When the Ravens drafted Ronnie Stanley No. 6 overall in April, they hoped they secured an anchor at left tackle for many years to come.
After his rookie season, Stanley has only strengthened the Ravens' belief in what they found.
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Stanley was the best left tackle in the league over the final five weeks of the season. He posted his highest grade of the year in the Ravens' season finale in Cincinnati.
Stanley allowed just three sacks in 12 games, per PFF. He gave up just one quarterback hurry against the Bengals in an otherwise tough day for the Ravens offensive line.
"[He can] become, I believe, a premier left tackle in this league," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
"That is our job to get him there, because I just think he is smart, he is tough, he is willing to work hard, and he listens."
Stanley was PFF's 18th-best graded left tackle in the NFL over the entire season, but he would have been higher had he not dealt with a foot injury earlier in the year. Stanley missed four games because of the injury – all Ravens losses – and wasn't the same player when he returned.
In his first game back, facing Steelers veteran pass rusher James Harrison, Stanley allowed a sack/strip on quarterback Joe Flacco. Harrison frequently got pressure, which disrupted Baltimore's offense.
"What he gained through training camp, he lost when he got hurt," Harbaugh said. "He came back and, he will tell you, he did not play well – especially the first week back. After that, he got a little better every week until about three or four weeks later when he was playing at a high level for a rookie."
Stanley posted a minus-9.3 grade in his first meeting with Harrison, who has 13 more seasons of experience. When Stanley faced off with him again in Week 16, the rookie didn't allow a single quarterback pressure, hurry or sack, and came away with a plus-2.4 grade. He won the battle.
"It is very gratifying to see how far I've come from that point," Stanley said on "The Lounge" podcast.
The injury was a difficult thing for Stanley to deal with. He had never missed a game in high school or college at Notre Dame, and he wanted to play through the injury. The medical and coaching staff held him back.
"It was a very hard, period," Stanley said. "I thought just me being out there, I could just compete and it would be alright. But you have to be your best at this level. If you're not healthy and you can't perform – particularly at a position like left tackle where, if you mess up once, it's a big play for sure – then you shouldn't be out there."
Stanley said that after his rough game against Harrison, he made sure to particularly* *focus on his technique because he didn't want anything like that to happen again.
When the Ravens drafted Stanley instead of highly-touted left tackle Laremy Tunsil, who went to the Miami Dolphins seven picks later and played the guard position this year, Baltimore's front office and coaches spoke about the kind of work ethic and character Stanley has long showed.
That has proven to be quite valuable not only during Stanley's rookie season, but will serve the rookie moving forward.
Stanley said his biggest lessons learned as a rookie are to keep his body right because it's a long season, and to keep his excitement in check. He said he learned to have more mental focus.
"I feel like Ronnie is a guy that is very coachable, and he is very smart. Plus, he is talented," Harbaugh said. "I feel like he is the kind of guy that is going to improve dramatically from one day to the next, from one year to the next."