Baltimore Ravens 2014 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

The Ravens made a post-season run in 2012 and won the Super Bowl, but they were still a flawed team, something that really showed in the regular season, when they went 10-6, tied for the worst record among playoff qualifiers. They finished the regular season 13th in offensive DVOA and 19th defensive DVOA. That was why I wasn’t concerned that they went through such a transformation last off-season. I thought the Ravens would be a better team in 2013 than they were in 2012, at least in the regular season.

Washed up veterans like Ed Reed and Ray Lewis were replaced with 1st and 2nd round picks Matt Elam and Arthur Brown. One year wonders like Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger took more money else and were replaced with cheaper, proven veterans Daryl Smith and Elvis Dumervil. Terrell Suggs and Lardarius Webb were coming back from injury. Bernard Pollard was gone, but he was replaced with Michael Huff, who seemed comparable. Offensively, the losses of Anquan Boldin and Matt Birk would hurt, but I thought that Joe Flacco would maintain some of his gains from the 2013 off-season because his own development and because he’d have Bryant McKinnie at left tackle and Jim Caldwell at offensive coordinator for the full season, two things to which I attributed some of his 2013 post-season success.

I was half right. The Ravens were an improved defensive team for a number of the reasons I outlined above. In fact, they were one of the best defensive teams in the league, finishing 7th in DVOA and 2nd in rate of moving the chains, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 65.97% rate. However, their offense was terrible, ranking 30th in both DVOA and rate of moving the chains, moving the chains at a 65.38% rate. As a result, they went 8-8, missed the playoffs and finished 17th in rate of moving the chains differential at -0.59%.

Joe Flacco was pretty consistently a slightly above average quarterback in the first 5 seasons of his career from 2008-2012. His QB rating had always fallen between 80.3 and 93.6. His completion percentages had always fallen between 57.6% and 63.1%. His YPAs had always fallen between 6.66 and 7.41. His touchdowns had always fallen between 20 and 25 (with the exception of his rookie year) and his interceptions had always fallen between 10 and 12. He then had a fantastic post-season in 2012, en route to that Super Bowl, completing 57.9% of his passes for an average of 9.05 YPA, 11 touchdowns, and no interceptions.

He followed that up with the worst season of his career in 2013, completing 59.7% of his passes for an average of 6.37 YPA, 19 touchdowns, and 22 interceptions, easily a career worst QB rating of 73.1. Part of it was his fault, as he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 37th ranked quarterback out of 42 eligible, but he really didn’t have much help. The losses of Anquan Boldin and Matt Birk really hurt him and neither left tackle Bryant McKinnie nor offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell proved reliable over the course of an entire season. The Ravens’ once strong running game also went way downhill, as both Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce struggled mightily and they averaged just 3.14 yards per carry, the worst in the league. The Ravens have attempted to fix their offense this season in a variety of ways, in an attempt to get back into the playoffs.

Grade: B-

Wide Receivers/Tight End

The biggest move the Ravens made to help their offense was signing Steve Smith to a 3-year, 10.5 million dollar deal. Smith is a big name, but he’s towards the end of his career. He’s unlikely to be the adequate Anquan Boldin replacement they are expecting him to be. Steve Smith had 64 catches for 745 yards and 4 touchdowns last season. Excluding the Jimmy Clausen season and his injury plagued 2004 season, those were his worst since his rookie year in 2001.

That’s just what happens to receivers this age. Even the average top-20 receiver (in terms of yardage all-time) has his last 1000 yard season at age 34-35, averages 48 catches for 594 yards and 3 touchdowns for 2 more seasons after age 34-35, and is done playing by age 36-37. Steve Smith is 19th in all-time receiving yards yardage, but he’s also going into his age 35 season. There’s a reason why the Panthers released him even though he still had guaranteed money left on his deal and even though they were thin at wide receiver. Steve Smith has had a great career, but there’s a chance he just falls off a cliff in terms of his abilities in his age 35 season.

He’ll line up as the starter opposite Torrey Smith. Smith appeared to have a breakout year last season in his 3rd year in the league after being drafted in the 2nd round in 2011, catching 65 passes for 1128 yards and 4 touchdowns, but he’s a fairly incomplete volume wide receiver who wasn’t as good as his stats suggested last season. He was Pro Football Focus’ 60th ranked wide receiver last season. He only caught 51.2% of his targets (65 catches on 127 targets) and only caught 39 passes on balls that went 10 or fewer yards through the air, 71st most in the NFL. He’s pretty much just a deep threat who was overstretched last season.

