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.
RB Ricky Williams, FB Vonta Leach, WR Lee Evans, C Casey Rabach, SS Bernard Pollard.
Early Draft Picks:
CB Jimmy Smith, WR Torrey Smith, OT Jah Reid, WR Tandon Doss, CB Chykie Brown, DE/DT Pernell McPhee, QB Tyrod Taylor.
QB Marc Bulger, RB Willis McGahee, FB Le'Ron McClain, WR Derrick Mason, TE Todd Heap, OT Jared Gaither, G/C Chris Chester, NT Kelly Gregg, CB Josh Wilson, CB Fabian Washington, SS Dawan Landry.
2011 Baltimore Ravens Offense:
If Joe Flacco wants to take the next step as an NFL quarterback, he'll have to beat Ben Roethlisberger. That may sound simple reading it on the computer screen, but Flacco has never done it. He's 0-6 against the Steelers when Big Ben is under center.
Of course, it's difficult to just blame Flacco for his failure to beat a divisional rival quarterback. In their last meeting, Baltimore wideouts dropped passes left and right in the second half. Unfortunately for the Ravens, their receiving corps is actually worse this year. Derrick Mason and Todd Heap, two of Flacco's favorite targets, are both gone.
Anquan Boldin will need to rebound off a horrible 2010 campaign in which he averaged just 33.7 yards per game in the final nine weeks. This wasn't just a tough transition into the offense; Boldin looked old, sluggish and slow, and couldn't get separation against anyone. Turning 31 in October, Boldin could be finished.
Speaking of old, sluggish and slow, those adjectives would also describe Lee Evans, who was acquired for a fourth-round pick. Evans has been a great deep threat over the years whose talents were wasted in Buffalo, but he doesn't have his elite speed anymore.
Save for Ray Rice, who may reach close to 80 receptions again, Flacco's other targets include rookie wideouts Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss, and second-year tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. Though Pitta was solid in his preseason debut, none of these players have done anything in the NFL, making Flacco's quest to vanquish Roethlisberger a taxing one.
One area where Baltimore has improved offensively is the rushing attack. Its big signing this offseason was fullback Vonta Leach, one of the best run-blockers in the business. Leach's presence could allow Rice to lead the NFL in total yards from scrimmage, assuming newly signed Ricky Williams doesn't take away too many touches.
Rice's YPC plummeted from 5.3 in 2009 to 4.0 in 2010 because the offensive line missed mauling right tackle Jared Gaither, who dealt with a back injury that still hasn't gone away. Third-round rookie Jah Reid is expected to start at the position, which could prove to be disastrous against a defense like Pittsburgh's. Reid struggled in his preseason debut at Philadelphia.
The other four linemen return, thanks in part to the release of Mason, Heap and Kelly Gregg. Baltimore was able to use some of this cap space to re-sign guard Marshal Yanda, an exceptional run-blocker. Left guard Ben Grubbs is also very good, while 35-year-old center Matt Birk will try not to regress off a brilliant 2010 campaign. As for the blind side, Michael Oher was abysmal after a promising rookie season. Oher was guilty of 13 penalties and nine sacks, so to quote Greg Cox, perhaps Oher needs another pep talk from Sandra Bullock.
2011 Baltimore Ravens Defense:
This could be it for Ray Lewis. The future first-ballot Hall of Famer told the media that he plans to retire if the Ravens walk away with the Lombardi Trophy this season, explaining that he wants to be there for his son, who is now a junior in high school. Lewis will be missed by everyone who doesn't live in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Cleveland. Even the players won't want to see him go, as they ranked him third in NFL.com's extremely flawed top 100 list this offseason.
While Lewis gets all the acclaim - and he certainly deserves a lot of it because of how great of a leader he is - Jarret Johnson is the top linebacker on Baltimore's roster. Johnson is a three-down, do-it-all defender manning the strongside position. He's exceptional in run support and very effective in coverage. Hopefully he'll finally get noticed by the national media this year. Rounding out the linebacking corps is the solid, but unspectacular Jameel McClain.
Lewis isn't nearly as good as he once was, but he's still a very solid player. He is better than he looks though because of a stout front four. Haloti Ngata is a top-three defensive tackle in the NFL. Not only does he completely clog running lanes; he also provides a solid pass rush, as he generated 5.5 sacks in 2010. With Kelly Gregg gone, Ngata will be paired next to last year's second-round pick, Terrence Cody, who stopped the run pretty well in limited action as a rookie.
On the outside, Terrell Suggs enjoyed a rebound 2010 campaign after struggling the season before, piling up 11 sacks in the regular season and five in two playoff contests. Suggs is currently slated to play across from left end Arthur Jones, who has passed Cory Redding on the depth chart during training camp. Jones was once considered a borderline first-round prospect in the 2010 NFL Draft, but fell because of injury issues. It appears as though he's over them.
