Late For Work 6/2: Ravens Sleeper For Offensive Rookie Of The Year

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Ravens Sleeper For Offensive Rookie Of The Year

We are 98 days away from the first regular-season snap, but Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is already the consensus front-runner for the 2016 Offensive Rookie of the Year (OROY) award.

I suppose that's a safe prediction in June, considering Elliott's college career and the Cowboys' stout offensive line.

"It's worth noting, however, that a few other rookies have legitimate shots at the award, as well," wrote Pro Football Talk's (PFF) Chase Howell.

Based on rookies' skillsets and surrounding situations, Howell named three sleepers that could sneak in and steal the honor from the front-runner. One of them is Ravens fourth-round running back Kenneth Dixon.

Here's the reasoning for picking Dixon:

First, he's not your typical fourth-round pick. Howell calls him a "steal" as the 134th pick in the draft when PFF had him ranked as the No. 47 overall prospect. Dixon owns the top college receiving grade among all running backs in the class and the second-best elusive rating, which measures his ability to generate yards independent of blockers, after forcing 16 missed tackles last year.

Second, Dixon has a chance to immediately prove he deserves lots of playing time, even as a rookie in a tight running back competition. While the Ravens have strong depth, nobody necessarily stands out as the clear-cut No. 1. Justin Forsett and Javorius Allen are considered the top options, but nothing is set in stone.

Third, just like Elliott is inheriting a strong offensive line, PFF sees Dixon in a similar situation. The Ravens had PFF's eighth-highest grade in run-blocking last season. That said, I'd be careful about reading too much into that because the left side of the line is completely unsettled. Kelechi Osemele was one of the best guards in the game last year, but he'll be clearing lanes in Oakland in 2016. We also don't know who the starting left tackle will be between oft-injured Eugene Monroe and first-round pick Ronnie Stanley.

And fourth, AFC North defenses weren't particularly stout against the run last season as the Bengals, Steelers and Browns ranked 13th, 24th and 31st in run defense, respectively.

"If Dixon is given opportunities early and often, especially on passes out of the backfield and possibly even the slot from quarterback Joe Flacco, expect the former Bulldog to be a surprise rookie standout in 2016," Howell wrote.

The other two sleepers for OROY are San Diego Chargers tight end Hunter Henry (Round 2, pick No. 35) and Cleveland Browns wide receiver Corey Coleman (Round 1, pick No. 15).

We have yet to get a glimpse of Dixon in a Ravens uniform because he tweaked his hamstring at Louisiana Tech's pro day in March and hasn't practiced with the team yet. A return is expected in the near future, and Dixon will challenge his teammates for playing time right out of the gate.

Warren Sapp Explains Rude Timmy Jernigan Tweet, But It Doesn't Help Much

Retired defensive tackle Warren Sapp gave an explanation for what seemed to be an ungrateful tweet after Timmy Jernigan announced that he changed his jersey number to 99 to honor the first-ballot Hall of Famer.

"@Ravens how do I stop this??" was Sapp's reply.

Some speculated that the rude response was really just a joke because the two are friends and Sapp was only messing with Jernigan.

Nope, that wasn't it.

Others speculated that Sapp didn't want Jernigan to wear his number because of their collegiate rivalry between the University of Miami and Florida State.

"It had nothing to do with Florida State," Sapp told PewterReport.com.

So what's the problem?

Sapp is upset that Jernigan hasn't called him since an initial conversation they had shortly after Jernigan was selected in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. After meeting each other through a mutual friend, the two exchanged numbers and Sapp offered to help Jernigan in whatever way possible.

Here's what happened from there:

"So the draft happened and he had one of those things happen at the draft like I did, where you go a little lower than where you expect to have went," Sapp said. "So after that went down, I placed a text message and a call to him and said, 'Listen son, now your career takes off. It's not where you are drafted, it is what you do after you are drafted that make a career. You can't have a career until you start one. The way to start one is, go to work.' So I just tried to give him some encouragement since I know what that is like to be sitting there and having the world say things about you that makes you almost question yourself. I wanted to give him some reinforcement and say, 'Hey there were 11 guys picked before me and not one of them can stand and say they have anything on me.'