He’d be best off with another talented option opposite him, but the Ravens don’t have that right now. He only caught 49 passes for 855 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2012 with Anquan Boldin opposite him, but he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 45th ranked wide receiver. He’ll catch more passes in the Ravens’ new west coast offense under Gary Kubiak, but he’s not an ideal fit for the offense because of his limited route running ability. It’s possible he develops more this season, only going into his age 25 season, in the contract year of his 4-year rookie deal.

Marlon Brown will be the 3rd receiver this year after being the de facto #2 wide receiver last season. He’s not great, so in that sense it’s good that he’s not playing as much, but he still might be better than the declining Smith. He caught 49 passes for 524 yards and 7 touchdowns on 518 routes run, an average of 1.01 yards per route run (84th out of 94 eligible wide receivers) as an undrafted free agent rookie last year. He could be better in his 2nd year in the league, but there are no guarantees. Jacoby Jones is a veteran depth option. He’s been given chances, but he’s never caught more than 51 passes for 562 yards in a season, including 37 catches for 455 yards and 2 touchdowns last season. He’s a pretty marginal receiver at best. He provides the most value on special teams as a return man.

The biggest “addition” for the Ravens offensively should be a healthy Dennis Pitta. Pitta missed 12 games with a hip problem last off-season and was limited upon his return. Still, he caught 20 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown in 4 seasons, which extrapolates to 80 catches for 716 yards and 4 touchdowns over 16 games. He did that on 128 routes run, an average of 1.32 yards per route run. He caught a lot of passes in those 4 games, but showed little explosiveness.

Now he should be completely healthy, only going into his age 29 season, and going into a system under Gary Kubiak that benefits tight ends. The Ravens obviously believe in him, giving him a 5-year, 32.5 million dollar deal ahead of free agency this off-season. He’s never had more than 61 catches for 669 yards and 7 touchdowns in a season, which he did in 2012, when he averaged 1.69 yards per route run and graded out as Pro Football Focus 24th ranked tight end, 8th in pass catching grade. He could easily lead this team in catches this season. He’ll be an obvious upgrade over Dallas Clark, who played his role last season and who has since retired. The only issue is Pitta isn’t much of a blocker at 6-4 245.

The Ravens will use a bunch of two-tight end sets this season under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. In order to do that, Gary Kubiak brought Owen Daniels over with him from Houston, where Kubiak was the head coach for 8 seasons. Daniels’ best years are behind him, as he goes into his age 32 season, and he can’t seem to stay healthy, which is why the Texans cut him, rather than paying him 4.5 million in his contract year.

Daniels hasn’t played all 16 games in a season since 2008, missed 11 games last season, and has missed 26 games over the past 5 seasons combined. He averaged just 1.21 yards per route run last season and he’s not much of a blocker, but he averaged 1.63 yards per route run in 2012 and 1.64 yards per route run in 2011. He’ll be an upgrade over Ed Dickson, who graded out as Pro Football Focus’ dead last ranked tight end last season, leading the team in snaps played by a tight end with 658. The Ravens also used a 3rd round pick on Crockett Gillmore, a tight end out of Colorado State, though he doesn’t figure to have much of a role as a rookie. Overall, there’s more talent in the receiving corps than last year with Pitta healthy and Dickson gone, but the Steve Smith signing probably won’t work out and there are still a lot of issues.

Grade: C+

Offensive Line

As I mentioned, the Ravens brought in Gary Kubiak to be their offensive coordinator this off-season, after losing Caldwell to the Lions, where he will be the new head coach. Caldwell might help the Lions, but his absence is unlikely to hurt the Ravens, considering how bad they were last season on that side of the ball. It was a strange hire by the Lions. Kubiak, meanwhile, could easily help the Ravens in two areas they need it badly, on the offensive line and with their running game. A strong offensive line and running game were always the staple of the Kubiak’s Houston teams, even last season when the team struggled.

The Ravens really struggled last season upfront, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 22nd ranked offensive line in pass protection and their 27th ranked offensive line in run blocking. They lost Michael Oher to free agency at right tackle, which could be addition by subtraction considering how much he struggled last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 68th ranked offensive tackle out of 76 eligible. However, they really don’t have a suitable replacement as 2013 5th round pick Ricky Wagner is currently penciled in as the starter. He played 131 nondescript snaps last season as a rookie.

