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Then there was 2010, not a year to remember in that department.
The Ravens traded out of the first round and took Sergio Kindle and Terrence Cody in the second round. Kindle, a pass-rush specialist, never stepped on the field after falling down stairs and fracturing his skull before training camp. Cody, a defensive tackle, started slowly and wound up recording 13 tackles in 13 games.
The Ravens did get a lot out of their third-round and fourth-round picks, which they traded for Anquan Boldin. But as far as first-year guys having the most impact, well, let's call it a tie between Ed Dickson, who caught 11 passes as the backup tight end, and David Reed, who excelled on special teams.
With that in mind, it's interesting – and impressive—that the Ravens jumped from nine wins in 2009 to 12 in 2010. An increase like that often is fueled by exciting young newcomers, but the only new names for the Ravens were solid veterans such as Boldin, defensive end Cory Redding, cornerback Josh Wilson and receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Increasing the immediate impact of their draft class is a nice goal for 2011. As ProFootballTalk wrote recently, "for an elite team, the Ravens still have plenty of holes." Filling one with a rookie starter would certainly brighten the team's prospects, especially if that rookie is a cornerback or a defensive lineman who can pressure opposing passers.
Of course, that kind of impact usually comes from a first-round pick, and the Ravens are up against it in the 26th slot. It's asking a lot to expect them to land a star in the making when so much talent will be off the board by the time they pick. (Suggs was the 10th overall pick, Ngata the 12th.)
If they're lucky, they'll get to decide between, say, Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith, a top-15 talent with off-field red flags, and Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward, described by one draft expert as a "steady Eddie."
Smith has the look of a guy who could come in and have a major impact, much like Devin McCourty did last season after being drafted late in the first round by the Patriots. But Smith might not fall to the Ravens with the cornerback-hungry Eagles picking three slots earlier.
Heyward, meanwhile, is widely projected as a future starter, but if the Ravens' history at his position is any indication, he could have a longer incubation period and a more modest immediate impact.
The wild card in the scenario is Kindle, who is itching to get back on the field after a disastrous year that has threatened his career. If he could come back and play for the Ravens at the level he exhibited in college, he could be a difference-maker in 2011. His specialty, getting to the passer, is the team's most pressing need.
But needless to say, Kindle's availability – and ability -- is a huge question mark after what he has experienced.
One way or another, after going 12-4 with an older team in 2010, the Ravens could stand to experience some youthful impact. Put it this way: Going two straight years without it isn't what they want, or need, as they try to catch the Steelers.