Couldn't agree more. Berman is one of the top 10 (wait...let's double check ESPN's roster...), top 5 talents ESPN has. In fact, I propose a White House petition to bring back, back, back, back, back the Berman/Jackson NFL Primetime.
WR Kelley Washington, TE L.J. Smith, C Matt Birk, CB Domonique Foxworth, CB/KR Chris Carr.
OT Michael Oher, DE Paul Kruger, CB Lardarius Webb, ILB Jason Phillips, TE Davon Drew, RB Cedric Peerman.
QB Kyle Boller, FB Lorenzo Neal, TE Quinn "Miracle Man" Sypniewski, TE Daniel Wilcox, OT Willie Anderson, OT Chad Slaughter, C Jason Brown, DE/DT Marques Douglas, ILB Bart Scott, ILB Nick Greisen, ILB Robert McCune, CB Chris McAlister, CB Corey Ivy, S Jim Leonhard, K Matt Stover.
2009 Baltimore Ravens Offense:
One great rookie quarterback is something special, but two in the same year? That's unheard of. Well, the unbelievable happened in 2008, as Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan led both of their squads into the postseason. Ryan stole all of the accolades because he put up better fantasy numbers, but in my opinion, Flacco had the better year.
Flacco, product of Division 1-AA Delaware, had a rocky first five games. During the last 11 games of the regular season, however, Flacco threw for 13 touchdowns to just five picks. He also lost just one fumble. Even more impressive, Flacco maintained a YPA greater than eight in five of the contests. Cam Cameron's play-calling was much more conservative in the playoffs, but Flacco didn't commit a turnover in the first two rounds. He even made a few clutch passes at Tennessee on the game-winning drive.
Flacco finally self-destructed at Pittsburgh (13-of-30 for 141 yards and three interceptions), but the 2008 Steelers fielded one of the top defenses the NFL has seen this decade.
I was hoping the Ravens would obtain some weapons for Flacco this offseason, but that never happened. All Baltimore could do was sign L.J. Smith, who should make for a great pass-dropping tight end in this offense. Todd Heap, meanwhile, can't seem to stay healthy and was often relegated to blocking duty in 2008.
Derrick Mason is one of the league's most underrated wideouts. Despite being stuck in a conservative offense and paired with a rookie quarterback, Mason managed to catch 80 balls for 1,037 yards and five touchdowns. Unfortunately, he turned 35 in January, so there's a considerable chance for a moderate dropoff. With that in mind, either Mark Clayton or Demetrius Williams needs to step up. Clayton caught 41 balls in 2008, but registered at least three receptions in four of the team's final five regular-season games. Williams, a 6-2, 197-pound receiver, is talented, but simply can't stay healthy; he has missed 16 games in the past two years.
One intriguing weapon Flacco has at his disposal is second-year runner Ray Rice. Rice, a two-dimensional threat out of the backfield, totaled 1,020 total yards as a rookie. With Le'Ron McClain moving to fullback to replace Lorenzo Neal, look for Cameron to center the offense more around Rice.
With the addition of right tackle Michael Oher, a forceful run-blocker, Rice and McClain will be even more effective on the ground. Oher, chosen with the 23rd pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, was a steal for the Ravens; he could have easily been a top-10 selection if the NFL wasn't run by incompetent general managers. Oher will play across from stud left tackle Jared Gaither, who surrendered just three sacks in his first full season as a starter.
With left guard solidified by Ben Grubbs, the two problem areas for Baltimore's offensive line appear to be center and right guard. Marshal Yanda, expected to play the latter, is coming off ACL, MCL and PCL surgeries. If he can't go by the beginning of the regular season, Chris Chester will once again start in his spot. At center, Jason Brown defected for the Rams, leaving the Ravens with Matt Birk as his replacement. Birk has been a great center for a number of years, but he has declined in skill recently. At 32, Birk was simply mediocre for the Vikings last season. Still, he's not the worst replacement in the world.
