The Ravens saw a ton of contributions from their rookie class last year. The list included Ronnie Stanley, Tavon Young, Alex Lewis, Kenneth Dixon, Matt Judon, and Michael Pierce. Which players have taken a leap in their second year in the league for the Ravens this season?
Players such as Ronnie Stanley and Michael Pierce were already playing at a pretty high level in their rookie season and have continued to do so this year. Other guys like Tavon Young, Kenneth Dixon, and Alex Lewis were injured before the season began and thus haven’t been able to produce on the field. This list will consist of second year players who have taken a noticable leap with their production.
A fourth round pick out of Michigan, Willie Henry didn’t see much playing time in his rookie year, eventually landing on injured reserve. Going into this season, the Ravens seemed to have more depth on the defensive line than they could carry on the roster. Henry was a player who many people predicted could be traded. He just simply hadn’t produced enough to show everyone that he was worth keeping over any of the other d-linemen.
Fast forward to Week 3 against the Jaguars and the Ravens have lost defensive end Brent Urban to a season-ending foot injury after Brandon Williams had gone down the week before. Luckily the injury to Williams wasn’t season-ending, but the Ravens suddenly found themselves thin at a position which was the deepest just weeks earlier. Enter Willie Henry.
Henry currently has 27 tackles, two and a half sacks, and recovered two fumbles. He has filled in nicely for Brent Urban. He continues to draw comparisons to Timmy Jernigan, who the Ravens traded to the Eagles this past off-season due to the upcoming pay day he was bound to receive after this year. The Eagles have already paid him handsomely and the Ravens did the same for Brandon Williams. It’s looking like they definitely made the right decision. Williams, Pierce, and Henry combine for a ferocious brick wall up front.
Matt Judon had a solid rookie season last year. He wasn’t a starter, but the fifth round pick from Grand Valley State notched 27 tackles and four sacks. Coming from such a small school, the question surrounding Judon was if he could translate his dominate college play to the NFL. We saw flashes of his abilities last year, but this year he has really come into his own as a starter.
This season he has 43 tackles, six sacks, and a forced fumble. This past off-season, Judon slimmed down and added more muscle, which has resulted in him playing faster and stronger. He has become an all around linebacker for the Ravens opposite of Terrell Suggs. Matt has vastly improved in pass coverage as well as defending the run and holding the edge.
Judon looks like he will have a successful future here in Baltimore if he continues to play like this. I believe he can take his game even further though, and become a premier pass rusher in the NFL. Terrell Suggs has mentored Judon, and it’s showing.
Making the team as an undrafted rookie last year, Patrick Onwuasor was a favorite to win the second inside linebacker spot next to C.J. Mosley. We all know what happened though. Former undrafted player Zachary Orr took the reigns of the job and never looked back. Mosley and Orr had a bright future ahead of them as one of the best inside linebacker tandems in the league. Unforunately, Orr’s career was cut short after he discovered he had a congenital spinal disorder.
This put the Ravens back at square one. They once again had to find another middle linebacker to play alongside Mosley. There were two main candidates for the job. Both second year players. Second round pick Kamalei Correa and undrafted Patrick Onwuasor. Through preseason and the first few games of the season, the two shared somewhat of a split role. Eventually Onwuasor took more and more snaps than Correa though, and it’s been his job to lose ever since.
“Peanut” (as his teammates call him) has a team second best 65 tackles, behind only Mosley, one sack, and one forced fumble. He gets credit from me for Brandon Carr’s first interception in Week 1 too. He read Andy Dalton beautifully and adjusted to jump high into the passing lane, deflecting the ball right to Carr to be picked off. He is a little undersized for the position, and sometimes is easily blocked, but overall he has played well this season. Especially for a second year undrafted player. He is also a big contributor on special teams. Oh, and he knows how to lay some hits.
Even though Alex Collins wasn’t drafted by the Ravens last year, I still had to include him on this list. Collins was drafted by Seattle in the fifth round out of Arkansas. On 31 attempts with the Seahawks last year, Collins had 125 yards, averaging 4-yards per carry, and a touchdown. The problem was he had two fumbles on those 31 carries. This led to him arriving on Baltimore’s practice squad. Before facing the Jaguars in Week 3, the Ravens promoted him to the active roster. He flashed with his first touch of the football.
Early on, he had fumbling issues in Baltimore as well. He fumbled twice, which resulted in reduced snaps for him, even though he was clearly the best running back on the roster. After spending time with the coaches working on how he holds and carries the ball, Collins hasn’t fumbled since. He has become one of the feel good stories in the NFL as well, from his encounter with a young boy who was being bullied for participating in Irish dancing. Collins also Irish dances, so he had some kind words of advice for the boy. He has become the number one back in Baltimore and could possibly be the future of the position for the Ravens, even with Kenneth Dixon returning next year.
Even though he didn’t see his first touch until late in the game in Week 3 and didn’t become the starter until several games later, Collins already has 705 yards on 144 carries, averaging 4.9 yards per carry, and four touchdowns. For comparison, the teams second leading rusher, Buck Allen, has 422 yards on 121 carries. That’s 283 more yards on just 23 more carries. Seattle probably wishes they had stuck with him now.