The Ravens entered last fall as trendy picks to win it all, only to limp to a 5–11 finish with name-brand stars Joe Flacco, Justin Forsett, Steve Smith and Terrell Suggs all sidelined by season-ending injuries. That disappointing campaign was met with the same patient, calculating off-season approach that has made the franchise so consistently successful, but now that everyone has experienced Baltimore’s darkest timeline, the roster looks a little more mortal as training camp opens.
Smith’s recovery from the torn Achilles he suffered on Nov. 1 will hang over the first weeks of his second attempt at a farewell tour, and until he’s back to 100% all eyes will be on Flacco’s other targets, from the crowd of receivers aspiring to replicate Kamar Aiken’s breakout 2015 to the three-man logjam at tight end between veteran Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gilmore and Maxx Williams.
The Rookie: Ronnie Stanley’s path to the Week 1 starting left tackle job was cleared by the surprise release of Eugene Monroe, draining any drama from the polished No. 6 pick’s preseason. He may be blocking for fifth-round running back Kenneth Dixon sooner rather than later. Dixon finished second in the FBS in total touchdowns last season (behind only Ravens sixth-round pick Keenan Reynolds) and is versatile enough to produce right away for a ground and short passing attack that dipped after Forsett broke his arm.
Position Battle Spoiler: Nobody has blown away the competition for the inside linebacker spot next to C.J. Mosley, but the coachspeak seems to point toward 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown over Zachary Orr and rookie Kamalei Correa, a promising second-round pick himself who probably will ultimately end up on the outside. This one will likely come down to the wire unless an injury forces Baltimore’s hand.
The Stat: 38. the number of catches Aiken racked up over the final six games of the year after Flacco went down with a season-ending knee injury—just over half his full-season total of 75. Aiken staked his claim to a larger role going forward as the rest of the team headed to injured reserve, and Ravens fans and fantasy owners alike will monitor how well he separates himself at a full-strength training camp.
Preseason Watchability Guide: The opener against the Panthers on Aug. 11 gives Smith one last chance to burn his old team—if he is on the field by then, that is.