2009 Baltimore Ravens Defense:
I was way off on the Ravens last year. I cited that their defense would take a step backward because of all the aging veterans they had on their stop unit. Trevor Pryce was 33; Kelly Gregg was 32; Ray Lewis was 33; Chris McAlister was 31; Samari Rolle was 32... you get the point.
To their credit, the Ravens proved me wrong. They finished third in scoring defense (15.2 ppg), second in yards allowed, second versus the run (3.3 YPC) and third against the pass (6.1 YPA).
Despite these great numbers, Baltimore didn't get to the passer as often as you'd expect (34 sacks). Terrell Suggs lead the team with eight sacks, while Jarret Johnson chipped in with five. Still, the secondary played extremely well last year, even without strong safety Dawan Landry, who suffered a spinal cord concussion and missed 14 games.
Of course, Ed Reed was as dominant as ever. Winning my personal Defensive Player of the Year award on this site, Reed picked off nine passes in the regular season and took two back to the house. Reed also logged two interceptions in the first round of the playoffs - one of which was a pick-six.
As for the corners, McAlister, a long-time Raven, is gone. Not that it matters much anyway; he was plagued by injuries and played in just six games last season. Rolle, who started just 10 contests, was cut but then brought back. He'll play behind Fabian Washington and the newly acquired Domonique Foxworth. Foxworth had a great 2008 campaign and was a highly sought free agent. The Ravens inked him to a 4-year, $27.2 million deal. It's almost scary to think how well Foxworth is going to play beside Reed, and behind Suggs and Ray Lewis.
Speaking of Lewis, the future Hall of Famer just turned 34, but was still highly effective last season. The Ravens were confident enough to give him a 3-year, $22 million contract this offseason, basically ensuring that Lewis remains in Baltimore for the rest of his career.
Unfortunately, Lewis will be working with a different running mate. Bart Scott played on a Pro Bowl level in 2008, but decided to follow former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan to New York. Replacing Scott is Tavares Gooden, a third-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, whom the coaching staff is high on. However, Gooden missed most of last season with a sports hernia, so he's going to have to learn quickly while on the job.
Baltimore's linebackers will likely continue to remain dominant, thanks to the team's prolific three-man line. Haloti Ngata and Trevor Pryce, the team's 3-4 ends, once again performed at a high level. There's some concern with Pryce, who turns 34 in August, but the Ravens have tons of depth up front if he becomes a liability. At nose tackle, Justin Bannan did an admirable job filling in for Kelly Gregg, who was lost for the 2008 season with a knee injury. Fortunately, all indications are that Gregg is completely healthy and ready to go.
2009 Baltimore Ravens Schedule and Intangibles:
Matt Stover hit a clutch, game-winning field goal against the Titans to advance the Ravens into the AFC Championship. However, the front office decided that Stover was too old at 41. He'll be replaced by the winner of the Steven Hauschka-Graham Gano battle. Hauschka has a strong leg, while Gano made 24-of-26 attempts at Florida State a year ago.
Third-year punter Sam Koch maintained a very impressive average of 45.0, especially when you consider that he planted 34 of his kicks inside the 20.
The Ravens failed to score on special teams last year, while giving up two scores of their own. Yamon Figurs struggled, so Baltimore brought in free agent Chris Carr and rookie Lardarius Webb as replacements.
Like the Steelers, Baltimore lucked out with a pretty easy schedule. Sure, the Ravens have to play the Chargers and Patriots on the road, but they also get the pleasure of beating up on the Chiefs, Raiders, Broncos, Lions and Browns (twice).
2009 Baltimore Ravens Analysis: While there's a chance that Joe Flacco could fall into a sophomore slump, the Ravens have the defense, running game and coaching staff to ensure that doesn't happen. In fact, I'd say that Baltimore has a pretty good chance of advancing to the Super Bowl despite being in a stacked conference. I would have liked the Ravens to provide Flacco with another receiving threat, but even though they didn't, they're one of the most talented squads in the NFL.
