2015 NFL Offseason: Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore Ravens (Last Year: 10-6)

2015 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Matt Schaub, CB Kyle Arrington, S Kendrick Lewis.
Early Draft Picks:
WR Breshad Perriman, TE Maxx Williams, DT Carl Davis, DE/OLB Za’Darius Smith, RB Buck Allen, CB Tray Walker. Ravens Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Tyron Taylor, RB Bernard Pierce, WR Torrey Smith, TE Owen Daniels, C Gino Gradkowski, NT Haloti Ngata, DE/OLB Pernell McPhee, CB Antoine Cason, S Darian Stewart, S Jeromy Miles, KR Jacoby Jones.

2015 Baltimore Ravens Offense:
Joe Flacco is coming off his best statistical season, setting career-highs in passing yardage (3,986) and touchdowns (27). Even with that in mind, his 2015 campaign could be even better, thanks to a smart hire the front office made.

That hire, of course, is offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, who was head coach of the Bears last season. Trestman was a bit overwhelmed as the man in charge, but there’s no denying the fact that he’s one of the sharpest offensive minds in the NFL; there’s a reason that he’s referred to as the “quarterback whisperer.” He even had Jay Cutler at the top of his game in 2013, before Cutler stopped caring about everything and got Trestman fired as a consequence. Joe Flacco is actually concerned about improving his game, so he will surely listen to Trestman, who will get the most out of the one-time Super Bowl champion.

Trestman isn’t the only reason Flacco is likely to break the 4,000-yard barrier for the first time in his career. Ozzie Newsome used his initial two draft picks on weapons to help Flacco. The first selection was used on receiver Breshad Perriman, who is raw but loaded with upside. Perriman could enter the starting lineup sooner rather later and could contribute across from Steve Smith, taking the departed Torrey Smith’s spot. Trestman got the most out of another big, physically gifted wideout in Alshon Jeffery, so perhaps his magic will work again.

Newsome’s next choice was used on tight end Maxx Williams, who inexplicably slipped to the bottom of the second round. Williams, who was rumored to be in consideration at the end of the first frame, will likely become a reliable, intermediate weapon for Flacco – something Flacco has lacked ever since Dennis Pitta started getting injured. Flacco spent a lot of time throwing to Owen Daniels last year, and Williams is expected to be a major upgrade.

Many of Flacco’s targets this upcoming season will go to Justin Forsett. The upstart running back took over for the troubled Ray Rice and lethargic Bernard Pierce, and he never looked back, finishing the year with 1,266 rushing yards and 44 catches. The latter figure is going to skyrocket in 2015 because of Trestman. The new offensive coordinator loves having his running backs catch footballs, as evidenced by Matt Forte’s reception totals over the past two seasons. Forsett could still eclipse the 1,000-yard barrier on the ground, but a major chunk of his total yardage will come via the passing attack.

This all wouldn’t work well without a quality offensive line, and Baltimore definitely has one of those. All five starters from last year will return, which is huge, given how important continuity is for blocking units. The group is led by Marshal Yanda, arguably the top guard in the NFL. Yanda surrendered just two sacks in 2014, but was much better in terms of opening up running lanes for Forsett. He’ll once again be joined by Jeremy Zuttah and Kelechi Osemele in the interior. Zuttah is a decent center, while Osemele, a former second-round pick, has evolved into a very strong starting guard.

The tackles aren’t too shabby either. Eugene Monroe didn’t have his best season, but knee and ankle injuries sapped his effectiveness. If he’s healthy, he should be able to rebound as Flacco’s reliable blind-side protector. Meanwhile, Ricky Wagner performed well in his first season as Baltimore’s starting right tackle. He surrendered just two sacks, which was highly impressive.

2015 Baltimore Ravens Defense:
It’s unclear how many times people have panicked because the Ravens lost some highly regarded players to free agency or retirement. It’s always the same; the masses pronounce Baltimore done as a playoff contender, yet the team always finds a way to bounce back, as fans forget that Ozzie Newsome is arguably the best general manager in the league.