"That was the last conversation I had with the young man (in 2014). So for someone to say, 'Hey, I want to pay tribute to someone, and I have their phone number,' I would think you might want to try and call that person and say, 'Hey dawg, I was thinking something…' You know what I am saying?"

Not really, but OK.

So what, Mr. Sapp, would you have said had Jernigan actually called and told you he was switching his number to yours?

"Go out and make a name for yourself for you," Sapp said. "Don't go and use a first-ballot defensive tackle that you will now be judged against. Are you kidding me? Who signed up for that?"

Stop Forgetting About Kamar Aiken

It's exciting to see 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman return to the field. It's intriguing to see what newcomer Mike Wallace can bring to the table.

Hype aside, does either speedster deserve the No. 2 receiver role over Kamar Aiken?

Not if you're asking The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. As long as he is healthy, Aiken should be considered the starter lining up across from Steve Smith Sr.

"That may seem obvious to some, but to many others, Aiken remains the forgotten – or underappreciated – man, even after a season in which he was one of the only prominent Ravens to play 16 games and caught a team-high 75 balls for 944 yards and five touchdowns," Zrebiec wrote.

" … Don't misunderstand: The Ravens used a first-round pick on Perriman and they need to see what he can do. But let's wait until he gets through a training camp healthy, not an organized team activity. Wallace needs to be involved early, so he doesn't feel like this year will be his last season in Minnesota all over again."

Aiken is used to being the underdog after coming into the league undrafted in 2011 and bouncing around to three different teams before sticking with Baltimore. He defied odds in 2014 by making Baltimore's 53-man roster out of training camp, and climbed the depth chart last year as injuries decimated the unit.

Zrebiec points out that Aiken seized the opportunity over other receivers like Marlon Brown (cut this offseason) and Michael Campanaro (various injuries). And when Aiken got the top spot, he took advantage by becoming the first receiver in franchise history to notch five catches or more in nine straight games.   

His 75 catches were 10 more than Anquan Boldin or Torrey Smith's highs (65) during their time in Baltimore. Boldin never had more than Aiken's 944 receiving yards, and Torrey Smith only eclipsed it once in 2013 (1,            128 yards).

"That's not to compare Aiken to the two," Zrebiec wrote. "The Ravens were obviously much more pass-happy in 2015 and Aiken had far less competition for touches than receivers in previous seasons. But that shouldn't diminish the breakout season Aiken had either.   

"Aiken doesn't have top-end speed and he's not especially elusive or explosive when he gets the ball in his hands. However, he's a quality route runner, he has strong hands and he's physical. He's also one of the team's most popular players in the locker room for how he quietly goes about his business while producing on the field. … It won't be easy, but it will be on quarterback Joe Flacco and offensive coordinator Marc Trestman to get everyone involved. However they do it, Aiken deserves a prominent role."

Five Milestones Ravens Can Reach This Year

CSNMidAtlantic.com's Clifton Brown sees five individual milestones that Ravens players can reach in 2016:

  • Smith Sr. reaches 1,000 career receptions, which has only been done by 13 other players in NFL history.
  • Linebacker Elvis Dumervil gets his 100th career sack. He simply needs four more to join Terrell Suggs in 100-sack club.
  • Wallace gets his 50th career touchdown reception, which shouldn't be too hard since he already has 49.
  • Forsett gets his 200th career reception, needing just 10 to hit the mark.
  • Cornerback Jimmy Smith gets his 10th career interception after notching eight in his first five seasons.

Could Ray Rice Get Second NFL Chance … Off The Field?

Reaction has been positive after Ravens former running back Ray Rice returned to the Under Armour Performance Center last week to share life lessons with this year's rookie class.

His well-received message in no way diminishes his horrific actions in February of 2014, but it is a message worth telling more often to NFL players.

"Ray Rice's dream of playing in the NFL again is probably over. His story, however, may be able to help other players keep their dreams alive," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley.

"Over the past four months, Rice has talked to youth groups and the football teams at Rutgers, his alma mater, and Western Michigan, where a former Rutgers assistant is the head coach. More NFL teams should follow suit. If the Ravens can invite Rice back after their acrimonious split, others in the league can do so as well."

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