Players well above league average
Birk: He’s been much more than we could have hoped for. All 5 linemen are playing at or above the league average and both guards are significantly improved.
Flacco: I thought the best way to project Flacco’s 2009 performance would be on his results from week 6 on in 2008. He’s actually improved from there. In his last 17 regular season games he has 24 TDs, 10 INTs, and has a QB rating of 91.8.
Gaither: He’s been terrific when active. As a run blocker, he’s a near match for Oher and he’s a well above average pass blocker as well.
Gregg: Gregg’s productivity rate, measured as tackles per play is higher than it’s ever been and he was leading all DTs by a wide margin through 5 games. His reemergence has been unexpected and exceptional.
Heap: He’s made contributions both as a pass blocker and receiver. In this offense he often contributes as a 6th protector and is a dangerous outlet on slow developing pass plays.
Lewis: Given the choice, you’d rather have emerging stars from rookie and 2nd year players than your veterans over 30. The latter are all being paid market value while the bargain play you get from young players drafted after the 1st tround make good franchises great. If you look at the players contributing above the league average, several are older and Gregg, Washington, Birk, and Lewis are all outplaying expectations significantly.
McClain: Le’Ron has been the filler for the Ravens TE shortage, providing quality pass blocking, infrequent but effective receiving, and use in short yardage situations. He’s one of the best FBs in the league.
Ngata: He still has not taken a big step forward as a pass rusher, but continues to contribute at a high level vs. the run, with his hustle. Check out Kevin Williams on Rice’s 3rd quarter TD run and tell me if you think Ngata would have let that happen.
Reed: Yes, he’s gambling. There have been notable instances where he’s been out of position. The NFL Network’s Playbook shows are also going out of their way to find them for 2 reasons. They want to underscore the value of their program by finding countercurrent explanations for changes in team performance. Also, they want to emphasize how their full-field camera angles are a big advantage. Go ahead, pick on Ed Reed, but he remains one of the game’s 3 best safeties.
Rice: I didn’t predict his emergence from a crowded group. As well as he has played, it’s difficult to project a ceiling for him.
Suggs: Don’t expect more than 8 sacks a season. He’s one of the best edge-setters in the NFL and has a great nose for the screen. His evolution from a 12-sack pass rush specialist as a rookie to one of the top run-stopping ends in the league has been fun to watch. If he plays at his current level, he’s well worth the contract.
Kelley Washington: He and Flacco have a connection. Despite limited duty, he’s catching everything thrown his way and his catches are almost all 1st downs. Have you found yourself cursing at the TV this year for passes thrown short of the sticks on 3rd down?
Players at or above league average
Bannan: He remains a very good 2-down rotational DT. I think the play of Bannan and Gregg has made opportunities for Edwards that have made him look better. He remains the best snap anticipator on the Ravens. Try watching snaps frame-by-frame while he’s in and you’ll see he’s in motion first on perhaps 70% of snaps.
Chester: Big step forward from 2008. He got pushed around for some of last year, but improved as the season wore on. I thought Yanda should have won the RG battle in camp based on his 2008 performance, but Chester has played well and been the Ravens 2nd most consistent linemen after Birk. I have to believe Birk and Oher have both been good for him, particularly since his terrible game occurred with Oher on the other side.
Foxworth: Through 6 games, he’s played well. I’d take 2 corners just like him and take my chances. Right now, opposing QBs are picking on Washington/Walker/Carr with success, but against SD Foxworth was tested and played well, holding Chambers to 2 catches on 10 balls thrown his way.
Gooden: He’s shown flashes that make me think he could be more, but there are other times when I’m frustrated with his lack of desire to throw his body around. The tools are there and he’s had some success, but he can play better.
Grubbs: He’s made major strides from last season when his run blocking was sub par. In his case, he improved all the way to average or slightly above. He can contribute to a good line, however, and I don’t think a projection of some additional improvement is being optimistic.
Johnson: He’s a good opposite bookend for Suggs who also plays the run well. This year he has been a primary contributor to the pass rush rather than supporting with hand checks and drops to coverage that would create overloads. I think he was more valuable as used in past years, but that’s not his fault.
Koch: He’s a specialist, but continues to be one of the better punters in the league.
Mason: He’s taken a step back from last year as Flacco has become more comfortable with multiple receivers.
