Future Of Ravens Wide Receiver Position
The outlook for the 2016 Ravens wide receiver group may look a lot like it did when the 2015 season got underway.
There's always been plenty of competition, but never many clear answers.
"The Ravens wide receiver group, which was unsettled but deep entering the season, hasn't done much to answer questions about its future," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jon Meoli.
"The Ravens have gotten an extended look at nearly a dozen wide receivers this year, with many under contract for 2016. It leaves the team in much the same position as this past summer."
Deep, but unsettled. That about sums it up.
Kamar Aiken officially became the last receiver standing this year. With third-year veteran Marlon Brown placed on injured reserve Tuesday, five of the six receivers to open the season on the active roster are on the season-ending injured list.
Aiken is a restricted free agent this offseason and many assume the Ravens will offer him a tender to keep him in Baltimore. Plenty of Ravens receivers have shown ability this season, but only Aiken has shown durability, which makes him an easy candidate for a return.
"He has been hit in the head more times, probably, than any receiver in the league, and it hasn't been called, alright?" Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "So, he doesn't get protected. He bounces back up, and he's back out there; and he shows up the next week. It's just impressive what he has done this year, and I'm proud of him."
Baltimore's only other restricted free agent at the position, Brown, may not get an offer at all if you ask media members around town.
"Brown is] certainly a [strong candidate to not get tendered a contract," wrote The Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "Ravens have several WRs who have passed him."
The Ravens have five other receivers under contract, although Steve Smith Sr. must make a decision on retirement. And even if he does return, his ability to produce will be questioned because he'll be coming off* *Achilles surgery at age 37.
The only unrestricted receiver is fifth-year veteran Chris Givens, who the Ravens acquired before Week 5 to help fill the speed void left by first-round pick Breshad Perriman's knee injury.
Below is a look at the Ravens receivers heading into 2016, and the cap hit if they're still under contract, per Spotrac.com:
Daniel Brown, 2nd year: under rookie contract (n/a)
Michael Campanaro, 3rd year: finished on IR, under rookie contract ($616,875)
Breshad Perriman, 2nd year: finished on IR, under rookie contract ($1.98 million)
Steve Smith Sr., 16th year: finished on IR, under contract ($4.16 million)
Darren Waller, 2nd year: finished on IR, under rookie contract ($552,774)
Cam Worthy, 2nd year: finished on IR, under rookie contract ($525,833)
Kamar Aiken, 4th year: restricted free agent
Marlon Brown, 4th year: finished on IR, restricted free agent
Jeremy Butler, 3rd year: exclusive rights free agent
Kaelin Clay, 2nd year: exclusive rights free agent
Chris Matthews, 3rd year: exclusive rights free agent
Chris Givens, 5th year: unrestricted free agent
"It's exciting in the sense that we have numbers," Harbaugh said Monday. "I think we have a lot of numbers of some valuable, talented guys with upside.
"It's going to be really interesting when we come back. The competition level is going to be high. It's going to be on, and as a coach, you love that."
Stats That Don't Seem Possible
If you had to guess where the Ravens defense ranks this season, what would you say?
Would you put the unit in the top 10 of the league? Because that's where it is.
Baltimore stands exactly at No. 10 in yards allowed per game with 340.1.
"Statistics can certainly be deceiving and this one is to an extent, although the Ravens defense has improved throughout the season," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "But the unit has come up short far too often late in games, and failed to force turnovers, two areas that have factored prominently in the Ravens' undoing."
Often times a top-10 ranking is enough to put a team in the playoff conversation, especially when the offensive unit ranks in the top half like the Ravens do (No. 14).
Seven of the top-10 NFL defenses have already clinched playoff berths, and the Houston Texans (No. 4) and New York Jets (No. 7) could clinch Sunday.
The Ravens aren't even in the conversation, however, which is why Zrebiec makes a suggestion for improvement next year.
Get. More. Playmakers.
"What does that all mean?" Zrebiec asked. "That the Ravens have done some OK things on defense, but the unit is in major need of a couple of playmakers – guys who can get to the quarterback, make plays on the ball and create turnovers."
Maxx Williams Sets Rookie Record
Maxx Williams came into the league with a lot of attention as the draft's top tight end and the Ravens' second-round pick. He was even talked about as a potential rookie of the year candidate.
