During the 2012 season, the Denver Broncos drew the AFC North division as part of their schedule. The Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns make up that division. I thought it would be a good idea to familiarize ourselves with our upcoming opponents and see how they fared in Free Agency and whether they have improved or not through the draft. Three of these four teams made the playoffs in 2011, which only adds to the difficult challenge facing the Broncos in the upcoming campaign. Since this would end up as a 5000 word post as a single entity, I am breaking it up team by team. Here are the Ravens.
The Ravens finished in 1st place in the AFC North with a 12-4 record in 2011. Their year ended with a loss to the New England Patriots 20-23 in the NFC Title game.
CB Chris Carr, WR Lee Evans, PK Shayne Graham and CB Domonique Foxworth (failed physical) were released.
RB Ricky Williams retired, OG Ben Grubbs took a job with the Saints ($36M/5 yrs), OLB Jarret Johnson bolted to the Chargers ($19M/4 yrs), S Haruki Nakamura went to the Panthers ($4.8M/3 yrs). DT Brandon McKinney (2 yrs. terms unknown), DE Cory Redding ($10.5M/3 yrs) and S Tom Zbikowski ($5.5M/3 yrs) all rode off to the Colts.
ILB Brendon Ayanbadejo, C Matt Birk, G Justin Boren, LB Josh Bynes: ERFA, LS Morgan Cox, LB Dannell Ellerbe, CB Danny Gorrer, LB Sergio Kindle, ILB Jameel McClain, LB Albert McClellan, CB Lardarius Webb and LB Chavis Williams.
Free Agent Acquisitions
Baltimore signed S Sean Considine away from the Cardinals to take Zbikowski's spot. LB Cody Glenn signed a 1-year deal and will be in the mix along with Paul Kruger and Sergio Kindle to make up for the loss of Jarrett Johnson. CB Corey Graham comes over from the Bears to fill Foxworth's spot and QB Curtis Painter, formerly of the Colts, signed a 1-year deal to battle Tyrod Taylor for Joe Flacco’s backup.
Team Needs Going Into the Draft
The Ravens Defense took them to within a game of the Super Bowl, but age is creeping up on them. MLB Ray Lewis and S Ed Reed won't be around much longer. They will need to replace Cory Redding at Defensive End and draft Ray Lewis' successor to pair up with Jameel McClain in the middle. On Offense, a Guard to replace Ben Grubbs, a Left Tackle since Bryant McKinnie is 33, and a Wide Receiver are the primary concerns, while Center and Running Back are lesser needs to consider.
|2nd||60||Kelechi Osemele||OG||6-6||347||Iowa St.|
|4th||130||Christian Thompson||FS||6-0||213||So. Carolina St.|
|5th||169||Asa Jackson||CB||5-10||188||Cal Poly|
|6th||198||Tommy Streeter||WR||6-5||215||Miami (Fla)|
Baltimore addressed most of their positional needs for their roster in the draft. After trading out of the 1st round, they chose pass rushing Linebacker Courtney Upshaw early in the second round. The plan is for Upshaw to compete with Paul Kruger for a starting outside linebacker job.
The Ravens spent their next 2nd-round pick on Iowa St. Tackle Kelechi Osemele. A Left Tackle in college, Osemele projects best to Left Guard due to a lack of elite mobility. At 6-6, 347 lbs, Ray Rice will be his best friend. He'll compete with Jah Reid for the starting left guard job.
Baltimore drafted Ray Rice’s backup in the 3rd Round, Temple Running Back Bernard Pierce. Pierce is an extremely physical and durable runner who rushed for 3,570 yards and 53 Touchdowns in his career at Temple.
In the 4th round, the Ravens hope they found their eventual replacement for center Matt Birk in Delaware All-American Gino Gradkowski. Gino is making a big jump to a much higher level of football. Smart and tough, he's the younger brother of quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.
With their second pick in the 4th round, Baltimore selected Free Safety Christian Thompson.
Big and strong enough to play in the box, Thompson ran a 4.50 at the NFL scouting combine. Will begin his career on special teams and back up starters Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard.
In the 5th round, Cornerback Asa Jackson was the Ravens pick. A small Corner from a small school, Jackson lacks the ideal size teams want at the position, but this kid runs fairly well and is durable. He can also return punts where he's expected to be an immediate contributor.
Wide receiver Tommy Streeter was chosen in Round 6 and I think Baltimore got great value here. Streeter isn't your typical 6th-round draft pick. He has the size, speed and athleticism to emerge as a dangerous red-zone threat. What he needs is polish.
The Ravens lost Cory Redding and Brandon McKinney to Free Agency and needed to replace that beef up front. So they made Deangelo Tyson their 7th round pick to bolster their defensive line rotation. Tyson is athletic and big enough to have a shot at making this team.
RB Ray Rice (tendered at about $7.742 million).
College Free Agents
Kent State C Chris Anzevino; Florida QB John Brantley; North Carolina CB Charles Brown; Morgan State TE Lamont Bryant; Mississippi State OL James Carmon; Illinois OL Jack Cornell; Clemson FB Chard Diehl; Georgia FB Bruce Figgins; Slippery Rock WR Devin Goda; Syracuse WR Dorian Graham; Alabama-Birmingham DT Elliott Henigan; Baylor DT Nick Jean-Baptiste; Tennessee LB Austin Johnson; Kent State DT Ishaa’ily Kitchen; Clemson OL Antoine McClain; Alabama OL Alfred McCullough; Syracuse TE Nick Provo; Wake Forest S Chyl Quarles; Western Kentucky RB Bobby Rainey; Florida WR Deonte Thompson
None of these CFAs really jump out at you, but the Ravens have had strong drafts each year since Ozzie Newsome became their General Manager. He has proven to have a sharp eye for talent and hits more often than misses with his evaluations.
The Broncos don’t play the Ravens until Week 15, when they travel to Baltimore in mid-December. By then, both teams will know how their new faces fit in.
PostScript: LB Terrell Suggs was lost for the season yesterday and will obviously have an impact in the Week 15 game.