What’s expected of the Ravens sophomore class
With the NFL draft less than a month away, we take a look back at the 2013 draft class. The rookies have that transition year behind them. Some have 16 games worth of experience and some have zero. As the 2013 rookies enter their second seasons, what can be expected as they try to avoid the “terrible twos,” or “sophomore slumps”?
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Matt Elam – 1st round, pick #32 – Florida
Elam stepped in as a starting safety in the Ravens secondary in week 2 after a lackluster effort by veteran free agent, Michael Huff, in week 1 versus the Broncos. Although he is best suited at strong safety, the versatile Elam played the free safety spot alongside James Ihedigbo. Ihedigbo was a pleasant surprise who put together a nice season on both run and pass defense. There were times where Elam looked like a rookie, missing tackles and getting beat deep. But other times where he held his own. With the departure of Ihedigbo to Detroit, the SS spot is all his with the Ravens likely looking for a playmaking FS in the upcoming draft. Elam will be counted on to grow up quickly with a rookie to be next to him. With 969 snaps played last year, the acclimation period is over and it’s time to live up to that first round billing. He’ll find himself around the football more with the move to strong safety, meaning Elam will need to cut down on some of those missed tackles. He misses once every 7.6 tackles he makes, which is very middle of the road considering fellow rookie, Kenny Vaccaro in New Orleans, misses once for every 26.7 tackles he makes.
Arthur Brown – 2nd round, pick #56 – Kansas State
Brown dealt with a sports hernia which limited him early in training camp. It opened the door for Josh Bynes to take over a starting job alongside veteran free agent, Daryl Smith. I wouldn’t say Bynes played well enough to take significant time away from the rookie Brown, but he did just that. Brown was touted as a three down LB and the most unfair of titles, Ray Lewis’ replacement. Brown ending up seeing most of his playing time on third downs, facing 133 snaps in coverage and just 19 snaps on running plays. In coverage though, Brown was nice. He allowed 0.77 yards receiving per snap played in coverage, which if he played enough snaps to qualify, would have been good for 9th best. Daryl Smith is who heralded as a good coverage LB, ranked 11th at 0.79 yards/coverage snap. This year, Brown should beat out all comers for the starting role next to Smith, and they would be a nice complement of each other if Brown can be a run stopper. Daryl Smith is not good in run defense, posting a 4.3 run stop percentage, worst among qualifying ILBs last year. (A run stop is a play where you make a tackle within 40% of the first down yardage, 60% of the second down yardage, and do not allow a conversion on third and fourth downs). The league’s best run stuffers have post over a 10% RS%, and that is where I would like to see Brown next year. The lack of being able to stop the run is what allowed teams to put the Ravens away late in 4th quarters.
Brandon Williams – 3rd round, pick #94 – Missouri Southern
Williams was an internet sensation before he even set foot in Baltimore. Unfortunately, that’s about where the love affair ended. Being able to walk on your hands at 335 pounds doesn’t translate to mauling offensive lineman well. The potential seems to still be there as some scouts felt he could start alongside Haloti Ngata from day one. This wasn’t the case as he dressed for only seven games last year, often a healthy scratch. He lacked great technique, but got by with brute strength at Missouri Sothern where Williams was likely the strongest man on the field every week. At this level, everyone is strong and strength only goes so far. If he can fix a couple flaws in his game, he could start next to Ngata in the unconventional 3-4 defense here in Baltimore, where a front could be any combination of Williams, Chris Canty, Deangelo Tyson, Kapron Lewis-Moore, or Terrence Cody bookending Ngata.
John Simon – 4th round, pick #129 – Ohio State
Simon was drafted as an edge rushing DE/OLB out of Ohio State. He plays with tenacity unmatched by a lot of guys and was Urban Meyer’s favorite player in Columbus. He’s a gym rat. His mental toughness and physicality what you want in a football player. But the football IQ needs some work. Simon is a raw talent that gets fooled when facing a runner in the open field, sometimes whiffing on the tackle.There is room for him to grow and he’ll have another year to learn his craft behind the log jam of pass rushers here in Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw and Pernell McPhee. Ultimately, I would love to see Simon force Harbaugh to find a spot for him on this team in 2014. But, I could see him being an impact, role player on special teams, and making a run at a job on the defense in 2015. We saw a similar career path for Paul Kruger.
Kyle Juszczyk – 4th round (compensatory), pick #130 – Harvard
We thought the writing was on the wall for Vonta Leach when the Ravens selected “Juice”. No way the Ravens carry two fullbacks when some teams carry none, right? Wrong, eventually. Leach was cut, but brought back into the fold. Juszcyzk turned heads at the Senior Bowl with his pass catching ability, and stoning opposing defenders as a blocker. The blocking part of his game didn’t translate to the NFL level, at least in the preseason. Juice did dress for all 16 games and was a key contributor on special teams, making a handful of bone crushing hits. The way Gary Kubiak uses “H-Back” type guys like Juszczyk, properly, means he could be a factor on the offense going forward. He’s a tweener at FB and TE, but with two tight ends in Pitta and Daniels likely making the squad barring injury, and local favorite, Matt Furstenburg, in a position to win the 3rd TE spot on the depth chart, I’d like to see Juice focus solely on the FB position. Work on his blocking technique, and learn the nuances of the zone blocking game so he can help clear lanes for the runners, and occasionally sneak out and catch a ball in the flat.