This year, it was Haloti Ngata and Pernell McPhee. Ngata was traded to the Lions, while McPhee defected for Chicago shortly afterward. The Ravens have lost key talents before, and they managed to survive. History will repeat itself again. That’s not to take anything away from Ngata, who is still a fantastic player, but Newsome has a plan.

The strategy regarding Ngata’s departure is to give Timmy Jernigan more playing time. Jernigan, chosen in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft, looked very strong in his rookie campaign. He contained the run well and managed to accumulate four sacks despite very limited action. It’s unclear if he can be on the field for the majority of the snaps like Ngata was, but the best general manager in the NFL believes he’s capable of doing so. Jernigan will start next to Brandon Williams, a massive, run-stuffing nose tackle, and Chris Canty, who was released and re-signed this offseason for a cheaper price. Canty declined a bit in 2014, but was still an effective player. If he continues to drop off, skilled third-round rookie Carl Davis might be able to step in. Davis was in some first-round conversations, but slid because of apparent attitude problems and poor interviews at the Combine.

McPhee will have to be replaced as well. Though he wasn’t a starter, McPhee was a key piece of Baltimore’s defense because he allowed either Terrell Suggs or Elvis Dumervil to take a breather. McPhee was one of the better third pass-rushers in the league, and the depth he provided might be missed if Baltimore can’t find an alternative. Right now, the top options are Courtney Upshaw, who has never developed into anything more than a somewhat decent run-defender, and fourth-round rookie Za’Darius Smith. Ideally, this won’t be a huge issue if both Suggs and Dumervil stay healthy, as the two combined for 29 sacks in 2014.

The rest of the linebacking corps is pretty stout. The starters are C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith, both of whom had outstanding 2014 campaigns. Mosley, a mere rookie, would have won Defensive Rookie of the Year if it wasn’t for Aaron Donald. He wasn’t great in coverage, but he clamped down against the run and served as a capable blitzer. Smith, meanwhile, was excellent despite his age (turned 33 this offseason). He’ll decline soon, but should be able to perform well for another season. There isn’t much depth behind these two, however, so they better stay healthy.

The weak point of Baltimore’s defense last season was easily the secondary, which struggled to cover anyone once Jimmy Smith went down with a Lisfranc injury, missing the second half of the year. Smith is reportedly ahead of schedule, which is great news because Baltimore sorely needs him back. He’ll start across from Lardarius Webb, whose play dropped off in 2014. Fourth-rounder Tray Walker was added to the roster, but it’s unclear how quickly he’ll develop into a usable player. Meanwhile, Kyle Arrington was signed over from the Patriots to strengthen the nickel spot.

The safety position is in much better shape. Will Hill was an excellent addition in the middle of the 2014 season, as he served as Baltimore’s top defensive back in Smith’s absence. He was able to provide a major upgrade over the ineffective Matt Elam. He’ll likely start next to Kendrick Lewis, who was on Houston’s roster last year. Lewis has had an up-and-down career, but he just put together a nice season in Houston, so he could be a nice addition.

2015 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 47-11 as hosts since 2008, including a perfect 9-0 back in 2011.

Justin Tucker is one of the top kickers in the NFL. He was 38-of-41 in 2013, including 6-of-7 from 50-plus. He surprisingly wasn’t as effective last season, going 29-of-34 including 4-of-9 from 50 yards and out.

Sam Koch was No. 1 in net-punting average this past season. He did a good job of placing punts inside the 20.

Thanks to Jacoby Jones, the Ravens outgained the opposition on both punt and kickoff returns. Jones is gone, however, so the special teams won’t be as great.

Three of Baltimore’s first four games are against the Broncos, Bengals and Steelers. It gets much easier after that though, with contests against the Browns (twice), 49ers, Jaguars, Rams and some others on the slate.

2015 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.

2015 Baltimore Ravens Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2015 Baltimore Ravens Analysis: The Ravens are one of the favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. They nearly reached the Promised Land last year, and now they appear to be even better than they were in 2014. There’s a good chance Joe Flacco will be hoisting his second Lombardi Trophy in early February, as his team doesn’t have any apparent weaknesses.

