The Ravens’ season has ended. Moves have been made. Extensions have been announced. More will be coming. But today, I’m looking ahead to free agency and the draft, which is still a couple of months down the road.
I’m here to discuss what I think the Ravens need, and why I think those needs are present. I will also name a target or two, to fill each hole. Are you ready? I’m ready. I absolutely love draft season. It might be my favorite time of the year.
[Below, the number in parenthesis next to the need denotes how badly I think the Ravens need to address these holes, on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being the biggest need).]
A hole the Ravens need to fill: Center (4)
Matt Skura was the starting center for the Ravens for the entire 2018 season. While he was better than I had expected, and even had a couple of games where he was the highest graded offensive player on the team by PFF, he was, overall, not great. He graded out, again per PFF, as the 30th ranked center in the league. He was pushed around, bulldozed, and generally outmatched for much of the season. If the Ravens plan on protecting Lamar Jackson, as well as focusing on the Power Run, they’ll have to find an upgrade at the position.
One of these options is second-year player Bradley Bozeman, who performed admirably at the guard position when he was forced into the lineup. ‘Booze’ is about two inches taller than the aforementioned Skura, as well as having about 20 pounds on him. He was drafted in the sixth round, from Alabama – the kind of prospect that the Ravens have had success developing in the past. He appeared in 14 games in 2018, including the Wild Card game against the Chargers, so he has valuable game experience.
Another option would be former Broncos center Matt Paradis, who is more of a known quantity – and also a former sixth-round pick. While Paradis is already 29 years old, he was part of an offensive line that excelled at run blocking, which will be a big part of what the Ravens are looking to do in 2019. He is returning from a broken leg, which landed him on IR, but he graded out with an 80.0 over 569 snaps, per PFF (87.7 over the past three years).
The tertiary option (which may happen regardless) would be filling the hole in the draft. I haven’t watched much OL tape just yet, but Lamont Gaillard (Georgia) is a name I’ll be watching. Though he’s a bit on the smaller side, he’s explosive, with a mean punch, and a great first step. He’d have to adapt to a different scheme, as Georgia runs a lot of zone blocking, but he’s strong, and a center with quick feet would be a welcome addition to the front five of Baltimore. (Shoutout to Colenadian for taking a look at Gaillard and confirming what I saw. Follow him on Twitter @ColeJacksonRSR.)
A hole the Ravens may need to fill: Inside Linebacker (TBD)
It is said that the Ravens are in contract talks with Pro Bowler C.J. Mosley. The Ravens are also (likely) confident that they can replace him, if he walks.
The in-house option, that I don’t think anybody is thinking about, would be Patrick Onwuasor, who started his career as an undrafted free agent, but came on strong in 2017, and continued his growth in 2018. Let me be absolutely clear: I do not trust Peanut to take over starting responsibilities for Mosley. While I think that he is a great rotational player, I think that’s likely his ceiling. (The other in-house option, of course, is C.J. himself, but this article is being written in the event that he leaves in free agency. His market value, per Spotrac, is $9.7M/year – our Cap Guru Brian McFarland disagrees.)
The free agent crop of inside linebackers is…gross. It’s headlined by Mosley himself, as well as former NY Jets ‘backer, Avery Williamson. Williamson is 27 years old, and had a stat line of 121 tackles, 3.0 sacks, four QB hits, two forced fumbles, and one interception in 2018. Mosley trailed him in almost every statistical category, for reference. I don’t see the Ravens replacing C.J. with Avery, as Mosley knows the defense, and lends a leadership presence to the team. He’s well-liked within the organization.
The draft is where it gets interesting for the position. A number of names interest me, topped by Mack Wilson and Devin White – the latter likely being unattainable without trading well up in the first round. Wilson is another Alabama prospect, who sits at 6’1”, and about 230 pounds. He was one of the best players on the field during the title game against Clemson – and for most of the year. He’s still developing (as most prospects are), and is a half-a-beat slow in diagnosing the run, but he has an amazing range when it all clicks. He’s arguably better in the passing game than his draft profiles state, but struggles to get off blocks at times. The Ravens have a long history of developing linebackers, and Wilson provides a hell of a foundation with which to start, but I don’t know if they’d trust him enough to give him the Magic Green Dot – or to let him start at all (see: Harbs’ historic hesitance to start rookies early).
A hole the Ravens need to fill: No. 1 Wideout (3)
The 2018 wideouts were Michael Crabtree (54-607-3, 54% catch percentage), John Brown (42-715-5, 43.3%), Willie Snead (62-651-1, 65.3%), Chris Moore (19-196-1, 76%), Jordan Lasley (rookie, healthy scratch all season), and Jaleel Scott (IR all season). Now, I know that they were a run-first, run-heavy team once Lamar Jackson took over as the quarterback, but is there any realm in which the coaches think that these stat lines are okay? Let’s hope not.
