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Eric DeCosta, Pundits Weigh In On Best Way To Help Joe Flacco


Everyone is in agreement that the Ravens need Joe Flacco playing at a higher level in 2017.

The question is what the best way is to do it.

Flacco himself should be better with one more year removed from his 2015 season-ending ACL injury, which will enable him to work with his receivers in the offseason and be in better physical, and likely mental, condition entering next season.

But the Ravens also want to put better pieces around their franchise quarterback.

Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta believes it begins with those blocking for Flacco.

"I think it starts, if we're going to improve offensively, up front," DeCosta said last week at the Senior Bowl. "We've got to get more physical as an offensive line. I think our running game had flashes last year of being very good. I think we can certainly improve."

The Ravens' 2016 offensive line was ranked No. 9 in the NFL by Pro Football Focus, an improvement from the unit's No. 13 ranking a year ago.

However, the unit struggled with injuries at the start of the year and the Ravens finished 21st in the league in rushing yards per attempt (4.0).

The Ravens have two building blocks on the left side with first-round tackle Ronnie Stanley and fourth-round guard Alex Lewis. Center Jeremy Zuttah went to the Pro Bowl as an alternate and right guard Marshal Yanda is still the best in the business. Right tackle Rick Wagner is a pending unrestricted free agent.

There's not a lot of room for change among the starters, but could be some, as well as with depth, which almost always comes into play considering injuries.

"I think we can improve on the offensive line," DeCosta said. "If we can do that, if the running game improves, if we see improvement from Kenneth Dixon and Terrance West, that's going to help Joe Flacco and help our offense quite a bit."

Another school of thought is to upgrade the skill players around Flacco, at running back, receiver and tight end. While DeCosta said the Ravens were looking at some Senior Bowl wide receivers, he pointed to the talent already on the roster.

"If our younger players, our rookies, can continue to improve, I think we bring in some offensive players via the draft or possibly via free agency, we have a chance to be much better, and that will help Joe," DeCosta said.

While wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. retired, and the Ravens are looking for a complementary wide receiver to the speed they already have, pundits like Baltimore's potential for big plays from Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman, who should hopefully finally have a healthy offseason.

"This is probably one of the deepest groups of offensive talent that the Ravens have had since Flacco has been the quarterback," ESPN's Adam Caplan said. "With Flacco there, and Joe's got, if not the strongest arm in the league, one of the strongest, now with Perriman healthy … this is a great group."

However, ESPN draft expert Todd McShay said the Ravens could still bolster that downfield receiving game.

"I think [Flacco's] at his best when he's got guys that can get down the field, whether it's seam stretchers at tight end or vertical receivers, guys on the outside that give you that threat so safeties have to play back and respect the outside perimeter of the field," McShay said.

"That opens up everything else. Just finding capable weapons that can work 20 or 25 yards down the field effectively, and go up and catch the ball in traffic, that's probably the most important thing."

When it comes to running back, the Ravens saw flashes of potential from West, who had a comeback year to lead the team in rushing (774 yards, five touchdowns), and Dixon, who was particularly impressive down the stretch of his rookie campaign.

If the Ravens want to bolster that position, they'd likely need to do so with a high draft pick on top talent such as Florida State's Dalvin Cook or LSU's Leonard Fournette.

"I know they like some of the runners they already have; I know they like Kenneth Dixon and some of the things he's shown," NFL Network's Bucky Brooks said. "But if they're thinking about upgrading the position, there are plenty of running backs in the draft that can do that. It's really about their identity and what they want to do."

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