Ravens Secondary a Favorite to Become the Next 'Legion of Boom'
Seattle's Legion of Boom has disbanded, likely bringing an end to the Seahawks' rule as one of the top NFL secondaries for about a half-decade.
With cornerback Richard Sherman's release, safety Kam Chancellor's retirement and cornerback Earl Thomas' uncertain future, an era to remember is coming to a close.
"But while one of the best secondaries in league history has now been relegated to the past tense, there's no shortage of defensive units ready to take up the LOB's mantle," wrote The Ringer's Danny Kelly.
The Ravens are one of Kelly's "favorites" to take over the top spot, along with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings, Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers.
"The Ravens' back end might not get as much hype as some of the teams listed above, but it's as solid a unit as any in the league," Kelly wrote.
The stats back up his claim. Last year, the unit ranked …
No. 1 in interceptions and takeaways
No. 2 in opponent quarterback rating (72.4)
No. 3 in yards per pass attempt (6.5)
No. 5 in points allowed per game (18.9)
The secondary is solid at every position and has depth to sustain potential injuries. Consider the breakdown of the group:
S Eric Weddle = veteran leader and five-time Pro Bowler who recorded the third most interceptions (six) in the league last year
S Tony Jefferson = Weddle's safety sidekick with a penchant for stopping the run
CB Jimmy Smith = played at an All-Pro level last year before suffering a torn Achilles in December; ranked in the top 15 in lowest quarterback rating when targeted
CB Marlon Humphrey = stud first-round pick that has the potential to become a shutdown corner; produced one of the lowest quarterback ratings when targeted among rookies last year
CB Brandon Carr = 10-year veteran who has never missed a game; posted four interceptions last year and was the third Ravens corner to rank in the top 15 of lowest quarterback rating when targeted
"Add in Maurice Canady, plus the return of slot corner Tavon Young, who played well as a rookie but missed all of last year due to an ACL injury, and the selection of rookie Anthony Averett, and this unit should once again be among the best of the best in 2018," Kelly wrote.
A Blow to the Argument that Joe Flacco Doesn't Elevate His Receivers
A common criticism of quarterback Joe Flacco is that he doesn't make his receivers better.
The problem is that some of those receivers had the best seasons of their careers in Baltimore and produced less when they moved on to other teams and quarterbacks.
"I'm interested to see how Mike Wallace fares in Philadelphia after somewhat rebooting his career in Baltimore," wrote WNST's Luke Jones. "Many say Flacco doesn't elevate the play of his receivers, but wouldn't these guys go elsewhere and at least do as well? Torrey Smith and Kamar Aiken, anyone?"
Smith averaged nearly 900 receiving yards per season in his four years in Baltimore, but has only averaged about 450 yards in his three seasons since leaving. Aiken's best season came in 2015 when he recorded 944 yards, but he's never come close since and only managed 133 yards last year with the Indianapolis Colts.
There really isn't anyone that performed remarkably better once they moved on from Flacco. Anquan Boldin did have 1,000-yard seasons before and after he was in Baltimore, but it'd be hard to argue that Flacco brought him down. After all, the duo was a major reason the Ravens lifted the Lombardi Trophy after the 2012 season.
So, it makes sense that Jones wants to see if the trend will continue with Wallace, or any of the other receivers the Ravens let go this offseason.
"For those inclined to blame Flacco for all of the offense's problems, Pro Football Focus recently noted the 2017 wide receiver group generated the lowest rate of positively-graded plays and the highest rate of negatively-graded plays in the league last year," Jones wrote.
As for this year's group, here's how Jones see things stacking up.
"I believe Michael Crabtree offers the highest floor and John Brown the highest ceiling of the wide receiver newcomers, but Willie Snead is my sneaky choice to stand out the most," he wrote. "Joe Flacco has been at his best when he's had reliable slot options like Boldin and Dennis Pitta."
How Much Better Will Ravens' New Offensive Arsenal Be?
General Manager Ozzie Newsome has been hard at work this offseason remaking what was the sixth-worst passing game in the league last year.
