The offseason, despite its long periods of boredom and inactivity, gives us valuable clues regarding what we can expect in the coming season. When a new system is installed, some players simply fit better than others. The new offensive scheme currently being installed by the Ravens is no exception, and it stands to benefit some more than others.
Even though the defensive scheme remains the same, there is a lot of young talent on the team that is poised to make waves as well. Couple that with three long time veterans who appear to be motivated this season to make an impact, and we have the makings of a bounce back season.
It’s quite obvious that we can expect major improvement from the Ravens this season over last, but what players will lead the renaissance? Based on what we know following camp, here are five players we think will make an impact in 2014.
1. Joe Flacco
Despite a shaky start, Flacco looked great in mandatory camp and is receiving nothing but praise for his work in Gary Kubiak’s new system. After taking a huge beating in 2013 behind a shaky line, Flacco is learning how to get the ball out of his hands quickly and increase the percentage of his throws. An improved run game will draw safeties up closer to the line of scrimmage and allow him to take some deep shots.
The additions of Steve Smith and Owen Daniels, coupled with the health of Dennis Pitta, will give Flacco tons of options in the middle of the field as well. We expect his completion percentage to improve greatly, though his average yards per completion should drop. Big plays may be less common, but the chains will be moving.
2. Bernard Pierce
Speaking of moving the chains, we expect the run game to show a ton of improvement. And leading the way, possibly all season, will be Bernard Pierce. Pierce is a perfect fit for Gary Kubiak’s zone blocking system and he is about to receive the best opportunity of his career. Finally healthy and hopefully motivated, if Pierce doesn’t grab the reins this season the Ravens might be looking for a new running back of the future next offseason.
3. Jimmy Smith
Smith has flashed shut down corner ability in the past, but this year we expect him to really put it all together. The only knock on Smith coming out of college was his maturity, but he has stayed out of trouble off the field in his short NFL career. He has all the talent necessary to dominate at this level, and we think that with three years under his belt he is ready to do just that.
4. Eugene Monroe
Monroe came over from the Jaguars for the bargain price of a fourth and a fifth round pick early last season. A former first round pick, Monroe has graded out as a top ten tackle in the NFL for three straight seasons. Now that Monroe has signed a long term team and will has a full offseason under his belt with the team, we expect Monroe to improve upon last year’s performance.
5. Dennis Pitta
Pitta hasn’t gotten a lot of press because he was injured last year and didn’t do much in four games once he returned. But the guy has proven to be a top tight end in the league when healthy, and he has a dream scenario on the horizon. Gary Kubiak used Owen Daniels as the 1B to Andre Johnson’s 1A in Houston, and Pitta projects to be that 1B for the Ravens. Bottom line – pass catching tight ends are heavily featured in Kubiak’s system and Pitta is going to be the main beneficiary.
Who do you think will make the biggest impact for the Ravens this season?