravens final mandatory mini-camp opened on Tuesday. With the thermostat hitting the mid to upper 90’s and the heat index placing the city on a code red, tempers on the field in Owings Mills, Maryland flared and boiled at times during the three day session.

Webb dives for Smith last year in preseason game

Webb dives for Smith last year in preseason game

Veterans and rookies alike have been practicing during the mandatory session with a fire that the team seemed to lack last season when Baltimore became the third team in five years to miss the playoffs after winning the Super Bowl the previous season. On Wednesday, there were two minor “pushing and shoving” incidents between a pair of rookies and veterans that are worth noting. It should come as no surprise as to one of the players involved.

New Ravens WR Steve Smith, who is known for carrying a chip on his shoulder with a mouth to match, became better acquainted with CB LarDarius Webb. Smith became agitated after a play that he though Webb defended him a little too energetically on. According to those in attendance, the players were involved in an exchange of words after Smith caught a slant pass over the middle. They then went to the ground as Webb tried to make a play on the ball over Smith’s back. Smith took exception to the way Webb defended him on the play and both players got in each other’s face, with a little shoving, before teammates separated them. Smith initially jogged over to the sideline after the confrontation, but then Head Coach John Harbaugh made sure everything had calmed down and had him come back on the field for the next play.

The first skirmish of the day on occurred between two of the Ravens higher draft picks.  TE Crockett Gilmore and DT Timmy Jernigan, who has been involved in a few heated exchanges throughout the OTA’s, wrestled each other to the ground before being separated. Later, Smith and Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs took Jernigan aside to calm him down. "You can't be a pushover, man," said Jernigan, a second-round draft pick. "I played at Florida State and we don't get down like that. It's part of the game. It's over now. Whatever happens on the field stays on the field. We're teammates at the end of the day."  According to reporters that have attended every session so far, there haven't been a ton of fights during offseason practice sessions, but Jernigan has been in the middle of a few flare-ups.

"It's a little hot and guys are competing out there," offensive tackle Ryan Jensen said. "We're out here battling. That's part of football sometimes." According to one source, there were at least four minicamp fights throughout the NFL on Wednesday, two in Baltimore, and one each in Atlanta and Seattle. The 21 days of training camp, that begins for the Ravens on July 24 and ends on August 14, should be an interesting and eventful time.

A little Dunkin makes it all better

A little Dunkin makes it all better

Steve Smith did come with a peace offering to Webb on Thursday, as he brought him a bag with a goodie from Dunkin Donuts. Written on the bag was the following message, “Peace offering from 89”. I wonder what Ken Lucas got from Smith back in Charlotte after their incident in August of 2008?

 

 

ANY WINNERS:

There were several battles to watch as mini-camp started a few days ago and will continue through training camp in late July and August. As we head into the five week break before training camp starts, who are the leaders in the clubhouse at some of those positions? Let’s find out:

Inside Linebacker: Daryl Smith will start at one of the two spots but who starts next to him is a battle that will play into August between first round draft pick CJ Mosley and second year man Arthur Brown. The Ravens have been impressed with Mosley and he was last seen playing with the first team as camp broke on Thursday. Brown looks improved over a rookie season that saw him struggle but your leader in the clubhouse at ILB is CJ Mosley.

Brown & Mosley will battle in Camp

Brown & Mosley will battle in Camp

Right Tackle: Ricky Wagner, Ryan Jensen, Jah Reid, & even undrafted free agent signee James Hurst were all considered candidates to have a shot to line up at the position sometime during the preseason. As mandatory camp ended on Thursday, Wagner is still the leader in the clubhouse. Jensen is considered his top competition, as the Ravens love his versatility. Jensen lined up with the second team at right guard and right tackle during a lot of the offseason workouts. He practiced mostly at right tackle for the first two weeks of offseason workouts before taking all of his snaps at guard last week. Jensen found out from Terrell Suggs this week that he may still have a ways to go as Sizzle flattened him during a team drill, according to multiple accounts. Hurst looks to be a longshot, as Elvis Dumervill showed why he may have dropped out of the draft back in May. Elvis ran around, through and over the former Tar Heel.

Safety: Third round pick, free safety Terrence Brooks, is struggling much the same way Matt Elam was this time last year. In the mandatory minicamp, Brooks did not play with either the first- or second-team defense and must outperform Darian Stewart, Omar Brown, and Jeromy Miles when the competition resumes in late July. "It was a little hard at first," Brooks said. "Coming into a new system, it’s definitely going to be challenging. But, for the most part, with more studying and just being more of a student of the game, I feel like I’ve got a good grasp on how this defense is and the schemes. For an update, I would say that I’m doing really well with it, and now it’s just going out there and playing for us."  As a result and because he’s not playing too badly in shorts, former Rams safety Darian Stewart is your leader in the clubhouse. Stewart picked off a Joe Flacco pass on the final day of workouts.

The Pass Catchers:

With Steve and Torrey Smith, as well as Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown, the depth chart at wide receiver seems to be set. But there are several performances, good and bad worth noting over the last few days. Last years undrafted rookie sensation, WR Marlon Brown, who caught seven touchdown passes in 2013, struggled to hold onto ball at times, and was the most inconsistent of the projected pass catchers. Both Smith’s and Jacoby Jones seemed to have good off season sessions, all making acrobatic catches at one time or another. Each seemed to hold onto to most of their pass attempts. Undrafted rookie Jeremy Butler could be this year’s Marlon Brown, as he turned a few heads. The rookie from Tennessee-Martin made more catches than the other players who are competing for one of the last receiver spots on the team such as seventh round selection Michael Campanaro, Deonte Thompson and LaQuan Williams. It is also worth noting that Butler's shot to make the squad got a little easier this week when the Ravens waived Aaron Mellette.

JOE COOL HEATS UP:

What about the guy throwing the passes? Ravens QB Joe Flacco, according to all published reports, got better each day in new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s offense. Flacco has consistently lauded the ease of the offense and the use of more timing patterns which could help him complete more than 60 percent of his passes for the first time since 2010. During a day 2 session, there was a long stretch where the ball didn't hit the ground in full-team and seven-on-seven drills with is best throw coming on a deep middle completion to Steve Smith, who beat Matt Elam.29_FlaccoKubiaksSystem_news Kubiak’s offense appears to be tailor made for Flacco who seems to struggle when he’s forced to progress through options which causes him to hold onto the ball longer in the pocket. According to ESPN Ravens beat writer Jamison Hensley, in Kubiak's new system, Flacco likely will be asked to get the ball out quicker. Kubiak is teaching him to throw when he hits the ball of his foot on the three-step drop. The West Coast offense is predicated on rhythm and quick releases. Hensley writes, “Based on last season's numbers, the Ravens may be on to something. Flacco was better when he had less time in the pocket, according to Pro Football Focus.” With less than 2 seconds in the pocket, Flacco completed 68.3 percent of his passes for eight touchdowns and six interceptions. His passer rating was 80.5. With more than 3 seconds to throw, he connected on 46.2 percent of his passes for two touchdown and four interceptions. His rating was 61.1. Getting Flacco to throw the ball quicker also will help with his longevity. He was sacked a career-high 48 times last season, and he was limping in the final two games because of a knee sprain. During the past six seasons, Flacco hasn't missed a start, but he has been sacked 222 times. Only the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger (240) and the Packers' Aaron Rodgers (223) have been sacked more. While many want the seventh year signal caller to be an elite regular season performer, Joe Cool only needs to execute an offense that thrives on running the ball through a zone blocking scheme. Former Texans QB Matt Schaub got plenty of opportunity to seize the moment under Kubiak and threw for 4,000 two years in a row and three times while under center in Houston. Ironically, those were the only three years Schaub played all 16 games while in Houston. He also threw 29, 24, and 22 touchdown passes during those seasons, making the Pro-Bowl in 2009 & 2012. Flacco has never eclipsed the 4,000 yard mark or made the Pro-Bowl. While Schaub has never won a Super Bowl, Flacco has, winning MVP honors of the game in 2013. Many believe that if No.5 can hit the magic mark of 4k in 2014, the Ravens will return to the top of the division.

WHAT ABOUT NO-SHOWS?

The veterans that failed to show up during voluntary OTA’s, all showed up during this mandatory session. Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Chris Canty, and Marshall Yanda all participated during the mandatory workouts. All risked being fined $69,000 per day if they didn’t but Ravens fans fears were put to rest when all not only showed but all appeared to be in solid shape.

Sizzle looks solid..

Sizzle looks solid..

Actually, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs showed up in great shape and sizzled during workouts in the hot sun. Suggs, who is likely to retire a Raven after he was given a four-year extension, and received an $11 million signing bonus, was his old trash talking self throughout the three day camp. Suggs deal is also guaranteed for $16 million over the next two seasons, which could be why he was relaxed and performing at a high level in June. However, showing up in anything but less than great shape would have raised serious questions. Suggs appeared to be heading towards another Defensive Player of the Year Award last season when he began the season with 60 tackles and nine sacks in his first eight games. However, and to be fair, like the rest of his team, the sizzle smoldered to a puff of smoke, as Suggs finished with 20 tackles and one sack during the seasons second half. At 31, Suggs has a lot to prove this season—the key word there being season, as in the whole season. But—so far so good from No.55. INJURIES: The Ravens were far more fortunate than the Giants and Cowboys, who lost starting linebackers in their teams OTA’s this spring. Dallas LB Sean Lee tore his ACL and is out for the season. The Giants got lucky with LB Jon Beason, who broke a bone and tore ligaments in his foot. He is expected back by the start of the season. Of the 88 active-roster players, 83 took the field for the final session on Thursday. Only four players have been absent from all three days of minicamp: offensive lineman Jah Reid (calf), nose tackle Terrence Cody (hip surgery), wide receiver Kamar Aiken (knee) and defensive lineman Kapron Lewis-Moore (hamstring), who suffered his injury during practice June 17. Undrafted rookie tackle Parker Graham was missing after having returned for the second session. Graham had been absent for the opening practice with an undisclosed issue.

NEW ADDITIONS:

According to the Ravens web site, after the three-day mandatory minicamp, the Ravens are reportedly signing multiple veteran players who participated in practice on a tryout basis. The Ravens are expected to sign linebacker Austin Spitler, cornerbacks Dominique Franks and Aaron Ross, and defensive end/outside linebacker Nick DiMarco, according to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun The Ravens had two open spots on the 90-man roster after waiving wide receiver Aaron Mellette and outside linebacker Adrian Hamilton earlier in the week because they failed physicals. The Ravens would have to cut two other plays to make room for all four additions, but the team has not announced those transactions.

Aaron Ross

Aaron Ross

Spitler, 27, spent the first four seasons of his career with the Miami Dolphins. He has been a backup linebacker and special teamer during that time, and has racked up 31 tackles throughout his career. Spitler is an inside linebacker who will join a tight competition with players like Josh Byne and Albert McClellan. Franks, 26, played for the Atlanta Falcons the last four years. He has been a special teamer and reserve cornerback, notching 30 tackles and three interceptions during his career. Franks had a solid week at minicamp, including a nice pass breakup during Thursday’s practice. Ross, 31, is an eight-year veteran who has spent most of his career with the New York Giants. He also played one season for the Jacksonville Jaguars and will provide solid veteran depth on a fast young secondary. Ross has been a starter during his career, including in 2011 when he started 15 games for a Giants team that went on to win the Super Bowl. Ross has 250 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 11 interceptions in his career.