If Jones pans out, the only real hole on Baltimore's defense is at strong safety, vacated by Dawan Landry, who signed with Jacksonville. Tom Zbikowski will get first crack at the job, but he'll receive some competition from Bernard Pollard and Haruki "Hiro" Nakamura. As Texans fans know, Pollard is completely lost in coverage. It's a good thing though that Ed Reed is returning for another season, though the All-Pro safety turns 33 on Sept. 11.
The Ravens lost a starting cornerback in Josh Wilson, but they are still loaded at the position. Chris Carr, who should be one of the starters, just re-signed with the team for a 4-year deal. Lardarius Webb, who performed well down the stretch last season, could be in the mix for the other job unless ultra-talented first-round rookie Jimmy Smith passes him on the depth chart. Domonique Foxworth, another extremely skilled corner, will also fight for a starting gig, though he's been hampered by his surgically repaired knee in training camp.
2011 Baltimore Ravens Schedule and Intangibles:
The Haves and the Have Nots of the NFL are separated this season by teams who have retained most of their personnel and coaching staff, and those that have failed to do so. Count Baltimore into the former category.
Baltimore had kicking issues in 2009, but Billy Cundiff brought some stability to the position last year, nailing 26-of-29 attempts. He failed on his only try from 50-plus, however, and he's just 1-of-7 from that distance since 2004.
Sam Koch had a decent 2009 campaign, maintaining a 43.6-yard average with an impressive 39-of-81 kicks inside the 20.
The Ravens are mediocre on punt returns, but kickoff specialist David Reed led the NFL with a 29.3 average in 2010. He scored a touchdown in the process. The Ravens struggled to defend returns, but didn't allow a score.
Baltimore's is screwed over by this second-place schedule. While it still gets an elite AFC East team (Jets), it has to play the Chargers instead of the Chiefs. Pittsburgh has the luxury of beating up on Kansas City. Even still, the Ravens' schedule isn't too taxing; easy opponents include Tennessee, Jacksonville, Arizona, Seattle, San Francisco, and Cincinnati twice.
2011 Baltimore Ravens Analysis: Aside from its offensive line and receiving corps, this Baltimore team is loaded, but it has to be brought to attention again. Joe Flacco is 0-6 against Ben Roethlisberger. The Ravens have to slay their dragon if they're going to take the next step as a franchise. If they finally manage to dispatch Big Ben and the Steelers, there's a very good chance that Ray Lewis will be watching his son play high school football next year with a second Super Bowl ring on his finger.
Ozzie Newsome is one of the NFL's top general managers. He churns out great draft classes every year, and 2011 looks like another winner.
The Ravens had to find help at receiver, cornerback and right tackle. They did so by drafting great values, for the most part. Jimmy Smith has Nnamdi Asomugha-type talent, and could thrive in a strong locker room like Baltimore's. Torrey Smith, meanwhile, was projected by some to be a late first-round pick. He was a steal at No. 58.
The only move I didn't really understand was the trade up for Jah Reid. I don't get why Newsome surrendered a draft pick to move up five spots for someone most considered a reach at the end of Round 3.
Overall 2011 NFL Draft Grade given on 5/1/11: A
2011 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
27. Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
This is going to be a weird grade. Jimmy Smith has Nnamdi Asomugha-type talent. He would be a top-10 pick if it weren't for character concerns. But he should be OK in Baltimore with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed watching over him. So, based on that alone, this grade would be an A.
However, Baltimore let the clock expire. What if some team stepped in and grabbed Smith? That was pretty irresponsible and very uncharacteristic of Ozzie Newsome.
