Baltimore Ravens: Forecasting The Busts And Breakouts Of 2013
The 2012 season for the Baltimore Ravens was a successful one by any criteria. By winning the Super Bowl, the Ravens achieved the ultimate goal of every NFL franchise, but also raised the expectations of their fanbase. Although the Ravens eventually came together as a team, much of the regular season was spent fighting through adversity. Even though they will enter next season as the reigning champions, the reality is the Ravens have a lot of work to do to be ready for next season.
Last year's Super Bowl season saw plenty of personnel losses, but each of those setbacks was covered by a player who elevated their game to pick up the slack. When Ray Lewis went down, Dannell Ellerbe stepped up. When Terrell Suggs was injured, Paul Kruger was the man. Lardarius Webb’s absence allowed Corey Graham and Jimmy Smith to flourish while Cary Williams played some of his best football. On offense, Jah Reid and Kelechi Osemele stepped up to fill in for the departed Ben Grubbs and the troubled Bryant McKinnie.
There is no doubt that the Ravens will have to overcome similar obstacles next season, but this time it won't be the same characters filling each role.
Joe Flacco is currently waiting for his contract situation to be sorted out. Flacco will get a massive contract from the Ravens at some point, but that could actually work against him next year. His expectations will be raised after winning the Super Bowl last year while his role with the team will change significantly because of his new contract. That deal could also cost Flacco some of the key members in his supporting cast. Therefore, even if Flacco plays to the same level he did during last year's regular season, he could be considered a bust.
Much like Flacco, Anquan Boldin enters next season with heightened expectations. Boldin had a decent regular season, but became a difference-maker in the playoffs and those will be the memories his critics will likely focus on if his play slips at all. At this point of his career, Boldin has sustained too much punishment to consistently live up to those performances.
After his last ACL tear, Lardarius Webb took a step back in the season following his rehabilitation. However, that was much earlier in his career and the injury suffered last season wasn't on the same leg. Webb understands the rehab process and has ample time to prepare for his return next season. Prior to being injured, he was one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL – particularly out of the slot – and should return to that spot this year.
Ellerbe became a superstar for the Ravens in Ray Lewis' absence last season, but now that Lewis is retired, the responsibility falls on his partner Jameel McClain to take on a greater leadership role. McClain has been an impressive starter for the Ravens in recent seasons, but he will be expected to elevate his game even more entering next year. He should be able to do it now that he is out of Lewis' shadow.