One option could be to move Kelechi Osemele back to right tackle from left guard and play either Jah Reid or Will Rackley at left guard, in attempt to find some sort of fix upfront. Reid and Rackley were both 3rd round picks in 2011, Reid by the Ravens and Rackley by the Jaguars, and both have struggled thus far in their career. Reid has struggled on 644 snaps in 3 seasons, while Rackley graded out as Pro Football Focus’ worst guard in 2011 as a starter and 3rd worst guard in 2013 as a starter, with an entire season spent on injured reserve in between. If either of them has to see significant action, it’s a problem.

If Kelechi Osemele comes back healthy this season, it’ll be a big boost for them. Osemele, a 2012 2nd round pick, graded out above average at right tackle in the regular season as a rookie and above average at left guard in the post-season as a rookie. He struggled at left guard last season before going on injured reserve with a nagging back problem that probably slowed him down and caused his struggled, which forced AQ Shipley on to the field, where he graded out 66th out of 81 eligible guards last season.  Osemele is a versatile and talented young offensive lineman, but you always have to be worried with back problems.

Another thing that should be a big boost to them is the addition of Jeremy Zuttah at center, who they acquired from Tampa Bay for a 5th round pick and then gave a restructured 5-year, 18 million dollar deal with 6.5 million guaranteed. You can question how much they gave up for him in terms of draft pick compensation and financial compensation, but you can’t question that he’ll be better than Gino Gradkowski was last season, as the 2012 4th round pick graded out as Pro Football Focus’ worst center in his first full season as a starter, taking over for the retired Matt Birk.

He and AQ Shipley/Kelechi Osemele with a bad back made a terrible duo on the left side of the interior offensive line, particularly in opening up holes on the ground, which is a big part of the reason why they were so ineffective running the football. A healthy Osemele and Zuttah, who graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 22nd ranked center out of 35 eligible last season and who has graded out about average in each of the last 4 seasons at both guard and center, will help things on the ground, especially if Gary Kubiak’s tutelage is able to bring the best out of them.

The Ravens best offensive lineman will continue to be Eugene Monroe, who the Ravens acquired from the Jaguars mid-season last year and to whom they gave a 5-year, 35 million dollar deal this off-season. Monroe’s presence couldn’t save the offensive line last season, but it did make things better. Monroe has been a top-16 offensive tackle on ProFootballFocus in each of the last 3 seasons, maxing out as #6 in 2011. He graded out 16th overall this season, but playing even better once he was traded to Baltimore. The Baltimore “version” of Monroe was the #12 offensive tackle this season. Even if we use his composite grade for the 2013 season, Monroe is still one of just 4 offensive tackles to grade out in the top-16 on Pro Football Focus in each of the last 3 seasons (Joe Thomas, Michael Roos, Andrew Whitworth). He’s one of the better blindside protectors in the game and the Ravens got him on a great deal.

The Ravens also have a talented starter locked in at right guard in Marshal Yanda. Yanda had a down season last season, which was unfortunate because the Ravens really could have used his best, but he still graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 16th ranked guard. Yanda has played right tackle and right guard in his career. He was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked guard in 2012 and their 3rd ranked guard in 2011. At right tackle, he ranked 6th in 2010 and 5th in 2007 as a 3rd round rookie.

In 2008, he played right guard and only played in 5 games because of injury, but he still graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 24th ranked guard despite playing just 350 snaps. No one played fewer snaps than him and graded out higher. In 2009, he was limited to 405 snaps and 7 starts at right guard because of some limited time at right tackle, where he played well, and some more injuries, but he still graded out 17th at his position, with no one grading out higher than him and playing fewer snaps.

Maybe moving him to right tackle wouldn’t be a bad idea considering it is a more valuable position, but the Ravens don’t seem to be considering that because of how good Yanda has been at right guard over the past 3 seasons. Going into his age 30 season, Yanda has a very good chance of bouncing back from his “down” season. It’s an improved offensive line for the Ravens, with Osemele coming back, Zuttah coming in, and Kubiak taking over, but there are still some issues, particularly at right tackle. The terrible trio of Oher, Shipley, and Gradkowski shouldn’t be much of any issue this season though.

