It's taken me a little while to get this out...
Congrats to Steelers on winning the AFC championship. They were clearly the better team. The margin was not huge, but it is undeniable.
It's a tough pill for a Ravens fan to swallow, because all three of those games were very close. The first one at their place went to OT – you can't get closer than that. The second game was decided by that replay windowpane TD to Santonio Holmes. And in game 3 we had the ball down 2 with 4 mins to go, with a chance to make the deciding drive and get into the Super Bowl. I think many, many Ravens felt there was a bit of destiny swirling around this team, esp after the win over the Titans. I know I personally was a believer, right up until Flacco threw the INT to Polamalu.
The difference between these two teams starts with Big Ben, who is an unbelievable QB. He doesn't dominate the ball like Peyton Manning does, and he doesn't wind up with the stats, but it's ridiculously difficult to get his team off the field on 3rd down. He rolls away, keeps a play alive, and then throws a perfect strike to the guy who uncovers. His size, accuracy, decision-making, and mobility make him difficult to deal with. It's a hell of a package. And he's clutch. I gather from Pittsburgh discussion boards that Ben has a rep as a bit of a drama queen. That seems odd to me, because he's absolutely clutch. (Reminds me of Earl Weaver's quote about Jim Palmer: "Jimmy's tough to beat when he has his excuses all lined up.") You can free up a blitzer and get to Ben, but he's so friggin huge that half the time the guy just bounces off of him; and then Ben completes the pass. In the process he takes a lot of shots; and I wonder if he's not going to have great longevity as a player. And I also wonder what his post-football life is going to be like as he gets older (there have already been concussions). But today, there aren't three QBs in the league better than Roethlisbugger.
Another piece of the margin between these two teams: that 65-yd TD play to Holmes in the 2nd quarter, that play has happened in each game. Each game someone has broken free to weave his way thru the entire Ravens D and score a long TD. Each time the play seemed to unfold in slow motion, and it looked impossible that the Ravens couldn't tackle the guy. And he got in. On reflection I think this shows that the Steelers depth is better than the Ravens depth. The Steelers are a younger, quicker, more athletic team. Not position by position, but probably the 9-10-11th guy on the field with each unit. This lets them win the "sudden change" on the football field – that's something Jimmy Johnson has talked about as a centerpiece of his football philosophy: scoring on the turnover, etc. The Steelers were able to do that in their three games against the Ravens (they also did it in the SB against the Cards), and that reveals something about the two squads.
Honorable mention to the Steelers O-line, which improved all season, I guess the result of coaching and hard work. They looked better in the postseason than they did early in the regular season, and that's significant.
• Steelers DBs healthier
• Steelers RBs healther
• Steelers WR corps is better. It may turn out that Mark Clayton and Marcus Smith become players; but Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington are already players – and damn fine ones, as Holmes went on to prove in the Super Bowl.
This game highlights the ways in which Joe Flacco was still a rookie. He can be slow to decide to throw, he stares down receivers, and he doesn't use all his receivers. He only throws to his favorite guys. On the game-clinching INT, Mason is double- or triple-covered, and Flacco throws to him anyway. On the replay, it looks to me like Marcus Smith is open down the seam, about 20 yards over Mason's head. Polamalu gambled on the throw to Mason (is it really "gambling", if you bet that Flacco is going to throw to Mason?), and there was no over-the-top help on Smith, who had gotten behind his man. I think on a lob to Smith he'd still be running. On the other hand, a play like that puts the ball in Big Ben's hands down 5 with 3:50 to play, and I've seen that movie before. And the point is that the rookie QB wasn't able to find that receiver. It may turn out that Flacco has a longer, more productive career than Roethlisbugger; but Big Ben is already a polished QB – a great one, as his two Super Bowl rings demonstrate.
Feinstein wrote a nice piece on the game for the Washington Post:
They were a banged-up team coming in: cornerback Samari Rolle was inactive; fullback Le'Ron McClain played only a few snaps; Terrell Suggs needed a pain-killing shot in his shoulder to get on the field. All the receivers were hurting. The game began with backup safety Daren Stone knocked silly on the opening kickoff. Late in the first half, cornerback Corey Ivy was also knocked for a loop.