** Note: It's now clear that the Bears were at fault for the delay. I'm moving this back to an A from a C. (Pick Grade: A)
58. Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland
The Ravens need to stretch the field, so they were going to take Torrey Smith or Titus Young with this selection. Smith is a great fit. His only issue are his small hands, but otherwise, he's a solid prospect who could have gone much higher than this. (Pick Grade: A)
85. Jah Reid, OT, Central Florida
The Ravens traded up for Jah Reid? Like anyone was going to take Reid in the 85-89 range? Reid fills a need as a bookend across from Michael Oher, but he's a reach at No. 85. (Pick Grade: C)
123. Tandon Doss, WR, Indiana
I figured the Ravens were going to double dip at receiver. Tandon Doss was widely considered a third-round prospect, so Baltimore is getting great value at the bottom of Round 4. (Pick Grade: A)
164. Chykie Brown, CB, Texas
Chykie Brown fits the range at the bottom of Round 5. Corner depth is a big need, so it's no surprise to see Baltimore double dip at the position. (Pick Grade: B)
165. Pernell McPhee, DE/DT, Mississippi State
Pernell McPhee is a steal with the final pick of the fifth round. He could have easily been chosen in the bottom half of Round 3. McPhee addresses a need; he could compete for a starting spot on the defensive line. (Pick Grade: A)
180. Tyrod Taylor, QB, Virginia Tech
Tyrod Taylor was expected to go in Rounds 4-5, so the Ravens are getting good value in the middle of the sixth. He's a nice developmental project behind Joe Flacco. (Pick Grade: B)
225. Anthony Allen, RB, Georgia Tech
A bigger back to replace Willis McGahee. Ozzie Newsome makes yet another solid choice. (Pick Grade: B)
The Ravens had the Steelers right where they wanted them - up 21-7 in the second half, all Baltimore had to do was take care of the football and convert some third downs. Three turnovers later, Pittsburgh had the lead. Baltimore fans have to be wondering if/when Joe Flacco will take the next step and finally beat Ben Roethlisberger.
Ravens acquire WR Lee Evans from Bills for 4th-round pick
Chiefs sign OT Jared Gaither
Ravens sign RB Ricky Williams
Ravens sign TE Kris Wilson
Ravens sign TE Jonathan Stupar
Jets sign WR Derrick Mason
Ravens sign FB Jason McKie
Ravens sign SS Bernard Pollard
Chiefs sign FB Le'Ron McClain
Ravens announce retirement of QB Marc Bulger
Ravens sign C Casey Rabach
Ravens sign FB Vonta Leach
Cardinals sign TE Todd Heap
Saints sign CB Fabian Washington
Ravens re-sign CB Chris Carr
Chiefs sign NT Kelly Gregg
Raiders sign OT Jared Gaither
Ravens re-sign RB Jalen Parmele
Ravens re-sign WR Marcus Smith
Ravens cut NT Lamar Divens
Broncos sign RB Willis McGahee
Redskins sign G/C Chris Chester
Redskins sign CB Josh Wilson
Ravens re-sign OLB Prescott Burgess
Ravens sign C Tim Barnes
Ravens cut RB Willis McGahee
Ravens cut NT Kelly Gregg
Ravens cut TE Todd Heap
Ravens cut WR Derrick Mason
Ravens sign RB Damien Berry
Ravens franchise NT Haloti Ngata
Ravens re-sign P Sam Koch
Wide Receiver: The playoff loss to the Steelers made it pretty apparent that Joe Flacco and Ray Rice need a deep-threat receiver to stretch the offense. Titus Young makes sense in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Drafted Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss; traded for Lee Evans
Defensive End: Cory Redding played well against the Steelers - way to be the only player to notice that Ben Roethlisberger fumbled - but he had a pretty pedestrian year overall. Allen Bailey makes sense with the 26th overall pick in April's draft. Drafted Pernell McPhee
Cornerback: Three of Baltimore's top four cornerbacks - Chris Carr, Josh Wilson and Fabian Washington - are all free agents this offseason. Washington won't be back for sure, but if either Carr or Wilson leaves, Ozzie Newsome will need to find some help at this position. Re-signed Chris Carr; drafted Jimmy Smith and Chykie Brown
Inside Linebacker: The Ravens should obtain some competition for Jameel McClain. Ray Lewis will be 36 in May, so Baltimore will need to find a successor as well. Signed Mark Herzlich
Right Tackle: With Marshal Yanda headed for free agency, the Ravens will need help at right tackle, assuming Jared Gaither can't bounce back from his back injury. Joseph Barksdale would be a great Day 2 draft selection for obvious reasons. Drafted Jah Reid
Right Guard: Chris Chester is another offensive line free agent who will have to be replaced if he signs elsewhere. Marshal Yanda can play right guard if Gaither returns (assuming Yanda is re-signed). Re-signed Marshal Yanda
2011 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Vonta Leach, FB, Texans. Age: 29. Signed with Ravens (3 years, $11 million)
Vonta Leach is one of the NFL's top run-blocking fullbacks. Arian Foster's stats will plummet if Leach isn't retained.
Bernard Pollard, SS, Texans. Age: 26. Signed with Ravens (2 years)
Bernard Pollard is a tremendous run-stuffer, but really struggles in coverage at times.
Ricky Williams, RB, Dolphins. Age: 34. Signed with Ravens (2 years)
Ricky Williams averaged 4.2 yards per carry behind a mediocre offensive line in 2010. He still has some value as a No. 2 back.
