2006 NFL Preview: The Baltimore Ravens

Quarterback- While the addition of former co-MVP Steve McNair should be a good thing for the Ravens, Coach Billick is getting damaged goods. McNair had a difficult falling out with the one team he had played with his entire career and the numerous injuries he has suffered over his career have caught up with him. Instead of solving their quarterback problem, they invested poorly on a quarterback on his last legs. McNair’s backup will be first round bust Kyle Boller, whose inability to live up to his potential has led the Ravens to desperately grasp at McNair. Boller may be a decent backup option but certainly cannot lead the Ravens to victory. Behind Boller will be Brian St. Pierre, a solid young backup quarterback.
2006 NFL Grade: C-

Running back/Full back- The Ravens are in real trouble on offense, not just because of the quarterback position but because of their dwindling running back corps. It is difficult to see how Jamal Lewis will be able to recover from a poor 2005 season and some difficulties off the field, as his age and the amount of carries he has had for the Ravens equal lowered contribution. Lewis’ backup this season will be former Bronco Mike Anderson, who is a durable back who can pound in between the tackles. As well, running back Musa Smith should be able to contribute some. None of this, however, makes up for the loss of production by an All Pro running back and the Ravens will suffer greatly for not having a balanced attack.
2006 NFL Grade: C+

Wide Receiver/Tight End- Todd Heap continues to be the number one target for quarterbacks in Baltimore as he develops into a great NFL tight end. The receiving combination of Mark Clayton, Clarence Moore, and Derrick Mason are nothing amazing to most NFL secondaries but they could be sufficient if they had a quarterback that could get them the ball. Expect Heap to benefit from the short and medium routes that have been popular under Billick and the rest of the receiving corps to go without many throws their way.
2006 NFL Grade: B-

Offensive Line- The offensive line for Baltimore is pretty good heading into 2006, with dominating tackle Jonathan Ogden leading this unit that is paramount to their offensive success. The effort of linemen like Mike Flynn, Edwin Mulitalo, and Tony Pashos may go to waste, however, if Brian Billick can’t get his offense functioning correctly. Like several other lines in the league, the Ravens’ offensive line will perform well but their efforts will not yield much in return due to poor talent at the skill positions.
2006 NFL Grade: B

Defensive Line- The Ravens made a good move in the 2006 NFL draft by selecting nose tackle Haloti Ngata with their first round pick. Ngata is a run stuffer and while he is not as flashy as other players they could have picked, the Ravens defense has never been about flash. Ngata is a good compliment to a team that already has a lot of good pass rushers and a few good run stoppers. Look for the Ravens defensive line to do well in 2006, with Ngata being the key component to a successful defensive effort.
2006 NFL Grade: B+

Linebacker- The linebackers for the Ravens is its best group by far, with Ray Lewis dominating in the middle and linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs going full force after quarterbacks and running backs. Fellow linebacker Adalius Thomas is a solid contributor to the Ravens cause but look for Lewis to have a resilient season after a difficult one in 2005.
2006 NFL Grade: A-

Defensive back- The defensive backfield is impressive for the Ravens, with big playmaker Ed Reed and solid corners Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister ready to lock down opposing receivers. Look for Reed to continue his development into a Hall of Fame safety and the Rolle/McAlister pairing to benefit from a solid pass rush and run defense.
2006 NFL Grade: A-

Kicker/Punter- The Ravens have two veteran kickers in camp, with Aaron Elling and Matt Stover competing for the kicking position. However, Stover will win this one out because of his veteran presence on the team and experience in the NFL. At the punter position, Leo Araguz needs to provide a solid punting performance in order for the Ravens defense to do its most damage. Araguz will be up to the task, though don’t expect anything spectacular.
2006 NFL Grade: B-

2006 NFL Projection- The Baltimore Ravens haven’t improved enough in the offseason and haven’t changed enough of their pieces to contend in 2006. They will compete with Cleveland to stay out of the bottom of the AFC North and they will lose that battle, with a 4-12 or 5-11 season.

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