Ben Roethlisberger was a fifth-year quarterback who could get out of trouble and make plays; Flacco was a rookie who did miraculous work to get this far, but wasn't quite ready for this game or this defense.
There was a lot of talk about the future, about coming back and doing this again next year, but veterans knew full well that the NFL holds no guarantees. ... As the Ravens took off their uniforms and hugged one another in a quiet locker room, the sense of loss -- not so much of defeat as a greater sense of loss -- was palpable.
And of course this wasn't one devastating loss but two:
Jets to Hire Ryan
The Jets made a formal offer to Ryan “about an hour” after the Ravens lost 23-14 to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game
Not just the end of a season, but the end of an era.
The Steelers are a great football team, and a truly great organization (one of the best in sports, possibly the best in football).
It's also true that their play in the AFC Championship game was remarkably dirty. This wasn't just "solid hard-hitting football"; many of the Steelers were head-hunting and should have been penalized. The hit that put Willis McGahee on a stretcher was helmet-to-helmet and should have been called. It was not the only one.
I of course have very little room to complain, as a Ravens fan. They don't exactly play the game with their lily-white gloves on. The last time the Ravens got to the conference championship, Tony Siragusa belly-flopped on Rich Gannon and put him out of the game, effectively ending the Raiders chance to compete. I believe the Ravens themselves wouldn't complain: as I understand it, their philosophy is that it's their responsibility to out-hit the opponent, they don't need no stinking refs to protect them. And that's a fine philosophy for players to have.
But the refs have a responsibility. Guys were getting hurt. The Steelers were hitting with helmets and forearms to the head, and guys were getting hurt. If as a ref you are not enforcing safety rules, then what purpose are you serving?
It's natural as a Ravens fan to say, "We went to the conference championship game with a rookie QB! And with the most-injured roster in the league! Imagine us next year, with Flacco having a full season of experience and a full offseason in the program! Super Bowl here we come!"
But it's not going to be simple for the Ravens to build on this season. Rex Ryan's departure will have an impact on the team; and it's not just Ryan, the Ravens have a ton of free agents on defense, including Ray Lewis. It's possible that the era of defensive dominance in Baltimore has ended, with a loud free agency "POP!" Also, the injury situation and the three Pittsburgh games revealed that the Ravens roster is a little brittle. They infused some young talent into the squad with last year's draft, but they need more. You can never stand still in this sport: you are constantly fighting erosion, from free agency and time, and the terrible toll football takes on the bodies of dynamic young athletes.
Early look at Ravens needs for next season:
• Re-sign their own free agents!
• stud corner
• big play WR
• pass rusher
• depth at TE
Starting at the bottom of the list and working up:
The Ravens finished the season thin at RB. Ray Rice missed the last 5 games with an injury; Le'Ron McClain was hobbled for the AFC championship game with an ankle; and Willis McGahee was carried off the field on a stretcher. It was sadly a fitting end to a difficult season for McGahee, who had knee surgery toward the beginning of the season and nearly had his eye poked out toward the middle. I think a lot of Ravens fans were frustrated with McGahee this year, and there were persistent rumors in the Baltimore Sun that the Ravens coaching staff was too. Yet I think most of us fans would be surprised if we saw up close what he had to go thru to get ready to play each week this past season.
I personally started to see McGahee in a new way during the 4th Q of the AFC championship game. The hit and stretcher probably overshadow this in a lot of fans minds, but McGahee played like a hero in that 4th quarter. He didn't have overwhelming rushing numbers, but his pass blocking against the Steelers blitz was amazing. Really amazing. There were 3 or 5 plays were he lined up to one side of Flacco in a shotgun, the blitzer came free on the other side, and McGahee lunged across the formation and somehow got a piece of the pass-rusher, buying Flacco an extra second to get the ball away. Each individual play was amazing, a block that you thought he couldn't possibly make, requiring total effort and focus and commitment on his part. And then he made plays like that again and again. It was an extremely impressive performance.
