The Baltimore Ravens still have a lot of questions to answer. As i wrote early in the off season, one of the biggest questions isn’t “where is the talent” but which talent is going to impact the team?”.
The Ravens talent shines through, even in their cutting to 53 players. The Ravens cut Arthur Brown who is a former (2013) 2nd round draft pick. He came out of college as an All-American player and showed a lot of promise, but hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. Likewise, the Ravens cut Terrence Brooks who is a former (2014) 3rd round pick. He came out of college as an All-American as well. Both players were a bit of a disappointment through the beginning of their career, but other teams clearly see their talent as both have already been picked up. Then, of course, you have Justin Forsett who was a Pro Bowl running back in 2014. He’s 1 season removed from having 1,266 yards and 8 TD on the ground. He added 44 receptions to that total.
Let’s start with the why. Why were some big names cut? When it comes to Brown and Brooks, it’s, honestly, all about disappointment. The Ravens expected better from both players, and neither player has earned their spot. While there was hope that Brown could turn it around, Zachary Orr has simply outplayed him throughout the entire pre-season. Orr was an undrafted free agent who has always pushed for playing time. This season, Orr was finally given a true competition, and he won the spot. As for Brooks, he had an uphill battle. That is the Ravens have another Free Safety in Matt Elam who was taken in the first round. They also signed Eric Weddle away from the Chargers. So, Brooks really had to earn his keep this year, and he didn’t impress enough to keep his spot, despite a great game against the Saints.
Possibly, the most difficult cut to understand is Justin Forsett. Just 1 year removed from a Pro Bowl spot, you would think he would get the benefit of the doubt. Last year, he was still serviceable with 4.2 ypc and 31 receptions. This move could be one of two things. Either, A: The Ravens realize that you can get by without having a star running back- committees are the popular concept these days, or B: They cut Forsett with the intention of bringing him back. Rumor is that Forsett was released because he’s the only player who didn’t have to pass through waivers. That means that they could have had a discussion with Forsett to explain the situation, and he may have completely agreed. Alternatively, even if that conversation were had with Terrance West or Buck Allen, they’d still have to clear waivers, meaning other teams had the right to sign the player away from the Ravens.
I think cutting Forsett was a mixture of both points. Obviously, there’s a clear advantage to avoiding the waiver process. If they were able to convince Justin that it wasn’t an ill-hearted move, but one that would help the team (say, cutting him offered Ozzie/Harbaugh the chance to further evaluate specific players), he may very well come back. But I think there’s also security in the fact that the team knows Forsett feels like the Ravens are his “home”. But I believe there is also a small part of them that felt they could manage if Forsett were to sign with another team. Kenneth Dixon has the potential to be an all-purpose back while Terrence West is a perfect power runner at the goal line. You’ve also got Buck Allen who is a great receiving back. Knowing all of this, I do expect Forsett to be with the Ravens next week when they open the season.
So, how does the actual roster look for the Ravens? Well, you have Flacco who is, obviously, locked in at Quarterback. At running back you’ve got . . . excuse me if I don’t have a set answer for you. You’ve got 3 guys right now (West, Allen, Dixon) with the possibility of adding Forsett again. Let’s call it a committee. At Receiver you’ve got Smith returning from a terrible Achilles tear at an advanced age, Wallace who was pretty good in Miami and Pittsburgh, or, maybe, Perriman is going to have a great rookie year. You can’t forget Kamar Aiken in there- he did well in Smith’s absence last season.
Let’s move on. At the tight end position, you’ve got another committee. Ben Watson is out for the season, so I assume it will be Crockett Gillmore getting the starts, but you can’t really say that Gillmore is going to be the guy. We can hope that Pitta returns to form, but there’s no guarantee; especially with a broken finger. Maybe Maxx Williams will take another step forward, but he’s fighting a mysterious injury. Finally, we look at the offensive line- FINALLY! defined positions. Ronnie Stanley will be the starting LT. Lewis looks to be the starting LG. Zuttah should start at C.
What does it mean when an offense doesn’t have any one except for their linemen who are guaranteed to do anything? Well, that depends if you’re focused on Fantasy Football or Reality Football. For your fantasy team, good luck; the Ravens will be a nightmare. In reality, that may be the case for defenses. Flacco may not have 1 go-to guy on the team. So, defenses are going to have to be focused on every player on the field. The Ravens could run out 2 deep threats (Wallace/Perriman) and 2 possession guys (Smith/Aiken) at the same time. If you add Buck Allen coming out of the backfield, it’s almost an unstoppable offense because there are guys running in every direction. I don’t think the 2016 Ravens have 1 guy who is a superstar, but I think they have a handful of guys who end up filling up the stat sheet and being good producers.
It’s going to be an interesting year in Baltimore as no one really knows what the answers will be. But hey, the Ravens finished this pre-season with 4 wins. They only had 5 wins in the regular season last year. So, I think they’ve got their confidence back, they’re playing well as a team, and they’re starting to get healthy (ish). So long as the injury bug doesn’t hit hard in Baltimore, you should expect them to have 8-10 wins. I’m not expecting a Super Bowl, but I’ll be happy to see them competitive again.