There is no in-house fix for this position – outside of giving Moore extended playing time. I think he’s earned that look. The free agency group of wideouts for 2019 is absolutely miserable, and the Ravens would have to give up too much to facilitate a trade for an established wideout.
Enter the draft. There are myriad wide receivers in this draft, many of whom provide different skill-sets from one another, as well as from the receivers already on the team (mainly, these rookies can catch – weird, right?)
There are five names that I would be looking at, if I was Eric DeCosta (for those that don’t know, I’ve been accused of being his burner account, in jest… I think), and those are topped by Arizona State University’s N’Keal Harry. The 6’3”, 220-pound wide receiver made noise in the Pac-12, racking up just under 1,100 yards on 73 receptions, and seven touchdowns. Although Logan would disagree with me, he runs nuanced routes, and plays through contact, which enables him to separate from his defenders as he gets down the field. He’s not a burner, by any means (I expect him to run a high 4.4, maybe touch 4.5), but he is dominant when it comes to the contested catch. Given Lamar’s tendencies to throw into traffic, the Ravens offense would immediately be boosted by a true ‘X’ receiver that can catch the ball (sorry, Crabtree).
If Harry is gone by the time the Ravens pick at 22, a suitable consolation prize would be NC State’s Kelvin Harmon. Similarly sized at 6’3” and 215 lbs, Harmon roped in 81 catches, for 1,186 yards and seven scores. While he struggles creating yards after the catch, where Harmon excels is creating separation for himself, and adjustments downfield/in the air (like Harry, he’s not fast). His catch radius isn’t as big as Harry’s, but he would still be a welcome addition to an offense that’s missing a true No. 1.
The other three receivers I would take a swing at, aren’t necessarily first round picks. There’s A.J. Brown, the 6’1”, 225 lb. receiver out of Ole Miss that racked up 1,320 yards on 85 receptions. Next is J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, 6’2”, 222 lbs, from Stanford, who made his name on jump balls and in big games. He’s known as a ‘burst receiver’ who has an amazing jump off of the line. Finally, there’s Riley Ridley (just be ready to hear all the Calvin Ridley mentions over the next few months). He’s 6’2, and 200 pounds, which is about as perfect as you can get for a ‘X’ receiver. He’s not the most polished route runner, but shows flashes of what he can be (see: vs. Alabama). He’s not great with contested catches, but he shows good acceleration and direction changes.
Any one of these players would likely be an immediate upgrade over at least one of the receiving options currently on the roster.
A hole the Ravens may need to fill: Free Safety (TBD)
Eric Weddle isn’t getting any younger. He’s stated that if Baltimore doesn’t keep him on the roster, then he’d happily retire, though he loved being in Baltimore. Since signing with the Ravens in 2016, he’s enjoyed a bit of a career resurgence, but he’s clearly lost a step, from a physical standpoint. He’s still a mental master of the game, as he showed against Philip Rivers in Week 16. However, if Baltimore decides to cut ties with him to save some money, they’ll have to replace him.
The in-house option would be sophomore player DeShon Elliott, who showed flashes in the preseason games he was a part of until breaking his forearm covering a kickoff against the Miami Dolphins. He had 12 total tackles in three games, but showed speed and coverage ability, as well as delivering some jarring hits to receivers (some on his own team). He’s a bit tight in the hips, but he was projected a good bit above his draft stock, and could develop into a solid starter-quality safety.
Earl Thomas, LaMarcus Joyner, Tyrann Mathieu, and Landon Collins are all projected free agents for the 2019 season. Thomas has been injured in each of the last two seasons, but isn’t 30 years old yet. Joyner will likely get re-signed by the Los Angeles Rams (ed note: Anyone who saw him in the NFC Championship game yesterday will turn their nose up immediately!). The Honey Badger was listed as a likely Baltimore signing last season, before he ultimately signed with the Houston Texans. Collins has long been an above-average safety. However, I don’t know that spending cap space on one of these guys creates a huge upgrade over who’s on the team now.
Again, we arrive at the draft. The obvious choice would be Bama’s Deionte Thompson, though I’m not nearly as high on him as some seem to be (due to his inconsistent play, especially over the end of the season, and in the title game). He’s 6’2”, 195 lbs, and he is fast. Aggressive by nature, he will provide the same kind of hard hits that Elliott does, but his technique needs work. Nasir Adderley is more my speed – 5’11” and every bit of 200 lbs, with close-to-elite speed (for a safety), Adderley is probably the closest thing to a well-rounded ball-hawk safety this draft has to offer. I would be thrilled if the Ravens targeted and acquired him in the first round, especially after the Derwin James gaffe in 2018.
