C A.Q. Shipley, DE/DT Chris Canty, DE/DT Marcus Spears, DE/OLB Elvis Dumervil, ILB Rolando McClain, CB Cary Williams, S Michael Huff.
Early Draft Picks:
S Matt Elam, ILB Arthur Brown, NT Brandon Williams, DE/OLB John Simon, FB Kyle Juszczyk, OT Ricky Wagner. Ravens Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
FB Vonta Leach, WR Anquan Boldin, C Matt Birk, G Bobbie Williams, NT Maake Kemoeatu, DE/OLB Paul Kruger, ILB Ray Lewis, ILB Dannell Ellerbe, ILB Brendon Ayanbadejo, CB Chris Johnson, S Ed Reed, S Bernard Pollard.
2013 Baltimore Ravens Offense:
Joe Flacco told the media prior to the 2012 season that he's the best quarterback in the NFL. Everyone laughed at him. Eli Manning proclaimed something similar the year before, but he had at least won a Super Bowl. Flacco had done a good job of winning some playoff games, but his statistics were above average at best. Who was he to say that he was the best signal-caller in the NFL?
Well, Flacco ended up having the last laugh. His regular-season numbers weren't overly impressive - 3,817 yards, 22 yards, 10 interceptions, 7.2 YPA, 59.7% - but he was completely dominant in the playoffs. During his magical postseason run, Flacco compiled 1,140 yards, 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions to go along with a YPA of 9.0 in four contests. He was both lethal and mistake-free. He was the best quarterback in the league - at least in those five weeks.
What happened to Flacco then? How did he improve so much? He was exceptional, but his supporting cast deserves a ton of the credit. Flacco's pass protection was so much better in the new calendar year. He took just six sacks in the playoffs (1.5 per game) compared to 35 in the regular season (2.3 per game - excludes Week 17 because Tyrod Taylor played). The difference was left tackle Bryant McKinnie. A 34-year-old in September, McKinnie barely played prior to the postseason because he was out of shape. He finally dropped the weight and took over on the blind side, pushing Michael Oher to right tackle. He stymied every pass-rusher there, including Denver's Elvis Dumervil. McKinnie sat on the free-agent market for a while, but Baltimore brought him back for a 2-year deal that includes much-needed weight clauses.
McKinnie's presence is huge because it allows Oher to stay at right tackle and Kelechi Osemele to remain inside. As a second-round rookie, Osemele was overmatched at right tackle, surrendering seven sacks there, but he didn't allow a single pass-rusher to sack Flacco when he was stationed at left guard. Osemele will play inside along with right guard Marshal Yanda, who's an absolute stud, and one of two centers who will take over for the retired Matt Birk: Gino Gradkowski or A.Q. Shipley. Gradkowski, chosen in the fourth round in the 2012 NFL Draft, is considered the favorite right now, but Shipley performed well last season while subbing for an injured Samson Satele in Indianapolis.
Anquan Boldin was also big for Flacco's playoff emergence. The veteran wideout hauled in 22 receptions for 380 yards and four touchdowns in those four contests. Unfortunately for Flacco, the front office traded Boldin away to San Francisco for a sixth-round pick. That leaves the top three receivers to be the speedy Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, who caught the famous, 70-yard Mile High Rainbow, and someone named Deonte Thompson. The former Gator ran a 4.32 at the Combine a year ago and happens to be a good route-runner. General manager Ozzie Newsome wouldn't have dealt Boldin away without a backup plan.
With Boldin gone, Flacco is expected to lean on his tight ends more frequently. This could mean more targets for Ed Dickson, but the main beneficiary will be Dennis Pitta, whose stats grew as the 2012 campaign progressed, maintaining a 7-125-2 line in Week 15. Pitta also snagged three of Flacco's 11 touchdowns in the playoffs.
Of course, Flacco's main weapon will be Ray Rice again. Rice actually had the lowest carry total he's maintained in three years because of Bernard Pierce's presence on the team, but he was still very effective when carrying the football. Rice rushed for 1,143 yards and nine touchdowns to go along with 61 catches for 478 receiving yards. Pierce can take over and be a strong starter in the event of an injury, but Rice has proven himself to be very durable; he's played all 16 games in the past four seasons.
