Cian Fahey

Young Players Keeping Ravens' Nest In Good Shape

Created on Mar. 11, 2013 10:56 AM EST

The 2012 season for the Baltimore Ravens was a peculiar one. It will be remembered as the Joe Flacco/Ray Lewis year in the annals of history, but there was a lot going on for a team that shocked the world late in the year. Late in the regular season, the Ravens weren't guaranteed a playoff spot while Flacco struggled to carry his offense and Lewis sat on the sidelines with a torn triceps.

All of that meant that the Ravens relied on some of their younger players to step up and lead them through adversity. The result is that the Ravens have a number of impressive players still in the infancy of their careers.

5. DE Pernell McPhee (24)

With Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs and Lewis all suffering injuries during the season, young players such as McPhee, Terrence Cody and Arthur Jones were thrust into the spotlight. McPhee played 543 snaps in place of the departed Cory Redding. Even though it was his second season and he only finished the year with 1.5 sacks, McPhee was very impressive in shutting down the running game and beating blockers as a pass rusher.

4. RB Bernard Pierce (22)

As a 22-year-old rookie running-back, Pierce could have been forgiven for having a poor attitude about his first year in the NFL. Ray Rice's presence ahead of him on the depth chart was always going to limit his opportunities to get on the field. However, Pierce was impressive enough with his few touches early on that it allowed him to earn more as the season progressed. Pierce finished the season with over 300 snaps, logging 108 carries for 532 yards. Most importantly, however, his big plays allowed the team to rest Ray Rice in order to keep the Ravens' running game on track.

3. OT-OG Kelechi Osemele (23)

Even though Osemele is third on this list of youngsters, he could easily be confused for a veteran on this roster. As a rookie, Osemele played over 1300 snaps – second-most on the team – and moved from right tackle to left guard late in the season. His poise and control – combined with his obvious physical talents – allowed him to flourish instantly and establish himself as one of the best young players in the league at his position.

2. K Justin Tucker (23)

Any kicker jokes that haunted the Ravens' fans in Baltimore after the 2011 season were quickly erased by this rookie. Tucker hit 30 of his 33 field-goal attempts – including 4-for-4 over 50 yards – and consistently proved to be comfortable in clutch situations. Tucker is the type of kicker who figures to enjoy a long stay in this league.

1. WR Torrey Smith (24)

It's hard to believe that Smith is still so young. Because he was thrown into the starting lineup as a rookie, it seems like Smith has been around a lot longer than two years. At 24 years of age, his best years are still to come, but he has already displayed the potential to be a top receiver in the league. He may not have the same speed as Mike Wallace, but he's not far off and runs a more expansive route tree.

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