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2011 Team Report: Baltimore Ravens

Quarterbacks

Starter: Joe Flacco
Backup(s): Hunter Cantwell, Tyrod Taylor

Starting QB: Joe Flacco is the unquestioned starter for the Ravens, but the real issues for the Baltimore passing game revolve around the receiving options in Baltimore. Both Derrick Mason (released, signed with the Jets) and TE Todd Heap (released, signed with Arizona) are gone, leaving only Anquan Boldin as the top target for Flacco outside of RB Ray Rice. The Ravens lost out on getting Malcom Floyd to start opposite of Boldin, so they must rely on rookie Torrey Smith to step up and fill the WR2 spot for Baltimore. The issues last year for the Ravens were mostly about the ability for someone to stretch the defense and force teams to not crowd the first 10-15 yards from the line of scrimmage, so Smith will be asked to use his elite speed to go deep at least a few times each game. Fellow rookie Tandon Doss has impressed in August practices, and Flacco singled him out as a draft target back in April. Doss projects as no more than a slot receiver, however, and without veteran Todd Heap at tight end Joe Flacco will once again have to rely on Ray Rice out of the backfield for a short passing attack.

Backup QB: With last year's backup Marc Bulger opting for retirement, Baltimore is a bit thin behind starter Joe Flacco. Tyrod Taylor, a late round draft pick from Virginia Tech, is an athletic prospect with upside but is far from being NFL ready. Should an injury strike Flacco this season and force the Ravens to go with a backup option, Baltimore would be in big trouble. They are still looking for viable veterans as a legitimate QB2, but until then Hunter Cantwell will tentatively hold down the job. Cantwell has been on and off the practice squads of both the Ravens and the Panthers, so that is about all you need to know as to his real value.

Running Backs

Starter: Ray Rice
Backup(s): Ricky Williams, Jalen Parmele, Anthony Allen, Damien Barry, Matt Lawrence, Walter Sander
Fullback(s): Vonta Leach

Starting RB: Ray Rice gained quite a bit of fantasy value by the subtractions of Willis McGahee and LeRon McClain from the Ravens roster since last year. Rice is now the featured rusher by a wide margin, since McGahee often vultured goal line touches (and touchdowns) away from Rice. McClain was also a threat for fantasy value, but with his departure to Kansas City (and the addition of Vonta Leach at fullback) Rice stands to see a ton of work this year. Even Rice's activity in the passing game is probably going to see a boost thanks to Todd Heap also leaving (and Derrick Mason as well). Rice is often the recipient of many short passes from QB Joe Flacco, and without a reliable tight end or short yardage wideout in the lineup Rice will see even more chances this year.

Backup RBs: With Willis McGahee gone to Denver, the void at RB2 was clear to Baltimore. They searched for a veteran to add ahead of Jalen Parmele as Ray Rice insurance until they found Ricky Williams, a strong backup for Rice that has both rushing and receiving skills out of the backfield. It remains to be seen if Williams will get as many touches as McGahee saw last year, but in the event of an injury to Rice then Baltimore at least has a former featured rusher to fall back on with Williams. Parmele had been the direct understudy to Rice and the coaching staff has loved him for years, but it is pretty clear that he is several rungs down in ability from Rice and that a better backup was needed. Anthony Allen is a late round addition this year with some upside, but no clear path for touches any time soon.

Fullback: LeRon McClain is now gone (cut, signed with the Chiefs) but as far as pure blocking fullbacks, it is hard to say that Baltimore will suffer any great loss at the position thanks to adding Vonta Leach. Leach helped Arian Foster become a top rusher last year as Leach led the way on numerous rushing plays and helped to open up holes as a Texan last season. Do not expect much as far as fantasy value for Leach, but Rice will definitely benefit from his presence in the backfield.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Anquan Boldin, Lee Evans
Backups: Torrey Smith, James Hardy, Tandon Doss, David Reed, Marcus Smith, Laquan Williams, Rodney Bradley

Starting WRs: Anquan Boldin returns as the starter again for 2011 in Baltimore, but his partner in the lineup from last season is now gone. Derrick Mason was released after the lockout and then chose not to re-sign with Baltimore, opting instead to become the WR3 for the Jets. That leaves a big hole on the other side of Boldin, but it could prove to be a blessing in disguise for the Ravens. Baltimore struggled to stretch defenses last year with both Boldin and Mason in the lineup, two possession and short yardage guys who lack elite speed to go deep and pressure defensive secondaries. Lee Evans has that extra burst and elite speed, making him an excellent addition that should open up room for Anquan Boldin to roam.

