Ravens Four Positions of Need
Baltimore has seen a mass exodus of some of its top players as free agency opened up a week ago. This puts new General Manager, Eric DeCosta, right to the test, and is also another testament to former General Manager, Ozzie Newsome’s drafting skills that so many guys are sought after by other franchises. C.J. Mosley moves on to the Jets with a contract that sets the bar for the linebackers going forward. Za’Darius Smith was lured away by the Packers. Terrell Suggs, drafted 16 years ago and in line to be the fourth hall of famer drafted by Newsome, signed a one year deal with Arizona to play where he attended high school and college.
The Ravens made some additions of their own as DeCosta prepares to put his stamp on the new era of football in Baltimore. They sign the best free safety in the NFL, Earl Thomas. Also a nice complementary piece to the running game in Mark Ingram.
Like every team, they have some positions of need still to address. I believe the signing of Thomas shores up the secondary. They are beefy on the front line with Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce eating up gaps. On offense they are all in on Lamar Jackson and building around him. They have their running backs in place and tight end shouldn’t be a need for at least three years having drafted two a year ago.
That leaves the Ravens with the following, immediate needs:
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Interior O-Line – Ronnie Stanley is coming into the final year of his rookie contact, and all signs indicate the Ravens will pick up his 2020 option by the May 2nd deadline. They also may sign him to an extension before his walk year comes. Orlando Brown Jr. is the right tackle for the foreseeable future. The edges of the line look set for now. However, upgrades are necessary at center and guard with Matt Skura and Alex Lewis not cutting it. Also figure that father time is going to sneak up on Marshal Yanda Eventually. (The fifth Hall of Famer Newsome will have drafted). Yanda turns 35 this September.
Quinton Spain would look like an upgrade at left guard. Playing for the Titans he’s used to a run heavy scheme. But his grades have dipped to around average the last two years since PFF graded him at 84.2 in 2016. Pro Football Focus listed him as the fourth best interior lineman in free agency this season, behind Matt Paradis (Carolina), Rodger Saffold (Tennessee), and Mitch Morse (Buffalo).
I think the Ravens missed a real opportunity at a fair price to upgrade the line with Matt Paradis who signed with Carolina for three years and $27 million. Morse on the other hand singed for 4/$44.5M, but is the Marshal Yanda of centers, having not allowed a sack since 2015, and only five pressures total last season with Patrick Mahomes attempting 580 passes last year.
Wide Receiver – The position is lonely with Willie Snead and Chris Moore as the only experienced receivers in the group. They drafted two in Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley in the mid-rounds of the 2018 draft. But that was with a different starting quarterback and a different offensive coordinator. Scott and Lasley never saw the field and are complete unknowns.
I personally want to see them target someone in the first round of the draft at this position. They haven’t been able to develop a wideout, other than say, Torrey Smith. If Eric DeCosta wants to put his personal touch on this draft that sets him apart from the Newsome era, drafting and developing an electrifying WR would accomplish that.
Furthermore, like quarterbacks, if you don’t have elite talent, might as well go young and cheap. Mid-level wideouts haven’t worked here like Michael Crabtree or Jeremy Maclin. I have no interest in spending money in the free agent class including at this point Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, Pierre Garcon, Kelvin Benjamin.
Inside Linebacker – With C.J. Mosley moving on, who is going to wear the green dot on game days? The way undrafted guys like Zach Orr and Patrick Onwuasor have had success in this linebacking group, it leads me to believe that any athletic player can play the position. Mosely was a sure tackler, but wasn’t a factor in other areas such as pass rush or forcing turnovers. With an elite line in front of you, and now a hall of famer in the secondary behind you, linebackers just need to contain, and make tackles.
Zach Brown has been a popular name since the Redskins let him test the market. However, Brown might be seeking money along the lines of Mosley. Brown, along with Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner, are the only three linebackers to register PFF grades above 80.0 in run stopping, coverage, and tackling. Then again, the market could be settling as the Redskins had no takers when offering Brown up in trade, and Brown is still unsigned.
Brandon Marshall is also a decent off ball linebacker and would be a guy that the Ravens might be able to get at a discount compared to Brown. But with the market very thin and unreliable after this, I wouldn’t be opposed to addressing the position in the draft and letting Kenny Young and the incoming rookie battle for the spot.
Edge Rusher – We’re still waiting to see 2017 draft picks Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser show up at some point. With Terrell Suggs heading out to Arizona to finish his career, and Za’Darius Smith being poached by the Packers, now is the time. Matt Judon is also onto the final year of his rookie contract. It is possible the Ravens try to extend Judon in the way they extended Tavon Young, before, his walk year begins.
Justin Houston is the top name still available on the market. But that 22 sack season of his seems like it was so long ago. Since that 2014 breakout campaign, he’s notched 7.5, 4, 9.5, and 9 sacks in those seasons. He’s also failed to play in all 16 games since 2014. Houston racked up 48.5 sacks in 59 games in his first four seasons (0.81 sacks/game). In his four seasons since then he has notched 30 sacks in 43 games (0.63 sacks/game).
Houston could still be too expensive of a price tag for Baltimore who is working with about $20M is salary cap space, and still having upcoming draft picks to account for. Heading back to the draft, perhaps the next star edge rusher will be there for the taking. With combine results in, and more stats for teams at pro days, we’ll be able to put together explosion scores for edge rushers and see if there are any diamonds in the rough. Matt Judon for example had the best explosion score coming into the 2016 draft. Otherwise, the fifth round pick of the Ravens out of Grand Valley State is a complete unknown.
In conclusion. With $20M in cap space left, Interior O-line is most important to build up and create some depth. Also can dip into that to sign a cheaper, veteran ILB who can wear the green dot and make tackles. Use the draft acquire a top flight wide receiver and hope to get max results on rookie contract dollars. Draft an edge rusher, maybe one of value can be had in the mid rounds based on explosion scores which I’ll be breaking down in the coming weeks.
Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370, and FOX45. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he can be reached at [email protected]