RAVENS FANS WOULD LOVE TO HAVE FLOWERS DELIVERED:

Brandon Flowers is still on the market with Atlanta & Minnesota emerging as front runners. Flowers visited San Diego on Thursday. Just some food for thought. Signing Flowers would really give opposing offenses something to think about. Flowers could take LarDarius Webb’s spot with Webb moving to the slot / nickel corner position. Webb’s snaps would not be reduced as much as one would think and to have Webb, Flowers and Jimmy Smith on the field for 60 to 70 percent of the games snaps would really create possibilities for a defensive scheme that could potentially be downright scary. Imagine the possibilities and blitzing schemes and putting teams into constant second and third and long situations, which then allows defensive backs the luxury of making plays they otherwise wouldn’t take chances on. I’m almost positive that the team that allowed 352 points in 2013 with 134 of them coming in the fourth quarter wouldn’t be so vulnerable late in games in 2014, with that combo on the field.

AND FINALLY:

A lot less of this........

A lot less of this……..

Every NFL head coach and executive will tell you the scariest part of the calendar year is the five weeks between the end of the final mini-camp and the start of training camp in late July. The Ravens are particularly concerned about the time frame after their winter / spring offseason. Since the end of the final gun in Cincinnati last December, four Ravens players were arrested for various crimes. Running back Ray Rice (assault), wide receiver Deonte Thompson (drug charges), offensive lineman Jah Reid (assault), and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (destruction of property), all created major headaches for the Ravens this offseason. Rice and Reid were accepted in pretrial diversion programs, and Thompson’s charges were dropped. Taliaferro’s day in court is next week, as he will face a judge on June 26.

and more of this....

and more of this….

While many feel the Ravens and Ray Rice botched his first media appearance on the Friday afternoon prior to the Memorial Day holiday weekend, following the incident with his now wife— head Coach John Harbaugh didn’t botch his final message to the team before he cut them loose on Thursday. Harbs reminded his players about how each should think about how their actions could affect the team and those that want to win and play football. "We have really good guys," Harbaugh said after the final session. "Football matters to them. The more it matters to you, I would think the less inclined you are to do anything that would jeopardize that." The Ravens open camp on July 24 in their Owings Mills Maryland facility known as “The Castle”—hopefully with everyone in attendance and no charges pending.

Ravens Predicted to Win Eight Games

June 6, 2014 in 2014 NFL DRAFT, Coaching Staff, JOE FLACCO, NFL Draft, Pittsburgh Steelers, Roster, Super Bowl XLVII

Last week, the Las Vegas odds makers came out with their projected win totals for every NFL teams. In the AFC North, the experts and prognosticators have the Bengals projected to win the division for a second straight year followed by Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and then Cleveland. USA TODAY Sports-ArchiveOver the past few seasons, the AFC North has been one of, if not the best division in all of football.

However, last season proved to be a bit of an exception with the division, as only the Cincinnati Bengals made the playoffs. It marked the first time since 2007 that the AFC North division sent only one team to the NFL’s postseason tournament and because of the Bengals knack for being one and done once the regular season ends, last year also marked the first time an AFC North team did not represent the conference in the AFC Championship game during that span. From 2008-to 2012, the division known for its tough defenses and blue collar cities, had at least two teams in the NFL postseason. In 2011, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Cincy all represented the division. Once in the playoffs, the division handles its business quite well posting a 14-10 record during that span of playoff play.

Two teams, the Ravens (3) and Steelers (2) have appeared in five AFC title games and are 2-1 in Super Bowls with the Steel and Charm cities winning their sixth and second Lombardi Trophies respectively during that period of time. The Steelers and Ravens have twice squared off in the playoffs during this time—once in the AFC Championship (2008) and once during the divisional round (2010).  Pittsburgh won them both. Although it has happened, the division doesn't usually back into the playoffs.

Since the 2008 season, the Steelers (3 appearances) Bengals (4 appearances) & Ravens (5 appearances) have combined to post a 130-62 record (.677) during the regular season. This means that in order to win the division, somebody will need to win 11 of 16 games during the regular season and considering these teams face off twice a year, that’s no small feat. I broke down the entire division in another piece you can read right here on Fanspeak– but here is an in-depth look at what the experts and prognosticators predict for the Ravens followed up with what I feel the team needs and where they will finish in 2014.

Baltimore Ravens: Vegas Under / Over Win Total: 8 Super Bowl Odds 40 to 1 Ravens Offense is Offensive in 2013:

Last season, the Ravens became the third team in the past five years to miss the playoffs the season after winning the Super Bowl. A big reason for the Ravens fall was the play of their offense, specifically, their 20 million dollar QB who parlayed a historic playoff performance into a huge contract during last year’s offseason. While Flacco must shoulder much of the responsibility for his teams bad offense in 2013, it wasn't entirely the poor play of No.5 that led to such a below average season. With an average of just 3.1 yards per rush, the Ravens rushing attack was horrible in 2013. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce battled injuries and were never effective in short yardage or goal line situations. They stumbled to holes and never found the rhythm that made them a nice compliment to one and other the year before. Rice finished with just 660 rushing yards and 980 total yards. He failed to hit 1,000 all-purpose yards for the first time since his rookie season in 2008.  Flacco and Ravens backs also played behind one of the worst lines in the NFL last season.

The offensive line allowed 48 QB sacks of Flacco and an additional 90 plus hits. Pro Football Focus’ final grade had the Ravens O-line 23rd out of 32 teams. Baltimore is famous for using the middle of the field in the running and passing game and last season was no exception running nearly 60 percent of all rushing plays between the two guards. The results were simply unacceptable. Pro-Bowl guard Marshall Yanda didn’t have an exceptional year and Kelechi Osemele didn’t finish the season. Osemele injured his bad back and had surgery. But the biggest issue was at center where the team went with second year man Gino Gradkowski over veteran A.Q. Shipley— and it did not go well. Shipley had the misfortune of switching to a guard spot once Osemele went down but he rarely looked comfortable. Gradkowski he may have blown his audition to be the long-term starter, as he finished 35th out of 35 ranked centers. bal-sports-blitz-joe-flacco-nfl-player-poll-20-001 The rushing attack finished 30th, while the passing offense could fare no better than 18. As a whole, the offense finished ranked 29th in the league and with the defense not cracking the top 10 for a second straight year; it’s not hard to see why the Champs finished 8-8.

To correct the problem in 2014, the Ravens acquired Jeremy Zuttah this offseason to replace Gradkowski. RT Michael Oher is now in Tennessee and Rick Wagner is expected to step up and take his place but not without competition from players such as Ryan Jensen. The biggest move was re-signing LT Eugene Monroe at such a bargain price. Osemele has looked very good so far in the offseason organized team activities and should be ready to go once the season starts. The Ravens did not address the RT position in the draft but did select center / guard John Urschel from Penn State. Newsome and Harbaugh feel if they had to, Osemele could move outside to Tackle where he is also comfortable while someone kicks inside to guard. There is also the option of signing a free agent. Eric Winston, who was drafted by the Texans and spent six years in Kubiak's offense is a likely candidate to join the team.

But there is no question, Flacco, as the leader of the offense and now the team, failed to do his part. Sure there were games like Minnesota at home in the snow and at Detroit on Monday night but in the end there is no denying year six was No.5’s worst. Flacco tossed three more picks than TD’s (19-22) and was sacked 48 times. While we established the line was suspect, Flacco did little to help himself at times with his decision making process. For every solid performance there were games like Buffalo when he tossed 5 interceptions. Joe is sometimes to cool and has a propensity to have one or two of those type games every year. For the most part, he’s always played on a team that had a great defense. The Ravens averaged an NFL ranking of 7th during his six years in the league. Flacco has never been to a Pro Bowl, passed for 4,000 yards in a season or 400 yards in a game. He’s never led an offense that ranked higher than 13th. In fact, the Ravens offense has averaged 19th during Flacco’s tenure while the passing attack sits one notch below at No.20. Those are average numbers for a QB that’s making way above average money.

If the Ravens are going to return to the playoffs in 2014, Flacco will need to be a big reason why they did. It’s time for Flacco to win the shootout games with more consistency and takeover contests when the Ravens young defense is getting handled. He has to initiate leadership—on and off the field which so far, he hasn’t done this offseason. The former Super Bowl XLVII MVP failed to organize any type of off campus passing camps, similar to the one Peyton Manning and 21 other signal callers put together this past spring. This is particularly disturbing since Flacco was handed a new play book and hasn’t spent a lot of quality time with his new offensive coordinator.  Flacco was quick to point in an interview on Baltimore Ravens.com that NFLPA rules have strict policies on the amount of time a player can spend with coaches. By his own admission, Flacco admitted to not knowing his new OC to well just yet. Some in the local media have voiced displeasure with Flacco for at the very least not getting together with new TE and former Texan, Owen Daniels, who is as familiar with the new offensive system as Kubiak himself. Daniels has spent his entire career in it.

Speaking of Gary Kubiak, he takes over for Jim Caldwell, who left to become the head coach in Detroit. The former Texans HC brings with him a stretch zone run blocking scheme that he used with a great deal of success in Houston. Under Kubiak, the Texans earned their Top 6 all-time offensive outputs in scoring, total offense, and passing yards from 2007-12. During this time, the Texans also boasted the franchise’s Top 3 rushing outputs, including the NFL’s No. 2 ground attack in 2011 when they posted a franchise-record 153.0 yards per game. From 2008-12, Kubiak’s offense was one of only two (Denver) to have its total offense, passing offense and rushing offense each rank in the Top 5 at least once during that span. There are weapons in Baltimore. The receivers should be better in 2014. Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown, and now veteran wide out Steve Smith, who came over from Carolina, will give Flacco some good looks, as will starting tight ends Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels. Entering his second contract with the Ravens after re-signing this spring, Jacoby Jones adds quality depth, as does seventh round selection Michael Camapanaro, who figures to contribute mightily in the return game and in the slot during certain sets. If Flacco finally hits the 4,000 yard mark this season, it is likely the Ravens will have had a good season and are heading back to the playoffs.