Ozzie Newsome is a brilliant general manager, so it should come as no surprise that the Ravens walked away with one of the better 2009 draft classes.
Michael Oher is such a steal at No. 23. It's almost unfair that Baltimore got him there. How could some of these idiot GMs allow an AFC Championship participant to land a top-tier offensive tackle?
All of Baltimore's picks either provided great draft value or addressed a need. However, I'm a bit puzzled as to why the Ravens didn't take care of the receiver position.
Grade given on 4/27/09: A
2009 NFL Draft Picks:
23. Michael Oher, OT, Ole Miss
One of the top picks in the first round. Ozzie Newsome can only thank the other idiot NFL general managers for letting Michael Oher slip. Baltimore's getting a top second-tier prospect who provides great positional value. (Pick Grade: A)
57. Paul Kruger, DE, Utah
Can Paul Kruger play on Baltimore's three-man defensive line? He'll have a year or two to mature into that role. Kruger is solid value here, and the Ravens had to find a future starter at 3-4 end. (Pick Grade: B)
88. Lardarius Webb, CB, Nicholls State
Lardarius Webb isn't great value here, but he was in the Round 4-5 range, so I don't consider this a reach. Webb fills a need at corner and can return kicks. However, I don't know why the Ravens aren't addressing the receiver position. (Pick Grade: C)
137. Jason Phillips, ILB, TCU
Jason Phillips was a fringe second-round prospect before suffering a pre-draft injury. Leave it to Ozzie Newsome to steal him in Round 5. Phillips could be Ray Lewis' successor. (Pick Grade: A)
149. Davon Drew, TE, East Carolina
Todd Heap has really fallen off and L.J. Smith is horrendous. Ozzie Newsome once again makes a solid value pick. (Pick Grade: A)
185. Cedric Peerman, RB, Virginia
Outstanding value once again... I guess Ozzie Newsome really knows what he's doing, huh? Cedric Peerman could have gone in the third round without any complaints. (Pick Grade: A)
One sensational rookie quarterback is unheard of, but two in the same season? Joe Flacco didn't post the numbers that Matt Ryan compiled, but perhaps his run was more impressive, given that he took his team deeper into the playoffs and he had less to work with than the Falcon signal-caller. While Baltimore has finally found its quarterback, the team will have to hunt for a new defensive core soon, as Ray Lewis, Chris McAlister, Samari Rolle, Trevor Pryce, Kelly Gregg and Ed Reed are all in their 30s.
Browns sign ILB Robert McCune
Ravens sign QB Cleo Lemon
Ravens cut TE Quinn "Miracle Man" Sypniewski
Ravens announce retirement of WR Drew Bennett
Ravens sign WR Drew Bennett
Ravens cut CB Anwar Phillips
Ravens sign WR Kelley Washington
Ravens announce retirement of OT Willie Anderson
Raiders sign FB Lorenzo Neal
Jaguars sign QB Todd Bouman
Ravens sign QB John Beck
Broncos sign ILB Nick Greisen
Ravens re-sign TE Quinn "Miracle Man" Sypniewski
Ravens re-sign WR Demetrius Williams
Ravens re-sign CB Samari Rolle
Rams sign QB Kyle Boller
Ravens re-sign SS Dawan Landry
Ravens re-sign P Sam Koch
Browns sign CB Corey Ivy
Ravens cut CB Samari Rolle
Ravens sign TE L.J. Smith
Ravens sign CB/KR Chris Carr
Jets sign DE Marques Douglas
Ravens cut ILB Nick Greisen
Ravens re-sign ILB Ray Lewis
Ravens sign C Matt Birk
Ravens re-sign CB Evan Oglesby
Jets sign S Jim Leonhard
Rams sign C Jason Brown
Ravens sign CB Domonique Foxworth
Ravens re-sign CB Derrick Martin
Jets sign ILB Bart Scott
Ravens cut DE Marques Douglas
Ravens franchise DE/OLB Terrell Suggs
Ravens re-sign NT Brandon McKinney
Ravens cut CB Chris McAlister
