What Are The Top 10 Rookie Seasons In Team History?
THESE PLAYERS MADE A GREAT FIRST IMPRESSION
By Joe Platania
The hour for which Ravens fans have been waiting since January is almost here.
At 4 p.m. Tuesday, the team's rookies, first-year players, quarterbacks and injured veterans will take the field at the Under Armour Performance Center for the first training-camp workout of the 2012 season.
Under those parameters, that means that at least 41 of the team's 87 active-roster players will begin their NFL journeys under the watchful eyes of head coach John Harbaugh and his staff.
Those eyes will determine which of the team's rookies will be placed in position to have a breakout season for a team that has been one of the NFL's most consistent playoff contenders during the past dozen years.
Naturally, the spotlight will fall more often on drafted players such as second-round pass-rusher Courtney Upshaw and guard/tackle Kelechi Osemele, who will be counted on to help patch up the offensive line, not to mention make it younger.
But undrafted players such as nose tackle Nicolas Jean-Baptiste and linebacker Nigel Carr won't be far from the coaches' sightlines, either. The Ravens have had a history of finding diamonds in the undrafted rough, such as linebacker Bart Scott and running back Priest Holmes, among many others.
Can some of the newest Ravens make an immediate mark on the team's record book? Can they put forth a good first impression for a rabid fan base prone to occasional over-scrutiny?
If they do, they will join an illustrious list of rookie Ravens that have already done so throughout the team's relatively short history.
Here is one opinion as to the best rookie-season performances in Ravens history. Keep in mind that some of these players aren't necessarily the best in team lore, but those that broke out of the starting gate in such a way that they could have been.
10. P DAVE ZASTUDIL, 2002
To the surprise of many, the Ravens used a fourth-round pick (112th overall) on Zastudil, a sure-footed Ohio University punter, who was quickly and sarcastically derided in a local column as a "weapon." But Zastudil made the Pro Football Weekly All-Rookie team thanks to a campaign during which he placed 31 of 81 punts inside the coffin corner, with just five touchbacks, an important facet of the game for a young team that had a hard time getting good field position most of the time.
9. DL PERNELL MCPHEE, 2011
The Ravens had an anemic pass rush in 2010 (27 sacks), but they had a much better one the following season (2011), thanks in part to six sacks from McPhee, a fifth-round pick from Mississippi State. He also broke up two passes, forced a fumble and recovered one as well. But McPhee's biggest impact moment may have been a fourth-and-goal sack of Cincinnati's Andy Dalton with less than a minute to go to seal a key late-season home win.
8. QB JOE FLACCO, 2008
Remember when everyone was "Wacko For Flacco" and the first-round pick from Delaware wasn't subjected to the constant scrutiny and criticism he is today? Working with a rookie head coach, Flacco led a team that had to play 18 straight weeks -- because of Hurricane Ike forcing the team to take its bye during Week Two -- to a point one game short of the Super Bowl. He threw 14 touchdown passes, ran for two more, and stabilized and eliminated one of the team's most annoying longtime trouble spots.
7. LB PETER BOULWARE, 1997
Despite holding out of training camp -- his signing was announced in a bizarre press conference in a dank basement room at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium -- Boulware helped supplant the team's older linebackers with a McPhee-like rookie performance, boosting the team's sack output from 30 to 42 with a team-high 11.5 quarterback takedowns. Boulware, the Defensive Rookie of the Year, quickly learned to convert from a hand-on-the-ground defensive end to become an outstanding coverage man, and his 70 career sacks was the team record until Terrell Suggs broke it.
6. T MICHAEL OHER, 2009
A terrific first step -- one that has led to numerous incorrect false-start calls -- a compelling Hollywood backstory and a nasty attitude helped Oher, the league's Rookie of the Month in December, assimilate himself into the starting lineup right away and boost the Ravens' offense from 18th to 13th in the league. Flacco's quarterback rating went up almost 10 points that year, and the team's per-carry rushing average went from 4.0 to 4.7 as the Ravens made the playoffs for a second straight year, the first time that had happened since 2000-01.
5. LB TERRELL SUGGS, 2003
Suggs was one of two first-round picks that year, the other being California quarterback Kyle Boller. But Suggs played up to that level and, it can be said, surpassed it by leading the Ravens with 12 sacks as the team won its first-ever AFC North Division title. Suggs also broke up three passes, forced six fumbles and recovered four more. Suggs ended up earning Defensive Rookie of the Year honors from the Associated Press and Pro Football Weekly as well as making PFW's All-Rookie team.
4. WR TORREY SMITH, 2011
The reason we are ranking the second-round pick from Maryland so high is he contributed at a position that has long been one of the team's most glaring weaknesses. He set team rookie records for catches (50), yards (841) and touchdowns (seven), as well as finishing third among first-year NFL wideouts in most key categories. He was also the first rookie in league history to have three first-quarter touchdowns (Week Three at St. Louis).
3. S ED REED, 2002
Reed came along just after the Ravens blew up their veteran-laden roster and fielded the youngest Week One roster in NFL history with 19 rookies and first-year players. During six previous seasons, the Ravens had never blocked a punt, but Reed got two that season. He was fourth on the team in tackles, while breaking up 13 passes and intercepting five more. Reed played strong safety during his first year, not the free spot he does today, and still made the Pro Football Weekly All-Rookie team.
2. RB JAMAL LEWIS, 2000
Before the fifth overall pick from Tennessee came along, the Ravens' run game had no focus and no identity. But the big, bruising back came on the scene quickly, gaining 1,364 yards -- tied with Ray Rice's 2011 campaign for the second-highest single-season total in team history -- and helping to pace the Ravens to a Super Bowl championship. In Tampa against the New York Giants, he was the youngest to ever take place in the big game, gaining more than 100 yards and scoring a touchdown.
1. LB RAY LEWIS, 1996
Some might dispute this ranking because the inaugural Ravens squad posted a moribund 4-12 record. But before his "Game Time!" chant and "Hot In Herrrre" pregame dance made him well known to a more national audience, the 26th overall pick from the University of Miami had nine tackles and a key end-zone interception during his first-ever game as a pro -- winning AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors in the process -- and went on to lead the team with 142 tackles.
Posted Juy 20, 2012