A need the Ravens need to fill: Guard (4)
Much like Skura, the combination of Alex Lewis and James Hurst at left guard was not good. In fact, it likely the worst player/position on the entire team. In the interest of saving Lamar Jackson’s life, as well as providing more holes for Gus Edwards and Co. to run through, the Ravens have to fill this hole, and fill it well.
Unless you consider Booze a capable replacement, there are no in-house fixes for the left guard position, and free agency has nothing worth taking a shot at. Barring a trade to fill the position, the Ravens will need to fix the hole through the draft.
Unfortunately, the draft doesn’t offer a whole lot in the way of interior offensive linemen. Their best bet would lie with Michael Deiter, out of Wisconsin, who is capable of effectively playing all three interior positions, and can handle himself outside as well. He’s 6’6” and 320 pounds, a mountain of a man who is surprisingly nimble and athletic. He excels at pulling, and has shown a knack for getting to his second-level blocks quickly. He fits the Ravens’ scheme extremely well, and should be a Day 1 starter – assuming they don’t do the same thing they did with now-starting tackle Orlando Brown, Jr. The downside would be his length, but that’s only a real factor if he projected to be a tackle at the NFL level – something that, unless a coach is in a bind, I don’t see becoming an issue. He struggles with speed rushers a bit, but makes up for it with a combination of speed and power that is sorely missing in Baltimore.
A need the Ravens should fill: Running Back (2)
Gus Edwards enjoyed a mini-breakout, gathering up 713 yards on 173 carries with a couple of tudders in a short period of time. Kenneth Dixon showed the Ravens that they had made the right decision when they brought him back from IR late in the season. Javorius Allen was mostly a non-factor, while Alex Collins went down with an injury, but he wasn’t nearly as effective as he was in 2017. Ty Montgomery was bought from the Packers at the trade deadline for a conditional 2020 7th round draft pick, and I’m not sure he exceeded his worth.
The Ravens desperately need a change-of-pace back that can make a difference in the passing game, as well as potentially needing another bruiser back to give Edwards a breather in heavy-rush games.
We’ll discuss the bruiser first: Benny Snell. 5’10”, 223 lbs, and a three-year career at University of Kentucky in which he ended up breaking their all-time rushing record, with 3,873 yards on 737 carries, and 48 scores. He excels in pass protection, and strives to hit, rather than be hit. Not that it slows him – he’s racked up quite a bit of yardage after contact. He’s definitely not fast, and definitely not overly agile. He is the very definition of a north-south bruiser-back. He can likely be had in the middle of Day 2, and would make an instant impact if the Ravens continue their N/S rushing offense (Greg Roman is the offensive coordinator now, so you can bet they will.)
Now for the scat-back: Devin Singletary. 5’9”, 200 lbs, and 4,287 rushing yards over his three-year career. If that’s not impressive enough for you, he’s also scored 59 times in just 32 games. While he doesn’t have the greatest bottom-half speed, his patience and skill between the tackles is impressive, and he’ll easily make people miss with his cuts. He would likely take the role of Buck Allen, though he hasn’t been given many pass-catching opportunities in a spread offense (51-397-1).
There are a few other names that the Ravens could, and likely will, look at during the draft process, but from the initial tape-watch, I like where both Benny and Devin fit into the Ravens offense – plus it would allow Baltimore to cut ties with Buck, Ty, and Alex, without hurting at the position.
A sneaky need that the Ravens may want to look at: Cornerback (1)
Jimmy Smith looks to have lost a step, and has a monster contract attached to him. Brandon Carr is up there in age. Jaylen Hill can’t stay healthy. Who knows what Stanley Jean-Baptiste can do? Anthony Averett is a good rotational player, right now, but that’s it. So what happens if the Ravens’ deepest position dries up?
An obvious choice would be to get Jimmy to agree to come back at a lower cost in free agency, similar to what they did with CB/S Lardarius Webb a few years ago. That would enable them to both free up cap space, and keep a defensive veteran who would still be a starter on any team in this league.
Beyond that, though, the Ravens should address the position in the draft, because as it was once said, ‘You can never have too many corners.’ I’m still working through the DB tape, but I’ll update this article with some potential draft day targets for Baltimore.
Be sure to leave your comments below, as to what you think the biggest needs are for the Ravens this off-season. If you agree, disagree, or just like to argue, go ahead and find me on Twitter. Let’s talk about it.