Games are won and lost in the trenches.
It’s an age-old adage that has bounced around the NFL for decades. Win the line of scrimmage and you win a football game.
In 2016 the Dallas Cowboys selected the draft’s top running back and a quarterback who could manage an offense, minimize mistakes and make plays with his feet. The team’s additions of Zeke Elliott and Dak Prescott catapulted a (4-12) club in 2015 to a (13-3) juggernaut in 2016.
Being the copycat league that it is, other teams noticed and opted to invest draft capital and salary cap resources into their respective offensive lines. Some believe that the Ravens could adopt a similar approach since it helps to boost a running game – an important quality for a cold-weather city in December and January. A stout offensive front also gives a quarterback time to read through progressions, and for a challenged Ravens wide receiver corps as currently comprised, the protection provides a gateway to separation in the secondary.
Perhaps that’s why many (like Mel Kiper, Jr. below) have pegged an offensive tackle to the Ravens with the 16th overall pick.
But taking an offensive tackle at No. 16 would be a mistake.
In 2017, the excellent NFL analytics website, Football Outsiders, graded the Ravens offensive line as the 6th best rushing front and the 4th best in pass protection. Huge props to the coaching staff, particularly Greg Roman and Joe D’Alessandris for shaping up a patchwork group into one of the league’s best. Let’s not forget that the Ravens played without Marshal Yanda, Alex Lewis and Nico Siragusa who were all lost to season-ending injuries very early on. Nor should we forget that the team lost Rick Wagner to free agency and the position of center was completely up in the air during the preseason.
With each of these injured players expected to be ready in 2018, it’s safe to say that the O-line will get a big boost provided the Ravens find an adequate replacement for Ryan Jensen who is likely to walk in free agency. And let’s keep in mind that the Ravens were so “enthralled” by the prospects of Jensen as their starting center that they re-signed Jeremy Zuttah in mid-August who upon his eventual release was claimed by exactly no one.
Let that sink in.
The point is, that there’s no need to spend so much draft capital at right tackle. The Ravens have found players on Day 3 of the draft and they’ve found more than adequate bargains in free agency to man the right side of the line, late in the summer. Austin Howard was signed on August 4, 2017 and after an adjustment period, he did just fine.
So really, there’s no need to draft the next Michael Oher, 2009’s 23rd overall pick.
Even if the Ravens did take a right tackle at 16, and the player is as effective as Ronnie Stanley, it might be difficult to keep both beyond their rookie contracts. Ideally, first-round picks should stick around for their second contract. Expensive bookend tackles are tough to justify.
The Ravens can win the line of scrimmage without losing the salary cap game.