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Eisenberg: Ravens Need More Homegrown Pro Bowlers


The Ravens have existed for 20 years, and when their punter, Sam Koch, earned his long-overdue Pro Bowl invitation earlier this week, he became the team's 19th homegrown player to receive the honor.

That's a pretty terrific average when you think about it – 19 draft picks (or undrafted rookies) making the Pro Bowl in 20 years. Almost one per year.

But the pace of marquee additions has slowed recently. The Ravens' homegrown Pro Bowl list is heavy on players from earlier in the team's history. Their most recent homegrown players to make Pro Bowl debuts are Koch in 2015, linebacker C.J. Mosley in 2014, kicker Justin Tucker in 2012 and guards Marshal Yanda and Ben Grubbs in 2011. All but Mosley and Tucker were drafted before John Harbaugh became the Ravens' head coach in 2008.

It goes without saying that the Ravens needs to ramp their "hit" percentage back up if they want to reclaim their place among the NFL's elite. The dropoff is certainly among the factors that have conspired to produce a 22-24 regular-season record and one playoff appearance in three years since the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2012.

Of course, there are many other ways to measure a draft's value beyond just how many Pro Bowl players it generates, and the Ravens' record remains strong in many metrics.

For instance, while they haven't received what they wanted from their two highest selections (safety Matt Elam and linebacker Arthur Brown) in their 2013 class, four players taken later in that draft are starting in 2015 – defensive tackle Brandon Williams, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, tackle Rick Wagner and guard Ryan Jensen. Williams, a third-round pick, is close to becoming a Pro Bowl-caliber player, and Juszczyk, a fourth-rounder, is a Pro Bowl alternate this year. That's pretty solid.

If anything, the results of that draft – and also Koch's selection – drive home the point that a draft is about so much more than just the high-profile first-round pick. You can – and need to – find quality players throughout the process. Koch was a sixth-round pick, Yanda a third-rounder. Tucker joined the team as an undrafted rookie.

With the Ravens in line for a high pick as a result of their disappointing 2015 season, the pressure obviously is on them to grab a high-impact player in the first round. They're currently due for the No. 3 overall selection, which would be their highest ever. Their recovery from this season starts with turning that pick into a cornerstone player. (We have months to discuss this, but I'd love to see a pass rusher.)

But as someone recently said to me after listening to fans clamor for the Ravens to lose to improve their first-round draft position, "That's just one player." Indeed. The Ravens need more as they try to rebound from a rough season.

Another homegrown Pro Bowl player, young and promising, would be a nice place to start. But how about two?

The Ravens' run defense is their most consistent statistical performer. For 18 straight years, Baltimore has finished in the top 10 in the NFL in fewest average yards allowed per rush.

The defensive interior, led by Brandon Williams, has held up again this year for the most part, allowing 100 or more yards in just four of 14 games. The Ravens are allowing 3.9 yards per carry, good for a No. 7 league ranking.

But in their remaining two games, the Ravens will face a Pittsburgh team that ran for 167 yards when the teams met earlier this season; and a playoff-bound Cincinnati team with a rushing game ranked in the top half of the league.

The Ravens' longest successful statistical streak is on the line.

Although Jacoby Jones' greatest heroics for the Ravens occurred away from home, he electrified M&T Bank Stadium many times.

He is being given two chances to reprise his show-stopping role in 2015, but it appears the curtain has come down.

Playing for the San Diego Chargers in Baltimore on Nov. 1, Jones returned one punt for a loss of 2 yards, didn't return a kickoff and was cut a few days later. The Steelers picked him up, but he has been relieved of his return duties after fumbling twice in a game. He's still on the roster but was inactive the past two weeks.

"He's making the trip," Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin said, but on the depth chart on the team website, Jones is listed as a No. 3 receiver, the backup kickoff returner and the No. 3 punt returner.

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