Return to Glory–At Least the Top 10:

imagesThe Ravens defense finished 12th in the NFL last season and missed the top 10 for a second straight year. One weakness the team has been working on is fixing is the middle of the defense. There was a time when teams never ventured there on the Ravens and GM Ozzie Newsome is doing all he can to ensure those days return. Newsome and the Ravens completed the retooling of the once stout unit by drafting ILB CJ Mosley, as well two players from Florida State’s BCS Title team, DT Timmy Jernigan, and Free safety Terrence Brooks. This was the second straight year the Ravens used their first three picks of the draft on nearly identical positions. Last year it was safety Matt Elam, ILB Arthur Brown and DT Brandon Williams that were selected in the first three rounds. The result could mean a return to dominance on the defensive side of the football but with so much youth now in place, the offense may be asked to carry the load to start and that doesn't appear as if that’s likely considering the new play book. Ravens DC Dean Pees needs three things to happen in 2014 if the unit is going to return the top 10 for the first time since 2011. Veterans Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs and Elvis and Dumervil must be productive from week to week and cannot fade down the stretch. Secondly, the young linebacking corps must be aggressive but play smart and come prepared. And lastly, the secondary needs to stay healthy. Even with the inexperience at safety, CB’s LarDarius Webb and Jimmy Smith have the capability to shrink a football field but the depth behind them is lacking in CB's Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson. Each say they are ready to step up and the good news for them is that they will get their chance to prove it. The Ravens young defense must also communicate better on the field– something it has not done well over the past two seasons. Safeties Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks could be a formidable duo fro many years to come but there will be a big learning curve in 2014. The Ravens have always taken pride in having the next man up step up and play well and it appears they have the talent waiting to try. But that philosophy is being tested, as the team hasn’t drafted a Pro-Bowl player since taking Ray Rice in the second round back in 2008 and on defense there hasn't been a Pro Bowler selected since Haloti Ngata in 2006.

Where's the Leadership?

The Ravens have lacked leadership since No.52 played his last game. They tried to correct that this offseason by signing former Panther WR Steve Smith, who may not be as fast as he once was but still plays with a chip on his shoulder similar to the one the Ravens used to possess. Leadership was definitely lacking during this offseason when four Ravens players, including Ray Rice, were arrested and charged with various crimes. Rice was the most publicized as he was seen on TV dragging his unconscious wife out of an Atlantic City casino elevator after allegedly knocking her out while they were inside it. He will likely face an NFL suspension of at least two to three games despite having his case adjudicated somewhat in his favor in the courtroom. Rice was a player that Ray Lewis often mentored in his own home and spent many nights with the former Rutgers star showing the ins and outs of the NFL. While off the field issues happened when Lewis, Ed Reed, and even Anquan Boldin were here, they didn’t happen with this type of regularity and when they did, you better believe Lewis would let the player know personally the effect his actions had on the team. Accountability seems to missing and when you toss in the fact that players like Suggs and Ngata, whom many thought to be leaders, didn’t show up to voluntary OTA’s and one could easily read trouble between the lines. Suggs, who faded badly down the stretch last season and Ngata, who has struggled with injuries and consistency over the past two years, did not attend the voluntary camp but are expected to be at the mandatory minicamp June 17-19. The Ravens 2014 schedule is easier than in years past but keep in mind— this was a .500 team last season. The offense will need to be functioning at a mid-season level to start the 2014 campaign. Baltimore will face three straight AFC North foes before hosting Carolina in the seasons first quarter. Three of the four teams had defenses in the Top 10 last year and Pittsburgh finished 13th. It is possible that the Ravens will have to beat these teams without Ray Rice, who will likely be serving his suspension during this time. In April 2010, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was suspended six games to start that season. However, the league reduced it to four games but the Steelers still began the 2010 season with Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch at quarterback. They went 3-1, losing only to the Ravens at home. Ironically, Pittsburgh went on to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl that season, losing to Green Bay. So, just when we think we know all there is to know, the questions are changed in what can only be described, as the wild world of the NFL. Following the first quarter of the year, the Ravens then visit Indianapolis and if they can survive the first month of play and pick up a few wins in the middle portion — at Tampa Bay, Atlanta, at Cincinnati, at Pittsburgh, Tennessee — then they should finish strong over the final month. Baltimore will face the Dolphins, Jaguars, Texans, and Browns in the final four weeks of the season. Is There a

Storm Brewing in Baltimore?

dt.common.streams.StreamServer It is fair to say that storm clouds are swirling around this team. They are walking a fine line and I wouldn't be surprised if they finished 4-12 or 12-4. The defense should be better but with all the youth, will need a little time to gel and get acclimated to the speed of the game while playing together. How fast the offense gels in Kubiak's new system, how many games Ray Rice misses due to a likely suspension and whether or not he can bounce back from his worst year are legitimate concerns. When you couple that with the concerns of whether or not the offensive line can rebound, it seems like there are far more questions than answers for the 2014 version of the Ravens–at least to start. I believe the Ravens are one the league biggest anomalies to start the season but we will know pretty fast if this is a team is capable of getting back to the playoffs after being in them for the first five years of Harbaugh and Flacco’s tenure. What frightens me most is what I don't seem in terms of  the passion for the game or the leadership. I was one of those people that believed losing Ray Lewis' leadership was overrated and the team would be fine without him—-I WAS WRONG about the leadership aspect but it was time for him to vacate the playing field. There are also legitimate concerns of whether the team actually has enough weapons at the skill positions to carry them through the difficult stretches that every team encounters during a season. Joe Flacco must return to the above average / very good form that’s seen him win 62 games to start his career, the most of any quarterback in the history of the league to start a career. While I like the Ravens to win a game or two they may not be favored in, I expect them to lose their share of ones they are. It’s always gets darkest just before the dawn and the 2014 season could start dismally before ending on a high note in Baltimore. Expectations are high and fans won’t react well if they miss the playoffs for a second straight season—so prepare, I know I am. Vegas refunds money on a push bet, which this is likely to be after the Ravens miss the playoffs and win eight games for a second straight year..

Baltimore Ravens projected win total: 8 Games. Preseason schedule (All times p.m. ET; home games in caps)

Preseason schedule (All times p.m. ET; home games in caps)

Aug. 7-10 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Aug. 14-18 at Dallas Cowboys

Aug. 21-24 WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Aug. 28 at New Orleans Saints

Regular season schedule

Sept. 7 Cincinnati Bengals, 1

Sept. 11 Pittsburgh Steelers (Thu), 8:25

Sept. 21 at Cleveland Browns, 1

Sept. 28 Carolina Panthers, 1

Oct. 5 at Indianapolis Colts, 1

Oct. 12 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1

Oct. 19 Atlanta Falcons, 1

Oct. 26 at Cincinnati Bengals, 1

Nov. 2 at Pittsburgh Steelers, 8:30*

Nov. 9 Tennessee Titans, 1

Nov. 16 BYE

Nov. 24 at New Orleans Saints (Mon), 8:30

Nov. 30 San Diego Chargers, 1

Dec. 7 at Miami Dolphins, 1

Dec. 14 Jacksonville Jaguars, 1

Dec. 21 at Houston Texans, 1

Dec. 28 Cleveland Browns, 1

 

 

Ravens Final Mock Draft Part Two (Top 4 Picks)

May 2, 2014 in 2014 NFL DRAFT, Baltimore Ravens, NFL Draft

Welcome to part two of the Ravens final mock draft, at least as I see it. In part one, we examined the lies the executives get to tell at their annual “Draft Luncheon”, which took place this past Wednesday and we broke down how successful the Ravens have been in the first round and with undrafted free agents. The million dollar question is how do the Ravens, regardless of coach, current roster makeup or league condition, have such successful drafts most of the time. According to general manager Ozzie Newsome, it’s as easy as seeing 20 / 20—sort of.

According to Newsome via the Ravens 2014 Draft Guide, “it’s all in the process”. The “process” includes 19 full-time members of the personnel department, but also has input from Ravens coaches. Most of Ozzie’s staff has been with the team since the franchise started in 1996 or has graduated from the “20/20” club. The “20/20” group includes members who started with the Ravens as young assistants and grew into evaluators with more input. (The term “20/20” refers to hiring “20-year-olds for $20,000.” “Actually, the guys started when they were a little older than 20 and for more than $20,000, but that’s what we call them,” Newsome adds.  07_PresserPrimer_news

The Ravens do not belong to the National Football Scouting group, which provides member teams a list of and reports on players eligible for the draft. “We make our own list, and that means we look at all players on a college roster,” Eric DeCosta, the Ravens’ assistant general manager and a graduate of the “20/20” club, says. Baltimore’s personnel department includes six area scouts, two pro personnel evaluators, who focus on college talent at this time of year, and additional support staff to handle the load. “We do a lot of cross-checking,” DeCosta offers. “A number of us look at everyone, and then we have the area scouts look at certain players from other regions so we get multiple grades and opinions on all the players.”

DeCosta said at Wednesday’s luncheon that this year the team has about 180 players graded and ready to go. This will help the Ravens extend their evaluation process into the undrafted talent pool, which they have had a great deal of success in years past. Once a player is defined as a “draftable” talent by the Ravens, John Harbaugh and his staff are assigned to add more study, which could include visits and workouts with some of the players. “Another advantage we have is that many of us have worked together or known each other for awhile, so we scout the scouts and coaches,” Newsome says. “We may have a scout or coach who has proven he really knows how to spot talent at a certain position. That opinion carries more weight when we’re finalizing the board.”

Newsome encourages all scouts and coaches to have strong opinions. “We have very open dialogue. We want everyone’s opinion, especially from the scouts who have looked at the players the longest. I think another strength of our room is that we respect and listen to each other,” Newsome says.

Newsome always talks about taking the “highest-rated player on our board” when it comes time to select a player. The Ravens’ history proves that. When they had a Pro Bowl left tackle with Tony Jones, Baltimore selected Jonathan Ogden, a future Hall of Famer and 11-time Pro Bowler who was the first pick (fourth overall in ’96) in team history. When they had Pro Bowl players like Priest Holmes and Shannon Sharpe, the Ravens selected Jamal Lewis and Todd Heap in the first round. “When we have grades that are even, we sometimes select the player in the area we have the greatest need,” Newsome notes. “But, our confidence in our staff and the process we use make draft days easy, exciting, and fun. The hay is in the barn, so to speak. The hardest work is done year round prior to the draft.”

RAVENS “20/20 CLUB” GRADUATES

(Current Personnel Staff)

 Name Joined Ravens Current Title

George Kokinis (Cle.) 1991 Senior Personnel Assistant

Eric DeCosta 1996 Assistant General Manager

Joe Hortiz 1998 Director of College Scouting

Chad Alexander 1999 Asst. Dir. of Pro Personnel

Joe Douglas 2000 National Scout

Mark Azevedo 2005 Northeast Area Scout

David Blackburn 2007 West Area Scout

Ian Cunningham 2008 Southeast Area Scout

With all of this in mind, here is the second part of my final Ravens mock draft. These picks include Round 1 (17), Round 2 (48), Round 3 (79) & Round 3 (99 compensatory). To view the Ravens second half of the draft, simply click here.

Third Round (Pick 99 compensatory): Jaylen Watkins, CB Florida

Vitals: 6’0 & 194 Lbs. / 30 5/8 “Arm Length / 9 5/8” Hands /

Combine: 4.41 40 yards / 22 reps

WatkinsPathtoDraftThe Ravens are dangerously thin at the CB position. Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb are both solid starters but both have been injury prone and inconsistent with a lack of focus at critical times. Ozzie Newsome was asked about the position and responded by saying it was an opportunity for Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson to step up. Joe Hortiz was a bit more thorough in his assessment, “I would say corner position-wise, it’s pretty solid. They go off the board fast every year. We’ll see about 12 that go in the first three rounds. The top guys like Darqueze Dennard, [Justin] Gilbert, [Bradley] Roby, [Kyle] Fuller, [Jason] Verrett, they’re probably going to go early. After that, you’ll start to see guys like [Keith] McGill, and they’re all probably going to be second round-type players. The question will be whether they are going to be the highest-rated guy when we’re up. Obviously, we like corners and we’re not afraid to take them. If there is one sitting there and we’ve got him ranked high, we’ll take him.”