Anyway: A lot of fans figured during the season that McGahee was not going to be part of the team's plans for next year. And the way the teams rushing attack sputtered, there is probably some groundswell for improving the talent base here. Matt Forte doesn't seem to be on this roster, and if those guys are growing on trees (he was a 2nd-rd pick!) then it would be natural to think the Ravens should get one. But of course, guys like Matt Forte do not grow on trees, the Bears got very lucky landing him in the 2nd round. McGahee's contract means that he will be back next season. The Ravens would take some absurd cap hit by cutting him, something like $15 million of accelerated money. No way do they cut him. Also, McGahee may have "redeemed himself" (if that was necessary) with his play vs the Steelers; and it's important to remember just how many injuries he dealt with this season. He may be a very significant part of the Ravens attack next season. (He turned 27 mid-season.) Also, Ray Rice had evidently fully recovered from his injury, and the coaches seem to love him, esp as a Brian Westbrook -type receiving back. He had 40-yd reception vs Miami this year, and a 60-yd run vs the Browns. He seems to be able to play, at least in a defined role. And finally, Le'Ron McClain had over 900 yds rushing in a combined FB/tailback role, his first season as a tailback. He just turned 24.
I think the Ravens are very happy with their running-back-by-committee situation, and I don't think they plan to make a change. Ozzie is a determined "best player available" guy, so the Ravens might not be able to pass up a LeSean McCoy or whomever; but I don't think that's the plan.
At RT, the Ravens may feel they have their guy of the future in-house. They had a couple of draft picks this year who were depth guys during the season, but who have some upside as prospects: Oniel Cousins and Nathan Hale. Cousins was really raw coming out of college, and Hale probably wasn't carrying enough weight. But supposedly the Ravens loved Cousins play and attitude in camp – he was running with the first team last camp and in most of the preseason games, with the early injury to Adam Terry – and Hale was one of their "red star" draft picks. I would not be surprised to see the Ravens give extensive playing time to one of those guys at RT during the OTA's and minicamps, and proclaim him the starter as the season approaches. Willie Anderson was an important player for the Ravens this past season, with his experience and leadership: but he is 10,000 yrs old, and a statue compared to the athleticism of the rest of the line. I think the Ravens will let him be supplanted. If the one of the young guys steps up at RT, *and* if the Ravens can re-sign Jason Brown, then they will have one of the best young O-lines in the AFC.
Another possibility on the O-line is, the Ravens feel that Cal center Alex Mack is the "best available player" when their turn comes in the 1st-rd. O-line isn't on the radar for the Ravens on any of the mock drafts. But they got Ben Grubbs at this spot in the draft two years ago, and in general Ozzie likes to get a guy he feels is the best player at his position, with a late-in-the-round pick. Examples include Grubbs at G, Todd Heap at TE, Ed Reed at S. Maybe the Ravens let Jason Brown walk in free agency and target Mack in the draft. I'd be sad because I like Jason Brown as a player, and also because I think there are more important uses for the Ravens 1st-rd pick. However, that scenario would let the Ravens throw a lot of money at Ray Lewis.
At TE, the Ravens should get Quinn Sypniewski back from injury, and that will help the depth at this position a lot. They were so thin at TE this year, they switched a LB over to TE during camp (he even caught a reg season pass!).
(That player was Edgar Jones: you may have noticed #84 rush the passer a few times during the AFC championship game.)
I think the national publications will point out that Todd Heap had his least-productive season since his rookie year (not counting 2 injury-shorted 6-game seasons), and is about to turn 29, and will conclude that the Ravens need to look for his replacement. I'm not sure that's true. The Ravens kept Heap in to block a ton this past year: they went max-protect a lot, and they ran a whole lot. Heap would block at the RT spot when the Ravens went to the unbalanced line, and his performance there was a big part of their success. He really did have a good season: just not the season he's used to. I think this is a situation where the position looks worse from afar than it really is. I think the Ravens have higher priorities than upgrading this position. I do expect them to spend a late-rd draft pick here, probably for a blocker. And of course, the "best player available" when the Ravens pick at #26 in the first round, may turn out to be tight end Brandon Pettigrew of Ok St. Impact players are always good; but as I said, I think other positions are priorities.
