There will be plenty of former Ravens players and coaches preparing for Super Bowl 50.
The Denver Broncos have rookie guard Robert Myers, tight end Owen Daniels and safety Darian Stewart. Their head coach, Gary Kubiak, is the Ravens’ former offensive coordinator, and his current staff also includes ex-Ravens assistants Rick Dennison, Tony Coaxum and Brian Pariani.
The Carolina Panthers counter with quarterback Derek Anderson, tight end Ed Dickson, offensive lineman Michael Oher, defensive lineman Dwan Edwards and kicker Graham Gano. Two former Ravens assistants, John Matsko and Russ Pernell, are on head coach Ron Rivera’s staff.
Ground to a halt
For all the focus on the Ravens' lack of playmakers on offense and defense, one of the offseason priorities has to be fixing the running game.
Remember all that talk before the 2015 season about how that was supposed to be the team’s strength? The Ravens finished 26th in the league in rushing yards per game (92.4) and 24th in yards per carry (3.9).
Pro Football Focus, which had the Ravens offensive line as one of the top units in the NFL heading into the season, ranked the group 13th following the year. Sure, injuries to left tackle Eugene Monroe and center Jeremy Zuttah hurt, but the Ravens talked up their offensive line depth all preseason, so they can’t be used as an excuse. Pro Football Focus was particularly harsh on backup tackle James Hurst, writing that “bad things happened” whenever he was on the field. It also noted the drop-off from starting right tackle Rick Wagner, who was one of their highest-rated offensive linemen the year before.
It’s no coincidence, by the way, that neither Wagner nor cornerback Jimmy Smith played as well in 2015 as they did a year earlier. Both had Lisfranc sprains and needed foot surgery. Those are extremely difficult injuries to come back from, and neither player looked like himself until late in the year. The bet here is that both have really good seasons next year if they stay healthy.
Watching Denver Broncos safety Darian Stewart range from sideline to sideline, drilling New England Patriots receivers and intercepting passes from Tom Brady, makes me wonder where that player was last season for the Ravens. Did the Ravens not use Stewart correctly, or is he just benefitting from a better supporting cast around him in the Denver secondary?
We’ll have plenty of time to talk about free agency, given that its start is still seven weeks away, but here’s an early look at the top unrestricted free agents at the Ravens’ positions of need:
The free-agent wide receiver class isn’t overly impressive. But that could change if a couple of players, such as DeSean Jackson, Vincent Jackson, Mike Wallace, Victor Cruz and Roddy White, become salary cap casualties and join the group.
Given the Ravens' love of compensatory picks, signing someone from that list is more likely than adding a true unrestricted free agent.
And one more note on wide receivers: While general manager Ozzie Newsome said he’d like to add two more pass-catchers, I think the Ravens would be fine with one, assuming that player is either an early draft pick or an accomplished veteran. Between Steve Smith Sr., Kamar Aiken, Breshad Perriman, Michael Campanaro, Darren Waller, Jeremy Butler, Marlon Brown, Daniel Brown, Kaelin Clay and Chris Matthews, the Ravens have pretty good depth at the position. What they need is one more receiver they can slot in near the top of their depth chart.
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. is great at what he does, but count me among those who felt he was rather generous in his recent regrading of the 2015 draft. In case you missed it, he gave the Ravens' draft class a B-minus. Whether it was because of injuries or lack of readiness, the Ravens got nothing out of four (Perriman, Tray Walker, Myers and Waller) of their nine picks.
Third-round defensive tackle Carl Davis disappeared after a decent start. Fifth-round tight end Nick Boyle was a pleasant surprise, but a four-game suspension marred his season. Second-round tight end Maxx Williams and fourth-round outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith had a few solid games late but were nonfactors for much of the year. That leaves fourth-round running back Buck Allen, who was probably the most impressive rookie but he averaged just 3.8 yards per carry. It was pretty telling that the Ravens didn’t have a single player make the 25-man Pro Football Writers of America's All-Rookie team.
Road to recovery
Ravens cornerback Will Davis tore his ACL in mid-October. He put up an Instagram post last week saying he already has returned to the field for workouts. That’s not only pretty remarkable, but it’s also a good sign for the Ravens. Davis is someone the organization really likes, and while they’ll still add a cornerback or two this offseason, his healthy return certainly would improve the Ravens’ depth at the position.