(One of a series of articles exploring the status of individual players on the Ravens as the 2012 season approaches.)
You could make a case for Ravens defensive end Pernell McPhee being one the biggest steals of the entire 2011 NFL draft.
Taken by the Ravens in the fifth round as the 165th overall selection, McPhee quickly played his way onto the field, primarily as a rush specialist on third downs. He piled up six sacks, finishing second on the team in that category behind Terrell Suggs.
The stat wonks at Pro Football Focus fell headlong in love with him, labeling him as the Ravens secret superstar and claiming he either sacked or pressured opposing quarterbacks on 9.2 percent of his plays, a ratio any player would take,
With the departure of veteran Cory Redding to Indianapolis as a free agent, a starting job has opened up for either McPhee or Arthur Jones, the Ravens fifth-round pick in 2010, who plays the same position. Both are expected to see plenty of playing time, but the Ravens would love to see one "break out" and establish himself as a defensive cornerstone.
Having accomplished more than Jones in less time in the league, McPhee would seem the likelier candidate for that; the only rookies who had more sacks than McPhee last season were San Francisco linebacker Aldon Smith (13), Denver linebacker Von Miller (11.5), Cleveland defensive end Jabaal Sheard (8.5) and Tennessee defensive tackle Karl Klug (7), all starters other than Klug.
As it was, McPhee finished 23rd in the NFL in sacks as a rookie in limited playing time, and he recently told the Carroll County Times that he believed he could up his total to 10 in his second season.
He experienced a setback when he had to sit out part of the spring season of OTAs and minicamps because of a minor knee injury that necessitated arthroscopic surgery. But his rehab has gone well, he said, and he expects to be ready for training camp.
Finding players who can pressure quarterbacks is going to be especially important for the Ravens in 2012 because of the absence of Terrell Suggs, out indefinitely with an Achilles injury. Suggs had 14 sacks in 2011, and if you pair that total with those of Redding and other players no longer with the team, the Ravens are missing almost half of their 48 sacks from last season.
Theyre counting on McPhee to help replace some of those missing sacks while also hoping he proves himself able to play the run and grind away in the defensive interior, perhaps as an every-down player.
It's asking a lot, but if McPhee is up to it, his status as one of the Ravens' best draft "steals" would be cemented