I cannot imagine the brother of Clemson star wide receiver Sammy Watkins isn’t high on the Ravens list. Jaylen Watkins has the versatility the Ravens speak of and love in a player. Coming from Florida, Watkins has familiarity with Matt Elam and that’s important. He is a solid athlete and was a versatile football star at Cape Coral, Fla., High as dual threat quarterback, wide receiver and, oh course cornerback. He showed ability last season to play both corner and safety. At the combine he clocked 40 yards in 4.41 seconds; 10 yards in 1.50 second and benched 225 pounds 22 times — all better marks than his highly-rated little brother. If he’s there and most big board’s say he very well could be, then he is likely to be the pick.

Scouts Take: Nolan Nowrocki, NFL.com:  Nice size and strength for a cornerback (22 bench-press reps at the combine). Excellent speed. Good fluidity and movement skills. Alert in zones. Flashes some playmaking ability. Versatile — lined up as a corner, safety and nickel defender and played on all special teams. A fluid, loose-hipped, versatile cover man who projects to a No. 3 or No. 4 corner in the pros, Watkins could most ideally fit in the slot, with enough physicality to defend the run and fine short-area cover skills to match up with shifty receivers

Final Word: Frank Cooney, Sports Exchange: Watkins does not seem like a gamble as a natural football player with the chance of playing either cornerback or safety. Hey, how about emergency quarterback?

Third Round (Pick 79): Terrance Brooks, Safety Florida State

Vitals: 5’-11” & 198 Lbs. / 31” Arm Length / 9 Hands
Combine: 4.42 40-yard / 38” Vertical / 119” Broad Jump / 10 Reps Weight Bench

Safety Matt Elam doesn’t turn 23 until September and could be a fixture in the secondary for years to come. However, the Ravens could use a long term solution opposite of Elam, who played free safety a season ago. When the Ravens add a safety, it’s believed Elam will move slide to strong safety, where he is more comfortable. Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County times posed the question to Ravens Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz, “When it comes to the safety position, what do you think of the safety class, and do you think it’s a position where there are enough free safeties to go around?”images

Hortiz responded, “Some of those guys, like [Calvin] Pryor, they play both [both safety spots]. Deone Bucannon [is as well]. You’ll see them both down low in the box and on the back end. Ha Ha [Clinton-Dix] is more of a traditional free safety the way they use him. But again, the safety position has become interchangeable, and we do a lot of that here as well. So, if you look at the safety position overall, you look for versatility from guys who are good tacklers, sound tacklers – not hard hitters, but guys that get them down in space – who have some coverage skill and just general instincts and football knowledge on the back end. I’d say as a whole, the class is pretty solid. You’ll get some guys at the end of the first and second round – and then there will be some guys who come off in the third, fourth and fifth – who will help teams.”

Terrence Brooks fits the mold of Hortiz’s description. Brooks is a 2013 Second-team All-ACC selection. In addition, he played and started in 13 games, missing one game due to concussion. Brooks' lack of dominating statistics led to his being overshadowed at times but NFL scouts are intrigued with the former cornerback's agility, range and willingness to be physical in run support. Voted to the First Team All-ACC unit by coaches (but only second-team by the media), Brooks' toughness and versatility could lead to a second-day selection in the draft despite few outside of Tallahassee realizing his importance to the Seminoles' undefeated season.

Scout’s Take: CBS Sports Rob Rang: While a touch shorter than scouts would prefer, Brooks looks the part of an NFL free safety, boasting broad shoulders, a well-built frame and trim waist. He possesses good balance, agility and straight-line speed, including an impressive burst to close. A former cornerback who is asked to drop down and cover slot receivers, on occasion, demonstrating good balance, fluidity and change of direction for coverage. Brooks is more physical than you might expect given his cornerback background, often dropping down into a linebacker-like role for the Seminoles, which the Ravens will love in a defense that requires versatility and physicality. Long arms and good balance to play off blocks and make plays near the line

Final Word: Jamison Hensley, ESPN: Brooks is a quality fallback option if Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward is gone before the Ravens draft in the second round. The Ravens are looking for a rangy free safety, and Brooks certainly fills that role. There's very little risk with Brooks. Even if he isn't ready to start right away, he will be a core special teams player.

Other Options: CB Vic Hampton, TE CJ Fiedorowicz, WR Allen Robinson

Round 2 Pick 48: Carlos Hyde, RB Ohio State

Vitals: 5’11” 230 Lbs. / 32” Arm Length / 9 5/8” Hands

Combine: 40 yds. 4.66 / Bench Press 19 / Broad Jump 114” /

131025133529-carlos-hyde-top-single-image-cutGM Ozzie Newsome said the uncertainty surrounding running back Ray Rice's future won't affect the team's draft plans. Rice was arrested and charged on Feb. 15 after a physical altercation with his now-wife, Janay Palmer, at the Revel Casino and Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J. On Thursday, Rice learned that he will not go to jail after pleading not guilty to a third-degree charge of aggravated assault. He will be approved either for a pretrial intervention program or accept the prosecutor's plea agreement of probation without jail time. He will not escape the court of Goodell, Roger Goodell that is, the NFL Commissioner. Rice is likely facing at least a four game suspension. Newsome indicated that the Ravens were talking about adding one or two running backs even before Rice's incident. Rice is coming off a season in which he averaged a career-worst 3.1 yards per carry, and backup Bernard Pierce has dealt with injuries the past seasons.

I have a feeling this is where the Ravens surprise a few people and look for the future in the Ravens backfield. Head Coach John Harbaugh was not bashful about his disappointment in the Ravens running game last season when asked about it at the NFL Combine. "I think the whole thing just needs an overhaul," Harbaugh said at the NFL scouting combine. Combine that with Newsome wanting possibly 2 backs—-enter Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde.

Hyde, the Big Ten Running Back of the Year and first-team All-Big 10 pick finished the season with 100-plus rushing yards in nine consecutive games. He finished with 1,508 rushing yards and 15 TD’s—this, after being suspended for the first three games for being a "person of interest" in an assault investigation. NFL.com says, Hyde has outstanding size, explosive power and run strength — can be his own blocker and create his own holes. Punishes linebackers running downhill and usually falls forward. Superb contact balance and finishing strength — does not go down easily and can barrel through arm tackles. Extremely powerful short-yardage/goal-line runner, which the Ravens could use. Remember the Green Bay game? He gets better as the game progresses, wearing down defensive fronts.  Took over the game in the fourth quarter vs. Northwestern (2013) and willed team to victory. He is surprisingly quick in short spaces and can plant hard and go. Is solid in pass protection and can stonewall blitzers in their tracks. Good awareness and anticipation to react to stunts and adjust to movement. Soft hands-catcher.

Hyde is a perfect fit for Gary Kubiak's zone-blocking scheme. He has patience to wait for creases and doesn't hesitate when they open up. But Hyde's off-the-field issue could scare off the Ravens after what has happened with Rice this off-season.

Scouts Take: Stephen Shoup, Fanspeak.com: Hyde has the ability to be a workhorse back. He should interest teams looking for a power back ca­pable of 20-25 carries a game, with a lot of his work done between the tackles in a power scheme. In other systems, Hyde likely won’t be as valuable. Hyde is probably the best short yardage back in the draft, giving him an advantage over a lot of his draft class. His ability to pick up key first downs and put the ball in the end zone, is highly valuable given the impact those types of plays have on an offense. Hyde should be selected somewhere in the 2nd round and could end up being the top running back in the draft. Teams will be interested in his character and work ethic, but as long as those questions get answered, he isn’t likely to see a draft day slide.

Final Word: John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens HC: On poor rushing attack last season, "It was a myriad of things. We didn't block people well. We didn't move people. We didn't get on people. … Our backs both weren't 100 percent and they didn't make enough guys miss, didn't break enough tackles. So the yards weren't there. We also didn't throw well enough to get people out of single-high, press man [coverage]. We were always pretty much regularly going up against a heavy box, so that compounded a problem. We were probably a throw to set up the run offense the last 11, 12 games and we didn't throw the ball well enough to set up the run. We just didn't get the job done."

Other Options: SS Jimmie Ward, TE Jace Amaro, WR, Davante Adams

Round 1 Pick 17: Zack Martin, T / G Notre Dame:

Vitals: 6’4” 308 lbs. / 32 7/8 arm length / 9.5” hands

Combine: 40-yard 5.20 / Bench Press 23 (250 lbs.) /

I’m starting to buy into the theory that the Ravens may go with one of the safeties here but just as Kevin Costner did in the movie Draft Day, I’m sticking with my original thought process and going with my original pick form the start and that pick has always been Notre Dames versatile OT, Zack Martin. It is no secret former Houston Texans HC & new Ravens Offensive Coordinator, Gary Kubiak, loves the zone-blocking scheme, and it’s no secret that the Ravens tried and failed last season to execute a version of their own. The hiring of Kubiak certainly does not suggest the Ravens will return to the man-on-man schemes of yesterday but instead will stick with the scheme that gave them fits. Some feel Martin would be a great fit in Kubiak’s Martin and others do not. I feel his versatility is a major plus the Ravens are craving on a line that was terrible last season.Zack-Martin

Martin had a very good pro day after a solid Senior Bowl and only possibly former Michigan T, Taylor Lewan, falling here to the Ravens should they consider anyone else. The Ravens have to do a better job of protecting Joe Flacco, who was sacked a career high 48 times last season. Martin is pro ready now at guard or tackle and if his squarish or box frame doesn’t work on the outside, then as Ozzie Newsome suggested during the luncheon, Kelechi Osemele or the not so ready Ricky Wagner could play there. What Martin gives the Ravens is options. Martin is reminiscent of Marshal Yanda when the current Raven was coming out of college, possessing the ability to play any of the five spots along the offensive line.

Scouts Take: Rob Rang, CBS Sports, The vast majority of Martin's school record 52 career starts came at left tackle but his square-ish frame and 32 1/4-inch arms will earn him a projection inside to guard for many. Regardless of where he lines up, Martin plays with the controlled aggression I love along the offensive line, latching on and dictating the action.

Final Word: Jamison Hensley, ESPN:  Martin compares favorably to Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda. Using that measuring stick, the Ravens probably like his no-nonsense demeanor but could also question his ability to play right tackle, which is the biggest hole on the Ravens' line. For that reason, it's not a slam dunk that the Ravens take Martin at No. 17. I struggle with my estimation of the team's interest in him because he does "Play like a Raven." There is also no guarantee Martin is there when the Ravens are on the clock. The New York Giants (No. 12), Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 15), and Dallas Cowboys (No. 16) have been linked to him.

