As teams head into training camp plenty of attention is given to the current year’s rookie class.
How will the shiny new toys perform?
Will any of them start?
How will they adjust to playing against the world’s best?
The adjustment isn’t easy. Not only has the level of competition intensified dramatically in terms of speed, strength, knowledge and skill, there’s also a learning curve to travel.
New playbooks, new terminology, pre-snap adjustments to be made with less time within which to make them, will challenge rookies cerebrally.
The thinking slows them down, inhibiting their responsiveness and preventing their vast physical skills and reflexes to take over. The delays open up opportunities for opponents and they put their teammates at risk of failure.
Add in the life adjustments to new full-time jobs and newfound wealth and it’s easy to see how and why the life of an NFL rookie represents a slippery slope to navigate.
Early production from rookies is a bonus and is difficult to count on. It’s a process and it’s difficult to forecast.
Perhaps the best resource for productivity from younger players on the roster can be found in last year’s rookie class. They’ve had time to adjust to life in the NFL and by now, they’ve had the requisite time to overcome the mental challenges of playing as a professional.
With that in mind, what can the Ravens expect from the members of the Ravens 2013 NFL Draft class still with the team?
MATT ELAM (Round 1, Pick 32)
Elam was asked to be a starter last season due to the epic failure of free agent acquisition Michael Huff. Huff was supposed to be the secondary’s traffic cop, play center field and be defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ last line of defense. Elam was forced outside of his comfort zone and saddled with that responsibility.
Much better suited to make plays closer to the line of scrimmage in the mold of Bob Sanders and Troy Polamalu, Elam should be more noticeable and far more productive as the Ravens’ strong safety alongside either Darian Stewart or rookie Terrence Brooks.
ARTHUR BROWN (Round 2, Pick 56)
The former Kansas State Wildcat has reshaped his body – one more conducive to playing linebacker in the NFL, without sacrificing his top end speed. Brown struggled to grasp the defense, mitigating his speed and he also was forced to fight through some nagging injuries.
Healthier physically and mentally, Brown has been explosive during OTA’s and is quick to the ball. He’s also the best cover linebacker on the team’s roster. Many thought the Ravens had soured on Brown given 2014’s first round choice of CJ Mosley. That’s so far from the truth. The truth IS, Brown will be a big time contributor in 2014.
BRANDON WILLIAMS (Round 3, Pick 94)
Williams showed early promise in 2013 but faded towards the end of the season and oftentimes found himself in street clothes along the sidelines among the Sunday inactives. The jump from second-tier college ball at Missouri Southern State to the NFL at times proved to be a little much for the athletic behemoth.
During OTA’s Williams looked more confident with a much quicker first step. He will be a big contributor to a stout rotation of defensive linemen that coach Clarence Brooks will orchestrate to keep his guys fresh in the fourth quarter and during December, January and hopefully on February 1.
JOHN SIMON (Round 4, Pick 129)
Simon is a relentless, determined player willing to work and refine his craft. The trouble so far is that he seems to be a tweener still trying to find his way in the NFL. He doesn’t possess a burst off the edge and he’s not big enough to overpower opposing offensive linemen. During 2014 OTA’s he was barely noticeable.
He’ll need to make his mark on special teams this season. Perhaps he can develop into a Jarret Johnson type of player eventually but for now, unless he really impresses special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, Simon, much like in 2013, might not dress consistently on Sundays this fall.
KYLE JUSZCZYK (Round 4, Pick 130)
The departure of Vonta Leach leaves an opening for Juice and given offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s reliance upon versatile, heady players, the former Harvard Crimson should see plenty of playing time. Juszczyk has very good hands and runs well after the catch. Defenses that sleep on him will pay the price.
It would not be shocking to see the new No. 44 with a number of catches to match his jersey number in 2014.
RICKY WAGNER (Round 5, Pick 168)
Although he played sparingly in 2013, Wagner did play in 14 games as a rookie and experienced a baptism of fire during the season opener in Denver when Michael Oher left the game with an injury. Here’s a look at those 58 snaps.
With a reshaped body, a healthy sidekick in Marshal Yanda and a new offensive system that is committed to the teaching principles of offensive line coach Juan Castillo, Wagner could be adequate in 2014 as the team’s starting right tackle. He’s solid as a run blocker but susceptible to speed rushers. Kubiak will game plan and play call with that in mind assuming Wagner is the starter on Opening Day.
KAPRON LEWIS-MOORE (Round 6, Pick 200)
Perhaps the best value pick of the 2013 draft was KLM. Lewis-Moore seems to have fully recovered from a severe knee injury suffered during the 2013 BCS Championship Game against the University of Alabama.
Projected as a 2nd or 3rd round pick prior to the injury, Lewis-Moore looks strong and carries his 300-pound frame well. During OTA’s he chased down Tyrod Taylor from the left side when the Ravens backup ran a waggle to the opposite side. Although he didn’t quite get there, the burst was impressive. This “bonus pick” has the advantage of having spent time with the team in the classroom and on the practice field in 2013. He will help offset the loss of Arthur Jones.
RYAN JENSEN (Round 6, Pick 203)
Jensen provides versatility and a degree of nastiness to the offensive line. In a surprise twist he’s taken snaps at right tackle during OTA’s and held up reasonably well. A hard worker who will push those in front of him for playing time, Jensen is expected to be a reserve. If OTA’s are any indication, this late rounder could prove to be a nice find by providing quality depth to the offensive front.
MARLON BROWN (Undrafted Free Agent)
The UDFA WR was arguably the surprise of 2013 contributing 49 catches for 524 yards and 7 TD’s. He was fearless on crossing routes and was sure-handed. Camp reports that suggest he has had a bad camp and could be in danger of losing his job are GREATLY exaggerated. He’s had his share of drops but then again, so has Torrey Smith. That’s why they call it practice.
Brown is now in that year during which the residual effects of knee surgery are no longer a factor and judging by the way he’s moved in practice, he’s quicker and accelerates smoothly with deceptive speed. He could become a preferred red zone target of Kubiak/Flacco if he can utilize his height and improve his ball skills in traffic.
Note: Aaron Mellette (Round 7, Pick 238) was recently released and Marc Anthony (Round 7, Pick 247) was cut during the 2013 preseason.