How 'Hidden Star' Michael Crabtree Can Make the Pro Bowl
As a 2009 first-round pick, 10-year veteran and Super Bowl receiver, Michael Crabtree isn't exactly undiscovered talent flying under the radar.
But because he's never made the Pro Bowl, Bleacher Report deems him one of the "hidden stars" in the NFL.
"Crabtree has had buzz as a playmaker," wrote Maurice Moton. "He's … one of the best players without a Pro Bowl appearance."
Crabtree has been a red-zone monster the last three years, ranking fifth in receiving touchdowns (25) in the NFL. He's logged two 1,000-yard seasons with at least eight touchdowns during his career. The 30-year-old receiver has also developed a reputation for being clutch in big situations.
As impressive as his body of work has been, it hasn't been enough to get Pro Bowl voters to honor him. Overall, Baltimore receivers haven't fared well when it comes to All-Star games. Receivers Jermaine Lewis (1998, 2001) and Jacoby Jones (2012) went to Pro Bowls but as return specialists.
What would it take to push Crabtree over the edge?
"He hasn't had a 10-touchdown season and may need to reach that threshold along with 1,000 yards for a Pro Bowl offer," Moton wrote.
The Ravens would absolutely love that type of production from Crabtree, whether or not it's recognized with a ticket to Orlando. The good news is that newcomers typically have big seasons in their first years with quarterback Joe Flacco. Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith Sr. and Mike Wallace all topped Baltimore in receiving yards in their first seasons with the Ravens.
Like the veterans before him, Crabtree should get plenty of opportunity to put up more production. He's a legitimate No. 1 option and has developed early chemistry with Flacco.
With at least five years more NFL experience than any other receiver on the Ravens roster (the average age is 24), Crabtree is the unquestioned leader of the group and his veteran savvy is obvious in his crafty route running.
Crabtree couldn't have gotten off to a better start in Baltimore this offseason, but as he said, "Practice is what you practice. The game is showtime." The challenge will be to carry that momentum into the regular season to continue building a Pro Bowl resume.
"Flacco has consistently found Crabtree during the first two weeks of the Ravens offseason practices, whether it's over the middle, along the sideline or in the corner of the end zone," ESPN wrote earlier this month.
"The impressive part isn't the number of times Flacco has hit the Ravens' biggest free-agent addition. It's the effortlessness it takes for Flacco and Crabtree to connect, as if they were playing pitch and catch in the backyard."
Ravens Own One of the Top-5 NFL Defensive Triplets
It doesn't get much better than having three Pro Bowl veterans leading the way on each level of the Ravens defense.
You've got outside linebacker Terrell Suggs up front on the defensive line, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley controlling things in the middle and safety Eric Weddle patrolling the backfield.
They're so good that NFL.com's Bucky Brooks ranked them as the league's fourth-best defensive triplet.
The Ravens trio only trails triplets from the Jacksonville Jaguars (DE Calais Campbell, LB Telvin Smith and CB Jalen Ramsey), Minnesota Vikings (DE Everson Griffen, LB Eric Kendricks and S Harrison Smith) and Arizona Cardinals (DE Chandler Jones, LB Deone Bucannon and CB Patrick Peterson).
"The Ravens' spot on this list is a bit of a surprise, based on the ages of their veteran leaders, but Suggs and Weddle play like they have access to the Fountain of Youth," Brooks wrote.
"At 35, Suggs remains one of the top pass rushers in the game, combining power with a bag of tricks off the edge. … Mosley doesn't grab headlines as a marquee player, but he is one of the current standard bearers at the position. As a sideline-to-sideline playmaker with exceptional speed and range, Mosley shrinks the field for opponents looking to create space for their top players. In addition, he blots out receivers and tight ends looking for soft spots between the hashes. With Weddle backing him up as a deep-middle player with superb instincts and ball skills, Baltimore's defense is strong down the middle."
Lamar Jackson's Role Likened to an NBA Sixth Man
We won't know exactly how big quarterback Lamar Jackson's role will be until we actually witness it in the regular season. Experimenting in the NFL football lab, a.k.a. Organized Team Activities and minicamp, isn't exactly a clear indicator as to what will happen.
All we know is that Flacco is entrenched as the starter, Jackson needs development and the Ravens will use the rookie to add exciting wrinkles to the offense. Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski made a good analogy for how the athletic rookie can contribute.
"Jackson is a ready-made offensive boost much like a great NBA sixth man," wrote Sobleski. "He can come off the bench and provide fireworks to an offense that lacks playmakers. His blazing speed and flick-of-the-wrist release make him the ultimate change-of-pace in a league constantly looking to create mismatches. Quarterback is often forgotten in that equation. No more.
"The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner is something different and truly dynamic. Yes, Jackson needs work and development to become a more consistent passer, but the Ravens know his time is coming and they plan to use his skill set in small doses until he's ready for more responsibility."
Jackson Reveals Which Team Wanted Him to Play Receiver
Remember all the hubbub at the NFL Scouting Combine about teams wanting Jackson to work out as a receiver?
Jackson was bothered by the suggestion enough that he not only didn't do receiver workouts but also declined to run the 40. Reporters wanted to find out which teams recommended a potential position switch, but it wasn't revealed at the time.
We now have the answer, and it turns out only one team made the request.
"We now have the answer to one of the greatest mysteries that came out of the NFL combine this year," wrote CBSSports.com's John Breech.
Jackson told our "The Lounge" podcast that it was the San Diego Chargers.
"It was a Chargers scout, he was the one who told me about it," Jackson said. "Like, he was the first one to come to me about it, and I'm like, 'What?' He caught me off guard with it. I even made a face for him like, 'What?' I'm thinking he's trying to be funny, but he kept going with it, so it just became blown out of proportion.
"He was like, 'Oh, Lamar, you're going to go out for some wide receiver routes?' I'm like, 'Nah, quarterback only.' So that made me not run the 40 and participate in all that other stuff."
The Ravens made it clear during the Combine and the NFL Draft that they see Jackson as a quarterback, and they reiterated that belief by giving Jackson all the 11-on-11 quarterback snaps during the last day of mandatory minicamp.
- The Ravens have the second-hardest schedule in the AFC North, based on a formula that CBS Sports created that doesn't just look at opponents' records from last year. The Cleveland Browns have the hardest schedule (95.00 difficulty rating) followed by the Ravens (90.75), Pittsburgh Steelers (88.00) and Cincinnati Bengals (82.75). Breech called the Ravens' four-week stretch in the middle of the season one of most brutal stretches that any NFL team will see all year (at Steelers, at Browns, at Titans, vs. Saints). "If the Ravens can somehow survive the first 14 weeks of the season, their reward will be a closing stretch of three winnable games that will come against the Buccaneers, Chargers (in Los Angeles) and Browns," wrote Breech. [CBSSports.com]
- Who's the one player from each team that needs a big training camp? For the Ravens, Moton says it's wide receiver Breshad Perriman after a so-so offseason program. "Perriman must bounce back during training camp and parlay that momentum into the regular season to increase his market value for the 2019 offseason," Moton wrote. [Bleacher Report.]