Other Options: OT Taylor Lewan if he falls, or one of the safeties such as Ha Ha Clinton Dix or Calvin Pryor 

Pleas feel free to comment and be sure to join me tonight for THE NFL FRIDAY FRENZY, where we are talking NFL Draft all night.  Showtime is 9:00 p.m. on the Fanspeak Radio Network. Ravens quotes courtesy of the Ravens 2014 NFL Draft Guide.  

 

Baltimore Ravens 7 Round Mock Draft 2.0

April 2, 2014 in Baltimore Ravens, Coaching Staff, Free Agency, JOE FLACCO, NFL Draft

During the 2013 offseason, the then World Champion Baltimore Ravens lost nine significant contributors from the team that defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. Aside from Ray Lewis and Matt Birk retiring, other key losses happened in free agency, the cutting process or via trade. The Ravens lost outside linebacker Paul Kruger (Cleveland Browns), inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (Miami Dolphins), safety Ed Reed (Houston Texans) and cornerback Cary Williams (Philadelphia Eagles) in free agency, amongst others.

07_PresserPrimer_news

The Ravens brain trust with Harbaugh & Newsome in the middle

Without these players and for other reasons, the Ravens were unable to return to the playoffs in 2013, becoming the second straight SB Champion not to return to defend their crown. Unable to find a leader to replace Ray Lewis and forced to try to replace the missing pieces, the chemistry never seemed to gel and Baltimore finished 8-8.

The reward for losing talented players, if there such a thing, comes in the form of compensatory picks in the NFL Draft the following season.  The most NFL teams can receive in any one year for the upcoming draft is four and this year, the Ravens received the maximum allotted picks for the losses sustained in free agency last year.

With only four picks of their own heading to Radio City Music Hall in May, the four picks could not have come at a better time for GM Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens. Baltimore was scheduled to select in the first (17), second (48) and third round (79), as well a pick in the sixth round (184). The four compensatory picks now give the Ravens additional picks in the third (99), fourth (134 and 138) and fifth round (175). The compensatory picks cannot be traded and now give Newsome, Erik DeCosta and the rest of the Draft gurus eight selections total in this year’s draft.

Ozzie Newsome, whom many refer to as the Wizard, when it comes to personnel moves and the draft, will make the most of these picks. In fact, the “Wizardry” in how Newsome works the system can be seen in the compensatory picks alone. Ever since the NFL has implemented the compensatory pick system in 1994, the Ravens have led the league in total compensatory picks awarded with 41. The next closest are the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys who each have received 33. It is also important to remember the Packers & Cowboys had a two-year head start, as the Ravens were the Browns in 1994 & 95.

According to Wikipedia, the compensatory process work this way. In addition to the 32 selections in each of the seven rounds, 32 compensatory picks are awarded to teams that have lost more or better compensatory free agents than they signed in the previous year. Teams that gain and lose the same number of players but lose higher-valued players than they gain also can be awarded a pick, but only in the seventh round, after the other compensatory picks. Compensatory picks cannot be traded, and the placement of the picks is determined by a proprietary formula based on the player's salary, playing time, and postseason honors with his new team, with salary being the primary factor.

Newsome is able to gain these picks without losing picks because players cut by teams do not count in this equation and there is a cut-off date for signings to have an impact on the compensatory draft pick formula. According to the formula, the Ravens signed zero free agents that effected compensatory picks. Cut by their prior teams after the deadline, Elvis Dumervil, safety Michael Huff and defensive end Marcus Spears were all had without losing draft picks. Inside linebacker, Daryl Smith was signed after the deadline for signings to affect compensatory picks.

Climbing into the head of any General Manager to try to predict what they will do during the NFL Draft is difficult but trying to get inside the mind of a Wizard is a completely different set of circumstances. The thought process can be damn near impossible to predict. Will it be “Best player available” or filling a need—or will Newsome and the Ravens trade back—or even up to get their man?

Newsome, who is listed as the Ravens’ general manager and executive vice president, is directing his 19th draft and if history repeats itself, Ozzie and his staff will select players that will have immediate and long-lasting impact on the Ravens’ continued success as a playoff contender. Who those players will be and even at what positions is what makes mock drafts so much, but mocking the Ravens is work—-

The Ravens and a few of their players are not making it easy to predict how they will draft in six weeks. Undisciplined off the field behavior, as well as the moves the team has made in free agency to this point all factor in the process this offseason. They have re-signed several of their own players, which is an entirely different approach than they executed last season and have added just three players from other teams.

The returning Ravens include OT Eugene Monroe, Jacoby Jones, Dennis Pitta & Darryl Smith. Speaking of Smith, the Ravens signed former Carolina Panthers WR Steve Smith, just days after his release in Charlotte. They also signed former Rams safety Darian Stewart and via trade acquired center Jeffery Zuttah from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a fifth round pick in next year’s NFL Draft.

With an 8-8 record, one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL and a lack of any tangible leadership, the re-signings and outside additions will fix some of these issues but they are not going to fix everything that ailed the Ravens in 2013.

There is still the matter of how the Ravens are going to deal with RB Ray Rice.  Heading into his seventh season in 2014, Rice was arrested and charged with simple assault-domestic violence on Feb. 15 following a physical altercation with his then-fiancée at the Revel Casino and Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J. After taking a month to review the evidence, possibly including a video tape, which allegedly shows Rice getting physical with his fiancé, Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office announced last Thursday that the charge has been changed to third degree aggravated assault, which is a far more serious charge. If convicted, Rice could get a prison sentence of three to five years, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Ray Rice & Janay Parker-Rice with their daughter

Ray Rice & Janay Palmer-Rice with their daughter

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has said Rice has a future with the team despite his arrest. Rice, 27, signed a five-year, $35 million contract with the Ravens before the 2012 season but is coming off his worst season, rushing for only 660 yards and averaging a career-low 3.1 yards per carry.

Regardless of what the happens in a court of law, the Ravens still very much face the prospect of life without No.27 for possibly a quarter of the 2014 NFL season. Rice will likely face a suspension in the court of Goodell—and if history is indeed a good teacher, that suspension could be a minimum of four games. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will allow the law to run its due course but even if Rice somehow gets off in NJ, Goodell has shown in the past his justice under the leagues conduct policy is swift and his decisions are made regardless of verdicts and in the best interest of the league. Battering women does not sit well at any level of any profession or in any part of our society. Just ask Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger about how much the NFL cares about what happens in court when it involves women and abuse—or in Big Ben’s situation—a case that never even made it into court. In 2010, Goodell cracked down on one of the league's stars, suspending Roethlisberger without pay for the first six games of the 2010 season, even though sexual assault allegations against him in Georgia did not lead to criminal charges. Goodell determined that Roethlisberger had violated the NFL's personal-conduct policy and ordered the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback to undergo a "comprehensive behavioral evaluation by professionals."

So, as you see, it’s not just signing free agents and making trades that makes a GM’s life so difficult when the players are off on their own time. Rice is not the only Ravens player to have a run in with the law this offseason. Backup Offensive lineman Jah Reid (Assault) and WR Deonte Thompson’s (Marijuana Possession) actions must also be considered when the Ravens head into next month’s draft. Adding depth or even a potential starter at all three positions (RB, OL, and WR) is a priority for the Ravens.

Without over complicating the process, here is my attempt to get into the mind of the Ravens front office, as I try to predict the Ravens entire 2014 NFL Draft:

Picks: Round

1 (17), 2 (48), 3 (79), 3 (99 Compensatory), 4 (134 Compensatory), 4 (138 Compensatory), 5 (175 Compensatory) & 6 (194)

BALTIMORE RAVENS MOCK DRAFT 2.0

Zack Martin

Zach Martin

Round 1 (Pick 17)

Zach Martin, T / G Notre Dame: 6’4” 308 lbs. / 32 7/8 arm length / 9.5” hands

Combine: 40-yard 5.20 / Bench Press 23 (250 lbs.) /

Many mock drafts have the Ravens now looking to draft one of the two top safeties in the draft. Rob Rang and Dane Brugler of CBS Sports NFL Draft Scout have the Ravens taking Ha-Sean Clinton Dix & Calvin Pryor respectively. If the Ravens select a safety, it would be the third time in franchise history that the team has elected to draft a player from the same position in the first round of back-to-back drafts. They drafted Ray Lewis with their second pick of the first round (26) 1996 and then took Peter Boulware with the fourth overall pick the following season. In 1998 and 99, the Ravens used the 10th overall pick in both drafts to sure up the cornerback position when they drafted Duane Starks & then Chris McAllister. Last year, the Ravens selected Matt Elam and it would not shock me if indeed the Ravens took one of the two safeties, especially with James Ihedigbo signing with the Detroit Lions—but the biggest offseason acquisition not mentioned above may be the one that necessitates selecting Zack Martin.

It is no secret former Houston Texans HC, new Ravens offensive coordinator, Gary Kubiak, loves the zone-blocking scheme, and it’s no secret that the Ravens tried and failed last season to execute a version of their own. The hiring of Kubiak certainly does not suggest the Ravens will return to the man-on-man blocking schemes of yesterday but instead will stick with the scheme that gave them fits. Free agency tells us that the Ravens want versatility, as Michael Oher is in Tennessee and former TB Buc center / guard, Jeremey Zuttah is now a Raven. Zuttah is not an All-Pro but he is an upgrade over center Geno Gradkowski and he can also play guard. Zuttah was Pro Football Focus' 22nd ranked center last season out of 35 qualifiers. The Ravens' incumbent center, Gino Gradkowski, ranked 35th, according to PFF's grading.

Zach Martin, unrelated to Jonathan Martin by genetics or style of play, is a coach's dream. While perhaps lacking the body type scouts prefer at tackle (where he started 50 of his 52 career games for the Irish), Martin slides well laterally and controls opponents. He is smart, fierce and versatile with excellent hand usage. Martin may not have the ideal size to play tackle but he will work out just fine at right tackle for the Ravens and would be an upgrade over Michael Oher. The Ravens need Martin more than any other player, as his versatility would allow them to make adjustments if they decided that Kelechi Osemele should move to RT. Ozzie Newsome does not have the luxury of trading back to get Martin; the Dolphins will not let him past No.19. That would leave a player like Cyrus Kouandjio as the likely next best option and in my opinion—they would simply be redrafting Michael Oher if Kouandjio were the selection.

If the Ravens are serious about making the zone blocking work and they have to be with Kubiak in charge of the offense, then drafting a safety or WR would be the wrong decision here, especially when you consider the important hole on the right side of the fourth worst offensive line in the NFL last season. Besides, is it more important to protect your $120.6 million investment or find a ball hawking safety–while Clinton Dix and Pryor are solid prospects, they aren't Ed Reed or Sean Taylor and that's the only type of safety that should have the Ravens thinking any other way than right tackle in this draft with this pick. It is possible given his recent legal troubles that Michigan's Taylor Lewan could fall to the Ravens—–either way, Martin or Lewan need to be wearing purple next season and I'm not talking about Minnesota purple.