2013 Baltimore Ravens Defense:
Baltimore was always about Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. They were the heart and soul of the team, and along with a couple of other defenders, they carried the squad for a long while. Well, for the first time, the offense did most of the work last season, and it resulted in a Super Bowl victory. Lewis and Reed clearly weren't as effective, and now they won't even be on the roster anymore. Lewis announced his retirement, while Reed walked away and signed with the Texans.
Lewis and Reed's exodus, along with the departures of other players at their position - Dannell Ellerbe, Bernard Pollard - prompted casual fans to declare that the Ravens were completely finished. With so many losses, how could they possibly rebound? Well, that's why Ozzie Newsome is the top general manager in football. He didn't panic and overpay in the perennially overrated free-agent market. Instead, he patiently waited for great deals and then made tremendous value picks in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Newsome selected second-rounder Arthur Brown to be Lewis' successor. Brown had first-round talent according to most draft analysts, but he fell to the second round because of injury concerns. He had a shoulder issue and is currently recovering from a sports hernia, but he's expected to be ready for training camp. Likewise, Daryl Smith, who will be a two-down player next to Brown, played in just two games in Jacksonville last year because of a groin injury. Smith was exceptional in 2011 though, so if he's healthy, he'll be a very important piece in Baltimore's defense. Jameel McClain is the top reserve.
The situation looks even better at safety. An early selection was also used on the position - Florida's Matt Elam at No. 32 overall - while the other starter will be Michael Huff, who was acquired in free agency. Huff was released by the Raiders as a cap casualty, but he was a solid performer last year who was an unbelievable bargain at just three years, $6 million. Huff will likely relish the opportunity of being on a winning organization for the first time in his career; he's been marooned in Oakland since Al Davis drafted him in 2006.
The Ravens incurred some other losses this offseason, most notably Paul Kruger, who had a team-leading nine sacks during the regular season and then 4.5 in the playoffs. Watching him sign with the Browns must have been a tough pill to swallow for Baltimore fans - until the team lucked into signing Elvis Dumervil. Thanks to Faxgate, the Broncos were forced into releasing Dumervil, who has accumulated 37.5 sacks in the past three seasons, including 11 in the 2012. Dumervil is more proven that Kruger, so this actually has to be considered an upgrade. Factor in that Terrell Suggs will be 100 percent in 2013, and the Ravens' pass rush has been upgraded - a notion that would have seemed silly back in mid-March.
There are two other notable veterans who walked away from the Ravens. The first was nose tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu. Still floating around in free agency, Kemoeatu's departure obviously isn't a huge deal. To compensate for this, Baltimore signed a pair of former Cowboy defensive ends: Chris Canty and Marcus Spears. The latter can help in run support, while the former is coming off a down year, thanks to a nagging knee injury. If Canty can get healthy, his presence will be a big boost to the pass rush.
Having Canty and Spears on the roster - to go along with the solid Arthur Jones - will allow Haloti Ngata to play nose tackle. Now the top defender on the roster, Ngata is a force in terms of stuffing the run and getting to the quarterback. He can play anywhere on the defensive line, though Newsome is likely hoping that either bust Terrence Cody or third-round rookie Brandon Williams steps up at nose tackle, which would allow Ngata to stay outside.
The second notable departure was cornerback Cary Williams, who signed with the Eagles. Williams was a decent starter, but not overly talented. Baltimore's top corners are now Lardarius Webb, who is coming off a torn ACL, and Corey Graham, who did a decent job once Webb went down in November. There isn't much behind the two, so the Ravens could be in trouble if more injuries occur. They'll need 2011 first-rounder Jimmy Smith to step up. Smith has been a bust thus far, but he has the talent to turn his career around.
2013 Baltimore Ravens Schedule and Intangibles:
John Harbaugh has done a terrific job of maintaining a dominant homefield advantage during his tenure as Baltimore's head coach. The Ravens are an outstanding 35-7 as hosts since 2008, including a perfect 9-0 in 2011.
The Ravens dumped Billy Cundiff because he choked in last year's AFC Championship. Rookie Justin Tucker did a great job of replacing him, going 30-of-33, including 4-of-4 from 50-plus. Best of all, Tucker was actually clutch.
Sam Koch tied for seventh in net-punting average and ranked in the middle of the pack in terms of attempts placed inside the 20.
Thanks to Jacoby Jones, the Ravens scored three special-teams touchdowns compared to none for their opponents in the regular season. However, they surrendered two touchdowns to the Broncos in the second round of the playoffs.
