Three Ravens Who Could Have Big YearsPosted on June 16, 2014 by Gordon McGuinness
In the past I have been guilty of focusing on the negative, perhaps a little too much, so this time I'm going to highlight three young players, coming of disappointing seasons, who I think could have big seasons for the Ravens in 2014. These players will be key in determining if the Ravens can re-claim their throne atop the AFC North, and push themselves back into the mix with the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots as title challengers in the AFC.
Bernard Pierce - Running Back
While Pierce struggled in his second year in the league, we know he struggled with an injury, and was trying to run behind an offensive line that was little short of porous for most of the year. Look back to his 2012 rookie season, and you'll see a back who could absolutely thrive under new offensive co-ordinator Gary Kubiak. That season he was a tackle breaking machine, forcing 21 missed tackles and averaging 3.48 Yards After Contact Per Carry on 108 carries in 2012 (stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus). Pierce is a runner who is at his best when he can stick his foot into the ground, make one cut and burst forward. That fits with what Kubiak will want from his running backs this season and it wouldn't surprise me one bit to see Pierce as the Ravens lead back by the time 2014 comes to an end.
Kelechi Osemele - Left Guard
Another player who saw his second season in the league disrupted by injury, you only need to look back to the night the Ravens hoisted the Lombardi Trophy high in New Orleans to see just how good Osemele can be at left guard for the Ravens. On that night he dominated from the interior of the offensive line pushing Justin Smith and other members of the San Francisco defensive line around like they were tackling dummies. The only concern I had was that the team might seem him as the best fit at right tackle, but that doesn't appear to be the case so we should see a healthy Osemele get his chance to show that the Super Bowl wasn't a fluke performance in 2014.
Matt Elam - Safety
I wasn't a big fan of the rookie first rounder's first season, with some poor play in coverage countering some solid play against the run. The problem for Elam, however, was that him playing the "Ed Reed" role in the Ravens offense was like trying to fit a square into a circle. That wasn't Elam's forte, and it's not likely that it ever will be. Where he was always going to be best, and have the most success, is close to the line of scrimmage. He was forced deeper because the only two options the Ravens had were him and James Ihedigbo, and Elam's deep coverage skills, while not great, are better than his. With Ihedigbo now in Detroit with the Lions, look for Elam to play much closer to the line of scrimmage in 2014, and look for him to have a much better second season in the league.