Carlos Hyde

Carlos Hyde

Second Round (pick 48) 

Carlos Hyde, RB Ohio State 5’11” 230 Lbs. / 32” Arm Length / 9 5/8” Hands

Combine 40 yds. 4.66 / Bench Press 19 / Broad Jump 114” /

Dare to be BOLD—–For whatever reason, the Ravens rushing attack in 2013 has to be considered the root of the offensive evils of last season. Yes, the offensive line was equally inept and the two run hand-in-hand but Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce aren’t the long term answers in Baltimore. Both were affected by injuries and a lack of consistent blocking all season but Rice is entering his seventh season and Pierce is showing a knack for injury and an inability to make the necessary big plays. In addition, Rice's offseason has been marred after being charged with aggravated assault by an Atlantic County Grand Jury on Thursday, following an incident at an Atlantic City casino in February. The Ravens gained a franchise-record low 1,328 rushing yards last season, averaging 3.1 yards per carry with just seven touchdown runs. Rice rushed for just 660 yards for the season, a career low as a starter.

Head Coach John Harbaugh was not bashful about his disappointment in the Ravens running game last season when asked about it at the NFL Combine. "I think the whole thing just needs an overhaul," Harbaugh said at the NFL scouting combine. "It was a myriad of things. We didn't block people well. We didn't move people. We didn't get on people. … Our backs both weren't 100 percent and they didn't make enough guys miss, didn't break enough tackles. So the yards weren't there. We also didn't throw well enough to get people out of single-high, press man [coverage]. We were always pretty much regularly going up against a heavy box, so that compounded a problem. We were probably a throw to set up the run offense the last 11, 12 games and we didn't throw the ball well enough to set up the run. We just didn't get the job done."

The Ravens are going to use either this pick or their third round selection on a RB. Including Carlos Hyde, they met with five of them at the NFL Combine. Hyde, if he is even on the board at this point, would be a great fit in the Ravens offense. Hyde reminds me a lot of a RB that called Baltimore home for six seasons. Jamal Lewis gained nearly 8,000 yards, including a season in which he rushed for 2,066 yards. At 5’11” and 240 pounds, Lewis was a powerful runner could flash the speed when he needed it. Hyde, the Big Ten Running Back of the Year and first-team All-Big 10 pick finished the season with 100-plus rushing yards in nine consecutive games. He finished with 1,508 rushing yards and 15 TD’s—this, after being suspended for the first three games for being a "person of interest" in an assault investigation. NFL.com says, Hyde has outstanding size, explosive power and run strength — can be his own blocker and create his own holes. Punishes linebackers running downhill and usually falls forward. Superb contact balance and finishing strength — does not go down easily and can barrel through arm tackles. Extremely powerful short-yardage/goal-line runner, which the Ravens could use. Remember the Green Bay game? He gets better as the game progresses, wearing down defensive fronts.  Took over the game in the fourth quarter vs. Northwestern (2013) and willed team to victory. He is surprisingly quick in short spaces and can plant hard and go. Is solid in pass protection and can stonewall blitzers in their tracks. Good awareness and anticipation to react to stunts and adjust to movement. Soft hands-catcher.

Terrance Brooks

Terrance Brooks

Third Round (Pick 79)

Terrance Brooks, Safety Florida State

Vitals: 5’-11” & 198 Lbs. / 31” Arm Length / 9 Hands
Combine: 4.42 40-yard / 38” Vertical / 119” Broad Jump / 10 Reps Weight Bench

The Ravens are expected to shift Matt Elam from free safety to his natural strong safety position and would like to acquire a play-making centerfielder to work in tandem with Elam, whose strong suits are his tackling and blitzing capabilities. Brooks is a 2013 Second-team All-ACC selection. In addition, he played and started in 13 games, missing one game due to concussion. Brooks' lack of dominating statistics led to his being overshadowed at times but NFL scouts are intrigued with the former cornerback's agility, range and willingness to be physical in run support. Voted to the First Team All-ACC unit by coaches (but only second-team by the media), Brooks' toughness and versatility could lead to a second-day selection in the draft despite few outside of Tallahassee realizing his importance to the Seminoles' undefeated season.

From CBS Sports Rob Rang: While a touch shorter than scouts would prefer, Brooks looks the part of an NFL free safety, boasting broad shoulders, a well-built frame and trim waist. He possesses good balance, agility and straight-line speed, including an impressive burst to close. A former cornerback who is asked to drop down and cover slot receivers, on occasion, demonstrating good balance, fluidity and change of direction for coverage. Brooks is more physical than you might expect given his cornerback background, often dropping down into a linebacker-like role for the Seminoles, which the Ravens will love in a defense that requires versatility and physicality. Long arms and good balance to play off blocks and make plays near the line of scrimmage amid traffic. A big-hitter who seems to enjoy the physicality of the game. Flashes strong hands for the interception, as well as the ability to track over his shoulder (North Carolina State). Good special teams’ player.

CJ Fiedorowicz

CJ Fiedorowicz

Round Three (Pick 99 Compensatory)

CJ Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa

Vitals: 6’6” & 265 Lbs. / 33” Arm Length / 10 ¼ Hands /      

Combine: 4.76-40 yard / 31 ½” Vertical / 25 Reps on Weight Bench

Fiedorowicz showed off his athletic ability at the NFL Combine when he was first among TE’s in the 3-Cone (7.10) & 20 Yard Shuttle (4.26) Drills. Underutilized in the Hawkeyes offense, Fiedorowicz finished the 2013 season with a career-high six touchdowns and was voted First Team All-Big Ten. In need of a TE, the Ravens met with Fiedorowicz in Indy and came away impressed. C.J. won the Alabama Power Most Outstanding Receiver for the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday practices at the Senior Bowl. He has excellent size with a proportioned body and is physical enough to continue developing as a blocker. He demonstrated more suddenness in and out of his cuts that will allow him to get separation when facing man coverage. He is a throwback tight end who blocks and has excellent size at 6-foot-5, 265 pounds and is a sure-handed receiver. Fiedorowicz finished with 91 career catches for 899 yards and 10 touchdowns over his final 30 games of his career, catching at least one pass per game during that span. Dane Bugler of NFL Draft Scout says he shows good versatility, showing the ability to come off a down block to get past defenders as a receiver. Good body control and soft hands for such a large man, traits that have led Washington junior Austin Seferian-Jenkins to earn a lot of attention as a possible first-round pick. Fiedorowicz is not as flashy as ASJ, but he is just as big and fast in a straight-line and is a much more physical and attentive blocker. If Fiedorowicz is as advertised and even the rigid Nolan Nowrocki thinks so (see below), he could be just what ails the Ravens opposite Dennis Pitta. Fiedorowicz tries to pattern his game after New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and if he could provide a third of what Gronk gives to the Pats when healthy, this is a bonafide home run with the 99th pick.

Nolan Nowrocki summary on Fiedorowicz:  Big-framed, linear and dependable, Fiedorowicz looks the part and has balanced skills to be a legitimate “Y” tight end in the pros. Is an asset as a competitive blocker and as a sure-handed receiver. Will be in demand in a relatively thin tight ends class.

Chris Davis

Chris Davis gets ready to tackle James Franklin of Mizzou

Round Four (Pick 134)

Chris Davis, CB Auburn

Vitals: 5’-10” & 202 Lbs. / 31” Arm Length / 9 ¼ Hands: 

Combine/ PD: 4.55-40 yard / 124” Broad Jump / 15 Bench Reps

The Ravens are dangerously thin at the CB position. Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb are both solid starters but both have been injury prone and been inconsistent with a lack of focus at critical times. You may remember Davis as the guy that cemented his name in Auburn lore with his 108-yard touchdown return off a missed field goal to upset Alabama in 2013. However, he is also a very accomplished cover corner. According to NFL Draft Scout, Davis possesses a compact, well-developed build with light feet, fluid change of direction and smooth acceleration. Alert zone defender with quick-twitch athleticism to break downhill on the ball. Good athleticism for coverage responsibilities, demonstrating the agility and balance to mirror receivers, as well as the straight-line speed to keep up on vertical routes. However, they also point out that he lacks the height preferred in a man-heavy scheme and that he is inconsistent with his physicality as an open-field tackler. He does his share of standing around the pile and will occasionally lunge toward the legs of ball carriers with his shoulder, rather than forcefully wrapping, leading to some missed tackles. He’s versatile—-a compact, physical zone corner with intriguing return skill, Davis will be more challenged by his lack of height and tight hips in the pros. His intangibles, toughness against the run and ability to factor as a punt returner will allow him to carve out a role on a team like the Ravens. I’ve seen Davis as low as a fifth rounder and as high as an early third rounder. This seems to be the more likely landing spot and if he’s there, he’s not a bad catch for the Ravens.

Round Four (Pick 138 Compensatory)

Cody Latimer

Cody Latimer

Cody Latimer, WR Indiana

Vitals: 6’-3” & 215 Lbs. / 32 5/8 Arm Length / 9 5/8” Hands  

Pro Day: 4.39 40-yard (4.43 second try) / 39” Vertical / 126” Broad / 24 Bench Reps

According to the Baltimore Sun, the Ravens sent a scout to evaluate the former Hoosiers standout WR back on March 25. In fact, the Ravens are one of six teams that scheduled him for private workouts. Ravens WR coach Bobby Engram flew to or will be flying to Bloomington to conduct the Ravens private session. Laitmer finished his career with 135 receptions for 2,042 yards and was named second-team All-Big Ten Conference. As a junior last season, he caught 72 passes for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns. The Ravens love is size and speed. He was a prep basketball standout; Latimer is a well built, sure-handed and if he develops, could nicely fill the big-bodied possession receiver role the Ravens have relished since the departure of Anquan Boldin. Latimer’s hardwood background is evident in his leaping ability, body control and hand-eye coordination. Although he lacks ideal explosiveness and isn’t smooth is “gear change and flexibility” he will be an effective slant runner and making contested catches to beat zone coverage and could also have a lot of success in the red zone where Joe Flacco likes to loft the ball to his bigger receivers.

Ryan Carrethers

Ryan Carrethers

Round 5 (Pick 175 Compensatory).

Ryan Carrethers, DT Arkansas State 6’-1” 337 Lbs. / 31 ¾ Arm Length / 9 3/8” Hands

Combine: 40 yds. 5.47 / Bench Press 32 Reps /

Carrethers is a two-time first-team All-Sun Belt selection (2012-13). In 2013, he blocked two kicks and led Red Wolves with four sacks. In 2012, he started all 13 games. He is big and thick with outstanding weight-room strength. He squats a small house and maintains low body fat. Has sheer mass and natural girth to dig in and hold his ground vs. double teams. Has a wrestling background and understands leverage. Has two-gap ability and is a heavy tackler. He has a great work ethic, which is part of the “Raven Way”. He is tough and durable and possesses a solid personal and football character. While I just made him sound like the second coming of a top pick, there is a reason he is a projected as a fifth or sixth round selection. He lacks ideal height and has short arms and small hands. He is not very quick at the point of the attack and is considered heavy-legged with limited range. Carrethers needs to improve hand use, quickness, placement and shed timing. He has marginal pass-rush value but the Ravens have found and developed guys with his work ethic. If he is committed, he could have a future in a rotational role.