Grade: B+

Running Backs

An improved offensive line should help their running game, but they’ll also have to run better. It’ll be hard for them to run worse than they did last season, when they averaged 3.14 yards per carry, so they’ll be better by default, but they obviously will want to be a lot better. In 2012, they averaged 4.28 yards per carry. A return to that kind of form would obviously be helpful. A return to that kind of form would require a return to form from one-time star running back Ray Rice.

From 2009-2012, Rice averaged 277 carries for 1267 yards and 8 touchdowns and 70 catches for 610 yards and 2 touchdowns per season, an average of 4.57 yards per carry. The well-rounded feature back graded out as a top-10 running back in 3 of those 4 seasons, with the exclusion of 2010. However, in 2013, he rushed for 660 yards and 4 touchdowns on 214 carries (3.08 YPC) and caught 58 passes for 321 yards, showing a lack of explosiveness all around and grading out as Pro Football Focus’ worst running back. He broke 13 tackles on 272 touches and averaged 1.52 yards per carry after contact, giving him easily the league’s worst elusive rating.

Rice isn’t over the hill, only going into his age 27 season and his struggles last year are being attributed to overwork over the previous 4 seasons (1387 touches), a nagging hip injury, and him being overweight. He says the hip injury is behind him and he’s slimmed down this off-season and he’s been looking better in practice so a bounce back year isn’t out of the question, especially with a better offensive line and a new offensive system in place. However, he’s expected to face some sort of suspension for his alleged involvement in the assault of his now wife this off-season. That could hurt his chances at a bounce back year.

The player who can take the most advantage of Rice’s potential suspension is Bernard Pierce. Pierce, a 2012 3rd round pick, proved to be very valuable as a rookie en route to a Super Bowl victory, totaling 734 yards and a touchdown on 140 carries across the regular season and post-season, an average of 5.24 yards per carry. However, thanks to the blocking, an injury of his own, and his own struggles, Pierce averaged just 2.87 yards per carry last season and was unable to take advantage of a struggling Rice. He had a better elusive rating and graded out higher on Pro Football Focus than Rice though so more of his struggles can be attributed to the blocking.

Healthier, in a new system in his 3rd year in the league, Pierce could have a bounce back year. If he impresses as the feature back in Rice’s absence, he could remain in that role. Lorenzo Taliaferro was drafted in the 4th round to be insurance for both of them. There are still obviously questions about whether or not they can get back to 2012 form on the ground, but the arrow is pointing up, even if only by default, so they should be better on the ground.

Grade: C+

Defensive Line

As I mentioned earlier, the Ravens’ defense was by far their better unit last season and one of the best defenses in the NFL. In spite of that, the Ravens still used their first three draft picks on defensive players. Timmy Jernigan was drafted in the 2nd round to replace to Arthur Jones, who signed as a free agent in Indianapolis this off-season. A 2010 5th round pick, Arthur Jones developed from a solid reserve in 2011 on 255 snaps to a solid starter on 536 snaps to a breakout player in 2013 on 530 snaps, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 12th ranked 3-4 defensive end.

He was overpaid though, getting 33 million over 5 years with 16 million guaranteed. At his best, he’s worth that kind of money, but he’s still just a one year wonder at this point in his career. There’s no guarantee he’ll continue to be this good. He’s never played more than 536 snaps in a season and he’s never been the key cog on Baltimore’s defensive line, rotating often and playing alongside Haloti Ngata. The Ravens had solid defensive line depth even after losing Jones and adding Jernigan to the mix makes things even better. Jernigan should play a fairly significant role as a rookie, playing 3-4 defensive end in base packages and 4-3 defensive tackle in sub packages.

The aforementioned Ngata should lead this defensive line in snaps played for the 5th straight season this year, playing at 3-4 nose tackle, 3-4 defensive end, and 4-3 defensive tackle. He played 714 snaps last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 18th ranked defensive tackle. He’s graded in the top-18 among either defensive tackles or 3-4 defensive ends in each of the last 7 seasons, dating back to 2007. He maxed out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked defensive tackle in 2010 and 3rd ranked 3-4 defensive end in 2007. He’s primarily a run stopper at 6-4 340, but moves well for his size and generates some pass rush.

Brandon Williams, a 2013 3rd round pick, will have a bigger role this season after impressing on 93 snaps as a rookie. He’ll work primarily as a two-down player and can play both nose tackle and 3-4 defensive end in base packages. The 6-1 335 pounder is primarily a run stopper, but moves well for his size and got some Dontari Poe-lite comparisons in the pre-draft process. Chris Canty will also play a significant role again this season, after playing 579 snaps last season.

