ESPN's Crystal Ball Says Ravens Bounce Back With Rookie Of Year
The 2015 season is only a few days behind us, but predictions for 2016 are already rolling in.
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Ravens is: How long will it take to rebound from a disappointing 5-11 season?
Well, ESPN looked into its crystal ball and saw a lightning-fast turnaround for Baltimore after the "Wizard of Oz" works his magic in the NFL Draft. Dan Graziano offered this extremely lofty prediction.
"Baltimore drafts a rookie of the year with the No. 6 pick," he wrote. "Don't even know who that'll be or what position he'll play, but Ozzie Newsome with the No. 6 pick feels like cash money in the bank."
A rookie of the year (hopefully on defense) AND Breshad Perriman returns? It will feel like the Ravens have two first-round picks in 2016.
In addition to one of the best general managers in league getting his highest draft pick in 15 years, there are several other reasons to be optimistic this will be a bounce-back year:
1) Franchise quarterback Joe Flacco will be back.
2) Head Coach John Harbaugh has a proven playoff history.
3) The wide receiver group will look much different with the returns of Steve Smith Sr. and Perriman.
4) The Ravens will boast one of the deepest running back units in recent history (see below).
5) A promising young tight ends group returns with more experience.
6) Along with a host of other banged-up Ravens, defensive leader Terrell Suggs will be healthy.
"Having a quarterback with Flacco's big-game track record is a major reason the Ravens are in position to reload, not rebuild, if they make the right offseason moves," CSNMidatlantic.com's Clifton Brown wrote.
"The Ravens don't have to wonder if they have a quarterback who is unfazed by virtually any situation. Flacco gives the Ravens a chance to remain a dangerous playoff team, if they can upgrade their talent enough to get there."
That doesn't mean the Ravens don't have holes to fill, including finding playmakers for both sides of the ball and bolstering the pass rush. They also need to ensure the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history returns, as Justin Tucker is an unrestricted free agent. And the left tackle position needs to be resolved.
Even though Suggs will be back, Brown views him as an "X-factor" because asking him to be a premiere pass rusher at the age of 34, coming off a serious Achilles injury, is "a lot to ask." But if Suggs and Elvis Dumervil stay healthy, that alone will change the pass rush.
New Secondary Coach Leslie Frazier is also an important person to watch.
"The decision by Broncos Head Coach Gary Kubiak to hire Wade Phillips as his [defensive] coordinator was an excellent decision that helped the Broncos' defense gel into the NFL's best," wrote Brown. "If Frazier's arrival helps improve the team's secondary play, that would be a major step in improving their defense."
But with Newsome, Harbaugh and Flacco leading the way, there's plenty to like about the Ravens' chances of returning to the playoffs.
"There's going to be a wave of talent back in the lineup for the Baltimore Ravens, and I believe in Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta and the culture that they've built there on the personnel side," NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah said. "John Harbaugh is as good as it gets in terms of developing players. So the Ravens are coming back, and they’ll come back in a hurry."
4 Reasons To Select Jalen Ramsey
Here's a guy that could easily make Graziano's prediction come true.
An early potential rookie of the year candidate is Florida State cornerback/safety Jalen Ramsey, and he could be available when the Ravens are on the clock.
If Ramsey is on the board, it likely means a pass rusher worthy of a No. 6 pick is not. The Baltimore Times' Turron Davenport gives four reasons why Baltimore should pull the trigger on Ramsey if he's available:
1) Ravens secondary needs playmakers:The unit notched a franchise- and league-low six picks.
2) Ramsey has the ability to step in and contribute immediately:Ramsey started as a freshman on the Seminoles' national championship team. Who was the last person to do that? Deion Sanders. Davenport says Ramsey could start out as a nickel corner for the Ravens and gradually move him into the starting safety or outside corner role.
3) The value of versatility:If you look up draft analysts' positional rankings, Ramsey is frequently rated as the best corner … and the best safety. He certainly has the big build to play safety, but has the athleticism of a corner. The Ravens can plug him in wherever they feel they need the most help.
4) The "it" factor:"Some players have what we call the 'it' factor," wrote Davenport. "It's not something that shows up on a stat sheet or measured by height, weight or speed. Ramsey is one of those players. He can pretty much do whatever he is asked to do on the football field. Simply put, he is a dog."
Deepest RB Group In Recent Memory, But Will They All Be Back?
The Ravens have four experienced running backs under contract next season backs, including three with starting experience.
Baltimore has the veteran leader Justin Forsett, 2014 fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro, last year's rookie starter (after injuries) Buck Allen and home-grown talent* *Terrance West.
"This has the makings of the deepest running back group that the Ravens have ever had," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley.
"Because it's unlikely Baltimore will carry all four backs, one of the biggest battles in spring workouts and training camp is going to be between Lorenzo Taliaferro and Terrance West. Maybe the bigger battle is Taliaferro going against his injury history."
Taliaferro hasn't finished either of his two NFL seasons since being drafted. Both ended with him on injured reserve because of a Lisfranc foot injury.
"The Ravens are in good shape at running back with Justin Forsett and Buck Allen topping the depth chart," wrote Hensley.
Forsett Shows Off Picture With President Obama
Remember when Justin Forsett wrote about his “EPIC” experience meeting President Barack Obama last week? I'm not saying we didn't believe he actually met the president, but there was no photographic evidence.
Now there is, and Forsett plans on making sure everyone sees it frequently by making it the profile picture for all his social media accounts (see hashtag).
If you haven't read about Forsett's experience, you should. You're not accustomed to seeing NFL players being star struck and so nervous, which makes his post particularly endearing.
The one thing Forsett said he regretted while meeting with President Obama was not talking to him about the water crisis in Flint, Mich. Forsett helped raise $100,000 to cover the cost of body wipes and water, and he left yesterday to go to the city to help.
We will keep you updated on Forsett's efforts.