Three Under-the-Radar X-Factor Ravens
Every season, players nobody expected to have big impacts emerge.
At this time last year, nobody saw running back Alex Collins coming. Few people expected offensive lineman James Hurst to start 16 games, wide receiver Chris Moore to emerge as a late-season weapon or defensive lineman Patrick Ricard to score two touchdowns and be a pivotal blocker.
So, who could be this year's surprise X-factors? Here are some of the picks from Baltimore Beatdown's Jacob Louque, with my commentary added:
QB Lamar Jackson
Louque: "Jackson presents the most obvious X-factor in that he could take over the reins as starting quarterback at any point, but he also could provide a spark to the offense as a versatile weapon in certain packages. His unique athleticism makes him a wildcard in every sense of the word."
Analysis: It would be a big surprise to see Jackson take over the starting job at any point this season (barring injury), but his presence as an offensive playmaker certainly merits excitement.
CB Tavon Young
Louque: "Based upon his play in 2016, he probably would have a claim to a starting spot in nickel. But big time performances from Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, and Marlon Humphrey throughout 2017 more or less locked up the top spots. Nonetheless, anything can change. If any of those three corners go down, Young is waiting in the wings to come out and prove his impressive rookie season wasn't a fluke."
Analysis: Young could still be the Ravens' starting nickel even with Smith, Carr and Humphrey all healthy and on the field. Young is the most natural slot option with the others being better suited for work outside.
RB Kenneth Dixon
Louque: "Issues with suspension and injuries have kept him off of the field a ton over the course of his first two seasons after he was looked at as a steal in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. He's never shown himself to be a special player, but if he can stay on the field for 16 games this coming year, he'll have a better chance to flash some productivity. If Alex Collins and Buck Allen are the 1-2 punch early on, cold weather and eventual wear-and-tear may eventually open the door for Dixon to live up to the hype he had garnered a few years back."
Analysis: Dixon's 4.3 yards per carry as a rookie ranked among the top-20 running backs in the league. Dixon could have a bigger role even before cold weather sets in.
Todd Heap Gives His Take on (And Advice to) Ravens Rookie Tight Ends
When General Manager Ozzie Newsome called rookie Hayden Hurst to let him know he was going to be a Baltimore Raven, Newsome brought up one name.
"We drafted a tight end named Todd Heap before," Newsome said, indicating high expectations for the Ravens' top pick of the 2018 draft.
Heap played 12 NFL seasons, including 10 with the Ravens after being their first-round pick in 2001, shortly after winning Super Bowl XXXV. Heap is still one of Baltimore's all-time receiving leaders, scoring 41 touchdowns and catching 467 passes as a Raven.
Now 38, Heap has always kept an eye on the success of his former team, but he has even more reason to watch this season after Baltimore drafted a pair of rookie tight ends in Hurst and Mark Andrews (third round).
The Baltimore Sun caught up with Heap to get his take on the new additions.
"They've taken two [tight ends] before with Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson in 2010. I found it strange then, but not anymore," Heap said. "I feel like they have a need at tight end in the offense right now, and they appear to have gotten two good ones.
"We will see over the next couple of months, but I've been impressed with what I've seen so far."
Heap is excited to see how teams, including the Ravens, are employing tight ends more now because of the mismatches they can create in the passing game.
"Offenses have evolved to the point where tight ends have become the main focus," Heap said. "I have always thought we were some of the lowest-paid guys and at some point we needed to break that mold."
Heap was mentored first by veteran tight end Shannon Sharpe, among others when he first arrived in Baltimore as a rookie, and he suggested that Hurst and Andrews find their own leaders.
"If I had to offer any advice, I'd say don't worry about the off-the-field stuff," Heap said. "All the other stuff, all the other preparations are behind you. There is going to be some new stuff and that can cause some anxiety. But you can't worry about that. Now, it's time to just put your head down and go to work."
These 2017 Ravens Starters Are Battling to Continue Starting
It's the way the NFL works. Every year, there are younger (and cheaper) players looking to take jobs.
Thus, many veterans know that they must battle to remain starters year after year.
With that in mind, Baltimore Beatdown's Logan Levy compiled a list of 2017 starters who could move into a backup role in 2018. Here are five:
TEs Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams
"Benjamin Watson was the primary tight end for the Ravens last year, but he signed with the Saints during the offseason, which leaves a hole on Baltimore's roster. Boyle and Williams combined for 19 starts last season, but with the additions of Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews, they could find themselves in a limited role for this upcoming season, if they make the 53 man roster. Boyle is considered to be a roster lock, while Williams' fate is not as certain."
OL James Hurst
"Hurst was Baltimore's utility offensive lineman last year. He can seemingly play almost every position on the offensive line other than center, yet with the addition of Orlando Brown Jr. and the return of Alex Lewis, Hurst could start the season on the sidelines. He had a rather up and down 2017 campaign. It is worth mentioning that his most natural position appears to be guard, particularly left guard. Although if Lewis can replicate his rookie season, Hurst will likely be the Ravens' primary backup."
DT Michael Pierce
"One of the more notable changes to the Ravens' defense could start up front. Brandon Williams is expected to shift back to nose tackle, which could hurt Pierce's snap count. With the emergence of Willie Henry, Pierce could become merely a rotational player as opposed to a starter."
CB Brandon Carr
"Carr was a fantastic signing for the Ravens a year ago. He provided veteran leadership at the cornerback position, and most importantly, he stayed healthy. Although this season it may be a different story. With Marlon Humphrey seemingly ready for a bigger role, Carr could be phased out of the starting lineup."
"Peanut had a solid 2017 campaign. He was not expected to win the starting job last year, but due to poor showings early from Kamalei Correa, he took over as the weakside linebacker. With a healthy Bam Bradley, Kenny Young and Albert McClellan all vying for snaps at this position, Peanut could lose his starting job. He still should be considered the favorite."
Ravens React to Shooting at Capital Gazette
Another mass shooting happened in our country yesterday, and this time the tragedy hit closer to home.
Five employees were killed at the Capital Gazette, including sports reporter John McNamara. He occasionally covered the Ravens, among the other local sports teams.
A veteran reporter beloved for his sharp wit and love of sports, McNamara will be missed by many who knew him, including in the Ravens organization.