COMMENTARY | With so many changes that the Baltimore Ravens have undergone this offseason, a key to success in 2013 will be the play of their rookies. The Ravens selected 10 players in the 2013 NFL draft, and almost all of them figure to make the final 53-man roster.
The one exception is sixth-round pick Kapron Lewis-Moore, a defensive lineman from Notre Dame. He suffered a torn ACL in the BCS National Championship Game, making injured reserve a likely scenario. Seventh-round picks Marc Anthony and Aaron Mellette could fall victim to a numbers game at their respective positions, but ultimately the Ravens' valuing of draft picks could earn them roster spots.
While the late-round picks could struggle to make the roster, the early-round picks figure to have large roles in 2013.
Here are the three rookies who will have the biggest impact for the Ravens this season:
In the second round of the draft, the Ravens selected a future cornerstone of their defense in Arthur Brown. The former outside linebacker at Kansas State will move to inside linebacker in the NFL, adjusting to Baltimore's 3-4 defense. He figures to easily earn a starting job, and his presence will be felt from day one.
His versatility, instincts, aggressiveness and coverage ability make him the most balanced inside linebacker on the current Ravens roster. If he can overcome the growing pains of adjusting to the NFL and offseason injuries, he can be a legitimate candidate to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Like Brown, Matt Elam will likely step in from day one of training camp and assume a starting role in Baltimore's defense. With the departure of Bernard Pollard, there is a glaring opening at strong safety, a position Elam will take over in 2013. His only competition for the starting job is veteran James Ihedigbo, making it all but certain that Elam will win the starting job.
Elam's playing style is similar to Pollard - a downhill player who thrives in run defense and delivering bone-crushing hits - but he will be an upgrade over Pollard with respect to the fact that Elam's speed will be a noticeable upgrade over Pollard. He can get caught out of position in coverage, and they likely won't change during his rookie season, but Elam's presence will be felt in Baltimore's defense this season.
Currently, Kyle Juszczyk is slated to be the starting fullback this season. That could change for two reasons: there is a legitimate chance the team re-signs Vonta Leach and Juszczyk isn't a true fullback. If the team doesn't re-sign Leach, they will likely just operate mainly without fullback, something that became a noticeable possibility in Jim Caldwell's offense last season.
While Juszczyk was the starting fullback at Harvard, the fourth-round pick figures to make a bigger impact in the NFL as a receiver. His blocking ability will be welcomed, as tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson are below average blockers. To get the most out of the rookie, however, he will likely be used as a receiving target, aiding the situation the team currently has at wide receiver.
Juszczyk is a similar receiver to Pitta, and figures to be used the same way. He won't outproduce Pitta or Dickson in 2013, but his receiving ability, blocking capability and versatility will be noticeable in Baltimore's offense.
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