Baltimore has a very taxing schedule. Its season opener at Denver is just the beginning; it's one of seven contests the Ravens have against teams that made the playoffs last year (Broncos, Texans, Packers, Vikings, Patriots, Bengals twice). They also have to deal with the Steelers twice, and those are always difficult battles.
2013 Baltimore Ravens Rookies:
Go here for the Ravens Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.
2013 Baltimore Ravens Analysis: The demise of the Ravens has been greatly exaggerated. They lost some key veterans, but they made shrewd moves during the offseason and still happen to be one of the top teams in the AFC. As long as they can overcome the distractions that come with winning a Super Bowl - and considering how many players left, that shouldn't be a huge issue - they'll once again contend for a playoff spot and hope to recapture their postseason magic.
Please note that the overall grade is not an average of all the individual grades. Other things are taken into account like team needs and goals.
Goals Entering the 2013 NFL Draft: The Super Bowl champions lost some key members of their franchise this offseason. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are the obvious ones, but Bryant McKinnie and Anquan Boldin's absences might be felt most. McKinnie's outstanding play in the postseason gave Joe Flacco the pass protection he needed, while Boldin reemerged as an awesome possession target. All of these players have to be replaced.
2013 NFL Draft Accomplishments: It appears as though the reports of the Ravens' demise have been greatly exaggerated. After losing many key veterans, all the media could talk about was how much Baltimore regressed. That was an obvious story angle, given the departures of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and other players of renown. However, what people seemed to forget was that Ozzie Newsome is one of the elite general managers in the NFL.
Newsome made some solid signings in free agency and then was able to complement those with a terrific draft class. Baltimore's first three picks were a work of art. Matt Elam is a perfect fit in the Ravens' defense. Second-rounder Arthur Brown, was seen by many as a first-round prospect, is very talented and fully capable of replacing Lewis. Meanwhile, Brandon Williams was another steal at No. 94. Seen by many as a second-rounder, Williams can be the long-term solution at nose tackle.
The Ravens didn't stop there. They made numerous quality third-day picks, such as John Simon, who should blossom into an effective pass-rusher. Aaron Mellette and Marc Anthony were both steals at Nos. 238 and 247, respectively.
Baltimore came away with one of the league's top draft classes. The only thing keeping this from being an A+ is that the team didn't target a receiver or a left tackle earlier. It could have done so where a fullback was taken (No. 130), but then again, who am I to question the great Newsome?
2013 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
32. Matt Elam, S, Florida: B+ Grade
Patient Ozzie Newsome gets his way again. He was targeting Matt Elam among other prospects and got his man without panicking. Elam fills a big need at safety across from Michael Huff. He also fits the range and could have gone a bit earlier than this.
56. Arthur Brown, ILB, Kansas State: A+ Grade
This is the best pick of the second round. Arthur Brown may have been chose in the 20 range had he been completely healthy. He'll heal up, and Ozzie Newsome will end up with another draft-day steal. Brown is as best of a successor to Ray Lewis as Baltimore could have obtained in the 2013 NFL Draft.
94. Brandon Williams, NT, Missouri Southern: A- Grade
Brandon Williams dominated the Senior Bowl, so there was speculation that he would be drafted somewhere in Round 2. That apparently was not the case, but the Ravens are not complaining because they were able to land another great value. Baltimore signed Marcus Spears and Chris Canty this offseason, but neither is the long-term solution on the defensive line.
129. John Simon, DE/OLB, Ohio State: B+ Grade
You can never have enough pass-rushers, so while John Simon doesn't fit an immediate need, he could be useful down the road or in the wake of injuries. He was seen by some as a third-round prospect (I had him in the fourth), so this is yet another good value pick by Ozzie Newsome.
130. Kyle Juszczyk, FB, Harvard: C+ Grade
I think this is a bit early for a fullback, considering that some teams don't even use one. The Ravens do, but Vonta Leach is pretty expensive. They want someone to challenge him in order to save some money.
168. Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin: B Grade
The Ravens needed some tackle depth, so this selection makes sense for both a needs and a draft range perspective. He's a right tackle only though, so he's definitely not a replacement for Bryant McKinnie.
200. Kapron Lewis-Moore, DE/DT, Notre Dame: B Grade
Like the 49ers, Baltimore had so many draft picks that it could draft someone it could redshirt. Kapron Lewis-Moore would have gone higher than this had he not suffered an injury in the championship. He'll be useful down the road once Chris Canty and Marcus Spears move on.
