2016 NFL Season Preview: Baltimore Ravens

Free agent additions: QB Josh Johnson, WR Mike Wallace, TE Ben Watson, G Vlad Ducasse, CB Jerraud Powers, S Eric Weddle
Free agent departures: G/OT Kelechi Osemele, OT Eugene Monroe, S Will Hill, DE Chris Canty, ILB Daryl Smith, DE Courtney Upshaw, WR Chris Givens, QB Matt Schaab
Early Draft selections: OT Ronnie Stanley, DE/OLB Kamalei Correa, DE/DT Bronson Kaufusi, CB Tavon Young, WR Chris Moore, DT William Henry, OT Alex Lewis, RB Kenneth Dixon
Offense: The Ravens placed 20 players on injured reserve last season, including franchise quarterback Joe Flacco. Flacco went down with a torn ACL in week 11, but he is currently practicing. Before his injury, Flacco was throwing 41 times per game, easily a career high. He posted a good completion percentage of 64.4 (also a career high), but he had a very low 6.8 YPA average and a high 3% interception rate. Flacco has never been a high volume passer (2 of his worst seasons have come when he’s thrown over 38 times per game), so the Ravens can’t have him throw this much again if they want to be successful. Funny “stat”: Joe Flacco is currently rated worse than his former backup Tyrod Taylor in Madden 17.

At running back, the Ravens will almost certainly take a committee approach. Right now, I’d have to guess that Justin Forsett (1,266 yards in 2014) tops the depth chart, but there are currently four other running backs on the roster: Buck “Javorius” Allen, rookie Kenneth Dixon, Terrance West, and Lorenzo Taliaferro. By all accounts, the Ravens are really excited to have Kenneth Dixon, and I would not be surprised if he becomes the starter by the end of the season. He has fumbling issues, but aside from Adrian Peterson, those can be fixed. Buck Allen wasn’t too impressive starting for Forsett last year, averaging only 3.8 yards per carry. If everyone stays healthy, the Ravens running game will be their strength.

In the passing game, the Ravens strength is at tight end. They signed Ben Watson over from the Saints after he had a career year there (825 yards, 6 TD). However, he is 35, so it is unknown if he will be able to replicate that performance this season. Dennis Pitta (already out of practice with a sprained finger or something) just can’t be relied upon anymore, and anything he contributes will be gravy. Crockett Gillmore looked very good in action last year, but also had injury issues. The Ravens also have second year player Maxx Williams, who they will need to take a big step forward this season.

Receiver is the team’s weakness. Steve Smith Sr. is 37 and coming off a severe injury in a torn Achilles. Whether he will still be effective remains to be seen. Kamar Aiken came along well last season and looks to be a capable No. 2 receiver, but other than that, the Ravens have the inconsistent Mike Wallace, and a bunch of unproven wideouts, including 2015 first rounder Breshad Perriman, who just needs to stay healthy.

Finally, on the line, the Ravens suffered some big losses in Eugene Monroe and Kelechi Osemele. Monroe was always hurt, missing 15 games the last 2 seasons, so the Ravens didn’t retain him. Osemele signed a big contract with the Raiders. As replacements, the Ravens drafted Ronnie Stanley at #6 overall. Will he have an instant impact? There have been a lot of young high first round tackles struggle recently. The Ravens recently signed Jake Long for depth at least. Elsewhere, RG Marshal Yanda is one of the best in the game.

 

Defense: The Ravens don’t have a dominant defense anymore, allowing 25 points per game and really struggling in the takeaway department, ranking last in the NFL with 6 interceptions (they recovered 8 fumbles, good for 22nd). On the line, they return starters DE Timmy Jernigan, NT Brandon Williams, and DE Lawrence Guy. Jernigan and Williams are both rock solid starters. The Ravens were probably hoping that rookie Bronson Kaufasi would compete for playing time, but he recently sustained a broken ankle, so now they have no depth here.

Aging edge rushers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs surround the line. Suggs is coming back from a second Achilles tear, while Dumervil only recorded 6 sacks last year. They both may have great seasons, or they both may show their age. Rookie Kamalei Correa will look to provide depth off the bench. CJ Mosley, an excellent young starter, returns at ILB. Relative unknown Arthur Brown is currently slated to start next to him. As with the down linemen, depth will be an issue here, especially if someone goes down with an injury.

As stated earlier, the Ravens only recorded 6 interceptions last year. To help with this, they went out and signed Eric Weddle. Weddle wasn’t at his best last year due to injuries, but he’s still one of the best when healthy. The Ravens moved Lardarius Webb to strong safety as he is better in run support than in coverage.  At corner, the Ravens have Jimmy Smith, Kyle Arrington, Shareece Wright, and rookie Tavon Young. Smith is an up and down corner, and Wright performed pretty well after being picked up off waivers midseason. Arrington didn’t do much in the slot last year and could be pushed by Young.

 

Special teams, schedule, and intangibles: The Ravens went 3-5 at home last year, but normally have an excellent homefield advantage, going 62-18 from 2005-2014.

The Ravens had to franchise kicker Justin Tucker. Tucker is a great kicker who has come through in the clutch many times. Even in his worst season as a pro, he went 33 for 40 with no missed extra point tries.

Sam Koch recorded a 42.9 net punting average last year, good for 2nd in the NFL.

The Ravens were even with their opponents on kick returns, but were significantly better on punts. The Ravens averaged 11.3 yards per punt return and had one taken back to the house by Kaelin Clay. Meanwhile, they only gave up 5 yards per punt return to opponents.

With a third place schedule, the Ravens play the Raiders, Jaguars, AFC/NFC East, and their 6 divisional games. They have a chance for a quick start, with their first 5 games coming against the Bills (home), Browns (away), Jaguars (away), Raiders (home), and Redskins (home). Those are all winnable home games, so if they can take care of the Browns on the road, a 4-1 start is quite possible. Their big issue is with Cincinnati, to whom they have lost 5 straight.

 

Position Ratings (out of 5 stars):

 ravens stars

Summary: More funny ridiculously high Madden NFL 17 ratings: Steve Smith Sr. (90), Terrell Suggs (90), Elvis Dumervil (87)…yeah…I’m going to have to disagree there Madden. Being the great coach that he is, John Harbaugh is talking the team up and saying they are championship caliber, but even if the aforementioned 3 players play to their Madden potential in real life, and the team suffers no injuries (unlikely), this team’s ceiling is a loss on Wild Card weekend.

 

Prediction: 8-8 (3rd AFC South)

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