With a slew of question marks on the roster, the Ravens are banking on several players to step up in 2018. Which of these players are the biggest wild cards when it comes to determining a winning season, and potential return to the post-season, for Baltimore in 2018? Players such as Terrell Suggs, Marshal Yanda, and Eric Weddle are expected to perform at a high level, but which unproven players could really help dictate the Ravens success? This list does not include rookies or players who have experienced successful seasons before (e.g., John Brown and Willie Snead.)
Selected in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft by Baltimore, Dixon showed potential in his rookie season, but would miss all of 2017 with a torn meniscus. Many had Dixon pegged as a favorite to take the leading role from running back Terrance West in 2017. Instead, Alex Collins emerged as a much-needed playmaker for the Ravens’ offense, and is presumably the running back of the future for the franchise. Dixon served a six-game suspension while on injured reserve in 2017 as well, for PEDs and substance abuse.
Dixon was heralded as a well-rounded back coming out of Louisiana Tech, specifically for his involvement in the passing game. Baltimore is in need of a pass-catching running back, so Dixon could help to fill that role. Collins is the clear-cut starter for the Ravens entering the 2018 season, but Dixon could emerge as a lethal compliment. The combination of Collins and Dixon could prove to be one of the better running back tandems in the league. Dixon has suffered multiple injuries in his two years in the NFL. He will have to prove he can be relied upon, especially when you factor in the two suspensions.
Second-year outside linebacker Tyus Bowser is a player who many have chosen as their breakout candidate for 2018. Bowser was a second-round pick out of Houston in 2017, where he tallied 8.5 sacks in only eight games as a senior. Bowser is considered a “complete linebacker” with the ability to set the edge, rush the passer, and drop in coverage. He flashed his immense potential early in the 2017 season, specifically against the Browns in week two when he had a sack and an interception. Bowser totaled three sacks for the entire season, seemingly hitting the proverbial “rookie wall” somewhere down the line.
Despite the Ravens’ defense having 41 sacks for the season, the pass rush was a major problem in some big-time moments. Outside of linebackers Terrell Suggs and Matthew Judon, Baltimore failed to generate much pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Bowser could play a huge role in improving the Ravens’ defense.
Baltimore’s defensive line undoubtedly under performed in 2017, giving up a franchise record 4.1 yards per carry. A big reason for this could be the injury to defensive end Brent Urban in week three against the Jaguars. Urban was off to a strong start to the season, serving as a gigantic presence on the defensive line. After Urban suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury, the Ravens’ interior pass rush fell off drastically. The run defense was affected as well, especially since fellow defensive end Brandon Williams was also injured for several weeks soon after.
Urban’s absence called for younger players to fill in, such as Willie Henry. Henry emerged as a key component to Baltimore’s defense, but the defensive line never regained it’s form from the beginning of the season, when Urban was on the field. If Urban can remain healthy for the 2018 season, he and Henry could combine to deliver a much-needed interior pass rush to the Ravens’ defense. Urban drastically improves Baltimore’s run defense as well, which has been a proud staple of the franchise.