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Which Ravens Need To Step Up In 2016?

June 15, 2016
The Baltimore Ravens wrapped up offseason training activities this month, meaning the next time they gather together will be for training camp in late July to officially kick off the 2016 season. 

With that in mind, let's take a look at five Ravens who will need to step up this year. So you know, I selected only players who were on last year's team and who did not miss the majority of the season due to injury. Yes, that made this task much more difficult. 

RB Buck Allen 

What a weird situation the Ravens have in their backfield. There are as many as six players in the mix who could be described as legitimate NFL backs. Allen joins veteran Justin Forsett (returning from a broken arm), rookie Kenneth Dixon, roster question marks Terrance West and Lorenzo Taliaferro and journeyman Trent Richardson. Well … maybe Richardson, anyway. There's also a chance that, much like Slash, he doesn't actually exist. 
Of the group, Allen's combination of ability to run the ball and catch it out of the backfield has made some believe he's the most likely of the group to become the team's long-term starter. (Head coach John Harbaugh has said Allen and Forsett will compete for the starting gig in training camp.) Allen had a solid rookie campaign in 2015, tallying 867 yards of total offense. More production in 2016 could not only solidify a starting role for Allen but also change the team's entire offensive repertoire. 

OLB Elvis Dumervil

To be fair to the veteran pass rusher, he actually graded out as the Ravens' second-best defender last year, according to Pro Football Focus. The reason he shows up on this list, of course, is because with the team getting fellow outside linebacker Terrell Suggs back from a season-ending torn Achilles, it really needs Dumervil to get back to putting opposing quarterbacks in the dirt. 
The five-time Pro Bowler matched a career high in 2014 with 17 sacks, but that number trailed off to six last year. Obviously, that total was significantly impacted by the absence of the future Hall of Famer, Suggs, for 15 games and Dumervil being required to be more involved in other aspects of the defense than just putting his head down and getting after quarterbacks. His drop-off represented almost the entirety of the team falling from 49 sacks in its 2014 playoff season to 37 last year. The Ravens can greatly improve their chances of reaching the postseason by seeing those numbers rise this season.

ILB C.J. Mosley

We still don't know exactly who is going to line up next to the third-year defender from Alabama this season (if I was establishing odds in Las Vegas, Zachary Orr would be the favorite). But we do know this much -- as talented as Mosley has proven to be through his first two seasons, he absolutely must defend the pass better. 
Despite being graded by PFF as a plus-6.4 defender last season (the fourth best grade of any Ravens defender), the analysis website actually hit Mosley with a minus-4.7 when it comes to defending the pass. With a first-year starter almost a certainty at the other inside linebacker spot, expect teams to test this perceived deficiency early and often in 2016. 

CB Jimmy Smith

What does $41 million (spread over four years) get you in the NFL? For the Ravens in 2015, a corner who was graded by PFF as minus-4.5 overall and minus-5.8 against the pass. That's not ideal. 
There were a number of mitigating factors that played a role in Smith's disappointing fifth NFL season. He came into the season off a foot injury that cost him half of the 2014 season. That foot issue appeared to linger, despite the former first-round pick playing all 16 games during the team's poor season. (The team's top corner was also forced to undergo another procedure on his foot this offseason that limited his participation during OTAs.) Plus, an overall lack of pass rush hurt everyone who attempted to defend the ball downfield last year, Smith included. 
That being said, general manager Ozzie Newsome clearly imagined Smith developing into a Pro Bowl-caliber corner when the team locked him up long term, with a contract extension prior to the 2015 season. Baltimore has to hope this is the year Smith proves himself worthy of that hefty payday. 

TE Maxx Williams

It would be wrong to say the former University of Minnesota star was necessarily a “disappointment” during his rookie campaign in 2015. While his numbers maybe weren't as gaudy as some would have hoped for a second-round pick, Williams showed flashes throughout the year, even as the team was filming the movie “Dude Where's My Quarterback” after Joe Flacco tore his ACL during Week 11.  
Baltimore is deep at tight end this season with the addition of veteran Benjamin Watson and (maybe?) the return of Super Bowl champion Dennis Pitta from lingering hip issues, as well as Williams and Crockett Gillmore. Nick Boyle would also be eligible to help the unit after his 10-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. The Ravens don't necessarily need Williams (or anyone from the group) to prove to be the next Rob Gronkowski, but they could really use his 6-foot-4 frame on third down and in the red zone.
Last year, no Raven caught more than five touchdowns (wide receiver Kamar Aiken led the way). Of the six teams that made the playoffs in the AFC last year, all had a player catch at least six touchdowns. That includes the Broncos and their miserable quarterback play and the Chiefs, who rarely throw the ball downfield. Williams certainly has the size to be a reliable touchdown target -- he just has to translate that on the field.

Issue 222: June 2016