As the Ravens try to rebound from their worst season in the John Harbaugh/Joe Flacco era, they have a lot of moving pieces and plenty of questions.
Which pass rusher will lead the team in sacks?
Who will emerge from a crowded tight end and running back group?
Here are five early predictions for the 2016 season.
Kenneth Dixon will lead the team in carries.
It was a little confusing when the Ravens used a fourth round pick to add a running back to an already crowded group, but Dixon may end up being one of the biggest steals of this year’s draft. He finished second in NCAA history with 87 touchdowns (second only to Keenan Reynolds) and tied the NCAA record with 38 games with a touchdown. Justin Forsett came out of nowhere with his breakout season in 2014, but he was running behind a much better offensive line. Gary Kubiak was also calling plays and has a track record of making average running backs into superstars. Dixon was regarded as the best pass catching back in the year’s class. Marc Trestman will love that. Dixon has 1,300 yards total this season. 800 on the ground and 500 through the air.
Dennis Pitta will lead tight ends in catches and yards.
With such a crowded group, no tight end will have 60+ catches. Pitta, though, will lead the group with 40-50 grabs for 500+ yards. Yes, he’s missed almost two full seasons, but early reports from training camp were all positive. You can’t deny the chemistry that Flacco and Pitta have. If he is on the field and healthy, Joe will find him, and Pitta will pick up right where he left off.
The Lardarius Webb safety experiment won’t work.
I don’t get it. The Ravens remain loyal to Webb and are paying him like a top five player at his new position, despite the fact that he hasn’t played well since 2011. The Ravens have invested heavily in the safety spot in recent drafts. Right now, Webb seems like the best option, but at some point this season, someone else will take his spot. Whether it’s Kendrick Lewis or maybe even one last ditch effort with Matt Elam, someone else will be starting next to Eric Weddle by the midpoint of the season.
Za’Darius Smith Leads the Team in Sacks
With the return of Terrell Suggs and the additions of Kamalei Correa, Bronson Kaufusi and Matt Judon, Smith seems to be flying a little under the radar this offseason. He showed flashes as a rookie posting multiple sacks in two games. With the departure of Courtney Upshaw, he’ll get more opportunities in 2016. Smith posts 10-12 sacks and at least 3 forced fumbles leading the way for the pass rushing unit.
The Ravens Make the Playoffs
Maybe this isn’t a bold prediction for us Ravens fans, but the national media isn’t giving the Ravens much love and neither is Vegas. Bovada lists the current over/under for wins at 8.5. That definitely won’t get Baltimore to the postseason.
The Ravens had some nice offseason additions with the signings of Eric Weddle, Mike Wallace and Ben Watson and while it’s way too early to tell they received high marks for their draft class. But the biggest reason they make the playoffs is because of the current sense of urgency. John Harbaugh, Joe Flacco and Ozzie Newsome aren’t used to losing. Missing the playoffs in 2016 would be the third time in four years. At that point, Harbaugh’s on the hot seat and whispers of Ozzie “retiring” and paving the way for Eric DeCosta get louder.
Those whispers get silenced. The Ravens don’t win the division, but they get a wild card berth with 10 wins.