Three of the four starting LBs for the Ravens are unrestricted free agents this offseason. Three of four! The one starter who is not a free agent is the one who's never made a Pro Bowl, ROLB Jarret Johnson. He's a good player, but he's not the meat of the Ravens D the way Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott are. The Ravens can probably keep two of the three players, but not all three.
As of this writing, the Ravens have franchised Suggs, which was the utterly necessary move. He's 26 yrs old, has averaged 9 sacks a year, and has become a complete player. The Ravens have also done a nice job of getting young players into the organization who may be able to step in. Last year they drafted Tavares Gooden in the 3rd round: he got into a few games before getting injured in game 6 and missing the rest of the season with injury. He's supposed to be a fine player. They also snagged undrafted free agent Jameel McClain, and he had a fine season. Frankly he looked like a potential James Harrison type: an undrafted guy who eventually blossoms into the defensive player of the year. McClain had a few sacks and a blocked punt and a safety. He seems to be a real impact player. They also have Antwan Barnes, who looked like a potential sack machine a season ago but was not productive this year. So with those players, and with Suggs, the Ravens seem to have done what they can to position themselves to make a transition this season.
Ray Lewis will obviously be the story of the Ravens offseason. *If* they can re-sign him, then they will have only one hole to plug at LB, and they already have Tavares Gooden, so everything will be fine. Bart Scott turns 29 next season anyway. If they can't re-sign Ray – and it will take bux to sign Ray, and Dallas & the Jets might be serious contenders for him; not to mention that the Broncos have freed up significant salary cap space the last few days, and their DC Mike Nolan used to coach Ray in Baltimore – if they can't re-sign Ray, then they might retain Bart Scott and technically only have one hole to fill at LB. But that's a huge friggin hole.
Even if the Ravens bring everyone back from last year's D, they still need some help rushing the passer. Is that odd, that the #2 D in the league needs a pass rusher? But Adalius Thomas went to the Patriots in the 2006/7 offseason, and since then the Ravens haven't been able to consistently bring pressure from the side opposite Terrell Suggs. Trevor Pryce is a stud, but he'll be 34 next season. I haven't seen any national publications list a pass rusher as a need for the Ravens, but putting a situational rusher on the right side could really stabilize this D. Could USC linebacker Brian Cushing be the "best player available" when the Ravens pick at 26? (Or Clint Sintim of Virginia, or Aaron Maybin of Penn State?) Esp if they lose Ray Lewis, the Ravens might need to get more raw talent into the LB corps. Ozzie has always been able to just find guys who can play at this position, but Ray Lewis' departure would change a lot of things. Remember also the Ravens lost one of their LB coaches, to become Rex Ryan's DC in NY. There might not be as much reason for faith that they can just "make" a Pro Bowl linebacker out of late-round talent, the way they have.
On Ravens discussion boards, there is a lot of disagreement. Throw a lot of money at Ray, to keep him til he retires? Or make a "reasonable" offer, while signing their other important players, like Jason Brown? This sometimes devolves into the argument "Which would you rather have, Ray or Brown?" which I think is not the right way to look at it. I dunno what the right thing to do is. In general I feel you shouldn't tie up the team's salary cap on a 35yo (before camp starts) linebacker. But it's Ray Lewis! Fortunately the team has Ozzie to make the call.
Of course the Ravens need what they always need, a big-play wide receiver. They've been trying to get this player since Michael Jackson got old & Derrick Alexander left after the 1997 season. Or maybe since Qadry Ismail left after 2001. Derrick Mason is a man; but the guy Ravens fans are looking for is more like Larry Fitzgerald or Andre Johnson.
I get frustrated talking with other fans about this, because people say stuff like "the Ravens need to draft a #1 wide receiver." As if it's possible to order one out of a catalog! Guess what? Guys like Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson are not easy to find, and they don't come around very often. For whatever reason, WRs are tough to project to the NFL. Is there a position where more draft mistakes are made, than WR? I guess QB; but maybe not. If there was a guy in this draft you could point to and say HE is going to be the next Fitzgerald/Johnson (other than Michael Crabtree, who is expected to go in the top 5), then sure, I'd say draft him. But drafting a WR is a crapshoot. I tell you what the Ravens don't need: they don't need another good but not game-breaking WR. They have plenty of guys who can make some plays, but aren't dominant: Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, Marcus Smith.
