Looking at the Ravens' Top Four Offseason Needs
A week ago, Ravens fans undoubtedly believed they'd be looking forward to the AFC championship game this coming weekend. Instead, they're left looking forward to next season.
So let's do that.
Ravens Wire’s Matthew Stevens identified the Ravens' top four offseason needs after their stunning 28-12 loss to the Tennessee Titans in the AFC divisional playoffs.
Improving the pass rush is at the top of the list. The Ravens entered the season having lost their top two pass rushers (Za'Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs) to free agency, and while Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale and a host of blitzers did a terrific job of still getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, Baltimore ranked 21st in the league in sacks with 37.
Like with Smith last season, the Ravens' sacks leader – outside linebacker Matthew Judon – will be a free agent and is likely to get some substantial offers if Baltimore doesn't lock him up first.
"Even if the Ravens re-sign Judon, they really can't go into next season without adding more help opposite him," Stevens wrote. "While Tyus Bowser stepped up at points and there's hope Jaylon Ferguson turns the corner in his second season, the pair combined for two fewer sacks than Judon."
Another key defensive player the Ravens lost in free agency was inside linebacker C.J. Mosley. Obviously, a player of Mosley's caliber isn't easily replaced, but an upgrade at the position should be a priority, Stevens contended.
"The season ended with two players (L.J. Fort and Josh Bynes) who weren't even on the roster in training camp starting at inside linebacker, and only one of them (Fort) is under contract for 2020," Stevens wrote. "The Ravens need a player who can blitz, stop the run and defend the pass exceptionally well. At the very least, Baltimore is going to need more capable depth at the position with both Josh Bynes and [Patrick] Onwuasor set to hit free agency."
On the offensive side of the ball, the Ravens should build on the solid foundation at wide receiver that was laid this past offseason with the drafting of Marquise "Hollywood" Brown and Miles Boykin.
"They don't necessarily need the prototypical No. 1 wide receiver given that their passing attack spreads the ball around so much, but the Ravens need to find more consistent playmakers," Stevens wrote. "A big-bodied possession receiver would be a great accompaniment to Brown's deep speed. A polished route runner with good hands should be the top target for Baltimore."
The Ringer’s Bill SImmons also believes the Ravens need help at wide receiver.
"They need a receiver, a guy who's going to get wide open on third-and-9," Simmons said on his podcast. "That's the piece that [quarterback Lamar Jackson] was missing. It didn't seem like his receivers were open that whole game [against the Titans]."
The other area the Ravens should address is the interior offensive line, Stevens wrote.
"The Ravens had one of the best overall offensive lines in the league this season, which is why the offense did so well," Stevens wrote. "But Baltimore has to keep an eye toward the future, and with guard Marshal Yanda potentially eyeing retirement this offseason, stacking the inside of the offensive line with more depth absolutely has to happen. At the very least, the Ravens have to find Yanda's eventual heir, even if he sticks around for another season."
Five Draft Targets for the Ravens
In keeping with today's theme of looking ahead, let's turn our attention to the NFL Draft.
The Baltimore Sun’s C.J. Doon named five players the Ravens could target with the 28th-overall pick. Here are some excerpts:
Edge rusher Terrell Lewis, Alabama: "At 6 feet 5 and 258 pounds, he is a long, explosive athlete with a reported 40-yard-dash time of 4.65 seconds. The Athletic's Dane Brugler wrote that Lewis 'flashes Danielle Hunter-like upside,' which is exactly what the Ravens need on their defensive front, especially if Matthew Judon leaves in free agency."
WR Justin Jefferson, LSU: "At 6-3 and 192 pounds, Jefferson would complement the speedy 5-9, 170-pound Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown. According to analytics website Pro Football Focus, his 83.6 percent catch rate was by far the best mark among receivers with at least 65 targeted passes. He also broke 22 tackles, tied for the fourth most among wideouts, and would give quarterback Lamar Jackson another talented after-the-catch playmaker."
LB/edge rusher Zack Baun, Wisconsin: "Baun might end up being an off-ball linebacker in the NFL, but he earned one of PFF's highest pass-rushing grades and finished second in the Big Ten in both sacks (12½) and tackles for loss (19½), behind only Ohio State star and Heisman Trophy finalist Chase Young. That versatility should make him attractive to a team that needs help at linebacker and edge rusher."
C Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin: "Biadasz was a first-team All-America selection by PFF in 2019 and was the website's only center with elite grades in both the run game and passing game."
DT Neville Gallimore, Oklahoma: "Michael Pierce, Domata Peko Sr., Justin Ellis and Jihad Ward are all unrestricted free agents in 2020. Gallimore has freaky speed for a 6-2, 302-pound tackle and had the third-best pass-rush win rate in the Big 12 (12 percent) entering the conference championship game, per PFF."
Rex Ryan: Lamar Jackson's Critics Are 'Absolute Idiots'
As noted in yesterday’s Late for Work, Jackson's doubters couldn't wait to say, "I told you so," after the 23-year old presumptive MVP fell to 0-2 in the playoffs. Not only is it petty, it's a lazy, narrow-minded take. Or, as outspoken former Ravens Defensive Coordinator Rex Ryan categorized it, "idiotic."
"I look at it this way: Anybody that criticizes Lamar Jackson is an absolute idiot," Ryan said on ESPN's "Get Up." "This guy right here – you're going to criticize? He had 500 yards [passing and rushing] in this game. It's his fault they lost? I don't think so."
Ryan's colleague, Ryan Clark, didn't mince words either when addressing Jackson's critics.
"Fools want to be right even when they've been proven wrong time and time again." Clark said. "If you look at what Lamar Jackson has done over his career, he already has accomplished things that quarterbacks that have played much longer have not.
"If you look at his draft class – Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold – none of those guys have accomplished what he's accomplished. You know why we aren't talking about their failures in the playoffs? Because they haven't been there except Josh Allen."
ESPN's Scott Van Pelt expressed similar sentiments.
"I guess an entire year's worth of evidence is flushed because of a difficult night," Van Pelt said sarcastically on "The Rich Eisen Show." "If you want to chatter about what he's not going to be, then have fun writing the obit for the 23-year-old quarterback who I'm guessing will probably win playoffs games if not a Super Bowl before it's over.
"Trying to diminish a season's worth of accomplishments because of 60 minutes of football, that's dumb. But if people are on a big, fat race to be dumb, then have fun winning that race."
NFL.com’s Adam Schein called the Jackson haters "insufferable."
"Social media can be a cesspool, so maybe I shouldn't have been surprised by the Lamar disparagement on Twitter during and after the Ravens' stunning loss. But I have to admit that I was," Schein wrote. "Lamar didn't play great. But … if you think this was an indictment of Jackson or some sick harbinger of things to come in future years, your hate and lack of IQ knows no bounds."
On a side note, Schein wrote that Saturday's loss, while a devastating blow, does not take away from the excellent job Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh did in leading the team to the best regular season in franchise history.
"I love Harbaugh, and I remain highly impressed by the Ravens' extreme makeover during the past couple seasons," Schein wrote. "Overall, this is coaching and team management at its finest – a transformation that puts so many other static organizations to shame.
"I'm a big Harbaugh fan. He will absolutely win another Super Bowl."
- The Ringer’s Simmons on the Ravens' loss to the Titans: "That game is one of those games that different civilizations will be studying thousands of years from now. They'll be like, 'Hey, what's up with this box score? This one looked weird. Why did that guy have over 300 yards rushing and over 100 yards passing and they only scored 12 points?'"