Late For Work 7/6: 2009 Draft Gets A Surprising Grade

Pass rush a lingering concern? Ravens, Steelers go different directions with o-line

Posted by Garrett Downing on Friday, July 6th, 2012 at 9:20 am | Categories: Garrett Downing, Late For Work

2009 Draft Gets A Surprising Grade

The 2009 NFL Draft netted the Ravens a starting offensive tackle and the best cornerback in the draft.

The Ravens took Michael Oher in the first round and Lardarius Webb in the third, but even those selections weren’t enough to earn the Ravens a favorable grade from ESPN’s Jamison Hensely.

The AFC North blogger gave Baltimore a C+ for the 2009 draft, saying that they fell short with every pick outside of Webb.

“The Ravens got the AFC North’s second-best player out of the 2009 draft in Webb (who still ranks behind the Steelers’ Mike Wallace in this draft), but they fell short everywhere else,” Hensley wrote.

Here’s a look at the Ravens 2009 draft class:

First round: Michael Oher, OT

Second round: Paul Kruger, OLB

Third Round: Lardarius Webb, CB

Fifth round: Jason Phillips, LB and Davon Drew, TE

Sixth round: Cedric Peerman, RB

Taking Kruger in the second round has been the most disappointing pick in Hensley’s mind.

“The big miss for the Ravens was Kruger, who was supposed to be a high-motor pass rusher,” Hensley wrote. “The team even gave him Michael McCrary’s No. 99 jersey. All Kruger has produced in three seasons is 6.5 sacks and one start.”

Kruger showed signs of breaking out last season when he collected a career-high 5.5 sacks, and the Ravens will lean heavily on him this year.

The other missed pick, according to Hensley, was Oher at No. 23.

“He can be viewed as a disappointment,” Hensley wrote. “The Ravens traded a fifth-round pick to move three spots up to get Oher at No. 23, and teams do that with the expectation of getting a left tackle.”

While Oher has switched between right and left tackle during his first three years in the league, he has been a consistent lineman and started every game since coming into the league. The Ravens value his versatility to play on either side, and Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron has said that he sees Oher maturing into a great player this season. 

If Kruger shows he’s able to move into a starting role and Oher continues to develop like the coaches expect, then that C+ ranking from Hensley may turn out to be too low.

Pass Rush A Lingering Concern?

From the time last season ended, the Ravens wanted to add another pass rusher. 

They addressed that need in the draft by taking Courtney Upshaw with the No. 35 pick, but they also lost a critical piece with the injury to reigning Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs.

So where do they stand now in the pass-rush department?

ESPN’s draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. believes that question remains unanswered.

“There has been something of a misconception regarding the Baltimore pass rush,” Kiper wrote. “People talk glowingly about the Ravens and their ability to get to the quarterback, as if the big names and the system make it an inevitability, but it’s actually been a weakness in recent years.”

The Ravens finished third in the NFL with 48 sacks last season, their highest total since 2006. Before last year, they had gone four seasons without cracking the top 10.

Suggs’ 14 sacks were a big part of last season’s uptick, but now the Ravens will have to replace that production. Upshaw is expected to help in that area, but Kiper sees him starting in the SAM outside linebacker spot vacated by free agent Jarret Johnson, leaving Paul Kruger and Sergio Kindle to step in for Suggs.

“Can Upshaw show pass-rush skills early in his career? Hard to say,” Kiper wrote. “He is limited as a pass rusher, but that’s not really his main role.”

Much of the expectation to keep the pressure on opposing quarterbacks will fall on new Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees, who “has work on his hands,” Kiper wrote.

Also, the development of Kruger and Kindle will be critical for the Ravens to once again have one of the best pass rushes in the league, especially without Suggs.

“Can Paul Kruger continue to improve as a pass rusher?” Kiper asked. “Can Sergio Kindle finally emerge and become the player the Ravens believed they were drafting in 2010?”

Both remain to be seen.

Ravens, Steelers Go Different Directions With Offensive Line

The Ravens and Steelers have plenty of similarities at first glance. Both teams play a hard-nosed brand of football and have a tradition of dominant defenses. 

But one major difference this season is how the two teams are built along the offensive lines. The Ravens favor experience, while the Steelers have decided to go with a youth movement.

The Ravens will have an average age of 31.8 years old for the projected starters on the line (Bryant McKinnie, Bobbie Williams, Matt Birk, Marshal Yanda and Oher). The average age for Pittsburgh’s projected starting lineup is 24 years old.

Which team is making the right decision for this season?”Hensley asked. “The final standings will let everyone know… the offensive lines will go a long way in determining whether the Ravens are better than the Steelers, or vice versa.”

A case can be made for either approach, as the Ravens’ group has experience together and has proven itself at the NFL level. Pittsburgh has rookies like guard David DeCastro and tackle Mike Adams who both come into the NFL with plenty of potential, but still need to show they can make the jump to the pros.

“There are risks and rewards with both strategies, because Baltimore and Pittsburgh are going to extremes,” Hensley wrote.

Reed Still NFL’s Best Safety

Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu have been regarded as two of the NFL’s top safeties for much of the last decade.

While they’re both getting closer to the ends of their careers, The Baltimore Sun’s Matt Vensel still believes that they’re the best in the game, with Reed having the upper hand.

“As time catches up to them, so will some of the league’s top young safeties, but they are still unique defenders who alter enemy game plans,” Vensel wrote about the two stars.

Reed’s production took a hit in some areas last season, as he had three interceptions compared to eight in 2010. His tackling was also suspect at times. Despite a slight drop-off, Reed is still a premier defender and had some of his best performances on the biggest stages.

“Reed’s tackling was rightfully scrutinized last season, but his range as a center fielder still remains elite,” Vensel wrote.

Vensel ranked the top 12 safeties in the NFL, and here is a look at the complete list:

  1. Ed Reed, Ravens
  2. Troy Polamalu, Steelers
  3. Earl Thomas, Seahawks
  4. Eric Weddle, Chargers
  5. Eric Berry, Chiefs
  6. Dashon Goldson, 49ers
  7. Louis Delmas, Lions
  8. Adrian Wilson, Cardinals
  9. Kam Chancellor, Seahawks
  10. Mark Barron, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  11. Antrel Rolle, Giants
  12. Michael Griffin, Titans

Quick Hits

  • General Manager Ozzie Newsome believes that former Ravens quarterback Troy Smith “definitely can” still play in the NFL. Smith is trying to revive his NFL career after spending last season in the United Football League. “He’s a playmaker,” Newsome said. “He can extend the play. He has a real strong arm, and people like to knock him for his height, but he knows how to find throwing lanes in the pocket.” [Cleveland Plain Dealer]
  • The Joe Flacco Passing Academy originally scheduled for this weekend has been cancelled “due to unresolved student-athlete compliance and NFL guideline details.” [Carroll County Times]
  • TorreySmithWR: #randomthought football season is almost here!!!! [Twitter]
  • KOsevendeuce: Good workout…on a roll this week #SORE #STEAMROOM [Twitter]
  • Ravens left tackle Bryant McKinnie used some of the downtime to watch a little tennis, another interest of his… BryantMcKinnie: Wow @serenawilliams had 24 aces n this match! Great serving! [Twitter]
  • MichaelOher: Running outside in 100 degree is no joke!! [Twitter]

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