The Baltimore Ravens’ offense has been evolving for several years now. Ever since John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco have been in town, the Ravens have been slowly building their offensive unit in a move to balance the whole team better. The Ravens have always been known for their defense, and in fact, defense is what one would mostly likely think of upon hearing the team’s name. In today’s NFL, rules and even many fans are in favor of offensive showdowns. Due to the increased emphasis on offensive geared football, the Ravens have been quick in recent years to add new targets for Flacco every year through the draft and free agency, as well as spending a lot of money investing in their offensive line.
Like I mentioned in the defensive portion of this two-parter, the Ravens have been one of the best franchises in the NFL at getting value out of almost each and every draft selection they make, and by doing so, allows them to build tremendous depth throughout their roster.
With the increased importance that offenses now play, the Ravens, maybe more than in years past, have been investing in their offenses future through the draft. 2008 brought the Ravens both Joe Flacco and Ray Rice. 2009 brought tackle, Michael Oher. In 2010, the Ravens selected tight ends, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, and last year the Ravens added: Torrey Smith, Jah Reid, Tandon Doss, Anthony Allen, and LaQuan Williams.
(So, who might be able to move up the depth chart for the up-coming season to become a difference maker? Follow along after the "Jump".)
Although there shouldn’t be too much turn over on the offensive side of the ball, there have already been some developments this off season that could shape the Ravens’ roster next season. Ricky Williams suddenly and un-expectedly retired, Matt Birk’s status for next season remains unclear, and the Ravens are making a strong push to retain Ben Grubbs.
Though the Ravens offense is still growing and coming into its own, there are still several strong candidates to move up the depth chart to become full time starters.
Running Back: Although Ray Rice’s contract situation is unclear, the Ravens are expected to either hammer out a new deal by March 13th, or use the franchise tag until a long-term solution can be finalized. While Rice’s contract drama continues to unfold, the Ravens are still left with other questions about their running backs unit, mainly: who will be Rice’s back-up in 2012. Over the years, the Ravens have sought out veteran talent from around the league, like: Ricky Williams, and Willis McGahee. It may appear that a trend has been developing in Baltimore where the Ravens would rather bring in outside talent rather than promoting from within their own ranks to fill out their running backs group, but maybe in 2012 all of that will change.
Potential back-ups for Ray Rice: Anthony Allen, Damien Berry
Anthony Allen: Last year’s 7th round pick, the 6-0 230 lbs Allen has yet to show much at the NFL level except for in a handful full of pre-season games in which he tallied: 11 carries/75 yards/6.8 yards-per-carry average/1 TD. Although Allen’s biggest criticism coming out of college was that he might not translate well from a triple option offense to a pro set, Allen’s frame and hard-nosed running style could be just what the Ravens are looking for. Allen isn’t the fastest guy on the field, but where he lacks top-end speed, he makes up for it with good power and initial burst, as well as good vision. Allen could become a great late round steal as the power back that the Ravens are always searching for.
Damien Berry: As an un-drafted free-agent in 2011, Berry is another sleeper on the Ravens’ roster to become a great role player behind Ray Rice. Listed at 6-0 215 lbs, while Berry was in college at the University of Miami, he preferred running through defenders instead of running around them. Berry could become a great power running back with a good off-season, but it will be imperative that he stay healthy as he has had some minor injuries in the past.
Verdict on next year’s back up running back: Right now, in my mind, it’s a bit of a toss up between Allen and Berry. I might give a slight edge to Allen based solely on the fact that he has seen some NFL action, no matter how little time it might have been. Both running backs fit the mold of what the Ravens are looking for in their back-up. Both of these young players could suit the team’s need for a short-yardage, north-south running back that can pick up the tough yards. Although the Ravens may take a look into the large pool of free agent running backs, I would suspect that they’ll evaluate both Allen and Berry very closely before making a splash and spending some cash on a skill set they may already have on their roster. Either way, this could be a fun off-season battle to watch as both of these young Ravens should duel it out for the right to back-up All-Pro Ray Rice.
Wide Receiver: This position is one that is widely debated among Ravens fans. Over the past several seasons, the Ravens have sought out free agent wide receivers on one or two year leases which haven’t always panned out. With Lee Evans’ status in question for next season, it is possible that the Ravens look toward a very loaded draft class to bolster their wide receivers unit. Although the Ravens may wish to build additional depth this year, there are a couple of young Ravens that could be poised to step-up and contribute behind starters, Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith.
Tandon Doss: The Ravens’ 2011 4th round draft choice, Doss was praised for his savvy route running and great hands coming out of college. Hand picked by quarterback Joe Flacco, Doss wasn’t utilized at all this season officially making no catches. Although understandably being buried on the depth chart, if Doss is as good as advertised he needs to see the field. The Ravens offense has struggled at times with short yardage situations, or instances in which they are faced with a tough 3rd down in which the desperately need to convert or otherwise face stalling on the drive altogether. While Baltimore’s offense calls for a deep, vertical passing game, Doss should be utilized in order to move the chains working underneath routes and making the tough catches. For a team that struggled with drops all season long, Doss may have been able to provide a sure-handed, reliable target for Flacco.
LaQuan Williams: Another 2011 un-drafted free agent, Williams is an interesting prospect. He has shown flashes of becoming a solid wide-out, but where he shines brightest is on special teams as one of the Ravens’ best gunners during kick coverage’s. Williams is a raw talent that could perhaps improve with time and off-season training. Where Williams may lack in pure receiving skills, he makes up for it by being very versatile. Williams could also be a candidate to become a kick and/or punt returner for next season. LaQuan posted: 4 catches/46 yards/11.5 yards-per-catch average in 2011, but also fumbled twice. A full off-season to work on technique and ball security could turn Williams into a solid all-around football player.
Verdict on Wide Receiver: Should the Ravens not rely on free agency for another veteran wide-out, look for the team to make a move in this years draft to find someone who maybe fits the current offense run in Baltimore. For the time being, Tandon Doss gets my vote to become at least a steady contributor, if not a full-time starter. If Doss can play to his strengths and make the tough catches and show off his sticky hands in training camp, he should earn himself some playing time. With the current group of receivers, the Ravens could really use a sure-handed, go-to-guy that Flacco can rely on. Doss may be able to provide that.
To keep this post a bit shorter, I’m going to add a couple quick things to my list of guys who can step-up next year:
Dennis Pitta should be able to cement himself as the #1 tight end for the Ravens. Although it may go against the grain of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s system, Pitta has amazing hands and is physical enough to win one-on-one matchups against linebackers and safeties in the middle of the field. Although his counter-part, Ed Dickson, is faster and more athletic, Pitta could become a huge asset to Joe Flacco as his potential go-to receiver.
On the offensive line, Jah Reid is raw but a physically gifted, talented young tackle. Reid is 6-7 327 lbs and looks to be the future at right tackle for the Ravens. Although he may be on the depth chart behind Michael Oher, it is comforting to know that Reid is waiting in the wings to get his chance.
The Ravens have a lot of great talent on offense heading into next season. I truly believe with time to work, time to meld together, and the young players getting a full offseason, that this could be a great year for the Ravens’ offense.
Who do you think is ready to step-up and become a full time starter? Let me know in the comments section below!
Before wrapping up, I wanted to add my apologies for missing Friday’s post and I’d also like to add my thanks to Bruce and lastcallbmore for picking up my slack. My family welcomed a new addition on Thursday in the form of a beautiful baby boy who I will have the privilege to call my baby brother. While he is an addition to my family, he is also a new addition to the family that we all call Ravens Nation!