Surprise players from the 2017 NFL season Sam Monson
ALEX COLLINS – RUNNING BACK – BALTIMORE RAVENS
Alex Collins began the season on the practice squad before being activated by the Ravens and was ultimately pressed into action and given some carries. His prowess running the football quickly earned him a bigger role within the offense and by the end of the year he was the team’s bellcow. His rushing grade was 89.7, the best mark in the entire league, and only his relative struggles as a receiver kept him from leading all running backs in overall grades. His performance as a ball carrier was a huge shock, even for those that were fans of his as a prospect coming out, given how his NFL career had panned out to that point.
Pro Football Focus also listed Collins as the only Raven included in their Top 101 players from the 2017 NFL season. Alex’s play was truly a revelation, and his production last season bodes well for the future. With Collins assuming the lead back role, Kenneth Dixon returning from injury to serve as the primary pass catching back and utility man Buck Allen providing depth, the running back position should be a strength even if the Ravens do not supplement this committee in the upcoming draft.
AFC North rookie grades Nick Shook
Humphrey started to grow into the corner Baltimore was hoping it was getting at No. 16 overall, but the 21-year-old’s still a season or two away from reaching his full potential. The rest of this class was fairly spotty, with Bowser leading the way as the most important contributor (11 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 1 interception) not named Humphrey. Siragusa unfortunately had his season wiped out by a serious knee injury, and the majority of these other mid-round picks were stuck at the bottom of the two-deep behind more experienced players, with Williams suffering from a lack of playing time the most. Credit GM Ozzie Newsome for unearthing two-way throwback Patrick Ricard, who did a nice job of replacing Kyle Juszczyk. GRADE: C+
Shook gave the Browns rookie haul a B+, the Steelers a B and the Bengals a C grade. One issue with former defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ complex scheme was that most rookies took a couple years before they were in position to make significant impacts. Hopefully new coordinator Don Martindale’s system will allow young players to play through minor mistakes and develop faster. If Tyus Bowser and Timmy Williams can take the next step this offseason, they could combine with the ageless Terrell Suggs, breakout pass rusher Matt Judon and contract year edge Za’Darius Smith to form a ferocious front in 2018.
Five players, including Case Keenum, who should be given transition or franchise tags Jason La Canfora
Jarvis Landy is a very productive slot receiver who excels at yards after the catch. That he can make something out of nothing is a valuable weapon, for sure, but no way in hell am I placing a tag on him worth $16 million-plus. For a true outside, No. 1 receiver with ideal height and speed? Sure. But not here.
And Watkins, to me, is an $8-$10 million receiver, maybe, but not close to this number. His foot has to remain a significant concern, as it has long hampered him. He is someone a Bills team sorely lacking skill guys eagerly traded away.
Potentially good news for a Ravens team that should be in the market for a proven young receiver. Landry and Watkins may still be priced out of Baltimore’s range if they are allowed to hit the open market. However, their availability could make the second tier wideout options, such as Paul Richardson, Marqise Lee, Terrelle Pryor, Dontrelle Inman, Taylor Gabriel and Donte Moncrief, more affordable.
Ravens to take on Bears in 2018 Hall of Fame Game Kyle J. Andrews
Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year. The two players were announced as Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees on February 3.
In addition, Baltimore will begin training camp a week early, due to the extra preseason game. Instead of just four preseason games, the Ravens will have five games to prepare for the regular season.
The extra week of practice should be beneficial to the Ravens. The preseason game should also be enjoyable for the Ravens faithful who make the trip to Canton to see the franchise icon inducted into the Hall of Fame. This showcase match does not make up for the 2013 schedule that had the Ravens on the road in Week 1 after winning the Super Bowl, but it is a small step in the right direction.