Reality Assessment: Preseason Week 1- Is This the Deepest Draft Class in Ravens' History?
There is a reason why I call this post the Reality Assessment. It is not some quick, knee-jerk reaction to last Thursday’s preseason game against the New Orleans Saints. Hence, the full week of reflection between the game and this post. As we all know, this was the first preseason game and what can one truly glean from it?
In the first week of preseason, the starters barely play. In fact, some starters don’t even enter the game (e.g. Saints quarterback Drew Brees dressed but did not play). The backups see the majority of time on the field, and the “threes” see more than just mop up duty.
Sure, it was a good start for both first teams. The starting offense opened the game with a nice 80 yard drive that resulted in a touchdown; albeit, with a 17 yard scramble by quarterback Joe Flacco that sustained the drive. The starting defense had two three and outs; albeit, the Saints were without All-Pro quarterback Brees.
And of course the game concluded with a comeback win led by Bryn Renner and the backup offense, giving fans (like this one and his six year old son) an exciting finish.
Even though first round draft pick Breshad Perriman did not play, the Ravens’ 2015 rookie class had an impressive debut. Maxx Williams had his crushing 4th and 20 catch and run to keep alive the final drive of the game. According to Pro Football Focus, defensive tackle Carl Davis played 41 of 69 snaps, played great against the run, had a batted down pass, three tackles, and a quarterback hit. Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith had four quarterback hurries and a sack. Running back Buck Allen ran hard, missed some opportunities, had a dropped pass, but he did rumble off a 12 yard run. Cornerback Tray Walker gave up a three catches on four targets, but only 5.3 yards per reception, and he had a couple of nice open field tackles in run support. Tight end (personal favorite of Baltimore Sun’s Mike Preston and mine), Nick Boyle had an up and down day but still posted four receptions for 25 yards. Sixth-round pick wide receiver Darren Waller had two catches for 22 yards and showed more in-game speed than people were expecting—he drew a couple of interference penalties.
This impressive batch of rookies has had me thinking. How has this rookie class compared to past rookie classes? Have the Ravens ever had a deeper draft class?
Ok, I know I am breaking several rules here. You can’t judge a rookie class this soon—three years down the road is the golden rule. As I have stated, it is training camp and these are good rules to follow during training camp and preseason. And finally, this is the Reality Assessment, not the Knee-Jerk Assessment. And what I am about to do is more knee-jerk in nature.
The Ravens have a reputation of being stellar drafters. I wanted to test that theory against what I have seen from this year’s rookie draft class.
This is an exercise in depth of draft class, not necessarily all-star power. When deciding if a player was a justifiable draft pick, I considered these criteria: games played in the NFL, longevity of career, and role on the team (starter or significant contributor). Accolades (Pro Bowl selections, 1st and 2nd team All-Pro selections, individual awards earned, and status as a significant Super Bowl team contributor) were considered, but only in the larger picture (e.g. If four of six players from a draft were contributors, this would be more significant than if one of eight players from a particular draft made several Pro Bowls while the other seven players did not materialize).
Taking a cue from football video games both past and present, I have broken down the draft classes into five categories. Paying homage to one of the most incredibly fun video games of all-time, Tecmo Super Bowl gets the highest honor (go find the NFL Films awesome documentary on the current Tecmo Super Bowl craze). The other categories, from highest of honor to lowest, are taken from the classic levels of play from EA Sports Madden NFL game: All-Madden, All-Pro, Pro, and Rookie.
Tecmo Super Bowl Drafts
1996 (4 of 7 picks): Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, DeRon Jenkins, Jermaine Lewis
Comment: It is fitting that the first draft in Raven’s history is also one of its best. Two surefire Hall of Famers (current HOF Ogden and soon-to-be Ray Lewis), a combined 26 Pro Bowl selections (Ogden- 11, Ray- 13, Jermaine- 2), and 20 All-Pro selections (Ogden- 9, Ray- 10, Jermaine-1) make this draft a slam dunk. Adding three players that had a direct impact on Super Bowl XXXV doesn’t hurt either. You might question Jenkins on this list, but he managed close to 100 games in his career, and he was a two-year starter.
