CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 4: Punt returner Lardarius Webb #21 of the Baltimore Ravens returns a punt for a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium on December 4, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Ravens debated the Browns 24-10. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
As Ravens fans we have been spoiled by great drafting and tremendous in house player evaluation over the years. One of the best things about it is that each year we have exciting new players to look forward to. It's so much fun to watch guys develop that you have watched since draft day.
Sometimes you can tell if a player has that "it" factor immediately, you get a glimpse of something in them as a rookie and it leaves you wanting more. You find yourself wondering just how high their ceiling may be. Have we seen the best of them already or is there much more to come?
Other players need to adjust gradually to the NFL. Whether it's a mental thing, a weight issue or they are not up to the game speed at this level yet, they just need some time to acclimate. That is not to say these players are not as good or exciting as the first year play-makers. Many of the best players in the NFL came to speed gradually and are better now for it.
As a rookie going to the right team can be the difference of a successful career and millions of dollars or a career ending injury from being put into a situation too soon.
For NFL teams the situation can be just as dangerous In many cases a teams decision to bring a player along to quickly can ruin his career before it even starts. Or, in other cases, a team could lose valuable years of playoff contention while holding back a player that can help them win.
Baltimore has done an amazing job in this complicated area of late. The Ravens take a different approach with each of their players as most teams should. Just over the past few years we have seen them bring players along according to how they translate their development in practice. Joe Flacco was thrown right into the fire. Sure it was because of an illness to Troy Smith but I doubt they would have let Flacco make that first start if they thought it could be in any way detrimental to his development. Ray Rice, however spent time platooning with Le'Ron McClain and Willis McGahee before he was given the starting nod.
Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta were drafted the same year one round apart by the Ravens. Both have been brought up to speed at similar paces but the team showed a slight favor to Dickson and he was named starter when Todd Heap left. Dickson showed some flashes of play-making ability in the few chances he was given as a rookie and he seemed ready to play in the NFL. Pitta, on the other hand barely saw the field as a rookie as the team brought him along at a more gradual pace. Now, both having had their time on the field, Pitta may have separated himself with his play on the field and perhaps put himself ahead in the competition. It will be very interesting to see how Dickson bounces back in 2012.
Just this past season we have some great examples of how well the Ravens understand the talent they have in their organization and how well they manage it. They had two players, Pernell McPhee and Paul Kruger, that they were asking to play a similar role. Kruger has been with the team for years now and his hard work and perseverance showed this season. He finally showed the fans what it is that the team saw in him when they drafted him in the third round. McPhee on the other hand was drafted in the fifth round just this past year but was just as successful as Kruger this season. In fact, I'm pretty sure he may have had more playing time than his veteran counterpart.
Still it is impossible to tell which will have the better season in 2012 or career overall. The one thing we can see is that the team does a great job at getting to know their players and understanding where they are in their development. For every Torrey Smith that bursts onto the scene there is a Lardarius Webb working his way up the ranks to greatness. It may take him a bit longer to get there but he could go farther than anyone expected.
As I said at the beginning, we are spoiled to have a team that excels in this area. Knowing the players they draft and assessing their development may be the secret to Baltimore's' overly successful drafting.There are always great talents drafted early to teams in disarray that never live up to their potential. Sometimes these players will catch on with another team somewhere down the road and finally play to potential they were drafted for. That team, usually the Ravens by the way. Right Cory Redding?