Backup WRs: While Torrey Smith is likely to get a starting role outside in the future after the team spent a second-round pick on him, Tandon Doss appears as the most likely heir apparent at slot receiver and possession target for Baltimore. Hand picked by Joe Flacco during the 2011 NFL Draft, Doss caught everyone's eyes with his hands and route running at Indiana last year. Smith had a strong open to camp and was running as a starter, but the team decided they wanted a veteran presence at the position and added Lee Evans in a trade with Buffalo. James Hardy projects now as the WR5 for Baltimore and (Doss would be the WR4), that is if he can stay healthy.

Tight Ends

Starters: Ed Dickson, Dennis Pitta
Backups: Kris Wilson, Jonathan Stupar, Davon Drew, Chris Walker

Veteran Todd Heap was released right after the lockout and then signed with Arizona, leaving the job as a positional battle between 2010 draft picks Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. Both second year tight ends have positives and negatives with each of their games, as Dickson looks to be the better blocker and in-line tight end while Pitta is a better receiver on short and intermediate routes. These two will battle all camp to become a favorite target over the middle for Joe Flacco. Baltimore added veteran journeymen Kris Wilson and Jonathan Stupar for depth, but the odds are against them to be anything more than the thi

Place Kicker

Billy Cundiff : The Ravens are set at kicker, where Billy Cundiff emerged as a Pro Bowler last year and was secured to a long term contract. According to beat writer Dan Kolko the other day, "Billy Cundiff nails a 58-yarder with Terrell Suggs talking trash in his ear. Cundiff's been on fire this camp." The Ravens have no question at punter and holder, roles both handled by Sam Koch. Long snapper Morgan Cox, who suffered a torn ACL last December, isn't practicing yet and remains on the PUP list, although he has been getting reps after practice. Currently handling the snapping is undrafted rookie Patrick Scales out of Utah State. After two straight years in the top ten, the Ravens slipped to 16th in attempted kicker scoring last year.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: David Reed, Jalen Parmele, Tandon Doss, Damien Berry

Punt Returners: Lardarius Webb, Chris Carr, Tom Zbikowski

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg recently discussed the starting punt returner, "Lardarius Webb finished the season as our punt returner and he was a very explosive returner for us. If you recall when he took over, things changed, including the dynamic return in the playoff game that he scored on. So Lardarius is taking our returns right now as our No. 1 guy, but we're always looking for returners; that never changes... This year is no different, but Lardarius is definitely our lead guy as far as punt returner at this point in time." WR David Reed, currently on the PUP list, is expected to resume the starting kickoff returner role when healthy. In the interim Webb, rookie Tandon Doss and rookie Damien Berry have been working on kickoffs, and RB Jalen Parmele is another possibility.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Michael Oher, LG Ben Grubbs, C Casey Rabach, RG Marshal Yanda, RT Oniel Cousins
Key Backups: Jah Reed, Tony Moll, Matt Birk

The defensive line was anchored by nose tackle Kelly Gregg controlling the middle and allowing Ray Lewis and the other second-level players to make plays. With Gregg gone to Kansas City in free agency, second-year player Terrence Cody will have to step up. Having line-mates like Haloti Ngata and Cory Redding will help. Ngata is a dominant force and will be the most important player on this defense. In the second level, Lewis still gets all of the acclaim, and his leadership skills can't be questioned. The others on the team respond to him above any other player. Leadership, however, isn't equal to skill. And Lewis' skills are in decline. The outside linebackers are solid with Jarret Johnson and Terrell Suggs. Johnson is a good all-around linebacker but doesn't accumulate big stats. Suggs is best known for being a speed rusher who puts a lot of pressure on opposing QBs and offenses. His pass rushing abilities help the relatively weak Ravens secondary by shortening the time they have to cover opposing receivers. The secondary will feature first-round pick Jimmy Smith out of Colorado at cornerback. He's currently #1 on the depth chart at right corner -- something that speaks to the team's uncertainty at corner. The safeties -- despite the age of Ed Reed -- are playmakers. Reed still scares opposing offenses and is a threat to throw a crazy lateral that might actually lead to a defensive touchdown.