1999 (3 of 4 picks): Chris McAlister, Brandon Stokley, Edwin Mulitalo
Comment: An unusually odd year in that the Ravens only had four picks. Even though Stokley never accomplished much for the Ravens (he found his success with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis and Denver), this draft was quite impressive. Three of the four picks had highly successive career, and without Mulitalo we wouldn’t have this.
2001 (5 of 7 picks): Todd Heap, Gary Baxter, Casey Rabach, Ed Hartwell, Joe Maese
Comment: This was a great draft haul. Though Baxter and Hartwell only played their first contracts for Baltimore and fizzled out after they left Baltimore, they were both starters for the majority of their time with the Ravens. Rabach also played his first contract with Baltimore, but had a very productive career in Washington. Maese was the long snapper for four years. This was a deep and productive draft. Considering this was the draft that followed Super Bowl XXXV makes it even more impressive.
All-Madden Level Drafts
1997 (5 of 12 picks): Peter Boulware, Jamie Sharper, Kim Herring, Jeff Mitchell, Cornell Brown
Comment: A great draft as nearly half the picks were major contributors. Add in Boulware’s accolades (4 Pro Bowls, one All-Pro, and Defensive Rookie of the Year), Sharper’s Super Bowl impact, Mitchell’s longevity at center, and Brown’s reserve and special teams’ role and you have a deep draft. Sure there were misses (Jay Graham, Ralph Staten, Wally Richardson, and Steve Lee-who?), but in this instance the sum is greater than the parts.
2002 (5 of 10 picks): Ed Reed, Anthony Weaver, Dave Zastudil, Chester Taylor, Chad Williams
Comment: Reed heads this rookie class, but major contributors were found in Weaver, Zastudil, Taylor and Williams. Weaver had a solid Raven career and he also played pretty well when he left for the Texans. Notable misses were Ron Johnson, Lamont Brightful, and Javin Hunter.
2003 (7 of 11 picks): Terrell Suggs, Kyle Boller, Jarret Johnson, Ovie Mughelli, Aubrayo Franklin, Tony Pashos, Gerome Sapp
Comment: Boller makes this a controversial draft, but six of the eleven drafted players were starters and Sapp was a key reserve and special teams’ player.
2014 (6 of 9 picks): C.J. Mosley, Timmy Jernigan, Crocket Gilmore, Lorenzo Taliaferro, John Urschel, Michael Campanaro
Comment: This draft class is still too early to call. But at the moment, there seems to be quite a bit of talent in starters and contributors. Mosley has already made a Pro Bowl and Jernigan looks like to be the next on the list. If Gilmore, Campanaro, and Urschel continue to stay healthy and progress, this draft might bump up to platinum status.
All-Pro Level Drafts
2006 (5 of 10 picks): Haloti Ngata, Chris Chester, Dawan Landry, Sam Koch, Derrick Martin
Comment: Ngata is the obvious star of the draft, and he should be because of his first round status. Chester (who had a nice career in Washington), Landry, and Koch were all starters in Baltimore. Martin, a surprise name on this list, carved a nice eight year career spanning five teams.
2007 (4 of 7 picks): Ben Grubbs, Marshal Yanda, Antwan Barnes, Le’Ron McClain
Comment: The middle of the line was solidified in the picks of Grubbs and Yanda. Grubbs just missed a Super Bowl when he cashed out in free agency the year of Super Bowl XLVII. McClain was a nice player for a short time in Baltimore—he also found success in San Diego and Kansas City. Barnes has had a nine year career as a pass rushing specialist.
2008 (4 of 10 picks): Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Tom Zbikowski, Haruki Nakamura
Comment: Again, if we were basing this on pure value, Flacco and Rice make this draft platinum. But when looking at the overall depth, this draft doesn’t look as good. Linebacker Tavares Gooden never developed. Wide receivers Marcus Smith and Justin Harper could never have their practice play translate to actually games.
