FanPost

Rethinking the depth chart

It's been a crazy year for the Ravens' depth chart. Studs like Webb and Lewis got injured, while studs like Suggs magically reappeared (although might be injured again now). Imagine a Week 17 roster where players who are recovering (Lewis, Smith) have made it back to pre-injury form and no unexpected injuries happen before then. What should that depth chart look like? Here's my take, and it's a little different than what the coaches say now. I don't think that this is how the Week 17 depth chart will actually look, but if I had my way then it would.

First off, the depth chart as it stands today (going down just to the level of people who might actually play -- i.e., no Bajema or Harewood types):

OFFENSE

WR: Boldin, Smith, Jones, Doss
OL: Oher/McKinnie, Reid/Williams, Birk/Gradkowski, Yanda/Reid, Osemele/Oher
TE: Pitta, Dickson
QB: Flacco, Taylor
RB: Rice, Pierce
FB: Leach

DEFENSE

DL: Jones/McPhee, Kemo/Cody, Ngata/Hall
OLB: Suggs/Upshaw, Kruger/McClellan
ILB: Ellerbe/Ayanbadejo, McClain/Bynes
CB: Williams, Graham, Brown, Johnson
FS: Reed, Considine
SS: Pollard, Ihedigbo

Note how little that looks like what you would have expected the day before preseason started. The WRs are basically right, and no surprises in Birk, Yanda, the QBs, RBs, and Leach, but did anyone expect that O-line to result? Or to see Suggs actually be here? Or to be forced to call Cary Williams our best CB?

Now for my Week 17 depth chart, I'll be adding back in Jimmy Smith and Ray Lewis. Having McPhee at full strength will also probably put him back ahead of Jones on the depth chart (Jones got the start this week, as far as I could tell, but McPhee will probably be starting next week). Here's where I think the coaches are getting it wrong:

OFFENSE

The official depth chart is bang-on at the skill positions. My only wish there is that they'd actually use Rice, with Leach in, and play Jacoby Jones more whenever Leach is out. But that's not a depth chart thing.

At the O-line, though, there's a lot of work to be done. Oher has been very poor at LT. I don't have numbers for it (I'm not sure anyone tracks that sort of thing), but I think Filmstudy's posts back me up on this one. Simply put, McKinnie is the better player there. Given that his bonus is now 100% off the table, we should think about actually using him. He's going to become a UFA and is looking for money (he sure needs it), so we might even get better than his usual level. Even if we don't, though, he's a step up over Oher. Once that change happens, there's a great trickle-down effect. KO has been decent at run blocking and terrible at pass blocking at RT; Oher is a better RT than him. If Oher moves to RT, KO can move to LG, where he'll have an easier time with the pass and can still contribute to the run. I think that makes him a pretty clear choice for me over Reid, who's been average. KO showed flashes of really great ability at guard in the preseason before they moved him.

So my Week 17 offense depth chart is the same as the official one now, except for the line:
OL: McKinnie, Osemele, Birk, Yanda, Oher

DEFENSE

The D-line has been weak. Part of that has been Terrence Cody, who (justifiably) lost his starting job to Kemoeatu, a guy who was brought in to be a passable backup (and, for the most part, has played like one). The rest has been McPhee. After showing huge potential his rookie season, he's slumped this year. I don't think that means he'll never be good, but I do think it means that demoting him would be not only justified but also might help motivate him to play a little better and take it back.

OLBs: This is a huge mystery. Will Suggs be playing in Week 17? It depends on the scope of his injury from yesterday. That factor will make all the difference. If Suggs is in, I keep Kruger opposite him as a pass rush specialist. Kruger isn't that good as an every-down OLB but has the athleticism to beat the 1-on-1 matchups he gets when teams are double-teaming Suggs. Behind them, I'd use Upshaw as the primary backup for Suggs and McClellan as the running downs match for Kruger.

On the other hand, if Suggs is out, the whole thing gets reversed. The first 6 games this year showed us that Kruger can't do much when Suggs isn't around to provide a distraction. At this point, I'd start Upshaw and McClellan. Upshaw is solid against the run and McClellan is probably our best all-around OLB who isn't named Terrell. Kruger could come in to spell McClellan, especially for passing downs, but I'd probably think about looking for a free agent or someone on the practice squad before making him the primary backup.

ILBs: The big story here is that McClain has hugely underperformed. He stepped up great last year when Ray was injured and was rewarded with a hefty contract. But this year, he hasn't played nearly as well as he did last season. He does next to nothing against the pass and gets beaten too often against the run, as evidenced by the fact that he's barely got more tackles in 12 games than Ray Lewis, age 37, managed to put together in 6. Think that over for a minute. Twice as many games. Only 14 more tackles. On the other hand, Ellerbe has been a big standout and is easily our best all-around ILB this year. Ayanbadejo has also seen some time in the middle on passing downs, and has generally performed well there. Josh Bynes has been in as McClain's backup and hasn't done much good or bad. When Ray Lewis gets back, I think it will make sense to start him for running downs but take him out against passes, where he has trouble keeping up. I know it's basically sacrilege to say, but Lewis's days as an every down linebacker are over. Instead, let him do the runs, while BA handles the passes. Meanwhile, Ellerbe can play next to them almost every down, and McClain and Bynes can serve as backups.

CBs: We haven't seen much of Chris Johnson yet, but his one game so far was very impressive. If he keeps that up, I think he'll easily move past Chykie Brown on the depth chart. Brown has been serviceable but not particularly good. Jimmy Smith still has a lot to do mentally but he's the most physically talented CB we have right now. And while I hate Williams, the fact is, we really don't have anybody better right now. So this ranking depends partly on projecting Johnson, and for our purposes here I'll assume he continues to play as well as he did in his first game, but with that assumption I actually think that he can leapfrog all the way to the #2 space, with Smith as the nickle back. That relegates Corey Graham to dime, which is unfortunate because he's played very well too. Once Smith gets healthy, I see this as our most crowded position group, where individual good or bad weeks can really impact the depth chart, at least for me, even late in the season.

Safeties: Reed might have lost a step, but if the other choice is Considine, I'll take Reed any day.

So, for my Week 17 defense:

DL: Jones/McPhee, Kemo/Cody, Ngata/Hall
OLB: Suggs/Upshaw, Kruger/McClellan; OR, Upshaw/[Practice Squad?], McClellan/Kruger
ILB: Ellerbe/McClain/Bynes, Lewis/Ayanbadejo
CB: Williams, Johnson, Smith, Graham, Brown (but I'm willing to reconsider)
FS: Reed, Considine
SS: Pollard, Ihedigbo

What's your Week 17 depth chart?

The opinions posted here are those of the administrator of this blog and his loyal readers. They are in no way official comments from the team, and should not be misconstued as such, even though he thinks he could do just as well or even a better job!

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