Six Third-Year Baltimore Ravens Players Primed for Breakout Seasons
Baltimore Ravens: Six Third-Year Players Primed for a Breakout Season
The Baltimore Ravens are well-known for their ability to coach up young players. Ozzie Newsome is regarded as one of the best judges of talent in the NFL, especially when it comes to the draft. Players such as Jonathan Ogden, Jamal Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Ed Reed, and, of course, Ray Lewis were all first-round picks that were plugged into vital roles as rookies and made huge impacts right away. Lewis made 95 tackles in his first 14 games. Reed notched five interceptions and one sack as a rookie. Though he only started one game, Suggs recorded 12 sacks his rookie season. Jamal Lewis rushed for 1,364 yards and six touchdowns in his first year as a Raven. At least three of the aforementioned players are future Hall of Famers. Two of them are still key cogs in Ravens' defense.
Newsome's genius extends beyond the first round of the draft, however. Several players that have become key contributors came from later rounds and needed a couple of years to develop before being heavily leaned on.
Lardarius Webb was a third-round pick in 2009 that served primarily as a kick and punter returner for his first two seasons. Though he made a bit of a name for himself as a rookie after returning a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, his breakout season came in his third year when he notched five interceptions, a sack, and a forced fumble. Paul Kruger carved out a niche for himself on the defense the same year with five and a half sacks and a fumble recovery after being selected a round before Webb two years prior.
Dennis Pitta, a fourth-round pick in 2010, had his best season last year when he hauled in 61 receptions for 669 yards and seven touchdowns. He also played a big role in the Ravens' historic postseason run with 21 receptions, 233 yards and four touchdowns. Arthur Jones, who was drafted the round after Pitta, had only 20 tackles under his belt before breaking out last season, getting 47 tackles, four and a half sacks, and a forced fumble. He, too, made several key plays in the road to Super Bowl XLVII, recovering two fumbles and sacking Colin Kaepernick for a six-yard loss.
There are six players currently on the roster going into their third season with the Ravens that could make similar leaps to greatness in 2013.
Tandon Doss is currently in the midst of a heated wide receiver battle with Jacoby Jones, Deonte Thompson, David Reed, and LaQuan Williams after spending his previous two seasons learning behind Anquan Boldin. The fourth-round pick from Indiana showed promise in limited action last season when he hauled in seven receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown. Whether he nabs the No. 2 or the No. 3 spot, he could be in store for a big year.
Jimmy Smith has a lot of potential. A first-round pick out of Colorado, he had a decent rookie season with two interceptions and 18 tackles. Last season was considerably less fruitful, however, as he struggled with injuries. He made a solid contribution to the Ravens' final defensive stand in Super Bowl XLVII, though, breaking up two touchdown pass attempts to Michael Crabtree. He is now battling with Corey Graham for the cornerback spot vacated by Cary Williams. Even if he is relegated to the No. 3 spot, he could still make a big impact on the Ravens' pass defense.
Pernell McPhee had a fantastic rookie season and looked like a fifth-round steal at first. Injuries greatly hampered the defensive lineman out of Mississippi State last season, though, decreasing his production from six sacks in 2011 to one and a half in 2012. He came up big in the playoffs, though, sacking Peyton Manning and deflecting two of Tom Brady's passes--one of which was intercepted by Dannell Ellerbe. He was moved to outside linebacker during the offseason and is set to serve primarily as a pass rusher behind Terrell Suggs. A healthier and trimmer McPhee could prove to be a strong supporting component to an already potent pass rush.
Chykie Brown, a fifth-round pick from Texas, hasn't made much noise in his first two seasons as a defensive back. He has only started three games out of the 26 he has played in, including the 2012 playoffs. He saw a lot of time on the field last season, however, and showed his willingness to get physical with receivers. He also broke up eight passes, including two in the playoffs. He has been having an impressive offseason thus far and is in a tight race with veteran Chris Johnson for the fourth spot on the depth chart. Standing out will be difficult behind Lardarius Webb, Corey Graham, and Jimmy Smith, but Brown could seize an opportunity if one of the aforementioned three goes down with an injury.
Albert McClellan, a Marshall alumnus who was signed to the Ravens as an undrafted free agent, made some ripples last season as a backup outside linebacker. He recorded 29 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries in 14 games (12 of which he started in). He isn't much of a pass rusher, but he is an aggressive tackler. Due to lack of depth, he is being moved to the inside, where he could excel.
Seeing as how the former undrafted free agent from Maryland is fourth on the depth chart after Deonte Thompson, Williams may be a bit of a long shot. He made four catches for 46 yards as a rookie, including two first-down grabs in the Ravens' last-second defeat of the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 9 of the 2011 season. He saw no action past the preseason in 2012, however, and was relegated solely to special teams. With Anquan Boldin gone and Dennis Pitta out for the season, the receiver corps is wide open, and Williams could get a chance to build a rapport with Joe Flacco to help the team he grew up rooting for win games.