Baltimore Ravens general manger Ozzie Newsome may not be the top executive in the NFL, but not many, if any, are better at evaluating talent. “Ozzie Newsome has year-in and year-out put out relevant teams and given his team a chance to win a Super Bowl,” said New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese back in January of 2013. “We’re all chasing Ozzie.”
The Ravens, in the past decade, utilized draft classes to build the foundation of a team capable of winning a Super Bowl. Baltimore hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy two Februaries ago, and the draft classes of Newsome and company played a huge role in that occurring.
10. Jimmy Smith – CB – 27th overall in 2011
I came close to leaving Smith out of this piece. He was very disappointing in his first two seasons in the NFL, and there were rumors out there after the 2012 season that he could be cut. Smith then had a breakout 2013, finishing the regular season with 58 tackles, two interceptions and 16 passes-defended.
Smith, at 6’2″ and 200 pounds, has the size that teams now look for in cornerbacks. He showed last season that he also has the talent to be a shutdown corner. It’s still early into his career, but many are expecting big things from the former first round pick.
9. Sam Koch – P – 203rd overall in 2006
I can hear the critics now. “A punter? Really?” Yes, really. Koch may never be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but he has been a very consistent punter for the Ravens throughout his career. He is also the best punter in the history of the team.
People too often discount the importance of the play of special teams units. No team, none, is winning a championship without having a reliable punter. Koch has been just that over the years.
8. Torrey Smith – WR – 58th overall in 2011
Some teams look for solid No. 2 WRs in the first round of a draft. Baltimore found one in Smith at 58th overall in 2011.
Odds are that Smith will never turn into one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. That doesn’t mean that he hasn’t been a pick of great value for the Ravens. He has, in three seasons, caught 164 passes and scored 19 touchdowns. He also led the team in receptions in 2013.
Smith needs a partner like a Josh Gordon or even a Sammy Watkins in order to put up monster numbers. He is, nevertheless, a play-maker, a true weapon who could start for any team.
7. Paul Kruger – LB – 57th overall in 2009
I went back and forth in ranking Kruger. He did, after all, only have two very good seasons (2011 and 2012) while with the Ravens. Those two seasons were rather impressive, though, and thus Kruger comes in at seventh on the list.
Kruger had only 15 tackles in 2011, but he finished that year with 5.5 sacks. He then had the best season of his career to date the following year, finishing the campaign with 42 tackles and nine sacks. Kruger was unimpressive in his first season with the Cleveland Browns, suggesting that maybe the Ravens knew when to cut ties with the linebacker.
6. Haloti Ngata – DT – 12th overall in 2006
It’s weird how some memories stick with a person more so than others do. For example, I distinctly remember watching the first round of the 2006 draft unfold and thinking “Ngata is absolutely going to the Ravens.” That’s what happened, and he has been as good as advertised.
Ngata, in eight NFL seasons, has missed only five regular season games. Ever. He has over 400 career tackles, and he is the anchor of his team’s defensive front. Ngata has proven to be well worth the high pick.
5. Dennis Pitta – TE – 114th overall in 2010
Memo to everybody who wants his/her favorite team to draft a tight end in the first round of the 2014 draft: Great tight ends can be found on days two and three of the annual player selection process. Pitta is one of them.
Pitta’s numbers over four years aren’t up there with those belonging to the best tight ends in the NFL. However, his importance to the team’s offense, most notably to the quarterback of the Ravens (mentioned in this piece a bit later), cannot be overstated. Pitta recently signed a new deal with the club, smart business for all involved.
4. Lardarius Webb – CB – 88th overall in 2009
Webb is a bit undersized to play the position, and he has only appeared in all 16 games of a campaign twice in five years. That said, he made the most of his opportunities whenever he was on the field, and Baltimore noticed. Webb is currently on a deal that will make him $50 million over six years.
Webb gets a nod here not just because of talent. One half of one of the better tandems of defensive backs in the league was acquired in the third round. That’s an example of Newsome’s brilliance, and it’s why Webb is so high on the list.
3. Marshal Yanda – T – 86th overall in 2007
I don’t recall there being much noise made when the Ravens drafted a tackle in the third round of the 2007 draft. Yanda did not immediately make a splash in Baltimore, starting in 26 games over the course of three seasons. He has, since that time, become the best blocker on the team.
Just as important as strong his play has been the fact that Yanda has started in all but two regular season games over the past three years. He was named to the Pro Bowl for each of those campaigns. Not too shabby for a third-round pick.
2. Ray Rice – RB – 55th overall in 2008
Rice has recently made headlines for an off-the-field matter that could get him in quite a bit of trouble at some point down the road. But since everybody is innocent until proven guilty in the United States, Rice is placed into the No. 2 spot for his production on the field.
After a decent rookie campaign, Rice evolved into one of the better backs in the NFL. He rushed for over 1,000 yards four seasons in a row, and he has scored 37 rushing touchdowns in the past five years. Injuries slowed him down in 2013, but the belief is that he will be fully healthy for next season.
Now, he’ll be hoping legal troubles don’t prevent him from playing.
1. Joe Flacco – WB – 18th overall in 2008
Plenty of analysts and fans alike are going to disagree with this. Flacco has, throughout his NFL career, been inconsistent. It wasn’t that long ago that some, myself included, were wondering if Baltimore had to move on and find a new starting quarterback.
He has to be number one on this list, though, because he was the reigning Super Bowl MVP in 2013.
Finding a quarterback who is capable of winning a title AND being named MVP of that Super Bowl is not an easy task. Ask the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets if you don’t believe me. Flacco may not turn out to be an all-time great, but he will be one of the best draft picks the Ravens ever make.