Going into his age 32 season, Canty’s best days are behind him, but he still graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 23rd ranked 3-4 defensive end last season. The versatile 6-7 295 pounder is capable of playing 4-3 defensive tackle and 3-4 defensive end and is equally good as a run stopper and a pass rusher. He’s graded out above average in 6 of the last 7 seasons, including each of the last 4 seasons. He’s only played 879 snaps in the last 2 seasons combined and he’s getting up there in age, but he still should be an asset and an above average contributor in a rotational role, as a versatile defensive lineman capable of playing in any situation. The quartet of Ngata, Canty, Jernigan, and Williams will play most of the snaps on the 3-man defensive line this season and on the interior defensive line in sub packages.

Grade: B+

Linebackers

The Ravens play a hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense with a lot of 4-3 looks in sub packages, so edge rushers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil will play a fair amount of defensive end in pass rush situations. Dumervil had a fantastic year last year. He only was a part-time player, playing 574 snaps, 332 pass rush snaps, 176 run snaps, and 66 coverage snaps, but he was an incredibly efficient pass rusher. He had 10 sacks, 11 hits, and 40 hurries on 332 pass rush snaps, a pass rush rate of 18.4%. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked 3-4 outside linebacker last season, with no one grading out higher and playing fewer snaps. He was also #1 at the position in pure pass rush grade.

Signing him to a 5-year, 26 million dollar deal last off-season was a very shrewd move by the Ravens. He was only a league average 4-3 defensive end in 2011 and 2012 with the Broncos, but, the last time he was in a system in which he didn’t have to play pure defensive end, he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th best 3-4 outside linebacker in terms of pure pass rush grade, back in 2009. He’s never been a good run player no matter what system he’s played in, but he can get after the quarterback in the Ravens’ system and he serves an incredibly valuable part-time role for them as a result.

Courtney Upshaw plays the base outside linebacker role, actually playing more snaps last season than Dumervil did, playing 650. He didn’t fare well, grading out below average as both a pass rusher and a run stopper and grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 37th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker out of 42 eligible overall. He was better as a rookie in 2012, when the 2nd round pick graded out slightly above average. He sucked as a pass rusher, grading out 2nd worst at his position in that aspect, but he exceled as a run stopper, grading out 2nd best at his position in that aspect. He’s had weight issues in his career, with his weight sometimes ballooning into the 290s, but, as long as he’s in despite shape, he should be alright as a part-time run stopping linebacker in a role that’s far less important than Dumervil’s.

Terrell Suggs will continue to play every down on the other side in that hybrid rush linebacker/defensive end role. Suggs restructured his contract this off-season, coming off of a down year, but it was still a 5-year, 28.5 million dollar deal with 16 million guaranteed. He still had a good year last year, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker, grading out average as a pass rusher and grading out as Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked 3-4 outside linebacker, but he wasn’t as good he was previously was, when he was Pro Football Focus’ #2 ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2011 and #7 ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2010. He’s now going into his age 32 season, so his best days are probably behind him, and he could have ruined his body playing through two serious injuries in 2012, when graded out below average. He should still be an asset though.

I mentioned earlier that the Ravens used their first 3 draft picks on defensive players, despite their defensive dominance last year. Their first round pick was on middle linebacker CJ Mosley out of Alabama, drafted 17th overall. It was a bit of a weird pick because the Ravens had just re-signed Daryl Smith to a 4-year deal worth up to 16.1 million and they also had Arthur Brown, a 2013 2nd round pick, waiting in the wings ready for a bigger role and Josh Bynes, who flashed in a part-time role in 2013, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked middle linebacker on 465 snaps played.

Still, Mosley will immediately play every down at middle linebacker next to Smith, with Brown and Bynes working as backups. Smith is deserving of his new contract. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 16th ranked middle linebacker last season, after the Ravens signed him to a cheap one-year deal late last off-season. The reason he was available so late in the off-season was because he missed 14 games and only played 117 snaps the previous season because of injury. However, this type of strong play is nothing new from him, as he graded out above average in every season but one in Jacksonville from 2007-2011, playing both middle and outside linebacker. In his last healthy season before this year, he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked 4-3 outside linebacker in 2011. He’s now going into his age 32 season, but he should still be an above average starter, especially excelling in coverage.

