There are certain positions where a large degree of risk is required in order to vastly improve. QB and WR come to mind. The list of busts at those positions is endless. There is an equally long list of players at those positions who performed admirably for one team and then proceeded to disappear for a different team. For front offices, it seems like sometimes it just comes down to luck.
For coaches, the mission is to produce with what the front office has provided. Chunks of yards, it is often said, is what the game of football revolves around. The team that breaks off more 20 to 30 yard plays in a game will dictate the flow. Those drives break defenses. You build an offense around players who create those plays, like Ray Rice and Torrey Smith. You build a defense around players that can prevent those plays, like Haloti Ngata, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, and Terrell Suggs. The same holds true for special teams.
Unlike the tricky positions like QB and WR, there are certain aspects of your game that you almost know without a doubt that you can improve during the offseason. You know for a fact that there is going to be more balance in the run game because we've drafted a player who is NFL-ready in Bernard Pierce who can give Ray Rice a rest in games where we really want to wear teams down. The two-headed monster will be back.
Likewise, we've added Corey Graham and Sean Considine and drafted a few guys who can be gunners like Christian Thompson and Asa Jackson. Sergio Kindle should definitely be motivated to contribute on special teams lest his career come to an end this season. And you already know that Brendon Ayanbadejo and LaQuan Williams are going to get the job done (provided LaQuan makes the team, which I think he will). So you know for a fact that you're going to cover kicks better.
Additionally, you've acquired two guys in Asa Jackson and Jacoby Jones who are return specialists. So you know you have a guy with KR experience in Jones who has very good career averages of yardage, and you know in Jackson you have a hungry young player who is going to bring athleticism and explosiveness to the punt return game, should he earn that privilege. So you know with near certainty that you're going to get more yards out of your returners.
This is not to downplay the importance of having solidified some question marks on the offensive line with Kelechi Osemele and Gino Gradkowski, but the loss of Ben Grubbs does make me stop short of saying we're going to improve on the Offensive Line in 2012. In 2013 I think we may really start to receive the dividends from this draft class on the Offensive Line. I do, however, feel pretty confident that either K.O. or Reid will be able to get the push needed to create running room for our ball carriers in 2012.
Taking all of this together, you basically are looking at a team that has generally improved its ability to get chunks of yards in multiple areas. Even more so if our young pass-catchers continue to improve and gel with Flacco. Obviously injuries can derail any of this progress, but I think that one should look at the 2012 Ravens as a team that will be much more consistent in the field position game and even more effective in the run game. That much is nearly certain.