The Baltimore Ravens took a big step back in 2015, going 5-11 and having their first year below the .500 mark since 2007. Fortunately, they did turn it around a bit in 2016, going 8-8, but that’s certainly not satisfying enough for this team. Now, the Ravens are going to look for a few playmakers to step up and help Joe Flacco and company get back over the hump.
While the Ravens have quite a few options for potential breakout candidates in 2017, these three names below should show real staying power. Each of them, due to different circumstances, could be set to break through and become consistent playmakers in 2017 and beyond.
Let’s kick it off with a man who was everyone’s selection as a breakout candidate in 2016 but fell short.
Breshad Perriman, WR
Many expected to see Perriman really shine in a big way last season, and he certainly had his moments. But now there’s no more Steve Smith in town and no more reason for him not to step up and have a major role. As a matter of fact, the Ravens are going to need the young wideout to step up and show the playmaking ability he flashed back in college.
Perriman needs to improve in a few areas, including having fewer drops (five last season). But the breakout seems to be on the horizon, as he still managed to catch 33 passes and showed big-play ability with 499 yards (15.1 yards per reception) and three scores. If he can continue to build his rapport with Flacco and wind up fine-tuning his game, he shouldn’t have an issue getting there this season.
Predicting Perriman to top the 800- or 900-yard mark with seven to nine touchdowns seems like a nice, realistic prediction, and we could wind up seeing more.
Za’Darius Smith, LB
After an impressive 2015 rookie season in which he tallied 30 combined tackles with 5.5 sacks in limited action, Smith was expected to do even bigger things in 2016. Unfortunately, he went in the other direction, finishing with 20 combined tackles and just one sack.
Smith is going to be in the mix to fill the hole left by the retirement of Zachary Orr, but it’s unknown who will really step up. Based on playing time in 2016 alone, Smith should have an edge, as he played 47.2 percent of the team’s defensive snaps last season, according to Football Outsiders. That is more than Matt Judo (29.4 percent) and Kamalei Correa (4.6 percent).
Smith has shown he can produce at the NFL level, so expect him to turn it around in 2017.
Tavon Young, CB
Honestly, you could make the argument that Young broke out in his rookie season with the Ravens. It was an excellent first season for the fourth-round pick, who started 11 games and totaled 53 tackles, eight passes defensed and two interceptions.
Young’s number was called and he stepped up big, playing 79.5 percent of the team’s defense snaps. Don’t expect that number to go down, and he should continue to improve. But he’ll have his work cut out for him. Both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals improved their receiving corps, while the Cleveland Browns have a few playmakers who need to be shut down as well.
The upside is obviously there, and it’d be more surprising if he wound up taking a step back as opposed to taking a step forward and breaking out.