Oher: This includes LT time. He would be in the top category at RT. Sadly the move to the left side has reduced his chances at any rookie awards and the chance to play in the Pro Bowl.
McGahee: He’s found a nose for the goal line and is an effective back with this line. Since the 2008 playoffs, McGahee rediscovered (or perhaps discovered for the first time) his desire to pass block.
Players between replacement level and league average
The players in this category aren’t playing as poorly as the replacement level (so they are still difficult to replace), but they are below average. Having a large number of players in this group is the sign of an organization that can’t get its Football Operations house in order. Deep drafts, good talent evaluation both of your team and others, and avoiding free agent clunkers (which can both create a player in this category and reduce available cap space so more may result) are the tonic.
Barnes: Ravens fans, and probably all football fans, have a love affair with undersized pass rushers who demonstrate a motor in training camp. I’m now throwing in the towel on Barnes as a defender. The team has other alternatives with upside and he has done little in terms of productivity in 3 seasons. However, he’s played well on special teams and it doesn’t hurt to have an extra guy who can rush the passer around for a time when there is a spate of injuries. Look at the use of Edgar Jones last season.
Clayton: He has dropped a notch from last season and that’s very disappointing given this is his contract year. His game-winning TD grab vs. KC was an extension of his fine play last season, but he did little between that and his TD at Minnesota. The Ravens still need to stretch the field and he is the best candidate to do it.
Edwards: Rating each play, the folks at PFF show him as a league average player, but I’m not buying it. The Ravens stats with and without him: YPPA 6.0 with, 5.4 without, sacks as a % of pass plays 4.2% with him and 8.5% without him. I think he is hustling more than in past years and the opportunistic play at NE and cleanup sack vs. the Vikings were products. His slowness off the snap is also less of a factor this season.
Hauschka: His kickoffs have been OK and the Ravens have not given up a big return as yet, but he looks very nervous as a kicker. The attempt at Minnesota could be called tough based on the crowd noise, but it was indoors and from a manageable distance. Neither the fans nor the air conditioning blew that ball wide left. I don’t have an issue with putting him in the “not enough information” category either.
Pryce: It’s been a poor year for Trevor, who is one of the few older Ravens actually showing signs of age. Based on the Minnesota game, where he played well in just 15 snaps, I think the Ravens could make him more productive by giving him a more specific pass rushing role. Then all we’d have to worry about is who would be getting his 2-down snaps.
LJ Smith: He’s played 25 offensive snaps in 6 games. While he hasn’t hurt the Ravens in terms of his own play, he’s eating up a roster spot.
Fabian Washington: He was the Ravens most consistent corner last season, but now that he’s in a contract year, he’s playing like crap. There are a lot of teams out there that need corners and I am afraid the Ravens are going to let him walk, but he’s not going to maximize his opportunity for this one big contract unless he starts playing like he has something to prove over the last 10 games.
Yanda: This isn’t a long-term reflection on Yanda, because I think he’d be 1 or 2 categories higher if he were playing guard. The injury was a setback for him and Gaither’s injury has further impaired his ability to add value.
Players at or below replacement level
Carr: He’s been horrid as a returner and has been sub par as a nickel. It looks and sounds to me like the Ravens are finally ready to pull him on both fronts.
Landry: This is a complete surprise. I wish I could say his play was all a function of his injury and unwillingness to hit, but his positioning in coverage has also been bad. Nakamura has been used often as a pass rusher in dime packages. Given that Haruki hasn’t succeeded at that, a more traditional role as the deep safety might be appropriate. Landry could be moved to the dime and used as a pass rusher and in underneath coverage. The issue I have is that I’m not sure the Ravens defense can take another below average tackler in the secondary.
Walker: The guy’s walking around with a “kick me” sign. Opposing QBs, receivers, and offensive coordinators are foaming like Pavlovian dogs when he enters. There is no room on the field for a corner that needs over the top help on every single play. That said, I think he might be able to help the team at nickel with his physical presence.
Not enough playing time to say
There is not enough playing time to evaluate meaningfully for the following players but I’ve marked the 4 I think have some significant upside such that they could help the team this season. Some of that comes with risk, of course. Nakamura, who is a good special teams player, is also a special case where he could add value at safety, but is not likely a good long-term answer.
J McClain (+)