10 Baltimore Ravens Players Who Must Have a Big Year
10 Baltimore Ravens Who Must Have a Big Year
The Baltimore Ravens have had a wild roller coaster ride of an offseason. It started with a long ascent. Ray Lewis, the face of the franchise for its entire existence in Baltimore, retired. Matt Birk followed soon afterward. Anquan Boldin, the Ravens' best wide receiver, was traded to the San Francisco 49ers, the team they narrowly beat in Super Bowl XLVII. Paul Kurger, Dannell Ellerbe, Cary Williams, and Ed Reed bounced in free agency. Bernard Pollard was let go. The precipice was approaching for Baltimore fans and sports writers alike. The cash-strapped Ravens had barely waded into the free agency pool, signing only Chris Canty and Marcus Spears.
And just when the drop was about to come, Lady Luck smiled on the Super Bowl champs. Elvis Dumervil unexpectedly popped up on Ozzie Newsome's radar after a fax snafu caused him to be released from the Denver Broncos. Nine days later, Dumervil signed a five-year, $35 million deal with the Ravens. On the heels of making the biggest (and most stunning) free agency splash in the NFL, Newsome signed safety Michael Huff to a three-year, $6 million deal. Suddenly, the drop was leveling out, and the roller coaster was fun.
Just under a month later, the Ravens built upon the defensive foundation they had begun in free agency with the NFL Draft. Six of their ten draftees were defensive players, three of whom are expected to start.
The arrows were pointing up in Baltimore heading into training camp, and the roller coaster ride seemed to be slowing down. The defense was looking better than ever, a heated wide receiver battle was unfolding, and Joe Flacco, now a Super Bowl MVP and one of the richest athletes in the history of sports, was building a solid chemistry with tight end Dennis Pitta.
Then the fall that everyone had been anticipating finally happened. Two days into training camp, Pitta fractured his hip. Reports conflict in relation to the duration of his absence, but one thing is clear: Flacco will be without his new favorite target for much of the 2013 season. This is a huge blow to the Ravens' passing game, as Pitta was one of Flacco's two go-to guys in the playoffs last season; the other one is in San Francisco. The Ravens aren't in no man's land yet, but it certainly looks a lot closer than it did before. Everybody on the team needs to step up in order for Baltimore to have any chance of defending its title, but there are ten players in particular that need to have a big year to make another Super Bowl appearance possible.
Torrey Smith is now the Ravens' best wide receiver. He's come a long way since being thrust into a starting role in 2011 and has progressed steadily in his first two years. He needs to take the next step in year three, though, to make Flacco's job a little easier.
Jacoby Jones' role as a receiver is still being determined. He's struggled with a larger workload in the past, but his skills and experience can't be ignored. Whether he catches more passes or remains a kick returner who serves as a third option, he will need to be solid.
Ed Dickson is now the Ravens' best tight end. He was leaned on after Todd Heap's departure and showed himself to be a reliable target. His role decreased significantly last season with Pitta's rise, but he still made an impact on the passing game. He's entering a contract year and he wanted a bigger role in 2013, so he'll be leaned on more than ever.
Bernard Pierce was already expected to eat into Ray Rice's carries after a strong rookie season, but the likelihood of that happening seems inevitable now. The Ravens will need a strong running game to take some of the pressure off of Flacco.
Ray Rice has been the Ravens' most valuable wild card for the past four seasons, and Pierce's presence won't change that. He's a dynamic player who can gash defenses as a rusher and a receiver. Rice could be primed for his biggest season yet.
Kyle Juszczyk is under more pressure than most people think. He already has big shoes to fill in Vonta Leech's old spot, and now his role as a receiver just got bigger. Juszczyk led Harvard in receiving yards his senior year with 52 receptions, 706 yards, and eight touchdowns. He will need to translate that success to the professional level--while proving his ability to be a valuable fullback--to help the Ravens win games.
Bryant McKinnie spent the entire 2012 season on the bench. When he came off of it for the playoffs, he played like his job depended on it. He'll have to keep playing like that for the whole season. Flacco will be throwing to new targets, so he'll need time to build chemistry with them.
Justin Tucker had an excellent rookie season as the Ravens' kicker, and he's looking to improve upon it in his sophomore outing. The Ravens have a tough schedule, and a lot of them could come down to a field goal. Tucker will have to be flawless when it matters.
The defense struggled last season, even before injuries took their tole. Teams trampled them up front and picked on the weak links in the secondary. They will be up against some of the best teams in the league this season, so this retooled Ravens defense will need to live up to the hype that has been building around them in the offseason.
Confidence has never been something Joe Flacco lacks, and that will come in handy this season. He just got paid to be the Ravens' new leader, so he will need to deliver. The team will look to him during times of crisis, and he will need to show them with his play that he has it all figured out.