With OTAs wrapped up and mandatory minicamp coming up next week, I got to thinking about which players were the most important to the Ravens this season. These aren't just players that are needed because of their on-field success, but because of their veteran leadership and what it means if they aren't playing. A tough list with so many stars, but one I compiled none the less.
Quarterback Joe Flacco
The Ravens were nothing before quarterback Joe Flacco came to town in 2008. After his selection in the first round of that NFL Draft, the Ravens have had continued success like few other teams, and that is all on Flacco. Some of his detractors point to his middling regular season stats, but it is his post season record that makes Flacco so indispensable for the Ravens. Few other quarterbacks in the league can do what Flacco does in January and without him, the Ravens don't hoist up their second Lombardi Trophy.
Wide Receiver Steve Smith
The man is short and old, but he put up over 1,000 yards last season for the Ravens and quickly became one of Joe Flacco's most trusted weapons in the passing game. With wide receiver Torrey Smith gone, the Ravens need a veteran out there every week in practice and in games to keep the young guns in the game and developing. Steve Smith is even more important in 2015 than he was in 2014 and is a player the Ravens couldnt afford to lose.
Cornerback Jimmy Smith
We saw it last season with Smith on injured reserve. The entire team fell apart with the loss of Smith and never returned to the same level of play in the secondary afterwards. With Jimmy Smith on the field, the Ravens project to be Super Bowl contenders. Without Smith on the field, the Ravens hope to get into the playoffs and surprise someone.
Running back Justin Forsett
Last year, Forsett was only expected to be a replacement for starter Ray Rice during his two game suspension. Then he was expected to be the number two behind Bernard Pierce. By the midway mark of the season, Forsett made his case for being the unquestioned starter for the remainder of the year while the rest of the backs continued to falter their ever-dwindling chances. Entering the 2015 season, Forsett looks even better while the Ravens are still trying to figure out who is next up behind him. Without Forsett, the Ravens aren't nearly as scary on the ground and are definitely not as proven. That ends up making them far more one dimensional and could screw up the entire season.
Offensive Guard Marshall Yanda
The Ravens need their offensive line to be complete and without Yanda, the line would be in shambles. Baltimore as Pro Bowl talent all across the line, but a lot of that is because of the work Yanda puts in; he just makes that entire line better. Without Yanda in the lineup, center Jeremy Zuttah doesnt look so good and right tackle Ricky Wagner maybe slips a little in his play. With half of the offensive line now not playing as well, the Ravens can't rush the ball as well and quarterback Joe Flacco is getting peppered by defenses all day long. Yanda is the guy that makes Forsett and Flacco so indispensable.