What a 'Legendary' Defense Would Mean for Ravens
The Ravens aren't hiding how good they think this year's defense can be.
On Sunday night, nose tackle Brandon Williams chimed in on Twitter about who will have the No. 1 defense by season's end.
On Tuesday, newly-signed safety Tony Jefferson told the NFL Network's 'Good Morning Football' crew that the Ravens "have an opportunity to be legendary."
On Wednesday, cornerback Jimmy Smith told my colleague, Garrett Downing, "We want to be the No. 1 defense in every category."
Yeah, the hype train is getting in gear, and even though Organized Team Activities (OTAs) just began, there's good reason to be excited and have lofty goals.
The Ravens have invested heavily in upgrading a defense that was already really, really good last year but just didn't finish the job.
Baltimore signed Jefferson and cornerback Brandon Carr in free agency, then used its first four draft picks on defense with cornerback Marlon Humphrey, outside linebacker Tyus Bowser, defensive end Chris Wormley and outside linebacker Tim Williams.
"That's a bold statement considering the history of the Ravens, who fielded one of the best defenses ever in the NFL 17 years ago," ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote.
The Ravens rode perhaps the greatest defense of all-time to Super Bowl XXXV glory during the 2000 season. Baltimore allowed the fewest points (165) and rushing yards (970) in a 16-game season.
But, as Hensley pointed out, the Ravens have "surprisingly" only finished one season with the top-ranked defense in the league in terms of total yards allowed. Even in 2000, the Tennessee Titans allowed fewer yards than the Ravens (3,813 to 3,967).
It was 2006 when the Ravens finished atop the league in defense, and it led to Baltimore's best regular-season record in franchise history at 13-3. The Ravens finished 17th in total offense that year. After a first-round bye, they lost to the Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts, at home, 15-6.
So what's it all mean? Just how good are the Ravens when they have a stout defense?
"Strong defenses have usually led to strong years for Baltimore," Hensley wrote. "In nine seasons in which the Ravens have had a top-five defense, they have averaged 10 regular-season victories and reached the postseason seven times."
Ravens OTAs About Who Does Show Up, Not Who Doesn't
You may have seen the headlines this week.
New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. didn't attend the first couple of sessions of OTAs. Kansas City Chiefs defenders Eric Berry, Justin Houston and Marcus Peters are all sitting out. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger expressed disappointment that running back Le'Veon Bell didn't practice Tuesday.
"Players aren't required to be on the field or at the team facility until the mandatory minicamp in mid-June. However, in this day and age, that doesn't stop notable absences in OTAs from becoming major headlines," The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec wrote.
"That, though, traditionally isn't the case with the Ravens."
The first thing that reporters will do when practice is open to the media for the first time today is take an attendance report. And I think they'll be pleased.
Though it's unknown whether he'll be on the field today, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has been at the team facility training this offseason. Spoiler alert, safety Lardarius Webb (a player that Zrebiec named as one who has stayed away at times during OTAs) is also in attendance. Guard Marshal Yanda had shoulder surgery and won't return until training camp.
"It's never treated as a big deal when they do [sit out]. In fact, it would be more newsworthy around Owings Mills if Yanda and Suggs were participating in OTAs," Zrebiec wrote.
"What exactly do Suggs and Yanda have to prove by being on the field in shorts and jerseys in May and early June? Isn't it more important that younger players at their positions, such as Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser, Matthew Judon and Nico Siragusa, get the repetitions?"
Head Coach John Harbaugh, tight end Dennis Pitta, wide receiver Breshad Perriman, safety Tony Jefferson and offensive lineman Alex Lewis will speak to the media after practice today (we'll have the live stream).
"Barring a significant development in terms of an injury or a contract-related absence, the prevailing storylines will be on players taking part in the workouts," Zrebiec wrote. "There isn't anything unique or new about select Ravens veterans opting to stay home from voluntary workouts."
Re-Grading Ravens' 2014 NFL Draft
Looking back on Baltimore's 2013 draft, what originally caught heat eventually garnered praise.
