Just some thoughts on my Baltimore Ravens...(feel free to skip if you're not a Ravens fan). I saw Joe Flacco play in one game last year (against James Madison) but I wasn't paying much attention to him then. JMU rushed for 400 yards with both starting RB's having 170 apiece, which was much more exciting to watch. Flacco passed for 250 but like I said, I wasn't paying much attention. The fact that he's coming from 1-AA doesn't bother me though. The talent level there is actually quite similar to 1-A. The difference at that level is depth. Most 1-AA teams can compete against (and beat) the big schools. Appalachian State proved that last year, but if App State had to play a full Big-Ten schedule they'd get crushed. When LSU's Matt Flynn got hurt at times this season, the eventual National Champions had Ryan Perrilloux on the roster to step in. They also had three solid runningbacks and even when Glenn Dorsey missed time, they had capable backups. Arkansas had Felix Jones backing up McFadden and the list at the 1-A level goes on and on... Well, if Flacco had gotten hurt for Delaware, there aren't any other Joe Flacco's on Delaware's roster (and that goes for most positions on a typical 1-AA roster). So if Flacco goes down Delaware wouldn't have a chance against any 1-A teams. But overall the competition level there isn't so dramatically different. It's not like going from high school to college or from college to the pros. It's more like viewing a 1-A team as being made up of a collection of 1-AA all-stars. Anyway, like I said, the fact that he's coming from 1-AA doesn't bother me in the least... he was playing against pretty good competition there and the jump from college to the pros is tough on every quarterback coming from every college. I'm definitely praying that either he or Troy Smith turns out to be reeeeeealllllly good though. I think the Ravens have a pretty good shot that at least one of them will be good. It's not often that a team has two, young quarterbacks who BOTH turn out to be terrible... although the Bears (with Orton and Grossman) are doing a pretty good job of keeping two terrible, young quarterbacks on their team. Interestingly, when I was thinking about some of the things the Ravens' Front Office said leading up to the draft, I'm not sure Troy Smith would even have a shot this year if McNair hadn't retired. Ozzie Newsome said McNair's sudden departure changed none of the team's draft-day strategies and Bisciotti maintained that he wanted a quarterback on day one, no matter what. So imagine if McNair doesn't retire... then the Ravens go into camp thinking they've still got a playoff shot, they keep Flacco 3rd on the depth chart but he and McNair would probably get all the reps in the preseason (since Flacco's the future and they're going to pay him at least $25 Million). At the start of the season, they keep Boller on the roster too, since he's a known commodity as a backup (in case McNair goes down for a game or two) and they release Troy Smith and hope nobody else picks him up (a strategy that didn't work so well with Derek Anderson). So, all-in-all, just a fantastic decision by McNair to retire since I don't think the Ravens have a playoff shot this year under any scenario. McNair's departure gives Troy Smith one more year to prove himself and win the starting job. If he does that and plays well during the regular season, we'll be in the enviable (albeit nerve-wracking) situation of getting to choose between the two... if Smith doesn't win the job this year then they'll put the team in Flacco's hands (for better or worse) at the start of '09. As for the other draft picks... I caught a couple of Rutgers games the past two years and Ray Rice looked pretty good for a little guy. I don't know how well he'll do in the pros though. He's the same size as Brian Westbrook but he runs like Brandon Jacobs (he prefers to run over people) and he doesn't catch many passes. So I guess his ceiling is probably like a Maurice Jones-Drew (little guy who doesn't catch many passes and also likes to run over people). It'd be nice if McGahee and Rice can combine for 2,000 yards rushing each of the next two years like Fred Taylor and MJD have done in Jacksonville, but that's probably the top end. Cam Cameron didn't split carries between LaDainian and the other backs in San Diego during his four years as Offensive Coordinator there and he also gave Ronnie Brown the bulk of the workload in Miami (when Brown was healthy), so Rice might just sit the bench and get 4th-Quarter duty only. I don't know anything about Tavares Gooden since Miami has been pretty terrible recently and therefore not on TV very much. He did wear #52 while he was there though (which shows some chutzpah), so I imagine he's set some pretty high personal standards for himself (don't know how the 'Canes haven't retired that number... maybe because Ray only played three years and then had the Atlanta thing happen in 2000?) Anyway, I thought it was funny that the only thing Ozzie told Gooden on draft day was that he couldn't wear #52 up here because it was taken. I guess if Gooden amounts to half of what the first #52 Linebacker we drafted out of Miami amounted to, that'll be a pretty decent NFL career... a lot of guys would like to be able to say they were half as good as the best middle linebacker in the history of the universe. I saw Zbikowski play a few games two and three years ago (when ND was still good). He struck me as a typical, hard-hitting white guy that all the commentators loved (think John Lynch). He's solid against the run and a pretty good punt returner, and punt returning and special teams is what I think Ozzie drafted him for. It'll be hard for him to crack the starting lineup since Eddie Reed is the best safety in football right now, bar none (7 int's is a quiet season for him) and Dawan Landry's on the cusp of being in the top 20. But we've been playing without a legit backup to them for almost two years (they move Ronnie Prude back there when Reed gets injured, but Prude's more of a hybrid Nickel/Corner/Safety), so I guess it's good to have some insurance. I know absolutely nothing about the middle guys we drafted (Cousins, Smith, Hale, Nakamura and Harper) but I did see Allen Patrick (Oklahoma runningback) play a few times, though nothing really stood out. Drafting the