The Baltimore Ravens have remained a playoff contender over the years due to a strong player development program. As stars like Ed Reed and Ray Lewis advance in age, the Ravens will need young players to emerge as playmakers.
Here are five Ravens who could be on the verge of a breakout season:
Torrey Smith, WR
Smith rode the bench for the first few games last season, but the rookie erupted for five catches, 152 yards, and three touchdowns in Week 3 against the Rams. Smith went on to post 50 catches for 841 yards and seven touchdowns. The 23-year-old speedster figures to improve on those numbers in his sophomore campaign, as he gains the trust of QB Joe Flacco.
The Ravens selected McPhee out of Mississippi State with a fifth-round selection in the 2011 draft. McPhee recorded six sacks in a reserve role as a rookie. The departure of defensive end Cory Redding created an opportunity for McPhee on Baltimore's starting defense. The second-year player will be counted on to provide a pass rush while Terrell Suggs recovers from Achilles surgery.
Paul Kruger, LB
Kruger excelled in a reserve role last season for the Ravens, registering 5 1/2 sacks, while taking snaps at outside linebacker and defensive end. The fourth-year player out of Utah will now get the chance to start, following the departure of free agent linebacker Jarret Johnson. Baltimore needs Kruger and McPhee to team up and pressure opposing quarterbacks.
Ed Dickson, TE
After catching 11 passes as a rookie in 2010, Dickson hauled in 54 passes and five touchdowns last season. The Ravens are looking for Dickson to take another step forward in 2012. At 6 feet 4 inches and 255 pounds, Dickson offers a size and speed combination that can keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night. Baltimore needs Dickson to become more consistent and cut down on his dropped passes.
Jimmy Smith, CB
Jimmy Smith was the Ravens' first-round pick in 2011. He missed significant time to an early-season injury but returned to make an impact in the playoffs. Smith and starting corner Cary Williams, a free agent following the season, have struggled in coverage in the preseason. The Ravens are hoping that Smith can seize on the opportunity to snag a starting role for years to come.
*Information gathered from http://www.nfl.com.