Two Cornerbacks: Easily Baltimore's greatest need, the team has to acquire two new corners if both Chris McAlister (32, saves $8 million) and Samari Rolle (33, injury-prone) are let go. The Ravens will need a new starting corner and one for depth purposes. Signed Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr; re-signed Samari Rolle, Derrick Martin and Evan Oglesby; drafted Lardarius Webb
Wide Receiver: Derrick Mason, one of the most underrated receivers in the league, posted his seventh 1,000-yard season in eight years. The fact that he notched 1,037 yards and five touchdowns with a rookie quarterback is remarkable. However, Mason just turned 35, so a new No. 1 wideout for the future is a huge need. Signed Kelley Washington
Center: Is Chris Chester ready to take over for the departed Jason Brown? I'm not sure. The Ravens may want to bring in some competition. Signed Matt Birk
Blocking Tight End: Todd Heap wasn't productive at all in 2008 because he had to stay in and block. The Ravens need to bring in a healthy blocking tight end so Heap can become an offensive threat again. Drafted Davon Drew; signed L.J. Smith
Right Tackle: The Ravens could really use some depth up front; they ran into problems in the playoffs when Willie Anderson went down. Anderson, 34 in July, can be upgraded as well. Drafted Michael Oher
Defensive End: The Ravens have bigger needs to address, but Trevor Pryce turns 34 in the summer. Drafted Paul Kruger
Linebackers: Of Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott, two of the three must be re-signed. If not, the Ravens will be searching for help in free agency or the draft. Franchised Terrell Suggs; re-signed Ray Lewis; drafted Jason Phillips
Return Specialist: With Jim Leonhard likely on his way out, the Ravens must look into bringing in a potent return man. Drafted Lardarius Webb; signed Chris Carr
Special Teamers: Baltimore was sound on punt returns, but the team surrendered two kickoff touchdowns.
2009 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Domonique Foxworth, CB, Falcons. Age: 26. Signed with Ravens (4 years, $28 million)
Acquired from the Broncos, Domonique Foxworth played extremely well for the Falcons. Let's see if performs just as well when he's not in his contract year.
Matt Birk, C, Vikings. Age: 33. Signed with Ravens
Matt Birk is no longer the player he once was, but with so many teams having center problems around the NFL, he'll be an upgrade for someone in 2009.
Chris Carr, CB/KR, Titans. Age: 26. Signed with Ravens (2 years, $5 million)
A solid return specialist and a decent option for cornerbacking depth.
L.J. Smith, TE, Eagles. Age: 29. Signed with Ravens (1 year, $1.5 million)
Tough choice... no, I'm not talking about anyone signing L.J. Smith or not; I'm deciding on whether or not to call him the "King of the Dropped Pass;" the "Sultan of False Starts" or the "Emperor of Stealing Money from the Philadelphia Eagles."
Cleo Lemon, QB, Jaguars. Age: 30. - Signed with Ravens
Kelley Washington, WR, Patriots. Age: 30. - Signed with Ravens (1 year)
John Beck, QB, Dolphins. Age: 28. - Signed with Ravens
Baltimore Ravens Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 16): $19 million
Terrell Suggs, DE/OLB. Age: 26. Franchised by Ravens
Save for the 2007 campaign, Terrell Suggs has recorded at least eight sacks in every season in his career. He also managed a pair of sacks in the AFC Championship. At 26, he's one of the premier free agents available this offseason.
Jason Brown, C. Age: 26. Signed with Rams (5 years, $37.5 million; $20 million guaranteed)
One of the top young centers in the NFL, Jason Brown will either be franchised or offered a huge contract this offseason.
