This is the final installment of a series where I’ll list those players who I believe to be most critical for the Ravens this season. Obviously, every Ravens player is important, as football is the ultimate team game. This is a list, though, that looks at players who are on on track for a breakout season, play a position at which the Ravens desperately need help, or are stepping up to take a leadership role.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been counting down the 20 Ravens that I believe to be the most important this season. Again, this isn’t solely a list of the most talented players on Baltimore’s roster. Rather, it’s a list of players who need to have a strong year after a season-ending injury, are in a contract year, or play a position that is lacking depth.
Here’s a recap of the countdown so far:
- 20. CB Tayvon Young
- 19. LB Zachary Orr
- 18. CB Shareece Wright
- 17. K Justin Tucker
- 16. DL Brandon Williams
- 15. OLB Za’Darius Smith
- 14. TE Crockett Gillmore
- 13. G/C John Urschel
- 12. WR Mike Wallace
- 11. FS Lardarius Webb
- 10. OLB Elvis Dumervil
- 9. SS Eric Weddle
- 8. LT Ronnie Stanley
- 7. OLB Terrell Suggs
- 6. WR Breshad Perriman
- 5. OL Marshal Yanda
And here are your Top 5 Ravens …
No. 4: CB Jimmy Smith
Jimmy Smith is Baltimore’s best defensive back, and the one with the most potential. He has the size and demeanor to lock up the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver. Though, yet again, we enter a season not knowing how he’ll play.
If Smith can stay healthy, like he did when he started every game in 2013 and in 2015, he can make a big push for a Pro Bowl selection. In each of those two years, he recorded over 50 tackles and double-digits in passes defensed.
In his other three seasons (2011-12, 2014), Smith has started a total of 13 games.
Eight interceptions in 45 career starts isn’t the production you anticipate getting from a first-round cornerback. His injuries are a large reason why he’s lacked consistency throughout his six pro seasons, yet dominant play seems to be within reach.
Perhaps he’ll answer in 2016.
The 6-year vet is healthy and seems determined. If he doesn’t produce in 2016, it will add up to another player failing to perform to the level of his contract, one the Ravens would surely struggle to move. Smith’s current deal runs through 2019 and carries a total remaining value of $44.4 million. There’s no way Smith can justify that deal playing at his current level. This year, he needs to remind opponents of how good he can really be.
No. 3: ILB C.J. Mosley
C.J. Mosley is the best defensive player on the Ravens and is going to make just under $2.4 million this year. His rookie contract is up at the end of the 2017 season (pending a 5th-year option). Between now and then, he has (potentially) 32 regular season games plus any playoff games to show Baltimore’s brass why he should be paid like a top-tier defender.
The Ravens have always had good defensive role players and exceptional defensive leaders. Mosley is on his way to becoming the latter. But to take that next step, he must take games over and ensure his teammates trust and follow him, so they can follow suit.
Despite his athleticism and instinct, Mosley had more than a couple lapses in pass coverage last year. This year, there’s very little margin for error as he’s been given the “green dot” on his helmet. As the play-caller, he’s the defensive coach on the field. He’s the leader. His role has increased in responsibility and importance, and I expect he’ll be up to the challenge.
One thing that may help Mosley improve is his health. Per a recent article written by The Sun’s Don Markus: “Mosley is also feeling better physically than he did last season, when he played with a hard plastic brace on his right arm after undergoing surgery prior to the season. He is playing with a smaller, more flexible brace and fewer worries about re-injuring it.”
Mosley isn’t Ray Lewis-good, and I don’t think he ever will be. However, he has the potential to become a First-Team All-Pro and one of the NFL’s top defenders in the coming years. He’ll need to lead Baltimore’s defensive resurgence for this team to get back to the postseason.
No. 2: WR Steve Smith, Sr.
This is it for Steve Smith. He’s already in serious contention for the Hall of Fame, and has done just about everything an individual player can do. With 681 yards from scrimmage, he’ll eclipse the 15,000-yard mark–something only 22 men have ever done before. With 1,361 receiving yards, he’ll pass Randy Moss for 3rd all-time.
Despite the numerous individual accolades Smith has compiled, a Lombardi trophy eludes him.
He was on his way to the Super Bowl in 2014, but his dream was cut short by the Patriots in the divisional round. In the seven games since, he gained an average of 96 yards per game and scored three touchdowns (before tearing his Achilles).
Now, entering his final season, and just having witnessed one of his brethren suffer the same kind of injury (Ben Watson), it’s safe to say Smith will have a focus about him that is as intense as we’ve ever seen him have.
Forget being one of the Top 5 most talented Ravens–he’s one of the most talented players who’s ever played professional football. To have a player like that still be motivated after all he’s done is quite a scary thought for any team that will face the Ravens this year.
No. 1: QB Joe Flacco
Not much needs to be said here. Joe Flacco is 2nd on the team to Marshal Yanda in terms of overall talent at this point in their careers. But in terms of one player’s value to a team, the quarterback takes the top spot.
Specifically with regards to Flacco, he’s been counted out and overlooked his entire career. Even after winning a Super Bowl MVP award, on a playoff run in which he won on the road in Denver and New England, he was seen as either a fluke and/or overpaid.
That fact is that the Ravens are a winning team with Flacco (85-52, 62 percent, playoffs included) and a losing team without him (2-4, 33.3 percent).
College football begins (in earnest) this Saturday, which brings to mind one of my favorite metaphors. What used to be the BCS, graded teams not only on winning, but essentially on style points. You’d have to beat good teams by enough points to get a better poll position than a team that won a 1-point game against an “average” opponent.
The NFL is not the BCS. A win is a win.
If you want a quarterback that will help you in fantasy football, Flacco isn’t your best option. But if you truly want to win, there aren’t many better than him.