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Baltimore Ravens: 5 positions to watch

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The Baltimore Ravens are a team in flux, at certain positions. While they have a number of veterans that have proven themselves over and over, they are also getting older, which is a detriment in the NFL. I’m going to take a look at 5 positions that will more than likely have a vicious battle between players.

Running Back

Perhaps the most tightly contested position on the Baltimore roster is the backfield. Veteran Justin Forsett is returning from a season-ending injury (broken arm), and looks to be the clear-cut starter, though his YPC average did drop from 5.4 to 4.2, between 2014 and ’15. However, Javorius Allen has shown that he can handle the workload, as he started when Forsett went down last season.

Lorenzo Taliaferro returns from injury as well, a man who has moved piles of defenders in his short career. Terrance West is still in play, who showed glimpses of breakaway skills last year when functioning as Buck Allen’s backup. The Ravens have also added Trent Richardson, who has had a very disappointing career in the NFL, and who’s final hope lays in a breakout year playing in Baltimore.

Kenneth Dixon is the offensive rookie to watch, in Baltimore. 87 TDs in his college career. 1,070 rush yards, as well as 467 receiving yards with 26 total TDs in his final year. (Keep in mind, this is a guy that hit 1,000 yard seasons while injured.) Forsett is 30 years old, returning from an injury, and has a LOT of competition from young, hungry guys. If the starter isn’t him, it’s Buck or Dix, and you can take that to the bank.

Keep an eye on the Baltimore backfield, as they look to make a comeback from the disappointing ground attack that they produced in 2015.

Tight End

If the running back position isn’t the most tightly contested position, then the tight end position is. Dennis Pitta, Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Benjamin Watson, Darren Waller, and the newly suspended Nick Boyle make up the tight end roster. Joe Flacco and Dennis Pitta have had an undeniable chemistry in the past, and will look to reignite that connection in the 2016 campaign. Watson is coming off of a career year in New Orleans – 74 receptions for 825 yards and 6 TDs, and hopes to continue that sort of production in Baltimore (we all know Flacco loves his tight ends in the red zone).

Maxx Williams began the 2015 season quietly, but as the season wore on, and injuries mounted, he began to make an impressive impact. Crockett Gillmore was brilliant, a bright spot in a desolate season, not only being the best blocking tight end on the roster, but also hauling in 33 receptions for 412 yards and 4 TDs (that’s a 12.5 YPC average, even playing through a shoulder injury, boys), and will undoubtedly be the #2 TE (at minimum) going into 2016.

Watson is newly signed, and therefore is nearly guaranteed to play, and Gillmore is a lock as well. Pitta is returning from his second hip injury in as many years, having missed the 2015 campaign, and will have a bit of a fight ahead of him in order to see the field more than once or twice a quarter. Waller is a project, but shows in practice that he can be everything that we are looking for, and Williams will continue to grow. At the end of his suspension, I’m sure we will see a fully rested Nick Boyle come back and light up the field, as he was starting to do last season.

With so many TEs on the roster heading into training camp, one has to wonder which ones will be cut before the 53 man roster is finalized. Pitta was the starter before he was injured, but is it safe to say that he retains that role upon return, or is he used as more of a receiving threat? Watson and Gillmore can both make strong cases as to why they should be the lead. It is rumored that Marc Trestman is working on 3 and 4 TE sets for the 2016 campaign, but there will still be a tight battle, given the amount of talent that Baltimore has on the roster at this position. Look for this tight end group to be ranked at the top by the end of the season.

Left Guard

The Ravens’ offensive line has been shaken up over the off-season, with only Marshal Yanda, Rick Wagner, and Jeremy Zuttah returning. All eyes will be on Ronnie Stanley, the #6 pick overall, who will be replacing the departed Eugene Monroe. However, the biggest battle will be taking place at Left Guard.

Returning C/G John Urschel took first team snaps during the Baltimore OTAs, as well as the minicamp. He has also proven that he has the quickness, strength, and smarts to be a starter in this league. However, Ryan Jensen did well at Guard last season, and will look to be the starter in the 2016 campaign. Finally, rookie Alex Lewis (6′ 6″, 315 lbs) is a beast of a man, and reminds me of Kelechi Osemele, who went to the Oakland Raiders in the off-season, leaving a hole in the line.

The great purple hope is that the offensive line, after the battles are said and done, is more like 2014, and less like 2013/15. The run game and Joe Cool would both benefit from this, which was a huge problem last season.

Inside Linebacker

C.J. Mosley is developing into a miniature Ray Lewis, as far as leadership goes. He is still progressing in play, but shows that he can be everything that the Ravens hoped he would be when they drafted him. However, who is to fill the void next to him, with the departure of Daryl Smith?

Arthur Brown, Zachary Orr, and Albert McClellan are all returning this season, and are joined by rookies Kamalei Correa, Cavellis Luckett, and Patrick Onwuasor. There is no clear-cut frontrunner at this position, forcing the Ravens to wait and see who leads the pack after training camp and potentially even preseason. Brown is in a ‘make it or break it year’, as he enters the final year of his rookie contract, and could very well contribute to the team. However, Orr is chomping at the bit, and has proven himself worthy over the past 2 years, even on special teams. He has also taken most of the first team snaps through OTA and minicamp, and makes no secret about wanting the starting spot.

Correa played OLB in college, but is extremely versatile, the Ravens have found. They have given him ILB reps in the off-season, though he is still listed as an OLB, so keep eyes on a preseason switch in his future.

Wide Receiver

I’ll be honest with you, I’m listing this position battle last because I have a torn soul when it comes to the Ravens’ WR corps. They are a group that could either be extremely good, or devastatingly bad in 2016. A group of castaways and little-knowns, this year is the year that they show what they’re all about. There are 11 (yes, 11) WRs on the Baltimore roster currently.

Steve Smith, Sr. and Kamar Aiken are almost locks for starting positions, as they are the 2 most productive WRs on the team by a long shot. Which leaves a battle between the following: Mike Wallace, Daniel Brown, Jeremy Butler, Michael Campanaro, Kaelin Clay, Chris Matthews, Chris Moore, Breshad Perriman, and Keenan Reynolds. So, as you can see, making the 53 man roster will be a fight.

Wallace was brought to Baltimore after disappointing 2 different teams since leaving Pittsburgh. He’s fast still, though he’s lost a step, and will more than likely only be used to stretch defenses in 2016. Perriman is, for all intents and purposes, still a rookie, but if he remains healthy, you can bank on him claiming the #3 role. Reynolds, a rookie, was the leading scorer in college (broke Dixon’s record, actually), and Moore looks to be a fast, big threat as he progresses as well. Campanaro is versatile and dangerous when healthy, so counting him out so early would be an egregious mistake. I view Clay as more of a return specialist, but that is a job that may very well be taken over by Reynolds, as well.

Needless to say, this will be a group to keep an eye on leading into the 2016 NFL season, as the Ravens will more than likely have to cut about half of these men in order to stay within the roster limits. Given the less-than-stellar WR play last season, one can only hope that they make the right choices. My personal thoughts have the WR corps ending up with Smith, Aiken, Wallace, Perriman, Moore, Reynolds, and Campanaro on the active roster.

Despite coming off of a 5-11 season, the Baltimore Ravens are poised to make a comeback, and return to being the threat that they normally are. These battles will be fun to watch, and will create a very solid, deep roster when the first kickoff takes place.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com