The Ravens take on the Bengals in Cincinnati this Sunday to kick of the regular season for the team. In the lead up to the game, I’m going to take a look at what Ravens position groups or players will have the biggest impact on this season, and I’ll do it in the form of yearbook style superlatives.
Most improved: Secondary
The Ravens secondary was the talk of the offseason. After bringing in Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr, this unit already appeared to be much better than last year’s. But the Ravens were not done just yet. The team’s first round pick was spent on Marlon Humphrey, a cornerback out of Alabama. In his first extended playing time in the Ravens’ final preseason game against the Saints, Humphrey was spectacular. Undrafted free agent Jaylen Hill stepped in during the preseason, and impressed the Ravens coaches so much that he made the 53 man roster. Jefferson and Eric Weddle should make one of, if not the NFL’s best safety duo. The Ravens secondary now also has excellent depth. This unit faltered down the stretch last year largely due to Jimmy Smith’s injury. But with loads of talent and depth this year, the Ravens secondary will among the NFL’s elite.
Biggest step backwards: Right tackle
The Ravens biggest free agent lost was right tackle Ricky Wagner, and thus it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that right tackle is the position set to take the biggest step backwards. Austin Howard is a fine player, but he isn’t of the caliber of Wagner. This is backed up by Pro Football Focus’ player grades, where Howard has consistently been graded lower than Wagner. In Wagner’s four NFL seasons, he has never been graded lower than a 62. Howard, however, has been graded under 55 twice. Howard has been graded above 80 just once in his six NFL seasons, while Wagner achieved that mark twice in four seasons. Wagner’s highest grade (86.2) is four points higher than Howard’s best every mark by four points. That four points is the difference between being “above average” and “high quality” by PFF’s grading methods.
Most fun to watch: front-seven
If you watched the preseason at all, you know that this Ravens front seven is going to be excellent. The interior defensive line is made up of Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce and preseason standout Brent Urban. Terrell Suggs and Matt Judon form this year’s outside linebacker duo, both of whom were excellent during the preseason. C.J. Mosley and Kamalei Correa will man the inside linebacker spots. It’s a unit that has excellent depth as well, more so than the secondary. Rookies Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams will get opportunities to see the field. Bronson Kaufusi and Chris Wormley also had flashes during the preseason, and will both see time on the field as well. Patrick Ricard will get snaps on both offense and defense, Carl Davis will get in on the interior defensive line, and the duo of Patrick Onwuasor and Bam Bradley provide great depth if anything is to happen to Mosley or Correa.
There are so many players that will have an impact this year, and thus it was no surprise to see this group dominate during the preseason. The Ravens finished the preseason as the NFL’s top total defense, and this group was the biggest reason why. So many of the preseason’s biggest plays came from the front seven: Davis’ interception against the Saints, the countless blocked passes at the line against the Bills, or Onwuasor’s game saving forced fumble and recovery at the Bills just to name a few. Whether it's rushing the passer or stuffing opposing running backs, this unit should be a treat to watch in 2017.
Most likely to breakout: Breshad Perriman
Perriman finally is back, and should be ready to go for Week 1. Perriman missed so much time throughout the preseason that it was easy to forget what he had done before he got hurt. Before he was hurt, Perriman was in the midst of an extremely impressive offseason. Starting way back at OTA’s, Perriman was one the stars seemingly every day. Let’s not forget how good he looked just over a month ago. Perriman is one of the starters in the depth chart the Ravens released for Week 1, and he will get an opportunity in the very first game to begin a breakout campaign against a depleted Bengals secondary.
What superlatives do you have for the Ravens in 2017?