He overhauled the pass-catching group, bringing in three veteran receivers, two early drafted tight ends and a pair of late-round receivers, giving hope in Baltimore that the unit could drastically improve.
EPSN's Bill Barnwell isn't convinced, however.
He ranked the Ravens offensive arsenal at No. 24 in the league as we enter training camp. Keep in mind, this is a ranking of the team's skill-position talent without including the impact of the quarterback, offensive line or scheme.
"Will they be better? Probably. Will they be good? Hard to say," Barnwell wrote.
For every positive Barnwell sees in a new receiver, he can also pinpoint a negative.
For Crabtree, his impressive red-zone play (at least eight touchdowns in each of the last three years) is counterbalanced by his third-most drops among receivers last year. Brown had a breakout season in 2015, but hasn't produced as much since and battled injuries the last two seasons. Snead caught around 70 passes in 2015 and 2016, but hardly saw the field in 2017 with a suspension and injury.
"The new tight end duo of Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews should help Lamar Jackson in 2019 and beyond, but rookie tight ends are always more likely to disappoint than impress," Barnwell wrote. "Alex Collins impressed during his debut season in Baltimore, but no one on a transitioning Ravens offense seems guaranteed to hold down his starting role into 2019."
Don't Be So Sure About Veteran Cuts
Yesterday, we reviewed a list of five Ravens veterans who could be cut after training camp this year, according to Press Box's Bo Smolka.
Four of the five were draft picks … in high rounds. Breshad Perriman (2015, first round), Kamalei Correa (2016, second round), Maxx Williams (2015, second round), and Bronson Kaufusi (2016, third round) were listed as players whose bubbles could burst.
Jones isn't buying into the notion because of the Ravens' history of giving their draft picks long leashes to develop. In some cases, remaining patient has paid off for both early and late-round selections (see Paul Kruger, Ryan Jensen).
"It's easy and fair to label [the group] as potential cuts, but the Ravens rarely give up on former early picks until they absolutely have to," Jones wrote. "The disappointing Terrence Cody was even re-signed for another year. Just keep that in mind."
Conflicting Opinions on How Good Ravens Offensive Line Will Be
Pro Football Focus is unimpressed with the way the Ravens offensive line is shaking out after center Ryan Jensen left in free agency and the team released right tackle Austin Howard.
The website has the Ravens unit listed at No. 24 with the following projected starting lineup.
Left tackle: Ronnie Stanley, 76.2 overall grade
Left guard: Alex Lewis, 45.6* (2016 grade)
Center: Matt Skura, 37.3
Right guard: Marshal Yanda, 84.4
Right tackle: James Hurst, 42.4
"The fate of the Ravens line falls in the hands – or more accurately the ankle – of Marshal Yanda," wrote PFF's Michael Renner. "The future Hall of Famer has been unquestionably the best guard in football the past few years, but without him, Joe Flacco turned into a gun shy, checkdown artist last year. Turning 34 in September, there's no certainty that Yanda ever returns to form."
This could certainly be the Ravens' starting lineup, but it could also be very different. If Orlando Brown Jr. shows he's capable of starting as a rookie, that could change the makeup of three starting spots at right tackle, left guard and center.
The funny thing is that while PFF doesn't have much confidence in the Ravens offensive line, CBS Sports identifies the unit as a reason to believe Baltimore can return to the playoffs this year.
"We spend so much time in 2018 focusing on skill-position guys, we often lose sight of the fact where football is played, and the Ravens are deep in the trenches," wrote CBS Sports' Will Brinson. "They have a mauling offensive line, and it shouldn't be surprising if Orlando Brown – a good football player with terrible combine testing – ends up producing right away."
· "I'm curious to see who plays center on the first day of full-squad workouts next Thursday," Jones wrote. "Ryan Jensen topped the depth chart on the first day last year — even as John Urschel surprisingly retired — and never relinquished the spot. Will it be Matt Skura or Alex Lewis?" [WNST]
· CBS Sports expects the Ravens to advance to the postseason for the first time since 2014. "Personally I don't want to bet against Joe Flacco with his back up against the wall. I've seen it and he turns into Joe Montana," wrote Brinson. [CBS Sports]