The top guys in free agency are TJ Houshmazilly, Devery Henderson, maybe Shaun McDonald. And of course there are persistent rumors about Anquan Boldin leaving the Cardinals. I would take Anquan Boldin in a friggin heartbeat: but he's not leaving the Cards, no matter what he thinks. Maybe they'd trade him if he didn't report next camp. Houshmazilly isn't considered the "#1 receiver" that a lot of fans want: but he does have the ability to get open and catch passes. I would not despise him as a FA signing. But he'll be 32 next season: for the money, is he really a big upgrade over what the Ravens have? Devery Henderson is an actual deep threat. And he's only 26 yrs old. I don't know much about him: why has he never caught more than 32 passes in a season? I would think you could catch more than that just standing around, the way Drew Brees sprays it around in Nawlins. Shaun McDonald looked like a football player last year, and played 5 yrs for Mike Martz; but his yards-per-catch is very low for a WR.
Is Nate Washington of the Steelers a free agent? I wouldn't mind improving us and weakening them in one stroke.
The WRs I see projected on the mock drafts to go near where the Ravens are picking in the 1st round are, Percy Harvin of Florida and Darrius Heyward-Bey of Maryland. They're both potential game-breakers, and they both have question marks. Harvin is fast and a playmaker; but he's not real big (under 180#) and he played a hybrid RB/WR position in college (a lot like Reggie Bush). Heyward-Bey is superfast and has great size, but hasn't played a lot of football (he ran track in high school), and wasn't super-productive in college. The next tier of WRs in the draft is Hakeem Nicks of N Carolina, Kenny Britt of Rutgers, Juaquin Iglesias of Oklahoma, and Derrick Williams of Penn St. I'm not qualified to have an opinion on any of these guys; but it's worth pointing out that the old Rutgers OC is on the Ravens coaching staff, and Iglesias is described on one mock-draft as "a smooth route runner", which is sort of like saying a girl is a great dancer. Mark Clayton is also "a smooth route runner". That's a great quality: but it's not one the Ravens need to spend a top-2 pick on.
I'd be fine with the Ravens taking a flyer on either Harvin or Heyward-Bey, if they felt they had an insight about him as a player. As a Maryland fan, I'd love to see Heyward-Bey go to the Ravens and blossom into a great WR. He really is ridiculously fast: 4.3 and occasionally sub-4.3 in the 40, at 6-3 210. But there's bust potential there. It would not bother me as a fan if the Ravens went in another direction with that pick.
I gotta tell you, I think there is great potential for the Ravens to improve in the passing game, just with the personnel they have. The WRs did not rack up great stats last year, but all of them were held back by the adjustment to a new offense and a rookie QB. Mark Clayton called it one of the most frustrating, exciting, challenging seasons he's had (this was in a mid-season interview). The Ravens were a very run-dominant team, so there weren't a ton of opportunities in the passing game, esp early. Then Joe Flacco latched on to Derrick Mason like a newborn latches on to a nip, so there weren't a lot of balls thrown to other guys. Seriously, there seemed to be some very primitive reaction deep in Flacco, like in the lizard brain, where "throw to Mason" = good and "throw to someone else" = not as good. I wonder if it crystallized when Heap dropped the TD pass in game 1. I swear there were plays where Flacco would drop back, and Marcus Clayton would be open, Marcus Smith would be WIDE open, and you could see a sliver of Derrick Mason's jersey thru the guys draped over him – and Flacco would throw it to Mason. And half the time Mason would catch the stupid thing! Dislocated shoulder or not; which didn't help break the cycle of Flacco looking only to Mason. Demetrius Williams caught a 70-yd TD pass in game 7 vs Oakland – and then was lost for the season with an injury. Mark Clayton had a breakout game against Cincinnati in game 12; but wasn't able to follow it up with similar numbers. Marcus Smith made a circus catch off a DB deflection in the playoffs, but the play was called back by a penalty ("throw to someone else" = not good), and I'm not sure Flacco ever threw to him again.
