Ever since the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl during the 2012 season, the team has tried to get younger. With legends like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed walking out the door via retirement and free agency respectively, Anquan Boldin being traded, and the best defensive lineman in Ravens franchise history in Haloti Ngata being traded as well to name a few, the team has tried to move in a younger direction.
But since winning the Super Bowl during the 2012 season, the Ravens have had mixed results. In 2013, the Ravens finished 8-8, in 2014 the Ravens finished 11-7 and and in 2015 the Ravens finished 5-11. The mixed results have brought some questions into light as to whether or not the Ravens rushed to get younger too quickly.
But with the 2016 draft class ready to prove its worth, the Ravens may have finally hit on a class that could very well set the team up nicely for the next four or five years.
Along the left side of the Ravens offensive line, rookies in left tackle Ronnie Stanley and left guard Alex Lewis are the starters. Having two rookies start on the left side of the offensive line to protect franchise quarterback Joe Flacco is not something that should be ignored.
Not only is Flacco currently among the highest paid players in NFL history, he is also coming off of a torn ACL and MCL and he will have two rookies who never played a meaningful game on the NFL level blocking for him in an area that is pretty much Flacco’s blind spot.
Is that crazy? No, according to Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, he has plenty of confidence that the rookies can do the job. After all, they wouldn’t be starting if that wasn’t the case. Harbaugh, in his nine seasons as the head coach of the Ravens, has never really been a guy who likes to start young players too often right off of the bat. So for Harbaugh to have the confidence he has in Stanley and Lewis to protect Flacco speaks volumes to their talent.
At running back, this position might be the strongest on the team and possibly the most promising as Terrance West, Buck Allen and Kenneth Dixon all have three years of experience or less in the NFL. It is good young group of backs who can also fill in any event that Pro Bowl running back Justin Forsett is not available.
At wide receiver, the Ravens are positioned nicely for the first time in franchise history. With veteran wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. possibly entering his last season in the league after 15 plus seasons, the Ravens have young guys in Kamar Aiken, Breshad Perriman and Chris Moore who are ready to step in and provide continuity at the position going forward that Flacco has never had.
At tight end, the Ravens are set with Pitta in the present, but the team also has Crockett Gillmore and Maxx Williams to help take over in case Pitta is not with the team in the future.
On defense, the Ravens have positioned itself well especially along the front seven. Nose tackle Brandon Williams has become one of the most disruptive defensive lineman in the NFL since being drafted in 2013 and young Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley has yet to reach his peak as he enters his third season in the league.
In the pass rush department, rookie outside linebacker Matt Judon has proven to be quite a gem as the Ravens selected him in the fifth round with his ability to set the edge in run defense and his powerful bull rush collapsing the pocket against opposing quarterbacks in preseason play.
Second year pass rusher Za’Darius Smith was thrown into action pretty early on in 2015 due to Terrell Suggs having a season-ending injury. Suggs’ absence allowed Za’Darius to register 5.5 sacks as rookie. Now, with Suggs healthy and Elvis Dumervil expected to return to the field soon, Za’Darius has the opportunity to learn the game even more at his own pace instead being rushed into action early and often.
It has taken a while for the Ravens to get its ducks in a row, but the Ravens on paper to say the least, have finally positioned itself to groom young players for the future so that the organization can have long standing power in the AFC as older guards like quarterbacks in Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers inch closer to retirement.