After coming off of a Super Bowl victory, the Ravens had a below average season and failed to make the playoffs. The Ravens did not have the same success on offense because Ray Rice did not produce the same numbers and Anquan Boldin became a cap casualty. The Ravens are hoping that they can improve their running game through the addition of center Jeremy Zuttah and passing game by signing Steve Smith and Owen Daniels. Although Smith is past his prime, he is a physical wide out that will add an attitude to the offense. Smith still has reasonable speed and should have the potential to go deep and stretch the safeties. The addition of Owen Daniels will provide a second quality tight end for the double tight end sets.
On defense, the Ravens were hoping to get more youth and athleticism through the draft. Baltimore used their first selections on CJ Mosley, MLB, Timmy Jernigan, NT, and Terrence Brooks, S. Although it is unreasonable to expect Mosley to replace the great Ray Lewis, he was taught by the best defensive coach in college football and has incredible instincts and desire to succeed. Along with Mosley, the Ravens drafted Jernigan because of his potential. Due to his lack of consistency and motor during college, his draft stock fell and Baltimore was able to snag him in the second round. Jernigan will be able to learn under the tutelage of Haloti Ngata, who has been one of the best interior lineman over the past few seasons. Along with replacing the legendary Ray Lewis, the Ravens hope that Terrence Brooks can become a stud safety like the great Ed Reed. Like Mosley, it is highly unlikely that Brooks can replace a legend, but they should become starters for the new era of a Ravens’ defense.
The key for the Ravens this season will be the reemergence of Ray Rice. The former Scarlet Knight star was at the center of a lot of controversy after the domestic violence issue. The domestic violence problem will cost Rice the first two games of the season. Before the suspension, Rice was one of the worst running backs in the league, last season. The combination of a bad offensive line and a lot of workload caused Rice to slow down and have by far the worst season of his career. It was not a surprise that the Ravens became an average and one dimensional offense. If Rice can return to scaring defense, compile 1000 yards, and score 10 touchdowns, the Ravens should reclaim one of the best offenses in the league, Flacco’s passing game should improve, and the Ravens will compete with the Bengals for the North Division title. When Rice runs effectively, Flacco’s game drastically enhances because he is a great play action passer and it becomes easier for him to throw the deep ball to the Smiths.
The third year player out of Colorado, Jimmy Smith, will be important to the success of the Ravens’ defense. The Ravens lost last year’s starter Corey Graham to free agency. Graham was very effective for the Ravens as he accumulated 4 interceptions, defended 12 passes, and totaled 47 tackles. After two seasons as a backup, Smith will finally be given the opportunity to start for Baltimore. When the Ravens drafted Smith, they knew that he had the potential to be a top corner because of his physical skills, but he carried off the field baggage and attitude problems. However, he has been a good soldier while on the Ravens. Smith should become a good starter and replacement for Graham. If Smith can continue his development, he can mature into a solid number one corner and vault the Ravens into a top 5 passing defense.
After the Steelers and Ravens dominated the AFC North for the past decade, the Bengals are favored to win the division. However, the Ravens still have many players on offense that led this team to the championship. If Rice can regain his past form, the Ravens should become one of the ten best offenses in the league. Last year, the Ravens admitted that they were too pass heavy and want to run more this season. The addition of a running threat will allow Flacco to throw passes down the field. During his Super Bowl run, Flacco showed that he has the best arm in football and is the best at throwing passes of over 30 yards. The two Smiths, Torrey and Steve, are deep threats, which will fit with Flacco’s talents and allow the Ravens to compete with the Bengals for the division title. Along with the suspect running game, the offensive line must improve if the offense is going to reach its potential. The unit will have more time to unite and gel as a unit. While the offense still has a few question marks, the defense should return to its former status as one of the best in football. Last season, the passing and rushing defenses were ranked inside the top 12, but they are used to being ranked in the top 5. The rush defense should better its ranking as the unit of Terrell Suggs, CJ Mosley, Daryl Smith, Elvis Dumervil, and Courtney Upshaw ranks as one of the best cores in football. The unit is great because they have the ability to accumulate sacks and stuff the run. On the defensive line, the trio of Chris Canty, Haloti Ngata, and Brandon Williams need to show that they have the ability to win the battle of trenches. In the secondary, the Ravens were able to total a lot of turnovers, which needs to continue if the Ravens will return to the playoffs.
Second in the AFC East
Ray Rice has been one of the most consistent fantasy contributors over the past few seasons before last year. However, during preseason, Rice has look more agile, lighter, and quicker. Although Rice will miss the first two games, he should be able to return to being a top 10 or 15 running back. The Ravens will give him more carries since they realized that they cannot win without his success. Also, Rice is a great fantasy option because he can catch the ball out of the backfield. Unlike many running backs, Rice has the physicality to rush in the red zones and score all the rushing touchdowns.