Projection: 12-4 (1st in AFC North)

NFL Draft Team Grade: A+ Grade

Goals Entering the 2015 NFL Draft: There are numerous positions the Ravens are expected to address, including receiver, cornerback, tight end, running back, edge rusher and defensive end. The first two in that list are top priorities, but I’m sure that Ozzie Newsome, one of the top general managers in the NFL, is well aware of that.

2015 NFL Draft Accomplishments: It’s no surprise that the Ravens came away with one of this year’s best draft classes. Their first pick was just OK; Breshad Perriman was an overhyped prospect heading into the 2015 NFL Draft, but the No. 26 spot was about right for him. The Ravens, however, were able to win with numerous other selections.

Newsome landed a pair of steals on Day 2. Maxx Williams, who had a chance to go late in the first round, somehow slipped all the way to No 55. He’ll be a dependable weapon for Joe Flacco over the middle of the field. The next selection, Carl Davis, also was discussed as a Thursday possibility, but fell because he interviewed poorly at the Senior Bowl and Combine. Nevertheless, he provided enormous value at the end of the third frame as a replacement for Haloti Ngata.

The Ravens made numerous quality choices on Saturday, namely Robert Myers, whom I had mocked to Baltimore a round before he was actually chosen. As a result of all of these selections, Newsome was able to address every single position I listed on the team’s need list. It’s clearer than ever that he’s the top general manager in the NFL.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

26. Breshad Perriman, WR, Central Florida: B Grade
The media was talking about Breshad Perriman going as high as No. 14 or 15, which I thought was crazy. Perriman, while very athletic, was way too raw to be chosen that early. This, however, is the right spot for him; in fact, I had Perriman going to Baltimore a week ago before changing the selection on Tuesday. The need for Perriman is obvious; with Torrey Smith gone, Joe Flacco needed a deep threat across from Steve Smith.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

55. Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota: A+ Grade
If you’re the Falcons or another team with a glaring need at tight end, and you passed on Maxx Williams and later saw Ozzie Newsome select him in the very same round, what are you thinking? Probably, “Ah, crap, we f***ed up.” It’s true. I don’t know what those teams were thinking because this is an absolute steal. Williams could’ve easily gone at the end of the first round, but the Ravens aren’t complaining. He’ll provide a boost on offense while filling a huge need for them.

90. Carl Davis, DT, Iowa: A+ Grade
Ozzie Newsome with another A+ pick. Shocker. Carl Davis has first-round talent, but we thought he would drop because he interviewed extremely poorly at the Senior Bowl. Taking him in the second would’ve been fine, but snagging him in the third frame is a downright steal. The Ravens had to find a replacement up front for Haloti Ngata. Some fans panicked during free agency, but they should’ve known that Newsome would find a solution.

122. Za’Darius Smith, DE/OLB, Kentucky: B+ Grade
The Ravens acquired this selection in the Haloti Ngata trade, but they used it on a player who could eventually replace another Pro Bowler – Terrell Suggs. Za’Darius Smith once again provides Ozzie Newsome with value; he could have easily gone in the third frame without any complaints.

125. Buck Allen, RB, USC: B+ Grade
Here’s another Baltimore selection that can’t be argued. I had Buck Allen going at the beginning of the fourth round, so there’s some value here. Allen is a solid pass protector, so he’ll have a role in this offense. He also fills a need with Bernard Pierce gone.

136. Tray Walker, CB, Texas Southern: C+ Grade
Finally, a Baltimore pick I’m not in love with. Tray Walker doesn’t bring value like the Ravens’ other selections. However, he generated a ton of interest during the pre-draft process, so perhaps Baltimore was scared that Walker would come off the board soon despite being a sixth-round prospect. Oh, and he does fill a need.

171. Nick Boyle, TE, Delaware: B+ Grade
Nick Boyle has to deal with Maxx Williams ahead of him on the depth chart, but the Ravens needed another tight end. Nick Boyle is a big, long, tight end who is very athletic. He has good upside and could eventually emerge as a strong No. 2 option at the position behind Williams.

