National Football League
July 21, 2008
Draft King Analysis
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com
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The decline of the Baltimore Ravens from 2006 to 2007 proved to be quite drastic. Consider this: in 2006, the Ravens posted a 13-3 regular season, allowing only 201 points in the regular season (the best in the NFL since the 2002 Tampa Bay Bucs) and holding the Indianapolis Colts without a TD in their playoff matchup in Baltimore, which the Colts won 15-6.
In 2007, the Ravens allowed a jaw-dropping 384 points in the regular season. Baltimore, which had been a powerful force this decade defensively, finally saw the wheels come off from what had been an impressive run under Brian Billick, a decline so severe that management decided to part ways with Billick after the season.
|Jared Gaither may replace Jonathan Ogden at left OT in Baltimore. (Icon SMI)
Interestingly, the Ravens maintained their tough-as-nails defense against the run, allowing only 79.2 rushing yards per game. So what happened? The Ravens gave up more than 222 passing yards per game, which lead to the dramatic jump in points allowed.
Conversely, Baltimore's offense, particularly its passing game, proved to be unable to make up the difference. The rushing attack with Willis McGahee was middle-of-the-pack, but the team's passing game hit the skids with multiple injuries limiting the output of the now-retired Steve McNair, who played in just six games in 2007. Kyle Boller proved to be mostly ineffective, throwing more interceptions (10) than TD passes (9) in 2007.
Along with the retirement of McNair in the off-season came the retirement of immensely talented offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden. Ogden, the first-ever draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens (#4 overall) when the franchise debuted in 1996, lived up to the strong expectations that the team had for him. He retired as a nine-time All Pro and an eleven-time Pro Bowler, and to say that the Ravens will miss him in 2008 would be an understatement.
On the surface, it looks to be a rebuilding year for the Ravens. Baltimore hopes that offensive tackle Jared Gaither, taken in the supplemental draft in 2007, will be able to move into the position vacated by Ogden. Both Ogden and Gaither are 6'9", but it takes more than height to be an elite offensive tackle in the NFL. Time will tell how Gaither will turn out for the team.
The Ravens addressed its major need at QB by drafting Delaware's Joe Flacco at #18 overall. Flacco, who started his college career at Pitt before transferring to Delaware, lead the Fightin' Blue Hens to the FCS (I-AA) title game against Appalachian State in 2007. His stock rose throughout early 2008, and by the time late April arrived, Flacco found himself as the second QB drafted overall behind only Matt Ryan.
Baltimore landed two running backs in the draft, taking Rutgers RB Ray Rice in round two (#55 overall) and Oklahoma's Allen Patrick in the seventh round. Willis McGahee turns 27 in October, but particularly in the modern NFL, depth at running back is critical. If nothing else, Rice will present some unique challenges for defenses with his explosiveness and his ability to quickly change gears out of the backfield.
Further evidence that Baltimore is looking long-term came from the move to draft Miami OLB Tavares Gooden in round three. Will he produce big dividends right away? Not likely. But he is considered by many observers to have a ton of potential for the long-term, and his athleticism will allow him to be competitive in a backup role this fall.
One pick that I especially liked was Baltimore's selection of Notre Dame FS Tom Zbikowski in the late third round. While the Irish struggled in 2007, it was mostly overlooked that Notre Dame was second in the nation against the pass, in no small part due to Zbikowski's head-ringing hits and overall leadership in the secondary. Zbikowski also proved to be a solid punt returner, and he could find himself competing for that role with the Ravens.