Here's the list of WR "looks" for the Ravens, off of FFtoday.com. This is the number of times the player was targetted for a pass by the QB:
Receiver Looks Derrick Mason 121 Mark Clayton 82 Demetrius Williams 23 Yamon Figurs 5 Marcus Smith 4 Ernie Wheelwright 0
Mason's number is high, good for #21 in the league. That 3rd figure is low, good for 119th in the league. If you add up the looks to all the other Ravens receivers, they total less than Mason's number: Flacco threw more to Mason than to all the other receivers put together. There just weren't a lot of balls for guys other than Mason to catch.
Remember that Flacco was not identified as the #1 QB last offseason, or in training camp. He was the #3, and did not get the reps that Kyle Boller & Troy Smith got. He only became the starter as of the last preseason game, when Smith went down with the illness. In fact the Ravens coaches were lamenting mid-season in one article I read, about how if they'd known he was going to be this good this quickly, they'd have given him more reps in training camp. "Imagine how good he'd be if he'd gotten the reps." Well, this time Flacco will go thru the offseason as the #1. He'll get all the reps in the OTAs and minicamp. He'll get to build the relationships with Clayton and Williams and Marcus Smith (and Todd Heap!), and maybe wean himself from this "throw only to Mason" thing he had going on. Couple that with the natural improvement from a QB in his 2nd year, and you could see a whole new Ravens passing attack next year, even with all the same guys.
I also think the Ravens got a sleeper with last year's 4th-rd pick, Marcus Smith. He's real fluid, and seems to have great hands; he's got great size, moves well. Get this: I am raving about a rookie WR who finished the season with zero catches. It seems ludicrous. ZERO! But I swear he looks like a football player to me. Flacco just would not throw to him. In the first place he only got on the field when the Ravens went to 3-WR sets, after Williams got hurt, and AFTER the Ravens stopped trying to use Yamon Figurs there. Subtract out all the caveats, and there weren't a lot of opportunities for Smith. He did draw a pass interference penalty in the endzone, which gave the Ravens a TD; but he didn't get a reception for it.
Maybe I've wandered from the point a bit? Ok, here's the point. The Ravens could use that "big play receiver" they've been seeking for a decade. A player like that could have a disproportionate impact on this team, make more of a difference than just about any other type of player. If the Ravens think that guy's there when they pick, I'd be quite pleased to come out of this draft with a Percy Harvin or Darrius Heyward-Bey or whomever they like. Even with the question marks, the Ravens staff has earned my trust: and Cam Cameron might want a shiny new toy to plug into his offense. But if the Ravens have doubts about the guys they're seeing, I have no problem with them looking elsewhere in the draft, and improving their production in the passing game without a magic new receiver. Either way I would like to see my boy Marcus Smith get more looks. ;-)
Maybe it sounds weird to say about a top 3 defense, but the Ravens really need to add talent at the corner. Chris McAlister missed 18 reg season games the past 2 years, and as of this writing they've cut him, thus freeing up $8 million they can use on their other free agents. That leaves Samari Rolle and Fabian Washington as the starting corners. Washington is very good, but he's small, and he battled injury off and on during the season. Rolle is 32, a fine player but not a young 32. He missed a lot of time the prior season, when he was diagnosed with epilepsy. The team is thin after that, though I should mention that Frank Walker, a player whom I criticized thruout the season, really improved all year, and made important contributions down the stretch. Corey Ivy and Evan Oglesby have played well in nickel & dime situations, but you don't think of either of them as starter material. (And Ivy is about to turn 32.) This is a position that needs an influx of talent.
I think any team would be looking for more talent at corner with the above roster; but for the Ravens, having good corner play is especially important, because of the style of D they play. They have been a gambling team with all sorts of odd blitz packages; and they say they're going to continue to play that way even with Rex Ryan gone. That puts pressure on the corners. When the Ravens have had to go to their backup corners the past 2 seasons, they have had to back off some of their pressure in order to get double-teams and zones on some receivers, and they've had trouble getting off the field on third down. (Esp against the friggin Steelers.) A shutdown corner would really stabilize the entire defense; it would instantly improve the pass rush.
