Baltimore Ravens Potential Breakout Player of 2013: Kelechi Osemele

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.

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Pittsburgh Steelers Potential Breakout Player of 2013: Cortez Allen

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 Pittsburgh Steelers, that player is cornerback Cortez Allen.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have largely been known for their defense over their history, especially over the last decade. Since defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau returned to the Steelers in 2004, the Steelers have had 6 top-3 scoring defenses in 9 seasons. Even last year when they didn’t, they still ranked a very impressive 6th in scoring defense and surrendered the fewest yards in the NFL. It’s very telling that a season like that could be considered a “down” year for this Steeler defense.

One of the aspects of their defense that doesn’t get enough credit is their secondary. Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark are among the best safety duos in the NFL (when healthy) and have been for a few years. Ike Taylor is not frequently mentioned among the top cornerbacks in the league, but he’s been a very consistent #1 cornerback for them.

Opposite him, the Steelers have had several different cornerbacks, but they’ve always held up in coverage. A testament to the Steelers’ greatness, when these cornerbacks move on to other team, they don’t play as well as they did in Pittsburgh and several like Bryant McFadden and William Gay end up returning. Dick LeBeau and his defensive coaching staff deserve a lot of credit for getting the most out of players and the front office deserves a lot of credit for identifying talented players who fit their scheme.

This off-season, the Steelers lost starting cornerback Keenan Lewis, a very important part of their defense last season. Lewis parlayed that strong season into a 5 year, 26 million dollar deal with the New Orleans Saints. However, as often is the case with the Steelers, they have a talented in house replacement who can make them forget all about Lewis. That player is 3rd year cornerback Cortez Allen, a 2011 4th round pick.

Allen served as the Steelers’ 3rd cornerback last year, coming into the game in sub packages and covering the slot. He played well, allowing 45 catches on 77 attempts (58.4%) for 448 yards (5.8 YPA), 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions, while deflecting 9 passes and committing 3 penalties. Because of this, he graded out as ProFootballFocus’ 17th ranked cornerback, 14th in terms of pure coverage, despite playing just 563 snaps, fewer than everyone ranked higher than him. He also ranked 14th among eligible cornerbacks in QB rating allowed.

This season, he’ll move to the outside, while still moving inside to the slot in 3 cornerback sets, and there’s reason to believe he could be even better. Not only will he be in his 3rd year, frequently a breakout season for young players, he actually played better on the outside than the slot last year. On the slot, he allowed 26 catches for 237 yards on 43 attempts, intercepting a pass and not allowing a touchdown. On the outside, he allowed 19 catches on 34 attempts for 211 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception.

At 6-1 197 with 4.51 speed and 32 ¼ inch arms, his skill set seems more suited to success on the outside than success on the slot anyway. More time on the outside this year could really do him some good and he could end up finishing the year as one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. His versatility will also allow him to be a huge asset to the Steelers’ secondary. With William Gay coming back as the 3rd cornerback, playing on the outside when Allen moves to the slot, the Steelers’ secondary is once again in good hands.

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2013 NFL Mock Draft FINAL (Twitter Final Version)

Before the draft, I posted a mock draft labeled FINAL on Wednesday Night, but that wasn’t my true final mock. I participate in Huddle’s Mock Draft contest, which requires me to submit a final mock draft on Wednesday Night and label it as such on my site. However, I did a final final mock draft on Twitter shortly before the draft that I’m going to post here (with photo evidence) that was a little better than the one labeled FINAL on this site (that one finished middle of the pack in Huddle).

twitter mock draft

 

1. Kansas City Chiefs- OT Eric Fisher (Central Michigan)

2. Jacksonville Jaguars- OT Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M)

3. San Diego Chargers (TRADE)- OT Lane Johnson (Oklahoma)

4. Philadelphia Eagles- OLB Dion Jordan (Oregon)

5. Detroit Lions- DE Ezekiel Ansah (BYU)

6. Cleveland Browns- QB Geno Smith (West Virginia)

7. Arizona Cardinals- DT Star Lotulelei (Utah)

8. St. Louis Rams (TRADE)- WR Tavon Austin (West Virginia)

9. New York Jets- OLB Barkevious Mingo (LSU)

10. Tennessee Titans- G Jonathan Cooper (North Carolina)

11. Oakland Raiders (TRADE)- CB DJ Hayden (Houston)

12. Miami Dolphins- CB DeMarcus Milliner (Alabama)

13. San Francisco 49ers (TRADE)- DE Sheldon Richardson (Missouri)

14. Carolina Panthers- DT Sharrif Floyd (Florida)

15. New Orleans Saints- S Kenny Vaccaro (Texas)

16. Buffalo Bills (TRADE)- QB Ryan Nassib (Syracuse)

17. Pittsburgh Steelers- OLB Jarvis Jones (Georgia)

18. Dallas Cowboys- G Chance Warmack (Alabama)

19. New York Giants- OT DJ Fluker (Alabama)

20. St. Louis Rams (TRADE)- OLB Alec Ogletree (Georgia)

21. Cincinnati Bengals- S Eric Reid (LSU)

22. Chicago Bears (TRADE)- TE Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame)

23. Minnesota Vikings- MLB Manti Te’o (Notre Dame)

24. Indianapolis Colts- CB Xavier Rhodes (Florida State)

25. Minnesota Vikings- WR DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson)

26. Green Bay Packers- DE Datone Jones (UCLA)

27. Houston Texans- OT Menelik Watson (Florida State)

28. Denver Broncos- CB Jamar Taylor (Boise State)

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (TRADE)- QB Matt Barkley (USC)

30. Atlanta Falcons- CB Desmond Trufant (Washington)

31. New York Jets (TRADE)- WR Justin Hunter (Tennessee)

32. Baltimore Ravens- MLB Arthur Brown (Kansas State)