2009 (4 of 6 picks): Michael Oher, Paul Kruger, Laradrius Webb, Cedric Peerman
Comment: Though Oher was a frustrating player because of his lack of consistency, he started every game of his career in Baltimore. That is impressive. Kruger finally put things together during the Super Bowl run, and up until recently Webb has had a positive career in Baltimore. Peerman was one of two drafted players cut by the Ravens in his rookie year (the other was tight end Davon Drew), but Peerman has now found a consistent home in Cincinnati.
2010 (4 of 7 picks): Terrence Cody, Ed Dickson, Dennis Pitta, Arthur Jones
Comment: You may be shaking your head at seeing Cody on this list, but he was a starter for one year and a key contributor for three other years. The others speak for themselves. Would this have been a better draft if not for a flight of stairs? Probably not—the stairs were not at fault.
Pro Level Drafts
2000 (3 of 6 picks): Jamal Lewis, Adalius Thomas, Cedric Woodward- 6th round pick who had a few decent seasons in Seattle after leaving the Ravens
Comment: Lewis and Thomas make this class a solid draft, and one could argue that these two picks could make the whole class higher on this list. Woodward had a very quiet career in Seattle after having a non-descript tenure in Baltimore. However, in my eyes, Travis Taylor and Chris Redman cause this class to be more bronze than silver.
2005 (3 of 7 picks): Mark Clayton, Jason Brown, Derek Anderson
Comment: Conversely, you could argue that this draft be lower on the list. Brown and Anderson went on to have marginal success and careers after leaving the Ravens. Fullback Justin Green and offensive tackle Adam Terry were serviceable in Baltimore, but not enough to warrant making the list. Overall, a “meh” draft class.
2011 (3 of 8 picks): Jimmy Smith, Torrey Smith, Pernell McPhee
Comment: Three major contributors to Super Bowl XLVII in the Smiths and McPhee. That being said, five misses in this draft, including Tandon Doss, Chykie Brown, and Jah Reid. Reid, playing well in training camp this year, might just extend his career.
2012 (3 of 8 picks): Courtney Upshaw, Kelechi Osemele, Bernard Pierce,
Comment: This is a tough draft to classify—I originally had this in the silver category. Upshaw and Osemele have been practically starters from day one. During his rookie year, Pierce was major contributor during the Super Bowl year; however, he has flamed out in a big way since. Asa Jackson is at the make-it-or-break-it point of his career and DeAngelo Tyson has been a small time role player for three years. Ultimately, this is a bronze level draft.
2013 (3 of 10 picks): Brandon Williams, Kyle Juszczyk, Rick Wagner
Comment: If this were based on value and impact, this draft would be a gold star draft. Wiliams, Juszczyk, and Wagner are solid starters. Each could be on the cusp of a Pro Bowl. However, missing on seven picks causes this draft to plummet.
Rookie Level Drafts
1998 (1 of 7 picks): Duane Starks
Comment: A truly dud of a draft. Patrick Johnson may warrant a spot on the list because he played 70 games, but that would be a stretch. The other five players in this draft class combined for 85 games, two never played a game (Ron Rogers and Cam Quayle).
2004 (1 of 7 picks): Dwan Edwards
Comment: The redemptive wide receiver draft failed. Devard Darling and Clarence Moore never made it. Linebacker Roderick Greene had an okay career after leaving the Ravens, but not really. When second round pick defensive end Dwan Edwards is the highlight of this draft class, you know things could be better.
This brings us back to what I was watching in last week’s preseason game against the Saints. The 2015 draft class had an impressive debut. There looks to be talent from top to bottom. We aren’t sure what we have in Perriman, but he has the makings of a Torrey Smith, not a Travis Taylor. Tray Walker and Robert “Snack” Myers might be others that are questionable, but maybe not.
If Perriman is legitimate and either Walker of Myers develops as hoped, this draft could look like the following:
2015 (8 of 9 picks): Breshad Perriman, Maxx Williams, Carl Davis, Za’Darius Smith, Buck Allen, Nick Boyle, Darren Waller Robert Myers or Tray Walker
Comment: If this holds true, this draft would surely be placed in the Tecmo Super Bowl category, earning it the distinguishment as one of the best in Ravens’ history.
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An avid sports fan, and a passionate Ravens fan. However, I don't always wear the purple-shaded glasses.