The first two selections of safety Matt Elam and linebacker Arthur Brown didn't work out, but third-round nose tackle Brandon Williams, fourth-round fullback Kyle Juszczyk and fifth-round tackle Rick Wagner all got massive deals this offseason. Three big hits ain't too shabby.
So now, three years later, some pundits are shifting their focus to evaluating the 2014 draft class.
Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke put out his take, and he gave the Ravens a B-minus re-grade.
Burke said the Ravens' best pick was inside linebacker C.J. Mosley at No. 17 overall in the first round. That's an easy call.
Burke said the worst pick was third-round safety Terrence Brooks, who the Ravens released after two seasons. Brooks has since caught on as a special teams player with the Philadelphia Eagles.
"There have been sporadic moments from TE Crockett Gilmore (No. 99), DL Brent Urban (No. 134), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (No. 138), G John Urschel (No. 175) and WR Michael Campanaro (No. 218), but this class's impact mainly has boiled down to Mosley and second-round DL Timmy Jernigan," Burke wrote.
"The Ravens just traded away the latter to Philadelphia, then drafted his possible replacement (Chris Wormley) with the pick acquired. Mosley is a two-time Pro Bowler and an anchor in the front seven."
I'd say it's too early to pass final judgement, and bad-luck injuries have unfortunately been a big factor for the 2014 class.
Gillmore has been plagued by injuries the past two years, but has shown his physicality and potential. Urban missed his entire 2014 season and 10 games in 2015, but could be a starter this season. Taliaferro has shown promise, but foot injuries have slowed him the past two years.
Urschel has made 15 starts (including two playoff games) and could be the starting center this year, which is darn good for a fifth-round selection. Campanaro has also been hit by the injury bug all three years, but has flashed playmaking ability and has a chance to emerge this season if healthy.
In case you're wondering, only three teams received an A or A-minus in the re-grade (Packers, Giants and Raiders).
5 Ravens With Breakout Potential
Every year, there's a player that breaks out and has a big, unexpected season. Last year, that title could have been split by running back Terrance West, rookie cornerback Tavon Young or rookie defensive tackle Michael Pierce.
So who will it be this year?
Brandon Deffect from the Charm City Sports Network compiled his list:
WR Michael Campanaro
"Camp will get his shot this season, but as always, it will come down to his health. If he can finally squash the injury bug, I think he can make some noise as the team's slot receiver and primary punt return man."
LB Kamalei Correa
"With Zach Orr's surprise and unfortunate retirement this offseason, the Ravens have an All-Pro hole to fill at inside linebacker. To me, this is Correa's job to lose. A second round pick that was limited to just 48 snaps as a rookie, I think the Ravens want to see a little more return on such a high investment, so Correa is going to get his chance. Coach Harbaugh came out and said earlier this offseason that he expects Correa to win the ILB job."
TE Crockett Gillmore
"After Dennis Pitta went down with a second hip injury in 2015, the man they call Crockett Gillmore stepped up to become a reliable target for Joe Flacco before Joe himself went out due to injury. He showed great strength and physicality in both his blocking and while he had the ball in his hands. From where I stand, he looks like the most complete two-way tight end on the Ravens roster."
RB Terrance West
"The stars have pretty much aligned for West to break out, as the Ravens haven't added any real competition at running back up to this point in the offseason. They've also brought in Greg Roman, who has been the conduit of strong rushing attacks across multiple teams in his career. This hiring should aid the entire run game, not just West alone. West should have full reign of the carries in the first four weeks, and although I don't think even four straight 100-yard rushing performances could keep Dixon from getting carries in week five, if West shows he can not only carry the load, but produce during, it will be difficult for the coaching staff to take away his opportunities."
WR Breshad Perriman
"Lack of polish and experience kept Perriman off the field a lot in 2016, but he did flash his ability in his limited opportunities. With the first-round expectations he carries on his shoulders and Steve Smith's departure knocking him up the depth chart, he is going to get his shot as a starter in 2017."