Eisenberg: Offensive Line Is Mostly Unchanged, And That’s OK

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In the weeks leading up to the draft, I was a confirmed proponent of the Ravens using their first-round pick to take an interior offensive lineman.

I can’t deny it. My thoughts were/are in print, and to borrow an old baseball axiom about statistics, you can look it up.

Here was my thinking: The Ravens are all-in on building their offense around quarterback Lamar Jackson. They’re going to run the ball a lot. With that in mind, what could come in handier than another top-notch blocker?

The Ravens were so impressed with my rationale that they drafted a wide receiver in the first round.

Then they took an outside linebacker and another wide receiver in the third round.

They didn’t address the O-line until they selected Oklahoma guard Ben Powers in the fourth round, prompting some self-reflection on my part. If the Ravens weren’t that concerned about the line, was I wrong to repeatedly suggest it could stand a boost?

According to some high-profile analysts, yes, I was wrong.

The analytic gurus at Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders generally liked what they saw from the O-line in 2018. The Ravens ranked No. 10 in PFF’s O-line power rankings. Football Outsiders rated them No. 9 in run blocking and No. 8 in pass protection.

Those are high grades. But my two cents, they’re countered to a degree by what happened in the Ravens’ playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. The line got pushed around, especially up the middle.

Bottom line, there was a bit of a mixed message about how much the O-line needed to be addressed. But regardless, in the end, the Ravens obviously saw wide receiver as a bigger need.

I can’t quibble with that. A lack of consistent playmaking at receiver has troubled the Ravens through various free agent signings, high draft picks, etc. It, too, was an issue in the loss to the Chargers, when the need to surround Jackson with more playmakers became clear.

A look at the depth chart illustrates why the Ravens were more concerned about playmakers than the line. They only had three receivers with an NFL catch before the draft. (Now it’s four with Michael Floyd.) Things are unsettled at receiver. Meanwhile, three of the line’s five slots are set quite nicely. Ronnie Stanley is “one of the best left tackles in the league,” according to PFF. Orlando Brown Jr. has taken command at right tackle. Marshal Yanda was the NFL’s third-highest-rated guard in 2018, according to PFF.

That’s a solid foundation. And Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta doesn’t sound too worried about the other slots.

“We have some young guys we’re really excited about, some draft picks, some undrafted guys, that we think have a chance to really kind of ascend and become good players this year,” DeCosta said about the line recently. “I think we have a good nucleus of younger players.”

Alex Lewis, James Hurst and Powers will compete at left guard. Lewis is coming back from shoulder surgery. Hurst might be most valuable in a utility role, as a “sixth man” able to play any guard or tackle position. The organization would love to see Powers win the starting job, but he’s just a rookie.

At center, Matt Skura is the incumbent. “I don’t think there are too many limitations on where the upside is there. He’s a really good player,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. But the Ravens wouldn’t mind getting physically bigger at that spot, so Bradley Bozeman, a second-year player, will compete with Skura.

It’s not that the Ravens didn’t want to address the line in the draft. DeCosta said there were centers he liked but “they went in the second round,” where the Ravens didn’t have a pick.

It’s hard for a team to address every need in seven rounds. Inevitably, some needs fall through the cracks.

But even without a Day One or Day Two pick, the Ravens believe their line can improve. Besides Yanda, the core players are young enough to continue ascending. The organization has a history of faring well with linemen who weren’t high picks, and it expects that history to continue.

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