Of course, the "stud corner" isn't any easier to order out of a catalog than the "big play receiver" is. One possibility that had me intrigued was all-world cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. How would we feel if the Ravens didn't re-sign Ray Lewis, and instead gave the big bucks to Asomugha? That's one way to shore up a defense! I wonder how he'd like playing for a winner, instead of the Raiders? However, as of this writing the Raiders have locked-up Asomugha with a huge contract, like Peyton Manning -type numbers. The deal has been criticized; but Asomugha is the best player at his position in the league. Teams don't even throw to his side of the field.
(An interesting footnote: in John Madden's first book Hey Wait a Minute, I Wrote a Book! he wrote that when he was coach of the Raiders, Al Davis always felt that the cover corner was the most important position on a football team. Madden said that they would argue, because Madden felt that OT was the most important position on a team. However, their arguments weren't too intractable, because each of them thought the other guy's favorite position was the second-most important position on a team.)
The corners who are mentioned in mock drafts near the Ravens pick are, Vontae Davis of Illiois, Alphonso Smith of Wake Forest, DJ Moore of Vanderbilt, Sean Smith of Utah, Mike Mickens of Cincinnati, and Darius Butler of UConn. That's a lot of players at one position for one small stretch of the 1st round, which indicates a lack of consensus about how to rank the corners. Probably this diversity of opinion will coalesce after the combine. Already, Davis and Smith are the two most often mentioned in this area of the draft (assuming Malcom Jenkins goes off the board in the top 10). I think the Ravens really need one of those guys; esp a big physical guy like Davis.
It should be noted that the Ravens are one of only a few teams (the Pats, and I think the Raiders and Redskins are the others) who do not subscribe to the combined scouting services. Instead they do all their own scouting, with regional guys going around to campuses during the year. It would not be shocking if the Ravens addressed their CB need with a guy not as high on the radar, maybe a 2nd or 3rd round pick for a guy like Mike Mickens of Cincinatti or the kid from Nicholls State, Lardarius Webb, who had the fastest 40-yd dash of the CBs at the combine.
Free agent re-signing priorities:
Not much you can say about free agency. The Ravens need to retain most of these guys, won't be able to keep all of them. They've franchised Suggs, and I think retained McKinney. We'll see soon about the others.
There is a lot of noise about Ray Lewis. Whatever happens will be national news; in the meantime, I don't know anything more than you do.
I had a spirited discussion the other day with Chris about Jason Brown. Upshot: Chris thinks the Ravens would be stupid to spend a lot of money on Brown, center is a highly-replaceable position; I think the Ravens really need to keep Brown, they're trying to grow a top-notch O-line and must not take a step back here, by letting their most accomplished OL (other than Old Man River Anderson) walk, over a medium-sized contract. Chris has a viewpoint worth hearing, but I'm right. ;-)
I love Jim Leonhard, but he will probably walk, and it doesn't seem like money is the main issue. He wants to start, he deserves a starting spot in this league, but the Ravens have Dawan Landry returning from injury and they drafted two safeties last year, so there's no guarantee in Baltimore. I find this sad: I don't think a team can ever really have enough guys like Jim Leonhard. He's 5-foot-8 and looks like Orel Hershiser, but he's a bulldog of a football player. There are a lot of guys with better measurables who don't make the plays he does.
I notice I've been particularly wishy-washy about who the Ravens should draft. Writing above, I have advocated using the Ravens #1 pick on RB LeSean McCoy, C Alex Mack, TE Brandon Pettigrew, outside LBs / pass rushers Brian Cushing & Clint Sintim & Aaron Maybin, WRs Percy Harvin and Darrius Heyward-Bey, and corners Vontae Davis & Alphonso Smith. Ten players!
To me, this reflects the fact that there are a lot of ways this team can improve. It's not like last year, where if the Ravens don't come out of the draft with a QB prospect we must all shoot ourselves. They can go in a variety of directions this year.
It also reflects a certain confidence in the organization, to make sensible intelligent moves. In Ozzie we trust. I can't wait for the draft!
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
It's taken me a little while to get this out...