176. Robert Myers, G, Tennessee State: A- Grade
Another steal for Ozzie Newsome. I had the Ravens taking Robert Myers – but at No. 136. Newsome is getting a skilled guard 40 spots later than projected, so this obviously deserves a high grade.

204. Darren Waller, WR, Georgia Tech: A Grade
Darren Waller is one of the most-athletic receivers in the draft despite being 6-6 and close to 240 pounds. He blew up the Combine, so I thought he’d go earlier than this. No one was going to be surprised if he went in the fourth round, so this is a steal.

Season Summary:
It appeared as though the Ravens were going to upset the Patriots and advance to the AFC Championship for the second time in three years when they led by two touchdowns in the second half, but poor secondary play betrayed them, as Tom Brady led a furious comeback for New England.

Offseason Moves:
  • Ravens sign CB Kyle Arrington
  • Ravens re-sign G Jah Reid
  • Broncos acquire C Gino Gradkowski and 2016 5th-rounder from Ravens for 2016 4th-rounder
  • Ravens sign QB Matt Schaub
  • Broncos sign S Darian Stewart
  • Jaguars claim RB Bernard Pierce
  • Ravens re-sign DE/DT Lawrence Guy
  • Ravens waive RB Bernard Pierce
  • Ravens re-sign DE/DT Chris Canty
  • Ravens sign S Kendrick Lewis
  • Bills sign QB Tyrod Taylor
  • Ravens re-sign RB Justin Forsett
  • Ravens re-sign CB Anthony Levine
  • Broncos sign TE Owen Daniels
  • 49ers sign WR Torrey Smith
  • Lions acquire DT Haloti Ngata from Ravens for 4th-, 5th-round picks
  • Ravens re-sign WR Kamar Aiken
  • Bears sign DE/OLB Pernell McPhee
  • Chargers sign WR/KR Jacoby Jones
  • Ravens cut DE/DT Chris Canty
  • Ravens cut KR Jacoby Jones

    Team Needs:
    1. Cornerback: Baltimore was absolutely lost when Jimmy Smith went down for the year. The secondary was a mess, and it absolutely has to be addressed this offseason, either with a big signing or a high draft pick. Signed Kyle Arrington

    2. Two Wide Receivers: The Smiths played well in Baltimore this past season, but Torrey is an impending free agent, while Steve turns 36 in May. The Ravens will at least need to obtain one receiver early in the draft; two if Torrey signs elsewhere.

    3. Defensive End: The Ravens traded Haloti Ngata to the Lions for fourth- and fifth-round picks. He was too expensive anyway, but they need help at defensive end now, especially with Chris Canty also gone. Timmy Jernigan can start, but another end is needed. Re-signed Chris Canty

    4. Safety: Baltimore has to address the safety position as well. The team has Will Hill there, and… that’s about it. Darian Stewart was just OK, but he’s due to hit the market in March, and the front office could stand to upgrade him. Signed Kendrick Lewis

    5. Rush Linebacker Depth: The Ravens are set on the edge with Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. They also had great depth this past season with Pernell McPhee, but McPhee happens to be an impending free agent. Baltimore won’t be able to afford him, so a pass-rusher will be obtained at some point during the draft.

    6. Running Back: Justin Forsett had a fantastic season in Gary Kubiak’s offense. He’s a free agent, but given the success he had in Baltimore, it’s hard to imagine him going elsewhere. Re-signed Justin Forsett

    7. Tight End: Dennis Pitta is coming off hip surgery, so who knows if he’ll be the same again? Owen Daniels, meanwhile, will be a free agent come March.

    8. Backup Quarterback: The Ravens have expressed interest in finding a better reserve quarterback behind Joe Flacco. Signed Matt Schaub

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2015 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Kendrick Lewis, S, Texans. Age: 27.
      Signed with Ravens (3 years)

      Kendrick Lewis got off to a strong start to his career in Kansas City, but managed to regress each season. The Chiefs eventually gave up on him, but he rebounded with a decent season in Houston.