Casey Rabach, C, Redskins. Age: 33. -- Signed with Ravens (2 years)
Tim Barnes, C, Missouri. Age: 23. -- Signed with Ravens
Kris Wilson, TE, Chargers. Age: 30. -- Signed with Ravens
Jonathan Stupar, TE, Bills. Age: 27. -- Signed with Ravens
Baltimore Ravens Free Agents:
Salary Cap: No cap.
Haloti Ngata, DT, Ravens. Age: 27. Franchised by Ravens
Haloti Ngata is one of the top interior defensive linemen in the NFL. If the Ravens don't want to pay him top dollar, pretty much every other team in the NFL will be lining up for his services.
Marshal Yanda, OT/G, Ravens. Age: 26. Re-signed with Ravens (5 years, $32 million)
Marshal Yanda had a very good season, surrendering only four sacks. He's capable of playing both right tackle and guard effectively, so that versatility should help him this offseason.
Dawan Landry, SS, Ravens. Age: 28. Signed with Jaguars
Already a terrific run-support safety, Dawan Landry improved his coverage skills this past season.
Sam Koch, P, Ravens. Age: 29. Re-signed with Ravens (5 years)
Sam Koch averaged 43.6 yards per punt despite drilling 39 of his 81 kicks inside the 20.
Chris Carr, CB, Ravens. Age: 28. Re-signed with Ravens (4 years)
Chris Carr unexpectedly emerged as Baltimore's top cornerback this season. Just in time for a new contract too...
Josh Wilson, CB, Ravens. Age: 26. Signed with Redskins
Josh Wilson was a pleasant surprise for the Ravens this season, as he came out of nowhere to become a reliable starter for them.
Le'Ron McClain, FB, Ravens. Age: 26. Signed with Chiefs
Le'Ron McClain's carries, YPC and effectiveness as a run-blocker dropped off a bit in 2010. He wants to be a bigger part of the offense.
Jared Gaither, OT, Ravens. Age: 25. Signed with Chiefs
Jared Gaither is a very talented offensive tackle, but he missed all 2010 with a serious back injury. Back problems don't go away very easily, so it's possible that Gaither may never be 100 percent again.
Willis McGahee, RB, Ravens. Age: 29. Signed with Broncos (4 years, $10 million)
Ray Rice's touchdown vulture is finally gone. Willis McGahee turns 30 in October, but he's carried the ball only 378 times in the previous three seasons, so he could sign somewhere like Miami or Denver and earn a starting gig. McGahee is also an effective pass-catching option, so he could be a very effective second option to Steven Jackson or Michael Turner.
Chris Chester, G, Ravens. Age: 28. Signed with Redskins (5 years, $20 million)
Chris Chester didn't enjoy a good postseason, but otherwise had a pretty decent 2010 campaign.
Kelly Gregg, NT, Ravens. Age: 34. Signed with Chiefs (1 year)
Though Kelly Gregg turns 35 in November, he's still an effective two-down run-stuffer. He's expected to re-sign with the Ravens at a lower price.
Marc Bulger, QB, Ravens. Age: 35. Announced retirement
A year off from football is exactly what Marc Bulger needed. If his next team has a good offensive line, Bulger could recapture some of his early-2000s magic.
Todd Heap, TE, Ravens. Age: 31. Signed with Cardinals (2 years)
Todd Heap could be brought back to Baltimore at a cheaper price, but he's obviously a declining player who will only lose time to Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta despite the fact that he hauled in 10 receptions in a victory over Kansas City in the playoffs.
Derrick Mason, WR, Ravens. Age: 37. Signed with Jets (1 year)
Despite his age, Derrick Mason is a solid No. 2 possession wideout, serving as Joe Flacco's favorite receiver. It'll be surprising if the Ravens don't bring Mason back at a cheaper price - though there's always the possibility that Mason retires, which is something he's been threatening to do for quite some time.
Jameel McClain (ERFA), ILB, Ravens. Age: 26.
Jameel McClain is serviceable as Baltimore's two-down inside linebacker next to Ray Lewis, but can be upgraded.
Tom Zbikowski, S, Ravens. Age: 26.
Tom Zbikowski did a decent job filling in for Ed Reed before suffering an injury of his own (back).
Fabian Washington, CB, Ravens. Age: 28. Signed with Saints (1 year)
Fabian Washington has the talent to start in this league, but hasn't been able to stay healthy.
Dannell Ellerbe (ERFA), ILB, Ravens. Age: 25.
Tavares Gooden (RFA), ILB, Ravens. Age: 26.
Haruki "Hiro" Nakamura, S, Ravens. Age: 25.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR, Ravens. Age: 33.
Oniel Cousins, OT, Ravens. Age: 27.
Jalen Parmele, RB, Ravens. Age: 25. -- Re-signed with Ravens