Matt Patchan

Matt Patchan

Round Six (Pick 194)

Matt Patchan, OT Boston College

Vitals: 6’-6” 302 Lbs. / 33” Arm Length / 9 3/8” Hands

Combine: 4.97 40-yard / 33 ½” Vertical / 22 Bench Reps

With Jah Reid likely on his way out the door and Ricky Wagner & David Mims not quite the answer, the Ravens may take a chance on a quick athletic tackle like Patchan. He would give them depth at the tackle position and if he can stay away from his “X” Games lifestyle and remain healthy, he could prove to be quite a steal in the sixth round. Patchan has been unable to remain on the field, mostly due to a maddening array of injuries. In May 2008, he was shot in the left shoulder, as a bystander at a park in Brandon, Fla. He later injured his left knee in the first of two scooter accidents while at Florida, one of which also led to his being hit by a car. He missed all but the first four games of the 2009 season with a torn ACL (right knee), all of 2010 with a fractured right wrist and all of 2012 with a torn pectoral. However, he looks the part of an NFL offensive tackle. He has broad shoulders, long arms and a trim middle. He has very good initial quickness off the snap, firing off the ball when run-blocking to turn and seal his opponent from the action. Surprising straight-line speed to get to the second level and shows good lateral agility and body control to adjust to moving targets. Originally recruited by the Florida Gators, he transferred to Boston College in 2013 and managed to start all 13 games being voted Second-team All-ACC at left tackle. He blocked for Heisman Trophy candidate Andre Williams, who ran for 2,177 yards. Patchan has been listed as low as priority free agent to an early sixth round selection. If the Ravens or any of the scouts are satisfied with his medicals from the combine, his size, speed and production in 2013 will not see him make it to undrafted free agent status. Do not forget, Ozzie Newsome is not afraid to spend a late round pick on a college player with an injury history or currently coming off an injury. Last year, the Ravens selected DE Kapron Lewis Moore from Notre Dame, who tore his ACL in the BCS Championship game vs. Alabama. Ironically, the Ravens selected Moore with their sixth round pick, the 200th overall pick of the 2013 NFL Draft.

Draft Breakdown:

Offense: 5 Selections

I have the Ravens filling their need at Left Tackle with Zack Martin in the first round (17) and picking up some depth with Matt Patchan in the sixth round (194). I also have them addressing needs at RB, TE and WR with Carlos Hyde in the second (48), CJ Fiedorowicz in third (99) & Cody Latimer in the fourth round with the 138th overall pick. Hyde would be the big prize for the Ravens in this scenario, as the rushing attack was one of the worst in the league last season. I also believe the Ravens are far more disturbed about what happened in their backfield last season and during the offseason than they are letting on.

Defense: 3 Selections

I have the Ravens addressing their need at safety position with FSU’s Terrance Brooks in the third round (79). The drafting of Brooks would allow the Ravens to move Matt Elam back to his more natural position of strong safety. I also have the purple and black selecting their obligatory defensive lineman in the fifth round with Ryan Carrethers from Arkansas State and with only Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb, Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson at corner back; I have the Ravens selecting CB Chris Davis from Auburn. Davis, who is mostly known for his 108-yard return of a missed field with no time left to beat Alabama last season, may not be the CB the Ravens select but they will select a corner and in what could be the surprising pick of the draft for the Ravens, I would not at all be surprised to see Ozzie Newsome take a corner, as high as the second round.

I will update the Ravens Draft Board each week here on Fanspeak until the NFL Draft in May

Along with my own scouting reports of the players, I also used the scouting reports of CBS Sports NFL Draft Scout, ESPN Scouting service and of course, Fanspeaks very own, Stephen Shoup.

Jeremy Zuttah Contract Breakdown

March 31, 2014 in Contract Breakdowns

Name:  Jeremy Zuttah

Age:  27

Position:  C

Jeremy Zuttah

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Awards:  None

Contact Length:  Five years

Total Contract Money:  $18 million

Signing Bonus:  $3.5 million

Guaranteed Money:  $6.5 million (Signing bonus, 2014 base salary and $2 million of the 2015 base salary)

2014 Base Salary:  $1 million

2014 Cap Hit:  $1.7 million (No cap savings if cut, $4.8 cap charge taken)

2015 Base Salary:  $3 million

2015 Cap Hit:   $3.7 million (No cap savings if cut, $1.1 cap charge taken)

2016 Base Salary:  $3.5 million

2016 Cap Hit:  $4.2 million ($2.2 million saved if cut)

2017 Base Salary:  $3.5 million

2017 Cap Hit:  $4.2 million ($2.8 million saved if cut)

2018 Base Salary:  $3.5 million

2018 Cap Hit:  $4.2 million ($3.5 million saved if cut)

Other important information:  There is a $750,000 playing time and Pro Bowl incentive in 2014 and a $1 million playing time and Pro Bowl incentive in 2015.

Ravens Receive Four Compensatory Picks

March 24, 2014 in News, NFL Draft

The Baltimore Ravens have received four compensatory draft picks today for losses sustained in free agency last year.

These four picks come in the third (No. 99 overall), fourth (Nos. 134 and 138) and fifth round (No. 175). The maximum number of compensatory picks that a team can receive is four. The addition of these four picks––which can't be traded––push the Ravens total pick count in the upcoming draft to eight.

Joe Flacco

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Ever since the NFL has implemented the compensatory pick system in 1994––two years before the Ravens were established in 1996––the Ravens have led the league in total compensatory picks awarded with 41. The next closest are the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys who each have received 33.

General manager Ozzie Newsome loves compensatory picks as they are "free" draft picks. This shows in the numbers above.

Teams are awarded compensatory picks for losing more or better free agents than they signed during the free agent period. Players cut by teams don't count in this equation and there is a cut-off date for signings to have an impact on the compensatory draft pick formula.

Last offseason the Ravens lost outside linebacker Paul Kruger (Cleveland Browns), inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (Miami Dolphins), safety Ed Reed (Houston Texans) and cornerback Cary Williams (Philadelphia Eagles) in free agency.

According to the formula, the Ravens signed zero free agents that effected compensatory picks. The outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, safety Michael Huff and defensive end Marcus Spears were all cut by their prior teams. Inside linebacker Daryl Smith was signed after the deadline for signings to impact compensatory picks.

It comes as no surprise that the Ravens received four compensatory draft picks as this was expected. The actual picks that the Ravens received represented the best case scenario for the team as it was thought they would receive two fourths, one fifth and one sixth by many people––including me.

Ravens Trade For Jeremy Zuttah

March 23, 2014 in News

The Baltimore Ravens have traded a 2015 mid-round draft pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for center Jeremy Zuttah.

The Ravens have signed him to a new, long-term contract that reduces his cap hit for this season from what it was on his old contract. At this point in time, terms of the contract are unknown.

Just 27-years old (28 at the start of the season), he had two years left on a four-year contract worth $16.5 million that he signed with the Buccaneers back in 2012. He was owed $4.5 million this season and $4.25 million next season.

Jeremy Zuttah

Courtesy of ICON SMI

This past season, he started all 16 games for Tampa Bay with 15 of these starts coming at center. (The other start was at left guard.) According to Pro Football Focus, he graded as the 22nd best center in the league (out of 35). If his performance at left guard is taken into account, then he would have been the tied for the 19th best center.

Drafted by the Buccaneers in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft out of Rutgers, he spent his entire career in Tampa Bay before this trade.

As a rookie in 2008, he started five games (right and left guard). In 2009 he started all 16 games at left guard. The next season (2010) saw him lose his starting job, but earn a new starting job at center partway through the season as he started nine games (eight at center and one at right guard). In 2011 he moved back to left guard for 13 starts and one start at center. In 2012 he split his 16 starts between center (seven) and left guard (nine).

His best season came in 2008 as a rookie according to Pro Football Focus, but that was as a limited starter. His best season as a full-time starter was in 2011 where he graded as the 26th best left guard in the league (out of 78).

Playing his college football at Rutgers, he blocked for current Ravens' starting running back Ray Rice. Growing up in Edison, N.J., he grew up about 10 miles away from the Ravens' starting left tackle Eugene Monroe who is from Plainfield, N.J. It is reported that Monroe and Zuttah are friends––which would make sense.

The exact draft pick compensation is unknown at this time, but it is expected to be a 2015 mid-round pick. This makes it the fourth trade that the Ravens have completed in the past year dealing with their offensive line. They have traded for Monroe and A.Q. Shipley while trading away Bryant McKinnie. All of these trades have involved draft picks:  fourth and fifth-round picks for Monroe, a seventh-round pick for Shipley and a seventh round pick in return for McKinnie.

For the Ravens, he is expected to play center. Last year's starter Gino Gradkowski graded as the worst center in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. It was obvious that the Ravens needed to upgrade this position and it looks like they have found their upgrade with Zuttah.

Assuming that Zuttah's brand new contract isn't worth too much––about $3 million per year sounds right––and assuming the 2015 draft pick is a mid-round pick––the fourth and fifth rounds are usually considered this––then this is a good trade for the Ravens. While it sounds like there are a lot of conditions for this to be a good trade for the Ravens, when you consider that his contract is being lowered from just over $4 million per year and the pick is already being called a mid-round pick, then it doesn't look like that.

Overall the Ravens upgraded at center, where an upgrade was severely needed. Zuttah should come in and give the Ravens solid play. He won't be anything special, but he should solidify the center position.

The Baltimore Ravens and Their Wizard–Ravens 7 Rd. Mock: Part 1

March 22, 2014 in Baltimore Ravens, NFL Draft

Part 1: The Wizard of Oz, The Other Men in Charge, & How the Ravens Do it, 

You cannot go “Mocking” unless you know the philosophy surrounding the madness and arguably, no other team in the NFL has been, as successful or as unpredictable on draft day than the Baltimore Ravens.ozzie-newsome-draft-newsomeThe Ravens have a “Wizard” in charge of their “War Room” on draft day. Vice President &General Manager Ozzie Newsome knows a thing or two about a thing or two when it comes to the NFL Draft.

Under the guidance of the former Cleveland  Brown and Hall of Fame tight end, the franchise rarely brings home a bad report card from the league’s annual job fair. For every considered draft bust, the Ravens produce at least two or three solid starters. Heading into his 19th draft with the franchise, 13th as the General Manager, Newsome has a formula for success and rarely does he deviate from it. While he is known as the Wizard, Newsome is not alone nor does he deserve all of the credit for all of the success. The Ravens have proven through the years that they possess one of the top front office and scouting staffs, not just in pro- football but also in all of professional sports.

Since moving to Baltimore in 1996, Newsome and his scouting departments have had 18 drafts and selected 18 players in the first round. These picks have earned an amazing 55-combined Pro Bowls, several All-Rookie honors, multiple Defensive Player of the Year Awards and two Super Bowl MVP honors.

HOW DO THEY DO IT?

The Ravens do not belong to the National Football Scouting group, which provides member teams a list of and reports on players eligible for the draft. Instead, Newsome, along with Eric DeCosta (Asst. G.M.), Joe Hortiz (Dir. Of college scouting),  and a confirmed 19 full-time members of the personnel department, which does not include the coaching staff, work year round on a proven scouting system that has produced as much in the early rounds as it has in the later rounds of the draft.