Rick Wagner – 5th round, pick #168 – Wisconsin
Wagner was thrown to the wolves right from the get go in 2013, filling in for the injured Michael Oher against the Broncos in the season opener. Not fair, but such is life. Wagner was a sieve, and some will say that was the beginning of the end for the Ravens in that game. The Badger would play 58 snaps in week 1, allowing three sacks and four hurries of Joe Flacco. The good news is that he played 73 snaps over the course of the next 15 games, and didn’t allow so much as a single hurry of Flacco. Wagner is penciled, not penned, but penciled in as the right tackle on this club. Everyone believes the Ravens will address the position relatively early in the draft, and give Wagner some competition. He’ll have to prove that he “gets” what the Ravens are trying to do in the run game with new schemes. He’ll also have to prove that he can keep Joe Flacco clean for the 50+ snaps a game, and not for the less than ten snaps per game he was used in otherwise. The best tackles allow less than two pressures on their QB per game. 32 or less pressures allowed would be top 11 in the league in 2013, with the Ravens own Eugene Monroe allowing just 24 pressures. Monroe ranked third best in pass protection behind Branden Albert (23) and Joe Staley (20).
Kapron Lewis-Moore – 6th round, pick #200 – Notre Dame
Lewis-Moore tore an ACL in the National Championship game against Alabama which hurt his draft stock. He was the captain of the Fighting Irish defense that was dominating that season. Leadership is a quality the Ravens we’re in desperate need of with the departures of the two defensive staples, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. After the year off to rehab, Lewis-Moore will look to compete for a starting role on the defensive front. A spot vacated by Arthur Jones who joins former Ravens defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano, in Indianapolis.
Ryan Jensen – 6th round (compensatory), pick #203 – Colorado State-Pueblo
Jensen was drafted to provide Gino Gradkowski some competition at center, but a broken foot suffered early in training camp sidelined him for 10 weeks. I’m sure Harbaugh wanted to give Jensen every look he could, so he didn’t place him on season ending IR. However, with the addition of Jeremy Zuttah, the ceiling for Jensen could be back up center. With Zuttah, Gradkowski, A.Q. Shipley who is a center but played some guard last year, Jensen maybe the odd man out.
Aaron Mellette – 7th round, pick #238 – Elon
Mellette was a guy that most thought would fit the Anquan Boldin mold, standing 6’2”, 217 lbs, and the scouting report highlighting great hands that make tough catches look routine. Mellette was on his way to pre-season MVP with a pair of deep bomb touchdowns and nine total catches for 140 yards. He tore cartilage in his knee that forced him to season ending IR. Wide receiver is another position that many would like to see addressed in the draft, which is deep at WR talent. Already, I have Mellette slotted fourth on the WR depth chart behind Steve Smith, Marlon Brown, Torrey Smith, and in front of Jacoby Jones who should be the kick returner foremost, Deonte Thompson, and a pair of practice squad players from 2013 in Kamar Aiken, and Gerrard Sheppard from Towson. If the Ravens draft a WR on day one or two of the draft, what does that mean for Mellette? The range for Mellette could go from stealing playing time from Marlon Brown, to earning his stripes as a special teamer and re-evaluating in 2015. The Ravens will likely carry six WR’s on the 53-man roster. If they draft one high, it certainly puts Mellette on the bubble with Deonte Thompson.
Marc Anthony was the final selection for the Ravens in the 2013 draft and did not make the team.
Marlon Brown – Undrafted – Georgia
Marlon Brown made the most of his opportunity when Dennis Pitta, Aaron Mellette, and Jacoby Jones all suffered injuries and he was thrust into the number two starting role opposite Torrey Smith. Brown is a guy the Ravens had their eye on who had his collegiate career cut short with an ACL tear. Just another diamond in the rough, undrafted player, Ozzie Newsome and his crew found who is now making a name for himself. His seven TDs led the team, including one clutch touchdown catch that kept the Ravens playoff hopes alive at the time in the waning seconds of the blizzard game here in Baltimore versus the Vikings. Brown showed the skills to be a starter in this league. He only dropped 10.91% of catchable balls thrown his way. Although what can be deemed “catchable” is subjective, that ratio is only slightly worse than Calvin Johnson (10,64%) and better than Roddy White (11.27%), Wes Welker (12.05%), Brandon Marshall (13.04%), Mike Wallace (13.10%) and Vincent Jackson (13.33) to name a few. Brown was the teams primary slot man last year running 320 routes from there. He was only targeted 17.2% of the time there which means he needed to do a better job of getting open or settling in the holes in zones. Either way, Brown will likely see his production reduced in 2014 if all players stay healthy. I really do think Torrey Smith’s skill set is best suited for the slot, especially with the emphasis on the short passing game now under Kubiak. However, with Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels in the mix, Pitta could be used in the slot more as well in duel TE sets. Steve Smith should be the outside receiver where he has made his living. He’s never been a slot guy. It was a nice story last year, but Marlon Brown isn’t a starter on a healthy 2014 receiving squad.