203. Ryan Jensen, G/OT, Colorado State: B Grade
Ryan Jensen, widely considered a Round 6-7 prospect, should be able to provide some solid interior line depth.
238. Aaron Mellette, WR, Elon: A Grade
Ravens steal, yadda, yadda, yadda. I had Aaron Mellette in the fourth round, so this is tremendous value for him.
247. Marc Anthony, CB, California: A Grade
Ravens steal, yadda, yadda, yadda. Marc Anthony was a fourth- or a fifth-round projection, and Baltimore needed some cornerback depth.
Congratulations to the Ravens for winning Super Bowl XLVII! They were hardly the best team all year, but once they got several players healthy in late December and January, they were able to go on a tear. Unfortunately, it's bittersweet because Baltimore will have to move on from Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and some other long-time veterans.
Ravens cut FB Vonta Leach
Ravens sign OLB Daryl Smith
Ravens acquire C A.Q. Shipley from Colts for a conditional 2014 pick
Ravens re-sign OT Bryant McKinnie
Ravens sign ILB Rolando McClain
Ravens cut ILB Brendon Ayanbadejo
Ravens sign S Michael Huff
Ravens sign DE/OLB Elvis Dumervil
Titans sign S Bernard Pollard
Texans sign S Ed Reed
Ravens sign DE/DT Marcus Spears
Ravens re-sign CB Chris Johnson
Eagles sign CB Cary Williams
Ravens cut S Bernard Pollard
Ravens sign DE/DT Chris Canty
Dolphins sign ILB Dannell Ellerbe
Browns sign DE/OLB Paul Kruger
Ravens re-sign OT Ramon Harewood
Ravens re-sign S James Ihedigbo
49ers acquire WR Anquan Boldin from Ravens for 6th-rounder
Ravens tender TE Dennis Pitta
Ravens tender TE Ed Dickson
Ravens tender DE Arthur Jones
Ravens cut G Bobbie Williams
Ravens re-sign QB Joe Flacco
Ravens announce retirement of C Matt Birk
Eagles sign QB Dennis Dixon
Quarterback: Retaining Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco is Baltimore's top priority this offseason. Re-signed Joe Flacco
Inside Linebacker: Ray Lewis is retiring. If that's not bad enough, Dannell Ellerbe is a free agent. Oh, and Jameel McClain is coming off a spinal cord contusion. Alec Ogletree will be an option for Baltimore if he falls to the very bottom of the first round. Drafted Arthur Brown; signed Daryl Smith and Rolando McClain
Wide Receiver: Despite his brilliant performance in the playoffs, Anquan Boldin was traded. An early pick could be used on a wideout.
Two Safeties: Like Lewis, Ed Reed isn't expected back. He's a free agent. If he goes, the Ravens have to find a worthy substitute. Bernard Pollard was also cut, so two safeties are needed. Matt Elam will be an option in the first round this April. Signed Michael Huff; drafted Matt Elam
Left Tackle: Flacco was able to maintain the best playoff touchdown-to-interception ratio in NFL history because his offensive line had improved tremendously. The catalyst for this was Bryant McKinnie, who actually got into shape for a change. McKinnie is a free agent, however. Re-signed Bryant McKinnie
Nose Tackle: Ma'ake Kemoeatu, who took the starting nose tackle job away from bust Terrence Cody, is a free agent. The Ravens have to find a replacement if they plan on giving up on Cody. Signed Chris Canty and Marcus Spears (Haloti Ngata to NT); drafted Brandon Williams
Rush Linebacker: Paul Kruger was the team's top pass-rusher down the stretch. He's a free agent who will be highly sought-after if he's allowed to hit the market. Signed Elvis Dumervil; drafted John Simon
Cornerback: Depth will be needed here if Cary Williams leaves via free agency.
2013 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Elvis Dumervil, DE, Broncos. Age: 29. Signed with Ravens
Elvis Dumervil has 63.5 sacks in six NFL seasons (he missed all of 2010 with an injury). This includes 11 sacks in 2012. He can be a liability in run support, but his tremendous ability to get to the quarterback makes up for that.
Daryl Smith, OLB, Jaguars. Age: 31. Signed with Ravens
Daryl Smith has never received much attention from the media, but he's been one of the top 4-3 outside linebackers in the NFL over the years. Unfortunately, he played in just two games this season because of a groin injury, and he'll be 31 in March, so his skills are in the process of eroding.
