Most Ravens fans are very excited about the Ravens 11 player 2016 draft crop. While the rookies-to-be are very talented, it usually takes most players a year in the league to develop into consistent impact performers. The five young veterans below are more likely to breakout and power the 2016 Ravens back into the playoffs.
1. Za'Darius Smith, outside linebacker
The 2015 4th round pick came on strong at the end of the last season. After sporadic playing time to begin his rookie season, Smith produced three and a half sacks over the final three games of the season. In total, Smith generated nine quarterback pressures and 21 tackles. At more than 270 pounds, Smith has the strength to set the edge against the run and the versatility to line up on the defensive line in passing situations. With Terrell Suggs returning from his second Achilles tear that could sap some of his explosion, Smith has a great opportunity to rotate with Suggs and pile up sacks.
2. Will Davis, cornerback
After acquiring Davis from the Miami Dolphins via a midseason trade in exchange for a 7th round draft pick, the curse of the Ravens cornerbacks claimed another victim when Davis tore his ACL in his second game with the team. In his brief time on the field for the Ravens, Davis was quite impressive, showing capable coverage ability, physicality, ball awareness and closing speed. At this point, Davis appears to be third in line at outside cornerback behind Jimmy Smith and Shareece Wright. A strong preseason after extensive injury rehab could put Davis in position for an early playing time, bringing some needed playmaking ability to the secondary.
3. Maxx Williams, tight end
Williams is another player who took advantage of playing time down the stretch of his rookie season in 2015. Over the final three games last season, Maxx had 13 catches on 21 targets from passes thrown by the backup quarterbacks. Tight end may be the deepest position on the roster in 2016, but the Ravens like utilizing two tight end sets. Ben Watson and Crockett Gillmore should serve as traditional two-way tight ends, leaving Williams and Dennis Pitta to work as the pass catching 'move' tight end. With multiple legitimate vertical threats on the outside, Williams is poised to produce some chunk plays on seam routes in the middle of the field.
4. Jeremy Butler, wide receiver
After earning a reputation as 'practice Jordan' for making highlight plays in OTAs and training camp for two seasons, Butler finally had a chance to show what he could do when the games count after injuries at wide receiver gave him an opportunity to play in 2015. Over the last seven games of the season, Butler exceeded expectations by accumulating 30 catches for 342 yards. Butler has good size, sure hands and unexpected elusiveness after the catch. Right now, Butler has not assured a roster spot in a crowded competition at wide receiver. But his continued development could help him follow Kamar Aiken's path as a breakout playmaking receiver.
5. Arthur Brown, inside linebacker
Since the Ravens traded up in the second round of the 2013 draft, Brown has been a disappointing player. He has shown flashes of quality pass coverage and blitzing ability in the preseason, but has never found his stride in the regular season. After last season's bye week, Brown earned a bit of playing time in the nickel package. Now entering the final season of his rookie contract, the opportunity to live up to his potential is directly in front of him.
The Ravens released aging inside linebacker Daryl Smith and did not address the position in free agency or the draft, which could be viewed as a vote of confidence for Brown. Zach Orr is Brown's main competition for the inside linebacker spot next to C.J. Mosley. A run/pass platoon between Orr and Brown could be the ideal combination if Brown can fulfill his promise as a coverage linebacker specialist.