two Tackles (Cousins & Hale) was a good move considering Ogden is probably retired. The Ravens O-Line has potential to be really good but they showed their youth last year and they all pretty much quit after the New England game... however most of the team quit after that game so it's hard to hold that just against the young guys on the line. On the interior, Jason Brown and Ben Grubbs are maulers and they'll be stalwarts (and pro-bowlers) on the line for years to come. Marshal Yanda had a pretty good rookie season starting 11 games at Right Tackle, but I think the team wants him to move inside. With Ogden retired the only true Tackles on the roster are Jared Gaither and Adam Terry. Gaither is still a project and an unknown and Terry's looked soft at times, but hopefully one of them can step up and play Left Tackle for the next ten years at something close to Ogden-like levels. So that's why they drafted Cousins and Hale in this draft... probably looking for a Right Tackle of the future to play opposite Terry or Gaither. It also never hurts to draft Offensive Lineman in the NFL. There were a couple of things that bothered me about this draft though. The Ravens had three really pressing needs... Quarterback, Cornerback and Defensive End. We got a Quarterback (thank God!!!), but the last two positions are still serious problems. If you ranked the top three reasons why the Ravens sucked last year you'd put "crappy pass coverage" and "crappy pash rush" at numbers two and three respectively. And although they both fall well short of the number one reason we sucked last year (McNair and Boller jointly agreeing to abort the 2008 season), they're both still on the list. Corners and Defensive Ends are also strongly correlated (meaning you can help fix one by improving the other). For instance, if a team doesn't have a good pash rush but has fantastic corners it won't matter that much...similarly, if you have mediocre corners, you can hide them with awesome Defensive Ends (see: Super Bowl 42, New York Giants). Well Suggs is a really good pash rusher, but after Adalius left and Pryce got hurt, it was pretty obvious that offenses could key on him and neutralize him. So our pash rush started to stink and as soon as that happened Samari Rolle got hurt (and he wasn't playing that great to begin with) and then, after the New England game, McAlister went down too (or quit). The backup corners were a complete mess behind those guys. The Ravens rotated in four guys at the corner and nickel spots and three of them (Derrick Martin, Jamaine Winborne, and David Pittman) were just awful. I think I could cover better than all of them combined. They're so bad they made Cleo Lemon look like an All-Pro. I think we'd be better off putting jerseys on a couple of scarecrows and planting them in the secondary rather than put those three back on the field again. Heck, there's always a chance the opposing team's receivers might accidentally run into one of the scarecrows. Therefore, to keep playoff hopes alive in 2008 we have to keep our fingers crossed that Trevor Pryce doesn't get hurt and isn't too old to play well. We also have to hope that Rolle plays well (AND doesn't get hurt) and that McAlister plays well (AND doesn't get hurt). The problem I have with all this is that I think the Ravens could have addressed the Quarterback problem IN ADDITION to either the Cornerback or Defensive End shortcomings in the draft and then focused on the other shortcoming in the '09 draft. 2008 was a pretty Cornerback-rich draft but we didn't get any of the top guys. There weren't many Defensive Ends to be had outside the top three (Chris Long, Vernon Gholston, Derrick Harvey) either, but my dad and I, both being huge Auburn fans who saw a lot of Quentin Groves over the last three years, would have loved it if they'd drafted him in the second round. And I think they could have drafted Flacco (or Henne) as well as a top Corner (or Groves), but I don't get to run the Ravens draft, so what do I know? Ozzie did trade for Fabian Washington as a stopgap solution from the Raiders, but a shaky pass rush and shaky corner situation is the primary reason why, no matter what Flacco / Boller / Smith do this year, the Ravens still aren't making the playoffs. The AFC North is suddenly a quarterback-rich division with Roethlisberger, Palmer and Derek Anderson all in their primes. The Ravens went 1-5 against those guys last year and probably should have gone 0-6 (Pittsburgh's starters didn't play in the last game of the season). In addition to six games against those guys, the Ravens also have to play five games against some other really good Quarterbacks this year, so the pass defense had better be ready. Take a look at the highest rated QB's from last season (the Ravens play all of them in 2008 except Brady): 1 - Brady (117) 2 - Roethlisberger (104) 3 - Garrard (102) 4 - P. Manning (98) 5 - Romo (97) They also play the 9th rated guy: 9 - McNabb (89) And the 14th and 17th, who threw 55 TD's between them: 14 - Carson Palmer (86) 17 - Derek Anderson (82) And to wrap it all up, the reigning SuperBowl MVP Quarterback (E. Manning). That's a tough eleven games for a weak pass defense... I love these Ravens and there is some real talent on the roster on both sides of the ball: promising young O-Line, promising young Linebackers, Suggs, Ngata, Mark Clayton etc. The defense is incredibly stout against the run, but the Vikings have had that same defense (great run D, poor pass D) for the last three years and gone nowhere with it. However, nothing the defense does will really matter in the long run since any real success in the future will really come down to Flacco or Smith. And, not to go all "Negative Nelly" here, but when you consider the ages of the other QB's in the AFC North: Palmer (28), Roethlisberger (26), Anderson (24) and Brady Quinn (23), the Ravens really, really, reeeealllly have to pray that Flacco or Smith works out. If not it'll be at least four years before they draft another and that'll be a long, four-year stretch of mediocrity (or outright terribleness) that carries them right through Ray-Ray's retirement, Suggs' prime, McGahee's best remaining years and possibly even Ed Reed's departure in free agency (if they're bad enough over that span). Scary.
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