It may feel like he's had an underwhelming season in context of such high expectations, but as Baltimore Beatdown's Chuck Mills points out, it usually takes tight ends longer to develop. And Williams has actually set a franchise record in terms of rookie tight end production.
Take a look at how he compares to others in franchise history:
Williams: 26 receptions for 215 yards and one touchdown (still one game to play)
Todd Heap: 16 receptions for 201 yards and one touchdown
Ed Dickson: 11 catches for 158 yards and one touchdown
Crockett Gillmore: 10 catches for 121 yards and one touchdown
Dennis Pitta: one catch for one yard
"The Ravens tight ends have been a reason for fans to have hope for the future and Maxx Williams is no exception," wrote Mills. "With another offseason to learn the playbook and hone his craft, he could be a serious weapon for the Ravens in 2016, and the Ravens should have one of the best tight end corps in the NFL next season."
Bengals QB AJ McCarron Should Play
After MRI results were revealed Tuesday, it now appears that Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron will play against the Ravens Sunday.
The MRI showed that McCarron suffered a sprained wrist, and there was no fracture, according to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport.
That means it's unlikely for Ravens 2014 sixth-round draft pick Keith Wenning to suit up against his former team.
Daaaang! We See You, Jeremy Butler
Butler has been turning heads with his pass-catching ability since he got pulled up from the practice squad, but that dude can lay a block when called upon, too.
Perhaps one of Butler's biggest fans is starting running back Justin Forsett, who declared a couple weeks ago that Butler is a future star in the league.
This hit didn't go unnoticed by Forsett either.
Webb Tapped Upshaw To Back Up
This makes the 101-yard pick-six that was called back even tougher to swallow.
In the video below, you can see that cornerback Lardarius Webb tapped outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw to back up behind the line of scrimmage before the ball was snapped. Instead, Upshaw took another baby step forward.
On Jimmy's 101yd pick-6 that was called back, Webb (21) taps Upshaw to back up. Then he takes a step forward anyway pic.twitter.com/d4sbEJwIui — michael crawford (@abukari) December 30, 2015
As Zrebiec noted, it's "a shame" that all the talk about Upshaw this week has revolved around this play because Upshaw overall had a very nice game.
"It was one of those mistakes that there is really no explanation for, but, otherwise, Upshaw played a very strong game with five tackles, a key fourth-quarter sack and two quarterback hits," wrote Zrebiec.
"In his four-year career with the Ravens, Upshaw has played some of his best football against the Steelers, and delivered some of his hardest hits on [Ben] Roethlisberger. He's been the type of complementary player that has allowed the Ravens to have a lot of success against Pittsburgh in recent years. If Upshaw leaves in free agency following the season, the Ravens will miss him, though I'd imagine that Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin will be overjoyed."
Biggest Upset In Ravens History
If you're judging by Las Vegas odds, the Ravens' 20-17 victory over the Steelers Sunday was the biggest upset in franchise history, according to ESPN's Jamison Hensley.
It was the first time the Ravens won a game when they were double-digit underdogs. Pittsburgh entered the game as 11.5-point favorites.
The Ravens were double-digit underdogs in 10 other games in their 20-year franchise existence, and they lost all 10 contests.
"Only one of the 40 experts from ESPN, The Baltimore Sun, NFL Media, CBS Sports and Fox Sports picked the Ravens to beat the Steelers," wrote Hensley. "Most [didn't] even think it would be close. The seven members from the The Sun predicted a 20-point average margin of victory for Pittsburgh."
Ray Lewis Sympathizes With Accusations Toward Peyton Manning
Ray Lewis has been in a similar situation to Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
Just before Super Bowl XLVII, a report surfaced saying that Lewis used a substance (deer antler spray) banned by the NFL. Now, Manning has been accused of using human growth hormone, another banned substance, by an Al Jazeera report.
Lewis commented on Manning's situation on ESPN:
"My situation's a little bit different because I said this was my last ride. And I've always been kind of one to pay attention to fiery darts. And so I think what people need to understand — I understand Peyton's frustration because legacies are sweat driven. And I'll be durned [sic] if a liar or a coward will ever take away what me, myself, Steve Young, Peyton Manning has ever done in this game."