One Raven Makes Top-25 NFL Breakout List
Amid an injury-riddled and disappointing 2015 season, wide receiver Kamar Aiken was a ray of sunshine in Ravens Nation.
You won't find too many former undrafted rookies who become the No. 1 receiver of an NFL team, but that's what happened to Aiken, and his nearly 1,000-yard season proved he can hang.
His sudden ascension and strong play made Aiken one of the top-25 breakout players in Pro Football Focus' book, ranking him at No. 19.
"Few good news stories emanated from the Ravens' franchise this season, including at wide receiver, where Steve Smith suffered a season-ending injury," wrote PFF's John Breitenbach. "Kamar Aiken stepped up with Smith sidelined, however, suggesting he can contribute in the NFL."
In addition to Smith, the Ravens lost first-round rookie receiver Breshad Perriman and literally all other receivers that started the season on the roster. Aiken was the last man standing, amassing 75 catches for 944 yards and five touchdowns.
Along with the production, Aiken's improved hands (he dropped only five percent of passes compared to seven percent in 2014) and ability to break tackles (eight compared to one) helped boost his overall PFF grades year over year.
2014 cumulative grade: plus-0.2 on 334 snaps
2015 cumulative grade: plus-12.7 on 955 snaps
"Set to hit free agency, the Ravens will surely want to ensure stability at the position by resigning their young receiver on an upward trajectory," wrote Breitenbach.
Aiken is a restricted free agent, which means the Ravens have a strong chance of holding on to him with either a tender or agreeing to a long-term contract. The last time we heard from Aiken, he didn't seem too concerned about his future.
"I'm not nervous right now [about free agency]," Aiken said in January. "Baltimore pretty much knows that I want to be there. I don't want to go anywhere else. I would love to finish my career there. They've shown me love since Day 1, so I don't want to go anywhere and I'm pretty sure they know the same."
By the way, the No. 1 player on PFF's breakout list was former Ravens and current Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
"Tyrod Taylor's first year as a starter was an unmitigated success," wrote Breitenbach.
Noah Spence's Stock Skyrocketing All The Way To No. 6?
The Senior Bowl did wonders for outside linebacker Noah Spence's draft outlook.
Heading into the event, draft analysts projected Spence to the second round despite showing top-15 talent. Off-the-field concerns stemming from failed drug tests that led to a Big-10 ban are what pushed him so far down the board.
But a dominant performance in Mobile, Ala., and a cleaned-up drug history over the last year quickly put Spence back in first-round consideration.
Now, one draft analyst sees Spence moving all the way up to the Ravens at No. 6.
"A post on the Ravens' website last week speculated that Spence could fall into Round 2. Forget it," wrote Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke, who has the Ravens selecting Spence in his latest mock draft at No. 6.
"But Baltimore could grab the edge-rushing dynamo here. Spence starred during Senior Bowl week, consistently beating tackles around the bend. Teams will have to dig into his character, but the talent is there to justify a top-10 spot."
Expect the Ravens, along with 31 other teams, to do their homework on Spence to see if he really has turned things around and is worth investing major draft assets.
The Ravens took a first-round chance on another player with "character concerns" in 2009 with cornerback Jimmy Smith. Of course, that was the 27th-overall pick, but that decision turned out well. Smith was rewarded last season with a second contract, which is tough to get in Baltimore.
"If the Ravens are convinced that is behind [Spence] — and they have a pretty good track record of sifting through such personal histories — then there's a lot of upside here. Even better for their purposes, he'll have something to prove," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jon Meoli.
"The Ravens are so diverse with how they use outside linebackers that he can likely fit in anywhere, if they're convinced of his quality and makeup."
Flacco's Son Wins Super Bowl 68 With Steelers
Playing off the short attention spans of readers and the way-too-early predictions of sports prognosticators, ESPN put together a forecast for the next 25 Super Bowls.
"Please suspend your disbelief at the door," Thomas Neumann asked.
Two things stand out in Neumann's quarter-of-a-century predictions. And they're both cruel to Ravens fans.
First, the Ravens never make it back to the Super Bowl after winning it in New Orleans three years ago. Second, one of the Ravens' offspring will help the Pittsburgh Steelers lift a Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl 68 over a promoted college team, the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Joe Flacco's oldest son, Stephen, is the quarterback of Pittsburgh and helps propel the Steelers to victory. And guess who he's throwing passes to? Antonio Brown Jr.
"All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown Jr. catches two touchdown passes from Stephen Flacco and scores on a 67-yard punt return late in the fourth quarter," wrote Neumann. "Steelers president Mike Tomlin rewards head coach Troy Polamalu with a five-year contract extension, assuring continued stability of a team with only four head coaches in 65 seasons."
Burfict's 3-Game Suspension Upheld
Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict's three-game suspension was upheld by appeals officer Derrick Brooks, according to ESPN's Dan Graziano.
Burfict was suspended after his concussion-inducing hit to the head of Steelers receiver Antonio Brown in the wild-card playoff game. Burfict was also fined $50,000 for a blindside hit on Ravens tight end Maxx Williams in Week 17.
Five Young Players Ravens Need More From
WNST's Luke Jones named five young players who he thinks the Ravens need more from in 2016:
1. WR Breshad Perriman
"Who else could it be in the top spot? The Ravens put all their eggs in one basket trying to replace Torrey Smith with their 2015 first-round pick before he suffered a season-ending knee injury on the first full day of training camp and left the offense without any speed."
2. LB Za'Darius Smith"The 2015 fourth-round pick's 3 1/2 sacks over the final three games of 2015 are something to build on from what was mostly a quiet rookie season. In fairness, the Ravens expected a smaller role for the 275-pound linebacker, but the season-ending Achilles injury to Terrell Suggs in the opener made Smith the primary backup to Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw."
3. DT Carl Davis "The Iowa product played well early and started three games, but he appeared to wear down and was a non-factor in the second half of the season, seeing just 17 defensive snaps over the final six games."
4. S Terrence Brooks"[T]he 2014 third-round pick is just one of many safeties the Ravens have added over the last few years to try to bring stability to the spot once occupied by future Hall of Famer Ed Reed. … Unfortunately, coaches haven't trusted him from a mental standpoint, so it appears this could be the make-or-break year for the Florida State product."
5. RB Buck Allen "Allen's inclusion is more about circumstance than his rookie season in which he accumulated 867 total yards of offense, most coming after the season-ending injury to veteran Justin Forsett in Week 11. …The Ravens need more of a home-run hitter in the backfield, and the 2015 fourth-rounder figures to have the best chance to be that guy."