Three Ravens Make All-Underrated Team
He has been instrumental in helping the Ravens transition from the Ray Lewis era, but rookie C.J. Mosley publicly gets the credit and was honored with a Pro Bowl.
He makes up one-half of the best guard tandems in football, but is cast in the shadow of veteran Marshal Yanda.
And he helped save the franchise from an abysmal year after the unexpected Ray Rice situation and led all running backs in yards per carry, yet all he heard in free agency was how old and short he was.
Who are these three men?
Linebacker Daryl Smith, guard Kelechi Osemele and running back Justin Forsett.
And all three (rightfully) made the NFL's All-Underrated Team, compiled by NFL.com's Elliott Harrison.
One may wonder how Forsett could make this list when he went to the Pro Bowl last year and became a popular commodity in fantasy leagues around the country due to his 1,266 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. But his attempt to get "out of the friend zone" and find a long-term relationship with an NFL team when the free-agent market opened didn't go quite as planned.
"While fantasy owners were well aware of his productivity with the Ravens in 2014, apparently those looking for a free-agent running back this offseason weren't, based on the lack of buzz Forsett sparked and the deal – $9 million over three years – he finally landed to stay in Baltimore," wrote Harrison. "Forsett has always been effective when given the chance. A decisive runner, Forsett averaged nearly 5 yards per carry even before his breakout last season."
While I agree that Osemele has been underrated up until this point, something tells me he won't be by this time next year. Both Osemele and Yanda are heading into the final years of their contracts, and both are expected to command top dollar whether in Baltimore or elsewhere. So if a lack of free-agent interest qualified Forsett for this list, the expected offers for Osemele should disqualify him next March.
Until then, most people outside of Baltimore won't have a clue as to who this man is and what he brings to the Ravens offensive* *line.
"Osemele might not be a household name, but Ravens fans certainly know his value," wrote Harrison. "He and teammate Marshal Yanda formed the top guard tandem in pro football last year, as both were maulers in the run game. Osemele also allowed a scant two sacks."
And finally, perhaps the most underrated of them all, and underrated for most his career, is 12-year veteran Smith. After flying under the radar in Jacksonville for 10 years, Smith came to Baltimore and has only started every game as a Raven and barely missed a snap while doing it. He's produced a team-high 251 tackles over that two-year period.
"When Smith hasn't been hurt, he's been consistent ... and consistently underrated," Harrison wrote. "At 33 years old, the former Jaguar is the oldest player on our list, having entered the league back in 2004.
"Rookie C.J. Mosley got all the pub last year in Baltimore, but Smith was just as good."
You can bet Head Coach John Harbaugh would agree with Smith making the underrated list. If you ask him, Smith is a big reason the Ravens have been able to smoothly evolve and move on from one of the greatest of all time.
"Daryl Smith deserves a lot of credit as it applies to Ray Lewis," Harbaugh said in January. "Ray Lewis is an iconic Raven and means a lot to the city and to football. For Daryl Smith to come in and to fill those shoes, so to speak, to be the guy who replaces Ray Lewis at that position, and to play the way he has, and to carry it out the way he has where we all feel so good about who he is as a person, and really to allow Ray to still flourish in his way, that says a whole lot about Daryl Smith – the kind of player he is and the kind of person he is."
Pitta Catches Attention With Goal Post Dunk
While the team was gathered together on the field, ESPN's Jamison Hensley noticed something off to the side. It was tight end Dennis Pitta, where he usually conducts his own drills as he rehabs from his second major hip surgery.
Pitta had just caught a pass during his individual workout, and then leapt into the air and laid the ball over the goal post.
"It wasn't a Jimmy Graham dunk, but it was another positive sign," Hensley wrote. "Pitta looked much more fluid in running his routes off to the side, and he even caught some passes from Joe Flacco and Matt Schaub."
While the Ravens continue to keep Pitta out of team drills, Hensley says the next big decision and big indication of whether he will play this season is in training camp. The Ravens will have to decide whether to let him participate in camp, or start him on the physically unable to participate (PUP) list. That will give them the option of holding him out of the first six weeks of the regular season.
Canty Plea To Trestman: Please Don't Change Offense
Defensive lineman Chris Canty isn't at the Ravens Organized Team Activities (OTAs), in part because he is hanging out in the broadcast studio in Connecticut. Even though he isn't around for the voluntary portion, he still has a request for new Offensive Coordinator Mark Trestman.
While on the air with "Pro Football Talk" on NBCSN, Canty made a plea that Trestman leave the offense alone.
"I hope they don't change it very much," Canty said last Friday, per PFT.com's Mike Florio. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
The Ravens offense enjoyed franchise records in points scored and yards gained last season after former Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak implemented a new West Coast system. Kubiak left for Denver, and the Ravens chose Trestman, in part, because he runs the same basic system.
Canty praised the balance the offense had between the pass and run, and its ability to keep the defense off the field. That surely made Canty's job easier, and he's hoping Trestman can maintain that balance.
"Please, Coach Trestman, don't change a whole lot," Canty said with a laugh.
Battling For Starting Safety Job: Hill vs. Elam
It's the battle of two Florida Gators.
Will Hill and Matt Elam both have their eyes on the starting safety job, and both are getting their opportunity as coaches are letting both line up with the first-team defense during OTAs.
"They] are [both making their case to win," wrote Wilson. "That's one of the tightest competitions for the Ravens."
Whoever comes out on top will start alongside newly acquired free safety Kendrick Lewis.
After losing his starting job last season despite moving back to his more natural strong safety role, Elam has returned leaner and quicker (he lost about 5 pounds), and stood out in yesterday's session open to the media. Per our own Ryan Mink, Elam made a leaping interception against Schaub, and later jumped to knock away a potential touchdown pass to tight end Crockett Gillmore.
Meanwhile, Hill vowed to stay focused on football and family after he was suspended for the first six games last season for a repeat violation of the league's substance abuse policy.
"I almost say [he is] light-years ahead of where he was last year," Harbaugh said last week about Hill.
And while we're talking about safeties, here's some good news on the injury front …
Steve Smith Voted As 54th Best Player In NFL Top 100
Don't talk trash to Steve Smith Sr.
That's what his opponents say. It will only motivate him to go off.
Case in point: Smith heard some things coming out of Carolina that he didn't like after his former team of 13 years cut him. Then when the Ravens and Panthers faced off, Smith put up five catches, 101 yards and two touchdowns.
Even at 35 years old, Smith put on a receiving clinic last season and his NFL peers noticed, voting him to the No. 54 spot in the NFL Top 100.