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Baltimore Ravens need more from their 2015 draft class

Sabina Moran/Press Box

Return on investment from the Baltimore Ravens 2015 draft class has been minimal so far. Judging by what the second-year players have shown in the preseason, the 2015 crop may not be ready to contribute very much to the 2016 team. In order to emerge as a playoff team from a crowded AFC field, the Ravens chances could hinge on the development of these young players.

The number of starters and contributors from a given draft class is the general measuring stick.Two starters and two role players constitute a strong draft. Of course, the second year players have time to climb the depth chart before their rookie contracts expire. But the nine players drafted in 2015 have not produced any projected starters yet, and only two players in the projected two-deep.

Outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith has made the biggest impact to this point. Smith racked up five and a half sacks last season and created a strip-sack in the first preseason game this summer. He should give the Ravens an effective backup to Terrell Suggs this coming season, and has future starting potential. Smith is ahead of the curve for a fourth round selection.

Third round pick Carl Davis is still adjusting to the NFL game. Davis did not make much of an impact during his rookie season and is currently listed as the backup nose tackle behind Brandon Williams. Undrafted rookie Michael Pierce is pushing Davis in training camp. Pierce has been a better anchor against the run and shown more pocket collapsing ability than Davis, albeit against lesser preseason competition. The Ravens don't need Davis to emerge as a major difference maker this season, but if he can spell Williams and Timmy Jernigan on the interior, while also strengthening the run defense by taking some snaps away from Lawrence Guy at defensive end, he will be a valuable player next season. Consistency is the key for Davis, the Ravens don't need gaudy stats from him, just another dependable option against the run.

Javorius "Buck" Allen had a solid rookie year with nearly 900 total yards. However, he has likely been passed on the running back depth chart by grinder Terrance West and exciting rookie Kenneth Dixon, once Dixon returns from injury. The production Allen provides in 2016 will not make or break the Ravens since their backfield is a loaded position group. Still, the former fourth rounder must carve out a niche this season, possibly as the receiving back for shotgun formations, or face losing his roster spot next offseason.

In the late rounds of the 2015 draft, the Ravens selected corner Tray Walker, who tragically passed away earlier this offseason and guard Robert Myers, who did not make the team last year. The Ravens also grabbed two tight ends, Nick Boyle and Darren Waller, both of whom will be suspended at the start the season. Boyle and Waller may not have future starting ability, but each have special teams potential and should develop into complimentary players down the road.

Maxx Williams was regarded as the best tight end in the 2015 draft class and the Ravens traded up in the second round to land him. Williams ended up starting seven games in his rookie season, grabbing 32 receptions and a touchdown. However, the Ravens decision to sign veteran tight end Ben Watson with Crockett Gillmore already in the fold indicates the Ravens did not believe Williams was ready for a starring role in 2016. Williams has not practiced for the last couple weeks due to an undisclosed injury and is not expected to see the field until after the preseason finale. Dennis Pitta has returned to the team and will likely be sandwiched between Gillmore and Williams on the regular season depth chart. Even if Williams is the third tight end on the team, he can still make an impact by stretching the field. If Williams can become a consistent vertical threat, he would make the Ravens offense considerably more dangerous.

Finally, 2015 first round pick Breshad Perriman is expected to play his first professional snap in Thursday's preseason finale after dealing with multiple unfortunate knee injuries up to this point in his career. A big season from Perriman is not necessary since this Ravens roster features multiple capable receivers. Still, Perriman brings a rare combination of size and speed that is unmatched on the team. Five to ten chunk plays from Perriman over the course of the season would certainly help the Ravens chances.

These early returns are not an indictment on the Ravens front office, it is way too early to judge the draft class and many setbacks have been out of their control. It appears they hit on Smith while Allen and Williams contributed last year. Nevertheless, injuries are inevitable, they will need some of these players to take the next step in their development this season.

In the highly competitive AFC North division and AFC conference as a whole, the margin for error is slim. Hopefully Maxx Williams and Carl Davis are up to the task of fulfilling their early round promise in their second seasons. The Ravens will likely need contributions from them at some point in 2016.