Day two and three of the NFL Draft has even greater importance on the future of a franchise and the Ravens have excelled there as well. They have found Pro Bowlers and top notch starters on the second and third day as much as they have the first. Players such as Marshal Yanda (3rd) Lardarius Webb (3rd), Jarrett Johnson (4th), Dennis Pitta (4th), Pernell McPhee (5th), Adalius Thomas (6) and Sam Koch (6) were taken well after the Commissioner was calling names at the podium. Newsome and company also have a knack in signing the right undrafted rookie free agents who also make significant contributions. Mike Flynn (‘97), Priest Holmes (‘97), Will Demps (‘02), Bart Scott (‘02), Ma’ake Kemoeatu (‘02), Jameel McClain (‘08), Dannell Ellerbe (‘09), Morgan Cox (‘10) & Justin Tucker (‘12) all went undrafted and subsequently signed  with and starred for the Ravens.

The Ravens have had 31 different players earn Pro Bowl honors since the team’s inception in 1996. Of those, 16 are homegrown players, 15 drafted, and two signed as rookie free agents. The secret to Newsome and the Ravens success has several key components. It begins with the staff, which has continuity, loyalty and longevity. Most of Ozzie’s staff has been with the team since the franchise started in 1996 or has graduated from the “20/20” club.

Success Breeds Success:

The “20/20” group includes members who started with the Ravens as young assistants and grew into evaluators with more input. The term “20/20” refers to hiring “20-year-olds for $20,000.” “Actually, the guys started when they were a little older than 20 and for more than $20,000, but that’s what we call them,” said Newsome. The process is really quite simple but it involves the hard work of everyone. The Ravens have eight scouts assigned to every part of the country during college football season. They have an additional eight player personnel directors and of course, it’s all tied together through Ozzie Newsome, as well as Assistant GM Eric DeCosta.  

DeCosta and the Ravens’ directors of college scouting, Joe Horitz, are perfect examples of what makes the Ravens so successful in the front office. They have been with the organization for a combined 34-years and began of course, as members of the prestigious 20 / 20 club.

Once the Ravens define a player as a “draftable” talent, head coach John Harbaugh and his staff are assigned to add more study, which could include visits and workouts with some of the players. According to Newsome in the teams media guide, “Another advantage we have is that many of us have worked together or known each other for a while, so we scout the scouts and coaches. We may have a scout or coach who has proven he really knows how to spot talent at a certain position. That opinion carries more weight when we’re finalizing the board.”hi-res-168103308-head-coach-john-harbaugh-of-the-baltimore-ravens-speaks_crop_north

Newsome encourages all scouts and coaches s to have strong opinions. “We have very open dialogue. We want everyone’s opinion, especially from the scouts who have looked at the players the longest. I think another strength of our room is that we respect and listen to each other,” Newsome says. Success breeds success and while a great many of the Ravens scouts began in the 20 / 20 club and have stayed, many have gone on to have successful careers elsewhere because of what they learned from Newsome and the “Raven Way”.

The current director of the Senior Bowl in Mobile Alabama, Phil Savage, is one of those examples. Savage began, as one of those 20 / 20 guys, with the Cleveland Browns in 1991 and worked his way up the ladder in the front office as a scout and personnel evaluator with the Browns, eventually following Cleveland's former owner Art Modell and the rest of the front office to Baltimore in 1995. Savage then played an important role in the drafting of 10 Pro Bowl players, including Hall of Fame tackle Jonathan Ogden and future HOF linebacker Ray Lewis. Ironically, Savage would go back to Cleveland,as their General Manager, in 2005. However, following a poor 2008 season, Savage was fired.

The Highest Rated:

Newsome always talks about taking the “highest-rated player on our board” when it comes time to select a player. The Ravens’ history proves that. When they had a Pro Bowl left tackle with Tony Jones, Baltimore selected Jonathan Ogden, who was the first pick (fourth overall in ’96) in team history. When they had Pro Bowl players like Priest Holmes and Shannon Sharpe, the Ravens selected Jamal Lewis and Todd Heap in the first round. “When we have grades that are even, we sometimes select the player in the area we have the greatest need,” Newsome notes. “But, our confidence in our staff and the process we use make draft days easy, exciting and fun. The hay is in the barn, so to speak. The hardest work is done year round prior to the draft.”

Wizardry Extends Beyond Draft:

Heading into this year’s draft, the Ravens currently only have five assured picks in Rounds 1 (No. 17), 2 (No. 48), 3 (No. 79), 6 (No. 178,) and this past week received a seventh rounder in return for the Bryan McKinnie trade to Miami. This additional pick essentially replaces the seventh-round selection that the Ravens traded to the Indianapolis Colts last offseason for center-guard A.Q. Shipley.

The five picks would be the fewest in any draft in franchise history, which is not a good thing when you consider how deep this draft is. This year’s crop of players looking for NFL employment is considered by many to be one most well rounded NFL Draft classes in years. Fortunately, for Ravens fans, Newsome is the master at collecting compensatory picks and that is a good thing this year.

9037295_600x338Compensatory picks are picks teams receive in addition to their selections in each of the seven rounds. A total of 32 compensatory picks are awarded to teams that have lost more or better compensatory free agents than they signed in the previous year. Teams that gain and lose the same number of players but lose higher-valued players than they gain also can be awarded a pick, but only in the seventh round, after the other compensatory picks. Compensatory picks cannot be traded, and the placement of the picks is determined by a proprietary formula based on the player's salary, playing time, and postseason honors with his new team, with salary being the primary factor. So, for example, a team that lost a linebacker who signed for $2.5 million per year in free agency might get a sixth-round compensatory pick, while a team that lost a wide receiver who signed for $5 million per year might receive a fourth-round pick. All compensatory picks are awarded at the ends of Rounds three through seven. If fewer than 32 such picks are awarded, the remaining picks are awarded in the order in which teams would pick in a hypothetical eighth round of the draft (These are known as "supplemental compensatory selections"). Compensatory picks are awarded each year at the NFL annual meeting which is held at the end of March; typically, about three or four weeks before the draft.

Compensatory picks have been very important during the Ravens draft history. In fact, it is important to note that since 1996, Baltimore has received 37 compensatory choices. That is the most during that span with Packers having the second most with 30. According to Jamison Hensley of ESPN, the Ravens will get the league-maximum four compensatory picks in this year’s draft and will now be able to save face with nine total draft selections.  The exact placement of those picks will be determined next week at owners meetings. The four players the Ravens will get compensatory picks for are Ed Reed, linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Cary Williams.

Here is where the genius of Newsome really shows through. He collects these picks without losing picks. The big name players the Ravens signed last off-season in Elvis Dumervil, Chris Canty, Michael Huff and Marcus Spears, will not count against them because all of those free agents were released. Compensatory picks are only for players who leave after their contracts have ended.

What should the Ravens receive for those four players—according to Hensley, the best-case scenario is that they receive one in the third round (Kruger), two in the fourth round (Ellerbe and Williams) and one in the fifth (Reed). The worst-case is two in the fourth one in the fifth (Williams) and one in the seventh (Reed). Remember the Ravens do not currently own any picks in the fourth and fifth rounds because they traded them to the Jacksonville Jaguars for left tackle Eugene Monroe.

Not Always a Success Story: 

Once the NFL Draft is complete, experts evaluate every team and hand out grades. The Ravens typically receive grades of an “A”, possibly a B+ but if you go back and look at some drafts, they wouldn’t exactly receive such a high grade if you waited a year to grade them. That’s the nature of the beast in the “War Rooms” on drafts days. Player may look and grade out as top tier talent but fail to become a bust.

Last April's draft received a grade of “B” or higher by many experts but looking back on it now, you couldn’t possibly think to give it anything other than, at best, a C to C-. Safety Matt Elam, whom the Ravens selected with the final pick in the first round had the best season of any draftee but as expected Elam struggled at times and didn’t exactly make anyone forget about Ed Reed. The next three draft picks LB Arthur Brown, DT Brandon Williams and LB John Simon didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Brown and Williams are expected to have much bigger roles this season and Simon, who was a standout at Ohio State, didn’t see the field much at all in his rookie campaign.

Until the drafting of Joe Flacco, every QB selected by the team was a bust and Newsome and company have yet to hit on a wide receiver that has significantly contributed to the team for any length of time. Many would consider Ozzie’s biggest offensive bust to be QB Kyle Boller, whom the Ravens selected in the first round with the 19th overall pick in 2003 after trading away their first round pick to New England the following year to move up and get him. kyle boller

WR’s Travis Taylor, who was taken in the first round back in 2000 and a Newsome scouted player, as well as a more recent Newsome selection, WR Mark Clayton (Round 1- pick 22- 2005) were both first round flops. This draft is loaded with wide receivers so The Wizard, a Hall of Fame pass catcher himself, has a chance to redeem that knock on his scouting eye.

In the end, The Ravens are truly one of the league’s best on draft day. Chris Mortensen of ESPN says of Newsome and the Ravens front office, “There’s a saying within the Ravens that goes, ‘In Ozzie we trust.’ The reason for that is his track record is tremendous. He has a philosophy, he stays true to it, and they’re not going to deviate from that. If the No. 3 player is the No. 3 player, and he’s on the board, that’s the guy they’re taking.”

With that in mind—-it’s off to part two and the Ravens seven round mock—-In part 2 I will provide you with the most comprehensive Ravens Mock Draft on the web or in any magazine. Thanks to the top Draft scouting sources, which includes Fanspeak.com and the work of Stephen Shoup, I was able to compile a ton of great information, as I predict all nine selections in the seven round draft.

 

Ravens Sign Darian Stewart

March 21, 2014 in Free Agency, News

Today the Baltimore Ravens announced that they have signed safety Darian Stewart, formerly of the St. Louis Rams, to a one-year contract.

At this point in time the monetary value of the contract is unknown, but it is likely that the contract isn't for much money. The deal is pending a physical which will occur on Sunday.

Darian Stewart

Courtesy of ICON SMI

This past season the 25-year old started six games for the St. Louis Rams at strong safety and recorded 36 tackles, one forced fumble and five passes defended.

After going undrafted in the 2010 NFL Draft, the Rams signed him as an undrafted free agent out of the University of South Carolina.

By 2011 he was a 13-game starter for St. Louis and he recorded 84 tackles, three sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles, 11 passes defended and he scored one touchdown.

In 2012 he was a backup again like 2010 and only had 10 tackles in 12 games. This past season he regained some of the playing time that he had lost.

According to Pro Football Focus, he was the 41st best safety in the league last season (out of 86). When he was a full-time starter in 2011 he graded as the 83rd best safety out of 87. That season he really struggled un run support.

On special teams, he is an average contributor and will likely see time there this season for the Ravens.

When he was signed by the Rams as an undrafted free agent, the Rams' head coach was Steve Spagnuolo. After spending last season as a Senior Defensive Assistant, Spagnuolo is now the Ravens' secondary coach. This likely precipitated the move to sign Stewart as Spagnuolo knows him well and clearly likes him.

This offseason the Ravens are looking for a rangy free safety to play next to last year's first-round pick Matt Elam. Stewart doesn't fit that mold as he is more of a strong safety and is a better fit as a backup. However, this is a good depth signing as the Ravens needed some depth at safety.