That's a credit to general manager Ozzie Newsome, director of player personnel Eric DeCosta, director of pro personnel Vince Newsome, and director of college scouting Joe Hortiz, but it's also a credit to the Ravens coaching staff. The 2011 team obviously still has a veteran core of leaders, but Baltimore has also managed to inject a lot of youth into their squad this year while still winning football games. Asked about that process this week, John Harbaugh described it a bit like nudging a baby bird out of the nest, hoping they'll take flight instead of crashing to the ground.
With so many young players playing important roles this year, The Baltimore Sun decided to take a look at the Ravens' first- and second-year players acquired in the draft or through free agency and evaluate their long-term potential.
Defensive tackle, 2nd round, 2010
So far: Cody was a dominant defensive tackle in college, truly an unblockable wrecking ball at times, but his fitness caused his draft stock to slip, and he wasn't much of a factor in his rookie season. But in this second year in the NFL, he's slowly blossomed into a solid starter with the potential to be even better.
In the future: If the Ravens coaching staff can continue to mold him and keep him in the weight room and on the treadmill, he and Haloti Ngata will anchor the defense for years to come.
Quotable: "I understand how much you have to take care of your body during the season, and how much time you have to spend watching film. You've got to make a commitment to everything and stay with it the whole season. You learn a ton just by watching the veterans. You start to see the things they see."
Tight end, 3rd round, 2010
So far: He didn't play much as a rookie, but Dickson has shown signs of becoming a real threat down the field. His hands have been somewhat inconsistent, and to become an elite player, he probably needs to learn to maintain his focus a bit more. But athletically he has all the right tools to be very good.
In the future: Just needs more reps. Watching him run past Troy Polamalu in Week 1 for a touchdown was a flash of his potential.
Quotable: "The NFL is so much more mental than college. When you're on the field, you don't want to be thinking about stuff. The first year, all you can think about is learning the playbook. And it's moving at such a fast pace, you think, 'I'm never going to learn this.' But from year one to year two, the game slows down tremendously."
Wide receiver, 4th round, 2011
So far: Doss showed good hands during the preseason when he made it into games, but he hasn't been able to climb the depth chart during the regular season. He's been active for just four games. Fans are frustrated he hasn't seen more time, but Doss doesn't seem to be. He knows he's still learning a lot.
In the future: A year in the weight room would help him get stronger and help him handle the physical pounding of the NFL. Still has potential to be a decent No. 3 receiver, based on his great hands alone, but that's probably his ceiling.
Quotable: "Obviously some stuff is out of my control. So I just approach it like I'm going to better myself every day going against a great defense [in practice]. They coaches have told me to just keep doing what I've been doing. They haven't told me anything specific I can do. We have a talented group of receivers and I'm still learning a lot from them."