Friday Night Lights. One of the more excellently made TV shows just so happened to be about football. The full, well-drawn and defined characters are what I loved about this show, and it is why I was a faithful watcher to the bitter end. The relationships were mature, fully fleshed out, intricate, yet not too sensationalized. The presentation of the marriage between Eric and Tami Taylor was the most accurate portrayal of a real-life marriage ever captured by Hollywood.
But that is not why I am using Coach Taylor’s famous mantra and battle cry, “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.” This captures the Ravens’ vision as they have overhauled their roster since winning Super Bowl XLVII.
ESPN’s John Clayton is on record of saying that a team needs to find two or three starters from every draft if that team hopes to stay competitive. (ESPN’s Future Power Rankings) To fully understand the Ravens transition, we will look at how the team used the draft from 2013 through 2015 and see if Clayton’s theory will hold true for the Ravens. The term “starter” is arbitrary in today’s NFL. With teams using many sub-packages on both offense and defense, there really is no starting 11 on either offense or defense. For this exercise, we will take into account “key contributors” when analyzing the drafts.
Following Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens began to rebuild the roster by focusing on the defense. The team drafted defensive players with their first three picks, hoping to fortify the middle of the defense. While it appears that the team missed on first-round pick safety Matt Elam and second-round pick middle linebacker Arthur Brown, they found Clayton’s three prerequisite starters in the later rounds of the draft in nose tackle Brandon Williams, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and right tackle Rick Wagner. In reality, the 2013 draft was a bonafide success.
In terms of finding starters and key contributors, the 2014 draft seems to be the draft that has brought the most value. The Ravens have easily found three starters in middle linebacker C.J. Mosley, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, and tight end Crockett Gilmore. Looking into the crystal ball, safety Terrence Brooks, defensive end Brent Urban, and center/guard John Urschel might be possible starters down the line. They will certainly be key contributors this year (health pending). In addition, the Ravens found great value in offensive tackle James Hurst in their undrafted free agency class.
While re-stocking the defense was the main focus of the draft in 2013 and 2014, the Ravens used free agency to patch together the offense. Following the Super Bowl, the Ravens relied on veteran free agents in the skill positions such as tight end Dallas Clark, wide receiver Brandon Stokley, tight end Owen Daniels, and wide receiver Steve Smith. Trades for tackle Eugene Monroe and center Jeremy Zuttah reshaped the offensive line.
Clearly it is too soon to evaluate the 2015 draft (the players haven’t even taken the field yet!), but there is much excitement and anticipation in this class making an impact. In fact, if these players pan out as hoped, there are potentially four or five future starters or key contributors. This is the draft the Ravens drafted heavily on the offensive side of the ball. The hope, unlike the 2013 draft when the Ravens invested early picks on defensive players that have not developed (Elam and Brown), is that the Ravens found offensive weapons in wide receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end Maxx Williams.
In a parallel of the 2013 draft where offensive players (Juszczyk and Wagner) were found in what was thought of as a defensive draft, the Ravens may have found defensive help in what is considered a top-heavy offensive 2015 draft. Drafted in the later rounds were defensive tackle Carl Davis, outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, and cornerback Tray Walker.
Below are two charts showing the transition from the Super Bowl XLVII roster to what may be this year’s starting roster.
Now, in a futile yet fun, exercise--what if the 2015 draft picks contribute, develop and are not busts? What might the roster look like next year, 2016?
However, the Ravens have clearly had an eye to the future since drafting after their recent Super Bowl win. John Urschel and Robert Myers, two later round picks that have and will benefit from offensive line coach Juan Castillo, may be the heirs apparent to free agent guard Kelechi Osemele and cap causality center Jeremy Zuttah. The Ravens are starting to address the veteran outside linebacking corps of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil with Za’Darius Smith and waiver wire pickup Steven Means waiting, learning, and developing in the wings.
Good gracious. There is an overabundance of young talent on this team—21 potential “starters” recently drafted since 2013. I am not sure which roster Clayton was reading when he added his analysis to the Future Power Rankings.
The Ravens and Coach Eric Taylor: “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”