OWINGS MILLS — First-round pick Matt Elam was the only member of the Ravens’ 2013 draft class to become a starter this season.
He was also the only member of the draft class to play any sort of significant role.
But Baltimore remains optimistic regarding the class despite the lack of an impact it made this season.
“The biggest improvement usually is between the first and second year,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said last week. “That’s something that’s an old wives’ tale in coaching a little bit and football a little bit. Whether it’s the first week to the second week, the first game to the second game or the first year to the second year, these guys have been through it now one time. They’re going to make major strides.”
Even Elam didn’t do much of note aside from a late season game against the Detroit Lions.
He finished the year with just one interception, only three pass deflections and without any forced fumbles. He was also beaten for some big plays in coverage, including a 53-yard touchdown in Week 17. But he did start the final 15 games and had 10 tackles, a tackle for a loss and a game-sealing interception during that game against the Lions.
“Matt Elam should be a really, really good safety in this league,” Harbaugh said. “He’s fast, he’s physical, and he’s going to understand the expectations a little more. He’s going to anticipate checks a little better. He’s going to understand what it means to stay deep when you’re supposed to stay deep. …
“Those are things that sometimes you learn from experience the hard way. He didn’t make too many mistakes for a guy who played that many repetitions as a safety, so it’s a good start for him.”
Second-round inside linebacker Arthur Brown only played in sub-packages and finished with just 15 tackles, but Harbaugh said he expects Brown to Baltimore’s starting weak-side linebacker in 2014.
Harbaugh also said that third-round defensive tackle Brandon Williams should at the very least be a part of the Ravens’ defensive line rotation.
Williams was inactive six of the final eight games, but he did play in seven games.
“He proved that he can play,” Harbaugh said. “We had a lot of depth there this year. He had a little maturing to do, and he should be in the mix.”
Fourth-round fullback Kyle Juszczyk struggled enough during the summer that the Ravens re-signed veteran Vonta Leach.
He then played just a handful of snaps on offense during the season.
However, Harbaugh said that Juszczyk was one of Baltimore’s best players on special teams, and the team is hopeful that he can play a more significant role on offense in 2014.
The Ravens want to be an up-tempo offense. Juszczyk’s ability to play multiple positions would give them more options when going up-tempo.
“Kyle has got to be a huge part of what he we do going forward. … He’s the link as far as being a move guy, lining up in the backfield and lining up out as a wide receiver,” Harbaugh said. “He can do those things. We have high hopes for him.”
Sixth-round offensive lineman Ryan Jensen didn’t play in any games after breaking his foot early in training camp while fifth-round offensive lineman Ricky Wagner saw just minimal playing time, but both could end up starting next season depending on what Baltimore adds this offseason.
Sixth-round defensive lineman Kapron Lewis-Moore could also challenge for a starting role.
Lewis-Moore missed this year as he worked back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered as a senior at Notre Dame, but the Ravens had him rated as an earlier-round prospect before he hurt his knee.
Starting defensive tackle Arthur Jones leaving as a free agent would create an opportunity for Lewis-Moore to start. So would Baltimore deciding to part ways with defensive end Chris Canty.
Lewis-Moore practiced for three weeks late in the season before the Ravens decided not to activate him from the non-football injury list.
“[He’s] got a chance to be a starting five- technique or be in the rotation for sure,” Harbaugh said.
Baltimore is also optimistic regarding seventh-round wide receiver Aaron Mellette and fourth-round outside linebacker John Simon.
Mellette missed the season after undergoing knee surgery, but he has good size at 6-foot-2, 217 pounds and had nine catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns during the preseason.
“[He] showed a lot as a deep ball wide receiver and a red zone threat in preseason. … Aaron is going to be a guy who’s going to be in the mix, too,” Harbaugh said.
Simon was inactive seven of the final nine games, but coaches at Ohio State raved about Simon’s work ethic when he was in college. Harbaugh has also spoken about Simon’s work ethic.
“Nobody practices harder, works harder than John Simon,” Harbaugh said. “I think he’s just going to make himself into a player. He’ll find a way to get on the field, one way or another. He’s got some pass rushing talent.”
So while the class didn’t make much of an impact this season, the Ravens are hopeful that those nine members of the class that remain on the roster will all be capable of being bigger factors in 2014.