Pick Six: Ravens Primed For A Breakout In 2014Posted on May 29, 2014 by Tim Horsey
It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to sit down and actually write something I enjoy. These little things called finals week and college graduation have sort of taken precedent. Those things are done with, and as I start to feel the frozen grasp of reality grip around me, I have some positive news: I’m all yours. With OTAs kicking off all over the NFL landscape, and some potentially serious injuries already occurring, there is a lot of talk about what players will step up and provide an unexpected boost to their club. Much of this speculation has been focused on the rookies, but there are some veterans who may be looking to shoulder a bigger load for their team, as well. With that, let’s take a look at some Ravens who could pleasantly surprise us this season.
6- Kyle Juszczyk, Fullback
I love me some fullback. It may be my favorite offensive position, and even if it’s justified, I’m sad that the position is falling out of favor in the NFL. I was especially crestfallen with the release of Vonta Leach. There is, however, hope for the position in Baltimore, wrapped up in a Harvard Crimson package named Kyle Juszczyk.
Outside of one crushing collision on a kick return, Juszczyk did not feature prominently in the Ravens plan last season. Most of that was because the rookie was stuck behind the best fullback in football (you don’t want to have this debate with me). With the release of Leach, the former Harvard standout will get a much bigger role in the offense. And he is more of a modern day fullback as well, being able to play an H-back sort of role and come out of the backfield to make the tough grab. In 2012, his final college season, Juszczyk “posted 52 receptions for 706 receiving yards (13.6 avg.) and 8 TDs, which tie for second in single-season Harvard history [and] ranked fifth in the Ivy League by averaging 70.6 receiving yards per game and seventh with 5.2 receptions per contest, helping Harvard finish with an 8-2 overall record,” all according to BaltimoreRavens.com. Look for Gary Kubiak to get creative with his new fullback this season.
5- Ricky Wagner, OT
Without doubt, the biggest question remaining on the Ravens roster is the right tackle position. I, unlike most, am optimistic that if a veteran like Eric Winston is not brought in, or an undrafted rookie like James Hurst proves to not be any competition, that Wagner will not only be the starter but will fill that role admirably. I do think he needs competition, but the fact that the Ravens decided to ignore the position completely in the draft and have not brought in said veteran yet shows me they do believe in the former Wisconsin Badger (an offensive lineman factory, by the way). Remember, Wagner came into his senior season with the potential to be a first-round pick, but was hampered by injuries. If he makes good on that potential the Ravens may make us all look silly again.
Now not all of these are going to be right. If I hit on two of these by the end of the season, I will be a happy man. And so will the Ravens.
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4- Brandon Williams, NT
A man predicted by many, including Chris Wesseling of NFL.com and NFL: Around the League, to start this season on the Ravens defensive line, Williams should be given plenty of opportunity to make an impact this season. After wanted to improve his conditioning and quickness, Williams is said to have slimmed down considerably in preparation for this season. The fact of the matter is that this line will be a rotational one, with the likes of Williams, Jernigan, Canty, and one fellow a bit higher on this list all getting a nice amount of snaps. Williams makes the cut above guys like Jernigan and Canty because he will see more opportunity that Jernigan, being a second-year player, and because Canty is a bit on the decline.
Putting Williams on this list also assumes that Ngata would kick back out to defensive end, when he prefers to play in the middle. The Ravens will most likely start the year with this formation, but I believe the rise of another player (a plug for a piece within the piece!) will force Williams out of the starting rotation by year’s end.
3- Matt Elam, SS
Man, it feels good to put Elam down as a strong safety and not a free safety. Last year’s first round pick was stuck playing out of position because of James Ihedigbo’s lack to cover an elderly person in the secondary. This is why I find it ridiculous that people are already discounting Elam’s ability. There were some rough patches (let’s not watch those tapes against A.J. Green), Elam showed some signs of his ability to wreck an offenses game plan like he did at Florida. He even finished the season fourth on the Ravens in total tackles with 77, an encouraging number for a guy who will now get to play more in the box.
A lot of this ranking, however, depends on rookie free safety Terrance Brooks. Brooks is a true free safety, and is expected to start in that slot. If he can grasp the playbook and the speed of the professional game, Elam will be given more freedom to slide over to strong safety and roam around the line of scrimmage, where he is more comfortable. If he can do that, look for the former Gator to silence all of his doubters.
2- Kapron Lewis-Moore, DE
This is my high-risk, I’m either going to sound really dumb or really smart pick. The man who I kept teasing in the Brandon Williams section is Kapron-Lewis Moore, the second year man who had to sit out a whole season because of a torn ACL he suffered in the BCS Title Game when he was at Notre Dame. Now back fully healthy, Lewis-Moore, (or KAP) is looking to make an impact on a defensive line filled with talent. By the end of his time with the Fighting Irish, KAP had been named a captain and was a stalwart on a defense that was one of the best in the nation. He played alongside the likes of Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III, players drafted in the second and third rounds, respectively, this season. Lewis-Moore may have been just as high of a pick if not for the injury. If he stays healthy, I fully expect Lewis-Moore to make Ravens fans forget about Arthur Jones by season’s end.
1- Bernard Pierce, RB
So, we’ve all heard about this Ray Rice stuff by now, right? If not, you’ve been living under a rock. And even though the former Pro Bowler will avoid jail time, there is still a consensus thought around the league that Rice will be suspended. And let’s not forget about the arrest of rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro, leaving the door wide open for one running back on this team.
That man is Bernard Pierce. The third-year man, despite some of his own off the field troubles, is the one who stands to benefit the most from the tumultuous offseason of the Ravens backfield, more so than Juszczyk. After a dismal year in which Pierce rushed for 436 yards with a 2.9 yards per carry average (96 yards and a 2-yard average lower than his rookie year, respectively), no one is more grateful to see Gary Kubiak’s zone blocking scheme come in than number 30. Look for the former Temple Owl to have a massive comeback year in a system perfectly fit for his skill set that he will feature in prominently while Rice is suspended (as expected).