As the Ravens prepare for the 2018 season there seems to be some cautious optimism and real buzz around the team. That optimism stems largely from a revamped wide receiver corps and an engaged Joe Flacco. The buzz comes from Lamar Jackson, the Ravens future plans for him and the pressure he puts on Joe Flacco to perform. There’s also a major sense of urgency among the players and coaches who have been the face of the franchise the last decade. John Harbaugh needs to get this team back to the playoffs or chances are his days in Baltimore are over. Joe Flacco may be in his final year regardless, considering Lamar Jackson and the way his contract is structured.
While almost all the focus is on this year, though, what’s the long-term outlook for this team?
Yes, the Ravens need to get to the playoffs this year and maybe win a game or two for key members of the franchise to stick around, but can they become the consistent postseason participants they once were? While the offseason additions will help, the answer to that question really comes from their last three drafts.
The Ravens are a mediocre 40-40 since the beginning of the 2013 season. That middle of the road record is a result of several contributing factors but the biggest one is their poor drafts. From 2013-2015 the Ravens drafted two players who have been real difference makers, C.J Mosley and Brandon Williams. That puts added pressure on free agent additions which then puts a strain on the salary cap. It’s a bad cycle the team’s front office has gotten into that includes restructuring deals which just makes future seasons more challenging.
While the jury is still out on 2018, the 2016 and 2017 drafts have produced five to ten players who could be key contributors for the foreseeable future. Marlon Humphrey and Ronnie Stanley, the team’s two first round picks have the potential to be top five players at their respective positions. Tavon Young and Alex Lewis both made solid contributions their rookie seasons. While their sophomore campaigns were cut short due to injury, both are back and fully healthy. Willie Henry and Tyus Bowser both flashed potential last season. Chris Moore and Kenneth Dixon can both be legitimate playmakers, and no one would be surprised if Matt Judon leads the team in sacks in 2018. If Hayden Hurst, Lamar Jackson, Orlando Brown, Mark Andrews or other rookies from the 2018 class can make an impact in their first two seasons the Ravens will be better positioned than they have in quite some time.
It’s one of the best things the Ravens have going for them as they enter a critical season. They are finally getting real contributions from a significant number of recent draft picks. That simply wasn’t the case from 2012-2015. The team was forced to bring in free agents like Eric Weddle, Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin because they missed on draft picks like Matt Elam, Terrence Brooks and Breshad Perriman. If seven to ten recent draft picks can evolve into key pieces of the franchise instead of two or three draft picks, it not only makes the team better this year but it will greatly improve the Ravens salary cap position in future years.
That’s something that hasn’t happened for this team in recent seasons.
And it’s one of the biggest reasons they’ve been the definition of mediocrity since 2012.