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Ronnie Stanley, Breshad Perriman: First-Round Talent, High-Profile Questions

August 15, 2016
Technically, the Ravens selected only one player in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. For all practical purposes, they actually got two.

However, the boatload of talent found in former Notre Dame tackle Ronnie Stanley and former Central Florida receiver Breshad Perriman also has its own dichotomy: proven quality and unproven potential. It is a duo that brings with it as many questions as answers, the epitome of the crapshoot nature of the draft.

But with the Ravens having posted three straight third-place AFC North finishes, missing the playoffs after two of the last three seasons and posting a mediocre 23-25 regular-season record since winning Super Bowl XLVII, it will largely be up to the first-round pair to return the team to top-level status.

The most recent Ravens top pick, Stanley, is a consensus All-America who was taken with this year's sixth overall selection and has been immediately tabbed to start. The Ravens seem so confident in his ability that veteran Eugene Monroe was released to make room for him to take extra repetitions and to win the left offensive tackle job unopposed.

Meanwhile at wide receiver, a revamped Ravens offense -- one aiming to be younger, deeper, faster and more unpredictable than in previous seasons -- will attempt to add Perriman to the mix for the first time, even after enduring one of the most bizarre chapters in the Ravens' short history. 

Six-foot-2, 215-pound Perriman was taken 26th overall in 2015 before incurring a slight ligament tear during the first full-team training camp practice that season. The injury was not thought to be serious at first, but a possible misreading of its severity and a misinterpretation of its recovery time led to a season-long odyssey that ended with Perriman on injured reserve and the Ravens on the losing side of 11 of 16 games.

This offseason, a second injury to Perriman's opposite knee required a minor stem-cell procedure that would seem to have him ready to play in the Sept. 11 season opener against the Buffalo Bills.

But Perriman was relegated to the physically unable to perform list for the first portion of training camp, yet another hurdle in an offseason that engulfed him in not only another surgery and rehabilitation period, but in assessing the health of his father -- former NFL veteran wideout Brett Perriman -- who suffered a stroke.

"It's been crazy," Perriman said during spring practices. "I've been through a lot this offseason, but it's just making me stronger again and just learning to keep faith and pray a lot more. It's been rough. It still is rough from time to time, but I'm steady getting through it, pushing through it and keeping faith.

"I feel much stronger. I feel like I went through a lot last year and it made me a better player and a better person."

At the very least, Perriman will look like a different person, having taken quarterback Joe Flacco's advice to shave off his trademark dreadlocks. Flacco and veteran receiver Mike Wallace have been among many counseling the young receiver and helping him feel like he truly is a part of the team.

"I haven't had a ton of time to work with him, but that's just the nature of this game," Flacco said. "You have to deal the hand you're dealt. Hopefully, for his sake, he's able to get back out here and get confident and get those reps. I think he's a huge part of our team, so I want to see him out there. He's a talented kid."

The same can safely be said of the 6-foot-6, 320-pound Stanley; in fact, it might be an understatement.

Stanley helped pace a Fighting Irish offense that produced its third most yards-per-game average since setting a school record 46 years ago, as well as its best rushing attack since 2000. He also helped keep quarterbacks upright to the tune of just four sacks allowed during his final two seasons.

Stanley comes with the kind of size and athleticism reminiscent of the Ravens' first draft pick, Jonathan Ogden, who actually played guard in his 1996 debut season. It was speculated by some observers Stanley would go the same route, but he has been entrusted with the same blind-side responsibilities handed to Hall-of-Famer Ogden two decades ago.

"[When it comes to] protecting Joe, he's a very valuable man," Stanley said. "We know how much worth he is to this team and how valued he is. It was great. He's a great leader. He stays calm and cool in the huddle and out on the field all together. He's just great to be around."

Stanley has obviously inherited the Ogden-esque quality of not talking about himself in any great detail, but his off-field demeanor and on-field play have led others to sing his praises.

"Right now, [Stanley] has done everything right up until this point," guard Marshal Yanda said. "He has the right mindset. He is a hard worker and keeps his head down, and I love a rookie like that. I love a rookie that stays quiet and does his job and just produces on the field. 

"Just do what you do on the field. I don't need to hear anything else, but you doing your job and keeping your mouth quiet. He's done that. He is doing everything the right way, so we will see."

Offensive coordinator Marc Trestman agreed.

"He's had a very good start," Trestman said. "He's got an excellent demeanor. He understands what he's doing in terms of his job and his assignments -- his footwork. It's just day-to-day of growing at the position, but he's had a good start. He carries himself with a quiet confidence. He's doing good things over there, and he's just working to get better every day."

Naturally, it's not clear at this point how such a bounty of talent will pan out. As the Ravens' drafts in 1996, 2000 and 2003 have shown, adding two first-round picks has turned out mostly positive, but with a few disappointing aspects. 

In the Ravens' debut draft, tackle Ogden and linebacker Ray Lewis were the respective choices with the fourth and 26th picks. They combined for 24 Pro Bowl berths, three Super Bowl rings, two spots in the team's Ring of Honor and, more than likely, two spots in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Ogden was inducted in 2013 and Lewis will be eligible in 2018).

Four years later, running back Jamal Lewis (fifth overall) and wideout Travis Taylor (10th) were the choices. With 7,801 yards, Lewis is the Ravens' all-time leading rusher, a Ring of Honor pick and the youngest to play in a Super Bowl. Meanwhile, Taylor is seen to have underachieved, with 204 receptions and 15 touchdowns during five years in Baltimore.

The Ravens held the same mixed bag after the 2003 draft, when they took linebacker Terrell Suggs (10th) and quarterback Kyle Boller (19th). 

Suggs is the Ravens' all-time sack leader and a shoo-in for the Ring of Honor -- and possibly Canton -- while Boller was, at best, average during his six years with the team, playing to a 71.9 passer rating and producing a near-even touchdown-to-interception ratio (45-44).

Suggs and Boller came along just after the Ravens posted a losing season and immediately led the team to a division title in their rookie campaigns. 

But while there's no guarantee such young talent can lead this year's team to an old, familiar place, they both seem up for the challenge.

"[It's about] getting the plays and not making any mistakes on those, first of all," Stanley said. "Using my coach's technique and really focusing on that -- just doing a lot of repetition on that and really focusing in on the little stuff."

Perriman added: "I'm very anxious, but at the same time I want to take it day-by-day. I don't want to look too far ahead, just take things day-by day and get better day-by-day. When that time comes I know it will play out."

Getting out and playing will be the only way to truly prove whether Stanley and Perriman were first-round worthy, and whether the Ravens will again be a top-level team because of them.

Joe Platania  has been covering professional football since 1994

Issue 224: August 2016