    2. Kyle Arrington, CB, Patriots. Age: 29.
      Signed with Ravens (3 years, $7.5 million

      The release of Kyle Arrington is a surprise, given that Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner weren’t properly replaced this offseason. The 5-foot-10 Arrington struggles on the outside, but he has had success as a nickel corner.

    3. Matt Schaub, QB, Raiders. Age: 34. — Signed with Ravens (1 year)

    Baltimore Ravens Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Justin Tucker (RFA), K, Ravens. Age: 25.
      Tendered by Ravens

      Justin Tucker is coming off his worst season as a pro, though he was still 29-of-34. He’s extremely clutch despite being just 25 years old.

    2. Pernell McPhee, DE/OLB, Ravens. Age: 26.
      Signed with Bears (5 years, $40 million)

      Playing behind Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs, Pernell McPhee put great pressure on the quarterback, racking up 7.5 sacks despite being on the field for limited snaps. He also handled the run well.

    3. Torrey Smith, WR, Ravens. Age: 26.
      Signed with 49ers (5 years, $40M; $22M guaranteed)

      Torrey Smith caught 11 touchdowns in 2014, but saw his yardage drop from 1,128 to 767. Smith was just a decoy in several games this year because of a lingering knee issue.

    4. Will Hill (RFA), S, Ravens. Age: 25.
      Tendered by Ravens

      Will Hill would be ranked higher than this if it wasn’t for his off-the-field issues. He played extremely well for the Ravens this season following his six-game suspension for violating the substance-abuse policy.

    5. Justin Forsett, RB, Ravens. Age: 29.
      Re-signed with Ravens (3 years, $9 million)

      A long-time journeyman, Justin Forsett finally found a home in Baltimore, where he rushed for 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns to go along with 44 catches for 263 receiving yards. Forsett averaged 5.4 yards per carry, but it’s fair to wonder how he would’ve done if he didn’t have the benefit of playing in Gary Kubiak’s blocking scheme.

    6. Darian Stewart, S, Ravens. Age: 27.
      Signed with Broncos (2 years)

      Darian Stewart has dealt with numerous lingering injuries throughout his tenure in St. Louis, but his first year in Baltimore was a healthy and successful one. Stewart is an adequate starter when 100 percent.

    7. Chris Canty, DE/DT, Ravens. Age: 32.
      Re-signed with Ravens (2 years)

      Chris Canty has hinted at retirement, so his release could be the end of his career. He can still put some pressure on the quarterback, but at 33 in November, his productive days are coming to an end.

    8. Jacoby Jones, WR/KR, Ravens. Age: 31.
      Signed with Chargers (2 years, $5.5 million)

      Jacoby Jones was cut for financial purposes, as the move saved the Ravens $2.5 million in cap space. Jones simply was too expensive because he’s solely a return specialist at this point in his career. He’s a talented returner – he scored a touchdown last year, and he handles both kickoffs and punts – but that’s all he is.

    9. Jeromy Miles, S, Ravens. Age: 28.
    10. Owen Daniels, TE, Ravens. Age: 32. — Signed with Broncos (3 years, $12 million)
    11. Anthony Levine (RFA), CB, Ravens. Age: 28. — Re-signed with Ravens (2 years)
    12. Bernard Pierce, RB, Ravens. Age: 24. — Signed with Jaguars
    13. Lawrence Guy (RFA), DE/DT, Ravens. Age: 25. — Re-signed with Ravens
    14. Antoine Cason, CB, Ravens. Age: 29.
    15. Kamar Aiken (RFA), WR, Ravens. Age: 26. — Re-signed with Ravens
    16. Tyrod Taylor, QB, Ravens. Age: 26. — Signed with Bills
    17. Terrence Cody, NT, Ravens. Age: 27.
    18. Jah Reid, G, Ravens. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Ravens
    19. Will Rackley, G, Ravens. Age: 25.
    20. Aaron Ross, CB, Ravens. Age: 32.
    21. Brynden Trawick (RFA), S, Ravens. Age: 25.
    22. Christo Bilukidi (RFA), C, Ravens. Age: 25.
    23. Chris Greenwood (RFA), CB, Ravens. Age: 26.


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