How Free Agent Moves Could Affect Ravens' Draft Plans

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Regardless of how you feel about the Ravens' offseason moves so far, it's too early to make a final judgment. You shouldn't decide if you like a book or not after reading just one chapter. The Ravens' offseason plan is still playing out.

While the Ravens' reported interest in free agent wide receiver Sammy Watkins has created a buzz, the draft has always been the nucleus of the Ravens' offseason roster building. Their past four drafts have yielded an impressive list of players that includes Lamar Jackson, Marlon Humphrey, Mark Andrews, Orlando Brown Jr., Patrick Queen, Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, J.K. Dobbins, Tyus Bowser, Chuck Clark, Bradley Bozeman, DeShon Elliott, Justin Madubuike and Anthony Averett.

How will the Ravens' free agent moves so far impact their 2021 draft plans? Here are some takeaways.

Signing Kevin Zeitler likely decreased the odds of an offensive lineman coming to Baltimore in Round 1.

Acquiring Zeitler early in free agency solidified the right guard spot. The position was unsettled last season in the first year after Marshal Yanda's retirement, with Tyre Phillips, Patrick Mekari, D.J. Fluker and Ben Powers all starting at various points. Zeitler has started 134 games at right guard during his nine-year career, so that need has been addressed.

There are still questions to answer along the offensive line. We still don't know if Brown, a Pro Bowl tackle, will be traded before the season due to his desire to play left tackle. We still don't know if Bozeman will move from left guard to center.

Former Ravens center Matt Skura signed with the Miami Dolphins, and some highly-touted offensive centers could still be available when the Ravens pick at No. 27, including Landon Dickerson of Alabama or Creed Humphrey of Oklahoma.

However, adding Zeitler gives the Ravens more leeway to bypass an offensive lineman early. They could still find a potential starting guard or center on Day 2, while addressing another position like wide receiver or pass rusher in Round 1. Drafting an offensive lineman Day 1 would become even less of a priority if Brown remains with the Ravens for another season. An offensive line that includes Pro Bowl tackles Brown and Ronnie Stanley, plus Zeitler and Bozeman could be one of the best in the NFL. Zeitler has been an excellent pass protector during his career, and if the offensive line provides Jackson with more time to throw, the Ravens believe it will result in more big plays in the passing game.

Drafting more than one edge rusher is a possibility.

It was no surprise that Baltimore lost three players in free agency who played big roles in their pass rush - Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngakoue and Jihad Ward. They combined for 12 sacks last season, making it obvious the pass rush will be addressed in some way before Week 1.

Some well-known free agent pass rushers like Jadeveon Clowney, Carlos Dunlap, Justin Houston, Melvin Ingram, Ryan Kerrigan, Aldon Smith and Olivier Vernon are still available. With that many on the market, the Ravens can afford to be patient and see what the draft brings them.

This year's draft class is deep in pass rushers. With seven picks overall, the Ravens may take more than one pass rusher. Edge rushers who have been linked to the Ravens in mock drafts include Zaven Collins of Tulsa, Jayson Oweh of Penn State and Joseph Ossai of Texas.

Overall, the Ravens defense remains solid. They have a strong defensive line led by Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, and Derek Wolfe. Their secondary may be the deepest in the NFL. They still have depth at inside linebacker led by Queen, Malik Harrison and Board, despite the reported decision not to pick up L.J. Fort's contract option.

That gives them the luxury to draft young, situational pass rushers, even raw pass rushers that may need to work on other parts of their game.

Even if the Ravens sign a veteran like Sammy Watkins, another rookie wide receiver could be on the way.

In his first two years as general manager, Eric DeCosta has drafted four wide receivers – Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay and James Proche. Some fans had angst about the Ravens not signing a wide receiver during the first week of free agency. However, Baltimore reportedly made an offer to JuJu Smith-Schuster before he re-signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers, while free agent wide receiver Sammy Watkins reportedly spent Tuesday visiting the Ravens.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper believes wide receiver is the deepest position in this year's draft, and both Kiper and his ESPN colleague Todd McShay are bullish on the Ravens taking LSU prospect Terrace Marshall Jr. at No. 27.

The Ravens traded for a pass-catching tight end last week, acquiring Josh Oliver from the Jacksonville Jaguars. But Oliver has played just four games in two seasons, plagued by injuries, and there is no guarantee he will make the team.

Baltimore is committed to improving its passing game, and signing Watkins or trading for a veteran wide receiver remains a possibility. However, drafting at least one wide receiver could be part of the offseason game plan again.

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