As training camp kicks off this week for the Baltimore Ravens, there seems to be a relatively positive amount of optimism regarding the team and the current state of the roster.
With some rare big-splash additions in free agency (Tony Jefferson, Brandon Carr, Danny Woodhead and Jeremy Maclin), the Ravens enter the 2017 campaign with a roster that looks to be as good, if not better, than last year’s team.
Given the improved roster, this year’s Ravens team should be right in the thick of things come December, and a return to the playoffs is not out of the realm of possibility. Overall, the personnel that John Harbaugh will be working with this season looks up to par, but some position units on the team stand out more than others.
Therefore, we ranked Baltimore’s position units from best to worst to grab a gauge on where the strengths and weaknesses of the roster lie with training camp set to begin.
1. Safety – far and away the easiest selection on this list, as the Ravens have arguably the second-best starting safety tandem in the NFL after the Seattle Seahawks. Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson will complement each other well and will be the anchors of what is expected to be an improved Ravens defense. Having Lardarius Webb (who was better as a safety in 2016 than as a cornerback in previous years) as insurance boosts the unit and provides a degree of comfort for defensive coordinator Dean Pees.
2. Special Teams – for better or worse, Justin Tucker is one of Baltimore’s best overall players, and that does not figure to change in 2017. “The Wolfpack” remains intact for another season. The only thing missing is a consistent return man.
3. Edge Rusher – this is a bet on where the unit will be a few months from now, compared to how it is perceived today. The edge-rushing unit as a whole is unproven, but the steady flow of talent is there to warrant faith in this unit becoming one of Baltimore’s best this season. Terrell Suggs is a given, and the upside of Matt Judon, Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser gives plenty of hope for the Ravens pass rush to improve this year.
4. Wide Receiver – for as much as everyone complains about the lack of weapons for Joe Flacco, the reality is that Baltimore’s trio of receivers (Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman and Jeremy Maclin) is not a unit to moan about. Wallace had a career resurgence in 2016, Perriman flashed when given the opportunity and Maclin is a proven asset. If the top three stay healthy and Chris Moore can contribute in some fashion, Flacco will have no shortage of options at receiver.
5. Defensive Line – flooded with youth, this unit is almost all potential and talent at the moment, save for Brandon Williams. But with so many diverse options (Michael Pierce, Brent Urban, Bronson Kaufusi, Chris Wormley and Carl Davis, among others), there is plenty to be excited about entering the season.
6. Quarterback – hard to rank as it is a two-man unit (Joe Flacco and Ryan Mallett), the quarterbacks fall at the midway point on the list as Flacco looks to rebound from an OK 2016 campaign. Flacco was efficient last season, but much too conservative for the Ravens offense to hit stride. Mallett is a good-enough option as a backup.
7. Cornerback – losing Tavon Young stings, but luckily the Ravens still have what looks to be three key contributors this season at the position in Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey. All at their best, that is a pretty enticing unit, but Smith’s health has been a concern, Carr has struggled to remain consistent and Humphrey is a rookie.
8. Running Back – the four-game suspension of Kenneth Dixon is a major blow to a unit that was shaping up to be a three-headed monster in 2017. Now Terrance West will get the primary reps in September, and Danny Woodhead will be a key receiving option out of the backfield. Once Dixon returns, this unit will likely bump up the list.
9. Offensive Line – plenty of talent, but plenty of uncertainty to go along with it. Rookie Ronnie Stanley shined in 2016 when healthy, but did miss four games. Same goes for Alex Lewis, who looked the part but missed almost half the regular season. Staying healthy will be key for this unit, as will finding a starting right tackle (sorry, James Hurst).
10. Inside Linebacker – yes, C.J. Mosley is one of Baltimore’s best players overall, but it is simply too difficult to rank this unit higher without having more clarity at the second inside linebacker position. Perhaps Patrick Onwuasor (coming off a fair amount of snaps late in 2016) fills in for Zachary Orr, or maybe Kamalei Correa shifts inside to start. Until then, it is hard to judge how good this unit can be in 2017.
11. Tight End – the unfortunate reality of this spot on the list is that a completely healthy tight end unit in Baltimore is probably one of the better ones in AFC. However, Ben Watson is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury in 2016, Crockett Gillmore has battled injuries for the past two season and Maxx Williams may not be ready for Week 1. Dennis Pitta and Darren Waller are already out of the mix for 2017 and training camp has not even begun. Perhaps the best option is one slip up from a one-year suspension. Can this group play close to its potential? Stay healthy?