The Ravens were dealt a huge blow Thursday morning when they learned that starting linebacker Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles' tendon.
Reports say Suggs suffered the injury while playing basketball, while he claims it happened during a condition test. However it occurred, Baltimore will probably be without their defensive player for most of, if not all, of the 2012 NFL season.
Suggs is extremely important to the Ravens success. He's one of the best defensive players in the league, voted number 40 overall on the NFL Top 100 Player's list from a year ago. Suggs led the AFC in sacks in 2011 with 14. He also registered two interceptions and 10 tackles for a loss.
Suggs was a leader on a Ravens defense that finished third overall in the final season rankings. Baltimore relies on its defense to keep it in games. Joe Flacco hasn't proven to be a quarterback who can win games by himself and the Ravens are without a superstar at wide receiver.
With Suggs out of the picture, the Ravens No. 1 draft pick will be asked to step up in his first season. Courtney Upshaw was taken by Baltimore at No. 35 overall in the draft. The Ravens landed him in the second round, despite reports that he could go in the first round.
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Upshaw played outside linebacker for Alabama, and will be a natural fit as Suggs's replacement. He was an excellent pass rusher in college, and can do some of the things Suggs is known for on the field. The only question is if he can produce in his first year in the NFL.
It's impossible to expect Upshaw to duplicate Suggs's production. Upshaw should learn quickly with veteran Ray Lewis in the middle of Baltimore's defense.
Suggs is a great player, but he's just one of 11 guys on the field. Those who expect Pittsburgh to run away with the AFC North are sadly mistaken. The Ravens finished 12-4 last year, and came dangerously close to making the Super Bowl. One injury won't eliminate them as contenders.
The injury certainly will make it more difficult for the Ravens to find success in 2012, but they'll still be among the AFC's best.