John Eisenberg: Ravens Still Need To Juice Up Passing Game


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While the national talking heads can get overly general at times, I thought that was a pretty accurate big-picture assessment of the Ravens.

Whether they were the NFL's best team in 2011 can be endlessly debated, and it's really a moot point, but they were close – as close to the top as they have been since they won the Super Bowl.


And yes, while they came into the draft with a checklist of needs in the wake of some personnel losses, it certainly would be nice if they also found a way to inject some new juice into their offense.

In other words, they could stand to add another downfield target for quarterback Joe Flacco, a target who might be as transformative for the offense as Torrey Smith was a year ago.

When your team ranks in the top 10 in the league in rushing offense, rushing defense and passing defense but is just 19th in passing offense, the numbers are telling you where you need to get better, right?

The Ravens ended up selecting a defensive player with their top pick, and you can't have an issue with their decision. The fact that Courtney Upshaw was still available pretty much forced their hand. A rugged player from an elite program, Upshaw seemingly was born to wear purple and instantly becomes a piece of their longterm defensive puzzle. You can't pass that up.

But when the Ravens were back on the clock later in the second round, an interesting and far less clear decision landed in their laps.

The top player on their draft board, they said, was Kelechi Osemele, a mountainous lineman who could possibly fill their biggest offensive need at left guard. But a highly-regarded wide receiver, LSU's Rueben Randle, surprisingly was also still available.

Big and physical, Randle was one of 26 players the league invited to the draft, figuring he would go high. He was the last guy left in the green room.

The Ravens went with their first instinct. "We stayed true to the board" and picked Osemele, General Manager Ozzie Newsome said.

Three picks later, Randle went to the New York Giants, the defending Super Bowl champs, also known for drafting shrewdly. Their college scouting director labeled him a first-round talent and "an NFL-ready receiver."

Later that evening, Newsome was asked if there were other players he considered taking at Osemele's slot.

"Yes, yes there was," Newsome replied. "There were a couple of players that were there, and maybe they'll be there when we get to that next pick."

So was this (Osemele) pick made because of need?

"Well, we needed the other player, too," Newsome said, "and we had this player (Osemele) rated higher than that player."

We might never know if that "other" player was Randle, but in any case, the Ravens went on to address other needs, taking a No. 2 running back (Bernard Pierce), another offensive lineman (Gino Gradkowski), a reserve safety (Christian Thompson) and a potential kick returner (Asa Jackson) – interesting selections all.

They finally took a receiver, Miami's Tommy Streeter, in the sixth round, and he looks like a steal on paper, but given how little they have played receivers taken on the third day of the past two drafts (David Reed and Tandon Doss), it's hard to project big things for him.

With that in mind, they're left with essentially the same complement of wideouts they had last season – actually minus one with Lee Evans gone. They didn't add a receiver in free agency, didn't use a high draft pick on one, and while the season doesn't begin for months, leaving them plenty of time to jimmy with the roster, it's hard to see where that new juice for the passing game will come from.

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