As seen through last year’s rookie class, the Baltimore Ravens are often hesitant to throw newcomers into the fire, typically only relying on early-round rookies to make an impact.
In fact, first-round pick Matt Elam was the only rookie to see the field on a regular basis, as rookie counterparts such as Arthur Brown, Brandon Williams, Ricky Wagner touched the field in limited roles, and three rookies – Ryan Jensen, Kapron Lewis-Moore and Aaron Mellette – (partially due to injury) never touched the field at all.
Fast forward to 2014, and history tells us expectations should be tempered for the impact of Baltimore’s 2014 rookies in their first NFL season.
However, several of the draft picks join the team with favorable situations at their respective positions, which gives hope that this year’s rookie class may take on a bigger role than expected this Fall.
How big of a role will each rookie have?
Here’s a power ranking of the rookies based on their expected impact/playing time this season.
1. Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley – Not exactly breaking any headlines here; as a first-round pick, Mosley’s enters a linebacker mix that includes Brown and Daryl Smith, and all three figure to see significant playing time in a three-man rotation in 2014.
Mosley will earn plenty of playing time even in a crowded situation, and in all likelihood, will be a starter for Week 1 of the regular season. He provides more as a run stopper than Smith did in 2013, and Mosley’s instinctive coverage ability should complement Brown and Smith – both exceptional coverage linebackers – well.
2. Free safety Terrence Brooks – Not many third-round picks enter the NFL with a facilitated path to a day-one starting job, but Brooks is an exception to the rule. A player who was selected lower than he deserved to be, Brooks has the range and closing speed to be effective enough to make an impact as a first-year player.
His current competition is veteran Darian Stewart, but it’d be a mini upset if Stewart won the starting job. Don’t be surprised to see a Brooks-Elam back end of the defense to start the 2014 season.
3. Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan – Versatile enough to be more than just a nose tackle in Baltimore’s defense, Jernigan is a capable zero, one and three-technique defensive lineman, which helps his case to work his way into different packages as a rookie.
Williams is the superior nose tackle right now, though, and should be the primary player at that position, but the front office is also quite high on Jernigan, so it won’t be a shock to see him on the field in various roles this season.
4. Running back Lorenzo Taliaferro – An early-career arrest put a damper on his arrival to Baltimore, but by September, that incident will be irrelevant when he’ll be thrown in to Baltimore’s backfield as an expected suspension to start the regular season is headed Ray Rice’s way.
Taliaferro will join Bernard Pierce and possibly veteran Justin Forsett as the headliners of the backfield during that period, and if he can prove himself in the early going, Taliaferro could establish himself as a player worthy of snaps – either as a short-yardage back or pass protector – for the duration of the 2014 season.
5. Tight end Crockett Gillmore – Gary Kubiak’s tight end-heavy offense promises to give Gillmore ample opportunities on the field as a rookie. But while he should experience playing time either as a blocker or red zone threat, Gillmore will still be the third tight end on the depth chart behind Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels.
Something to keep in mind, though: Daniels has not played a full season since 2008, so odds are he’ll miss playing time at some point in 2014, giving Gillmore more early-career live action.
6. Defensive end Brent Urban - Easily the most difficult pick of the bunch. Urban is a mammoth of a defender at 6’7 who was the best collegiate player in the country last season at batting down passes at the line of scrimmage.
The Ravens will benefit from that added dynamic, and in the long run, Urban could be the steal of Baltimore’s draft. When we look back at the draft four years from now, many will think: “how was Brent Urban a fourth round pick?”
But as a rookie, Urban enters a crowded front seven, so who knows how much playing time he’ll actually see? Urban may be one of those Ravens picks – similar to Arthur Jones most recently – that sees sparse playing time to start his career, but turns out to be a quality starter.
7. Wide receiver Michael Campanaro – Urban was the wild card on the defensive side, and Campanaro is the wild card on offense. As a seventh-round pick, realistically, any production is already exceeding expectations in Campanaro’s first NFL season.
Long term, he has the skill set to be a productive slot receivers in the league, but he enters the team buried on the depth chart behind Steve Smith, Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown and Jacoby Jones, and will have to work his way up the roster to earn consistent snaps as a rookie. He brings more to the table than Mellette and Deonte Thompson, which does give hope for Campanaro as Baltimore’s fifth receiver.
8. Offensive lineman John Urschel – A two-year starter at right guard in college, Urschel is being moved to center for the Ravens where – as a more recent draft pick – he has the leg up on Gino Gradkowski for the backup center job. Gradkowski’s historically poor 2013 season provides hope for Urschel to win that job, but he’ll still be a swing backup center-guard as a rookie, which doesn’t guarantee any meaningful playing time unless an injury occurs.
9. Quarterback Keith Wenning – He has a good shot to win the backup quarterback job this season, but even if that’s the case, the last six seasons of Ravens football have taught us that being the backup quarterback in Baltimore is one of the least demanding jobs in the NFL. Joe Flacco has never missed a snap due to injury in his six-year career, making it a long shot Wenning touches the field for any meaningful snaps as a rookie barring anything unforeseen.