Ray Lewis, ILB. Age: 34. Re-signed with Ravens
Though age is a concern, Ray Lewis will command tons of money this offseason. Per the Baltimore Sun, the Cowboys are ready to offer him $25 million over three years.
Sam Koch (RFA), P. Age: 27. Re-signed with Ravens (1 year, $1.545 million)
The Ravens should look into extending Sam Koch. He had a 45-yard punting average despite drilling a whopping 34 kicks inside the opposing 20 (most in the NFL).
Bart Scott, ILB. Age: 29. Signed with Jets (6 years, $48 million)
A really good linebacker or the product of a great Ravens system? No one can really be certain, but one thing's for sure - Bart Scott is really entertaining. Asked to compare Chris Johnson and LenDale White, Scott said, "Let's see: a fat guy and the fastest guy in the 40... Not fat. I'm sorry. Plump."
Lorenzo Neal, FB. Age: 38. Signed with Raiders
Meanwhile, it's also no coincidence that LaDainian Tomlinson just had the worst season in his career the year after Lorenzo Neal defected for Baltimore.
Dawan Landry recorded five interceptions as a rookie, but none since. However, he played in just two games this season because of a spinal cord concussion. In related news, Landry's spinal cord still thinks its name is "Batman."
Matt Stover, K. Age: 41.
Matt Stover proved against the Titans that he can still be very accurate, clutch and reliable inside 45. His leg strength is gone, but Stover can still be counted on. Just ask the Saints if they want him; New Orleans lost at least two games because of its kickers, robbing the team of a potential playoff berth.
Jim Leonhard, S. Age: 26. Signed with Jets (3 years)
Jim Leonhard stepped in for an injured Dawan Landry and played remarkably well. Look for him to follow Rex Ryan to New York.
Chris McAlister, CB. Age: 32.
Chris McAlister is a risky signing because he has terrible knees. If he can stay healthy, he can be an upgrade. That's a huge "if," however.
Samari Rolle, CB. Age: 33. Re-signed with Ravens (4 years)
Samari Rolle, 33 in August, has missed 16 games in the past two years. He's a solid, experienced nickel at the very best.
Quinn "Miracle Man" Sypniewski, TE. Age: 27.
Quinn "Miracle Man" Sypniewski is the only player in NFL history capable of putting up stats while on injured reserve. The Miracle Man is a solid blocker who caught 34 passes for 246 yards in 2007.
Kyle Boller, QB. Age: 28. Signed with Rams
Kyle Boller probably deserves a shot with a coach who actually knows what he's doing (i.e. not Brian Billick), but he probably won't get one.
Demetrius Williams (RFA), WR. Age: 26. - Re-signed with Ravens (1 year)
Nick Greisen, ILB. Age: 30. - Signed with Broncos
Corey Ivy, CB. Age: 32. - Signed with Browns (1 year)
Chad Slaughter, OT. Age: 31.
Brandon McKinney (RFA), NT. Age: 26. - Re-signed with Ravens
Marques Douglas, DE. Age: 32. - Signed with Jets
Daniel Wilcox, TE. Age: 32.
Robert McCune, ILB. Age: 30. - Signed with Browns
Evan Oglesby (RFA), CB. Age: 27. - Re-signed with Ravens
Derrick Martin (RFA), CB. Age: 24. - Re-signed with Ravens
Divisional Rival History: Cincinnati Bengals: Prior to the 2008 season, the Bengals had won six of seven in this rivalry. Baltimore pulled off the sweep this year. Cleveland Browns: The new Browns swept the old Browns in 2007, but the old Browns returned the favor, sweeping the new Browns in 2008. Confused? Pittsburgh Steelers: The host dominates this rivalry, winning 12 of the previous 14 matchups. Pittsburgh won all three battles in 2008, though they were helped by Walt Coleman in Baltimore.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2009 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)