Michael Huff, S, Raiders. Age: 30. Signed with Ravens
Michael Huff is a cap casualty; the Raiders couldn't afford his $4 million salary in 2013. Huff is still a quality safety who is versatile enough to play cornerback effectively.
Chris Canty, DE/DT, Giants. Age: 30. Signed with Ravens
Chris Canty served as a solid interior pass-rusher prior to 2012, but was ineffective last year because of a nagging knee injury. Perhaps he'll be able to rebound next season, but he'll be 31 in November, so his best days are behind him. He can play in both the 4-3 and 3-4.
Rolando McClain, ILB, Raiders. Age: 24. Signed with Ravens
The positive for Rolando McClain: He's a strong run defender who will be just 24 in July. The negative? He was used on just two downs in 2012 because he can't cover. He also has major work-ethic issues, though these could be fixed if he's brought into a strong locker room.
Marcus Spears, DE/DT, Cowboys. Age: 30. -- Signed with Ravens (2 years)
Baltimore Ravens Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens. Age: 28. Re-signed with Ravens (6 years, $120.6 million)
I had this prepared prior to his playoff run: "Joe Flacco considers himself elite, but he's way too inconsistent to be on that level. He's a good starter who still has the potential to take the next step, but he has yet to do that." Well, Flacco has proven that once again, he steps up when it counts the most. He deserves a big contract.
Paul Kruger, DE/OLB, Ravens. Age: 27. Signed with Browns (5 years, $41 million)
Paul Kruger notched nine sacks during the regular season and then three more against the Colts in the playoffs. He also was solid in coverage.
Vonta Leach, FB, Ravens. Age: 31.
Vonta Leach will be 32 in November, but he's still one of the top run-blocking fullbacks in the NFL. Ray Rice will miss him.
Ed Reed, S, Ravens. Age: 34. Signed with Texans (2 years)
Ed Reed will turn 35 in September, but he still played at a high level for the Ravens this past season despite battling an injury.
Dannell Ellerbe, ILB, Ravens. Age: 27. Signed with Dolphins
Dannell Ellerbe was the top inside linebacker on the roster this past season - even when Ray Lewis was healthy. He had a strong second half, emerging after Lewis went down.
Dennis Pitta (RFA), TE, Ravens. Age: 28. Tendered by Ravens (2nd round)
Dennis Pitta really grew at the end of the season to become one of Joe Flacco's more reliable targets. He finished the year with 61 catches, 669 yards and seven touchdowns.
Bernard Pollard, S, Ravens. Age: 28. Signed with Titans (1 year)
Bernard Pollard isn't particularly good in coverage, but he's awesome in run support and has a knack for knocking out opposing players - especially if they happen to be New England Patriots.
Bryant McKinnie can still be a quality left tackle if he keeps his weight under control, but that's been a big issue for him. He was awesome during Baltimore's Super Bowl run, but can he maintain his motivation?
Cary Williams, CB, Ravens. Age: 28. Signed with Eagles
Cary Williams had some rough outings in 2012, but mostly played solidly at corner for the Ravens, holding down the fort after Lardarius Webb was lost for the year.
Arthur Jones (RFA), DE/DT, Ravens. Age: 27. Tendered by Ravens (original)
Arthur Jones broke into the starting lineup in the middle of the season and performed well, stopping the run effectively and getting to the quarterback on occasion.
Ed Dickson (RFA), TE, Ravens. Age: 26. Tendered by Ravens (2nd round)
Ed Dickson has lots of potential, but he's never developed into the type of receiving threat the Ravens hoped he'd become when they took him in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
Ramon Harewood (RFA), OT/G, Ravens. Age: 26. -- Re-signed with Ravens
James Ihedigbo, S, Ravens. Age: 29. -- Re-signed with Ravens (1 year)
Ryan McBean, DT, Ravens. Age: 29.
Maake Kemoeatu, NT, Ravens. Age: 34.
Dennis Dixon, QB, Ravens. Age: 28. -- Signed with Eagles (2 years)
Billy Bajema, TE, Ravens. Age: 30.
Bobbie Williams, G, Ravens. Age: 36.
Brendon Ayanbadejo, ILB, Ravens. Age: 36.
Sean Considine, S, Ravens. Age: 30.
Ricky Brown, ILB, Ravens. Age: 29.
Chris Johnson, CB, Ravens. Age: 33. -- Re-signed with Ravens