April showers bring May flowers. While flowers may be too soft of a word to describe NFL football players, it’s fitting when trying to describe how the Ravens develop players.
A year ago, many of us assumed that the Ravens would be coveting a veteran offensive lineman during free agency or drafting a superstar lineman with the 17th overall pick. The team ultimately decided to go with in-house right tackle Rick Wagner (2013 5th round pick) in 2014, a player who the team had been developing since drafting him the year before. In the draft, the Ravens opted to address their aging linebacker corps by selecting Alabama linebacker, C.J. Mosley.
However, both moves brought the Ravens flowers once the season started as both Wagner and Mosley had fantastic years.
Can Ozzie and company pull it off again as we look ahead to the 2015 season?
“I’m excited about our young guys, John Harbaugh said at the teams pre-draft press conference. “I don’t know if I have the list right in front of me, in all honesty, but there’s not one guy who I don’t think is going to be a good player.”
“There’s nobody who I feel like he can’t play.”
Experts have penned wide receiver, pass rusher, running back and cornerback as positions of need for the Ravens in 2015. Just like every year, the front office lets free agency play out, avoiding the hefty price tags. They instead rely on the younger players to step up and fill in for others who left town during the free agency frenzy.
“[Michael] Campanaro, you take a guy kind of off the top of your head right there, and [Kamar] Aiken – you have the young receivers out there,” Harbaugh responded when asked about who he was excited to see get more of an opportunity this season. “Obviously, those guys are going to be challenged, and they need to take it to another level.”
Aiken and Campanaro (for now) will have much bigger roles on offense this year. They will be expected to put up numbers similar to Torrey Smith who left Baltimore for San Francisco. It’s still likely that the Ravens will take a receiver in the draft. Both Campanaro and Aiken don’t have the speed to take the top off of opposing defenses like Smith did during his tenure in purple and black.
Harbaugh also expressed his confidence in the cornerback group, which was decimated by injury last season. A total of five cornerbacks went on IR. The team saw a total of twelve different CBs on their 53-man roster.
“We have a couple young corners in the program who it’s going to be up to them, and they’re big, long guys that can run around. We’ll see how those guys do,” said Harbaugh.
Corners Anthony Levine (RFA) and Rashaan Melvin (ERFA) will return to the secondary. They join Lardarius Webb as well as Jimmy Smith and Asa Jackson who are both rehabbing. Tramain Jacobs remains the only player in new secondary coach Chris Hewitt’s unit to not sign his tender yet.
Perhaps the most secure group on the field is the Ravens’ young defensive line. This season, the young group will be without star player Haloti Ngata who was traded to the Detroit Lions. It remains to be seen just how much Clarence Brook’s line will miss his presence. The group did, however, play extremely well last year when Ngata was suspended for the final four games of the regular season.
Timmy Jernigan and Brandon Williams both had solid years. They will be rejoined by Chris Canty (re-signed) and healthy defensive ends Kapron Lewis-Moore and Brent Urban who are both returning from injuries.
One player Harbs is truly excited to see who most fans would need to Google is DE Steven Means.
“Of course, the young defensive tackles, they’re going to take it to another level. We have a young pass rusher – Steven Means is a guy just to throw out there – we’ll see how he does, but there’s not a guy in this room that probably knows who he is except for, maybe, the four of us.
Means, 6-3, 260 pound defensive end spent 10 weeks on the Ravens practice squad last season after being released from Tampa Bay after week one. Means is a developmental player, but Harbaugh has high hopes for the University of Buffalo standout.
“He’s a guy that’s going to be interesting to see how he develops.”
So as the Ravens spend the next week setting up their draft board don’t be surprised if they opt not to take one of their big positional needs.
Just like those April showers that bring May flowers, the organization will groom these players in the offseason so that we all can see the flowers of their development blooming in the fall when the season starts.
“We’re always bringing in young players. Guys are going to leave,” Harbaugh acknowledged. “We have to put guys in under those guys before they leave, and hopefully, those guys blossom at the right time.”
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