Team Defense

Defensive Line

Starters: DT/DE Haloti Ngata, DT/NT Terrence Cody, DE Cory Redding, DE/OLB Terrell Suggs
Backups: DE Paul Kruger, DE Arthur Jones, DT Brandon McKinney, DT/DE Brendon Ayanbedejo

Starting DL: Baltimore runs a hybrid scheme that shifts often between a 3-4 and 4-3 alignment. As such it makes breaking down the positions a little tedious. When the club is in a 3-4 we will likely see a lot of Terrence Cody at the NT position with Haloti Ngata and Cory Redding at the ends. When a 4-3 is called Ngata and Cody will usually shift to tackle with Terrell Suggs and Redding at the ends. The Ravens have assembled a group of very versatile players that allows them a lot of alignment options. The two guys who benefit most in the box score are Suggs and Ngata. They are also the two who create the grayest area when it comes to positional designation. We classify Suggs as a defensive end because he consistently lines up there on nearly 60% of the snaps each year. Likewise, Ngata sees the majority of his snaps at tackle. Year in and year out the Ravens front line is the base for the success of their defense. This season will be no different.

Backup DL: With all the versatility among the starters it would take at least a couple of injuries for any of the so called backups to get any significant playing time. 2009 second round pick Paul Kruger is probably the only one on this list with any real shot at someday breaking the lineup. Don't mistake this for a lack of depth though.Iif someone goes down it just means more snaps for one of the guys already seeing time in the sub packages.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB/MLB Ray Lewis, ILB/WLB Jameel McClain, OLB/DE Terrell Suggs, OLB/SLB Jarrett Johnson
Backups: ILB Tavares Gooden, ILB Dannell Ellerbe, OLB Sergio Kindle, ILB Presscott Burgess

Starting LBs: Ray Lewis is the unquestioned leader and the face of the Ravens defense. At age 36 he is playing with the same intensity he brought to the field ten years ago and with virtually the same box score results. There was a point when everyone thought age and injuries had caught up with him but Lewis has now played in 48 consecutive games. He's finished among the top twelve seven times in the past eight years, including a top five finish in 2010. The wheels have to stop turning at some point but there is no reason to believe that will happen this year. The Ravens have had three different players start games alongside Lewis over the past few years and seem to have finally settled on Jameel McClain. That said, the way they shift alignments and move guys around, McClain is far from an every down player. As a defensive end Terrell Suggs puts up great numbers. Those same number in relation to a linebacker have much less value. Jarrett Johnson is a big part of the Ravens overall success but his contributions often go un-rewarded in

Backup LBs: The Ravens have to be thinking about an heir to Ray Lewis but none of their current crop of young players has grabbed the spotlight. Both Tavares Gooden and Dannell Ellerbe have been given an opportunity to get on the field over the past three seasons and both have made a good showing. The competition for the ILB position opposite Lewis is never closed and all of the contenders seem to have their niche in the game plan on any given week. Of all the current backups, Sergio Kindle may be the most likely to have an impact. He has recovered from the horrible accident that threatened his career and has been impressive since returning. If he continues to do so the coaching staff will find a way to get him on the field.

Defensive Backs

Starters: Ladarius Webb, CB Jimmy Smith FS Ed Reed, SS Bernard Pollard
Backups: Dominique Foxworth, CB Chris Carr, SS Tom Zbikowski, S Haruki Nakamura

Starting DBs: Historically the Baltimore secondary has hardly been a gold mine of box score production. That seemed to change a bit last season when Dawan Landry broke out for 86 solo tackles. Landry has moved on to Jacksonville but his replacement Bernard Pollard should pick up right where Landry left off. At 225 pounds Pollard is like having another linebacker on the field. He has posted at least 74 solo stops in each of the past four seasons and has broken 80 in each of the last two. With 5 picks, 5 forced fumbles and 6 recoveries over the past three seasons, Pollard should contribute in the big play columns for the Ravens as well. Pollard may not be the only IDP option to come from this unit in 2011. The Ravens used a first round pick on corner Jimmy Smith who will contend for a starting job going into the season. Anytime a rookie starts at corner in the NFL he is targeted by offenses and very often has an accelerated percentage of opportunity. Ed Reed is one of the best big play safeties ever to strap on a helmet but he simply does not make enough tackles to be a serious fantasy factor in most leagues.

Backup DBs: The Ravens are not lacking for depth in the secondary. Chris Carr will contend with Jimmy Smith for a starting job and Dominique Foxworth is a very capable veteran corner. Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura are both players the organization has drafted to groom for starting jobs. They are not Ed Reed types but are capable players if called upon.

Last modified: 2011-08-26 09:19:52

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