Ravens Rookies to Shoulder a Heavy Load in 2015
During Sunday’s 19-13 loss at the Denver Broncos, the Ravens got more devastating news than the outcome of the game. Terrell Suggs will miss the rest of the season with a torn Achilles tendon. It’s the opposite one that he tore in the offseason prior to the 2012 campaign.
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The Ravens showed in the losing effort that they lack depth in some areas. Pass rushing was already one of those areas behind the aging Suggs and Dumervil, with fellow LB Steven Means also placed on injured reserve toward the end of camp. Rookie fourth round pick, Za’Darius Smith out of Kentucky, was listed as inactive for Sunday’s contest. A healthy scratch as far as we know. With Suggs done for the year, the Ravens will look to Smith to contribute in an increased role.
Currently Courtney Upshaw takes a majority of the snaps opposite Suggs. Elvis Dumervil rotates in on passing downs. With no Suggs, it gets tricky. Upshaw is a run stopper, and never really flourished in pass rushing. Not trying to knock him, it’s just not in his skill set. Dumervil comes in for Upshaw on passing downs, opposite Suggs who can defend the rush and pass well. So now you will have on the field on every down one guy who doesn’t set the edge on the run well, and another guy who doesn’t rush the quarterback well.
The jury is still out on how Za’Darius Smith will be rotated in among Upshaw and Dumervil. But from what we have seen, he is a raw talent. In the preseason, no one played more snaps in the league than Smith. So the Ravens know they needed to bring him along fast right from the jump. He played the second most snaps in run defense in the league at 80. Brennan Beyer actually had the most at 83. Smith ranked 10th in run stopping, albeit against lesser talent. He played on 120 passing downs (most in the league) and was tasked as a blitzer 98 times. He generated a respectable 9.4 pass rush productivity in those four games.
Why was Smith a healthy scratch Sunday then? My guess, he showed that ability against lesser talented guys. His technique isn’t great, but he can get by with those flaws against the weaker players. You won’t get by on strength alone against the likes of an elite teams first team O-line. We saw this from the strong as an ox Brandon Williams in his rookie year. He polished his skills in a year, and was a beast in year two. In his third year now, he had the makings of an All-Pro on Sunday.
Smith will be thrown to the wolves, and he’ll essentially be getting on the job training for the remainder of the season. Question is, how long will he take to develop the fundamental skills to match the strength he possess?
Za’Darius Smith isn’t the only rookie the Ravens will lean on in the upcoming year. In fact, the Ravens will be counting on rookies more in 2015, than in any other season that I can remember. Last year, C.J. Mosley took hold of the ILB spot and never looked back. Timmy Jernigan was relied on when Haloti Ngata was suspended for four games. Matt Elam and Kyle Juszczyk were major players in 2013. Upshaw started nine games, and Kelchi Osemele played at a high level in 2012. In other years, maybe one rookie was a major contributor. Lately it’s been two. This year, it could be up to five rookies.
We talked about Smith getting ready to shoulder a heavy load. Third round pick, Carl Davis from Iowa, already is a starter on this team. He rotated in and out with Chris Canty, and played 34 snaps on Sunday. He made the most of them earning Pro Football Focus’ highest grade on the team for the day (3.7), on just 34 snaps. Davis was labeled the steal of the draft by some experts, and that appears to be the case in the early going.
Javorius Allen is another player that is in line for more snaps than anticipated. Justin Forsett ran the ball 14 times, and caught four balls in Denver. With Lorenzo Taliaferro out for the time being with a knee injury, Allen was the number two, and had nine rushes and one catch. I think without Taliferro, we expected the ratio of touches between Forsett and Allen to be much higher in Forsett’s favor. Then again, could have been the thin air in Denver that meant getting Forsett more rest through the game. Taliaferro has to come back healthy and stay that way. If he becomes an injury liability, Allen will become the number two full time. Questions also surround Forsett’s production for the coming year after coming off of carrying his highest work load a year ago. Is Allen in line for 150-200 touches this year?
The tight end spot is occupied by two rookies, and a second year guy in Crockett Gillmore. But Maxx Williams, second rounder from Minnesota, is in line as the backup to Gillmore. He had played 16 snaps (vs. eight for fellow rookie Nick Boyle) last Sunday. Williams was thrown to twice, making one grab. But the wide receiver position is a shallow one here in Baltimore, and you have to wonder if Williams will start to earn more snaps over some of the WRs farther down the depth chart. Also with the offensive line having issues, it could be wise to use two tight sets more, in order to help out on blocking, and an extra safety net for Joe Flacco to check down to. Williams is just 21 years old, so I’ve preached that we need to temper expectations a bit. But in his short stint he has shown some good ability in running after the catch, and a big body like his could be useful in the red zone, if anything taking some coverage off of Gillmore.
Along with the wide out position shortage, I’d be remised if I didn’t mention first round pick, Breshad Perriman from Central Florida. Kamar Aiken was absent pretty much all day in Denver. Marlon Brown had trouble getting open last year after a break out 2013 season. Did make one play on Sunday, but how much can he be relied on. Michael Campanaro didn’t show us much either, and is an injury liability since his college days. Needless to say, when Perriman returns from his knee injury, which the time table for some reason is still very unclear, he’ll be counted on to be key player right from the start. He possess the skill set no one else on the club has, with 4.2 speed, allowing him to take the top off defenses. We will have to see, and hope, that his presence will open things up for other receivers to find open space, and for the running game to get going with less defenders in the box.
Perriman, Williams, Davis, Allen, Smith; All five could be major players on the 2015 team. This could certainly go down as the year of the rookie here in Baltimore.
Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370, and FOX45. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he can be reached at [email protected]