Grade: A-

Secondary

Terrell Suggs wasn’t the only player that the Ravens had returning from injury last season. While Suggs was returning from an injury plagued season which he still played through, Lardarius Webb was coming back from a torn ACL that ended his 2012 season. He wasn’t quite his top self in 2013, as is often the case after an injury like that, but he still graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 21st ranked cornerback. At his best, he’s one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, grading out 4th in 2011 before that 2012 injury. The 2009 3rd round pick was very impressive as a part-time player in 2009 and 2010 as well and played well before going down with injury in 2012. He’s only played 2 full seasons in the NFL as a starter, but he’s only going into his age 29 season and could easily bounce back to top form this season.

Webb will continue to start opposite Jimmy Smith, a 2011 1st round pick who broke out last season after failing to establish himself as a solid starter in his first 2 seasons in the NFL. He flashed as a rookie on 256 snaps and then struggled mightily in 2012 on 474 snaps. Last season, he graded out above average, which convinced the Ravens to pick up with 5th year option for 2015 this off-season. The Ravens did lose Corey Graham this off-season though. He was a solid 3rd cornerback who grade out above average in each of the last 2 seasons, on 588 snaps and 703 snaps respectively, as a slot specialist. He’ll be replaced internally by Chykie Brown, who has failed to impress on 283 career snaps in 3 seasons since going in the 5th round in 2011. It’s an obvious downgrade.

At safety, the Ravens lost both Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard before last season and they replaced them by getting younger at one spot, drafting Matt Elam in the first round, and by bringing in a seemingly comparable veteran at the other spot, signing Michael Huff to replace Bernard Pollard. Elam graded out slightly below average as a rookie, especially struggling in coverage, but he could be better in his 2nd year in the league. The Ravens are on record saying that they want him to play closer to the line of scrimmage this season, which would highlight his abilities against the run more. He graded out above average against the run last season, but he was Pro Football Focus’ 76th ranked safety out of 86 eligible in coverage.

Huff didn’t work out at all though, as the veteran struggled on 97 snaps before getting benched and cut, even though the Ravens had already shelled out about 2.5 million dollars to him. He eventually ended up in Denver, where he played 42 snaps, and now remains unsigned on the open market, going into his age 31 season. Fortunately for the Ravens, veteran journeyman James Ihedigbo stepped up as the starter in place of Huff last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 16th ranked safety. Unfortunately for the Ravens, Ihedigbo signed with the Lions this off-season.

In order to replace him, the Ravens signed veteran Darian Stewart. Stewart, a 2010 undrafted free agent, struggled in 4 seasons in St. Louis and doesn’t seem like a viable starting option. He played just 196 snaps as a rookie, struggled mightily as a starter in 2011, grading out 83rd out of 87 eligible safeties, and then played just 82 snaps in 2012 as a result. In 2013, he was forced to play 583 snaps because of an injury to TJ McDonald and graded out slightly below average, though better than 2011. The Ravens used a 3rd round pick on Terrence Brooks as competition. Whoever starts, they’ll play the deeper safety position with Elam playing closer to the line of scrimmage, but it should be a position of weakness on an otherwise very strong defense.

Grade: B

Conclusion

The offense was clearly the problem for the Ravens last season, but they still used their first 3 draft picks on defense. Why? Well, they brought in Timmy Jernigan to replace the departed Arthur Jones and Terrence Brooks to replace the departed James Ihedigbo. Both should be downgrades as a rookie. They also brought in CJ Mosley at middle linebacker even though it wasn’t a position of need, which was a strange pick. They also were unable to replace the departed Corey Graham. Their defense is unlikely to be as good as it was last season, especially since they suffered almost no injuries defensively last season.

Offensively, they did suffer injuries last season and they’ll get Kelechi Osemele and Dennis Pitta back from serious injuries, which will help their offense, but, at the same time, they didn’t have an unreasonable amount of injuries offensively last season and they had the 9th fewest adjusted games lost in the NFL overall. Adding Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator and Owen Daniels and Jeremy Zuttah at tight end and center should also help a little bit, and their running game should be better by default, but the addition of Steve Smith is unlikely to pan out. The Ravens don’t seem much more talented than they were last season and, while they’re a decent team, it’s likely they’ll be on the outside looking in at the playoffs once again this season. I’ll have an official wins prediction at the end of all my previews.

Prediction: 9-7 2nd in AFC North

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