The great thing about the NFL is that there are so many positions that every year, there is almost always at least one player who has a breakout year on every team, no matter how good or bad the team is. This is one part in a 32 part segment detailing one potential breakout player for the 2013 NFL season on each NFL team (rookies don’t count). For the Baltimore Ravens, that player is guard Kelechi Osemele.
When the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl in February, it came as a surprise to many, not just because they were underdogs in that game, but because of where they were heading into the playoffs. They had lost 4 of their last 5 to drop them to a 10-6 record that was very nondescript for a playoff team. Because so many of their 10 wins came by a field goal or less (5), they were seen among the worst teams to qualify for the playoffs (also no team made the playoffs with fewer wins). So how did they win the Super Bowl? Well the easy answer is that they suddenly became a better team, but the reasons behind that are more complicated.
Defensively, Ray Lewis’ return galvanized the group even though Lewis’ own play was actually not up to his standards due to injuries. Offensively, Joe Flacco’s breakout was the story. Flacco, to that point in his career, could have been described as a slightly above average, but inconsistent quarterback, but what he did in the post-season was nothing short of elite. Flacco’s completion percentage, 57.9%, was pretty pedestrian, but he picked up huge chunks of yardage, averaging 9.1 YPA and boasting a pristine 11 to 0 touchdown to interception ratio.
The reasons behind Flacco’s sudden breakout are also complicated. Obviously, the credit has to be given to Joe Flacco first and foremost, but he had plenty of help. Anquan Boldin came up huge time and time again, making phenomenal catches. New offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell did a masterful job of catering the offense to Flacco’s strengths and masking his weaknesses. And finally, his offensive line, a shaky bunch that allowed 38 sacks and ranked 22nd in the NFL in pass block efficiency in the regular season, stepped up big time.
The biggest reason for that was left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who finally beat his weight and conditioning troubles to make his first start of the season in their first game of the playoffs. McKinnie stepping in at left tackle allowed Michael Oher to move to right tackle and Kelechi Osemele to move from right tackle to left guard, more natural spots for both of them. All of a sudden, with McKinnie playing well and two players in more natural spots, their offensive line was left without a hole.
Only Seattle had a better post-season pass block efficiency rating than the Ravens, who allowed 3 sacks, 4 hits, and 16 hurries in 4 games. McKinnie was re-signed for this season and is expected to continue as their left tackle. This will undoubtedly continue to help Joe Flacco, but another player it will continue to help is Kelechi Osemele, who is a much better fit at left guard than right tackle.
In the regular season, Osemele made 16 starts at right tackle, impressive in of itself for a 2nd round rookie, but he graded out as a very average player, allowing 7 sacks, 6 hits, and 23 hurries, while committing 7 penalties. However, in the post-season at left guard, he allowed just 1 hit and 2 hurries in 4 games and committed just 1 penalty. His best performance was the Super Bowl, when he played mistake free football (no pressures, no penalties) and plowed open several big holes for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce on the ground.
Osemele played left tackle in college at Iowa State, but because of his lack of foot speed, it was widely expected he’d have to move to right tackle or guard at the next level. His skill set makes him a natural fit at guard (even if his 6-5 335 frame doesn’t) and in his first full season at the position, he could definitely have a breakout year and continue helping to make Joe Flacco one of the better protected quarterbacks in the NFL.