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Late for Work 1/20: Do the Ravens Need to 'Go Big' in the Draft?

Ravens Defense against the Green Bay Packers

Do Ravens Need to 'Go Big' Early in the Draft?

There are needs across the Ravens roster, but The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec believes it makes sense for the team to fortify the offensive and defensive lines early in the upcoming draft.

"The most successful Ravens teams all had the ability to control the line of scrimmage," Zrebiec wrote. "Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta will surely have that in mind this offseason as he works to improve a team that finished 8-9 this season and had its roster gutted by injuries. The Ravens have myriad needs, but it's hard to stray too far from their offensive and defensive fronts."

Zrebiec noted that The Athletic's Dane Brugler has the Ravens "going big" in his two-round mock draft.

Brugler mocked Georgia defensive tackle Travon Walker (6-foot-5, 275 pounds) to the Ravens with the 14th-overall pick, and Ohio State offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere (6-foot-5, 315 pounds) in the second round at No. 45 overall.

Zrebiec broke down the pros and cons of those selections.

"The Ravens crave versatile defensive linemen and Walker can pretty much line up anywhere with his size and skill set," Zrebiec wrote. "Some scouts even believe that he has the athleticism to play on the edge in the NFL although he probably profiles best in a 3-4 defense at the defensive end spot. That would make him the likely successor to [Calais] Campbell if he moves on.

"As for Petit-Frere in the second round, the Ravens' need for offensive tackle depth is well documented. … He's big with an ability and desire to finish in the run game. He's also extremely athletic for a lineman of his size and proved a nice fit blocking in Ohio State's zone-heavy run scheme. There are concerns about how he'll perform as a pass blocker at the next level, but he has plenty to work with in terms of both strength and quickness."

As for the arguments against selecting Walker and Petit-Frere, Zrebiec wrote: "The Ravens will have to be really confident that Walker will develop as a pass rusher at the next level. There is a lot to like about Walker and Brugler isn't alone in his opinion that the former Bulldog might very well become one of the best defensive players in this draft class. But to justify being picked in the first half of the first round, Walker will have to be more than a dominant run defender at the next level.

"Any questions on Petit-Frere would center on the fit. The Ravens allowed the most sacks in franchise history in 2021. Only the Chicago Bears surrendered more sacks than the Ravens this past season. And many of the questions on Petit-Frere are about his technique and ability as a pass blocker. The top tackles, however, fly off the board, so there will be red flags on just about every offensive tackle taken after Day 1."

For an early look at what pundits expect from the Ravens with the 14th-overall pick, click here.

Should Ravens Focus on Beating Bengals When Constructing Their Roster?

If someone told you before the season started that one AFC North team would be playing this weekend in the divisional round, you probably would've thought it'd be the Ravens or Cleveland Browns. Maybe the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Very few would've believed it'd be the Cincinnati Bengals, a consensus pick for last place in the division after going 6-25-1 the past two seasons.

As Ravens fans know all too well, however, the Bengals hit the fast-forward button on their rebuild this season and are two wins away from a trip to the Super Bowl.

The scary part for the rest of the AFC North is that the Bengals are likely just getting started. They have a strong nucleus of talented, young players on offense led by quarterback Joe Burrow, running back Joe Mixon and wide receivers Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd; an improved defense; and the fourth-most cap space in 2022.

Baltimore Beatdown’s Joshua Reed believes the Ravens need to focus on matching up with the Bengals when they construct their roster going forward.

"As it currently stands, the Bengals are poised to be the Ravens' new rivals when it comes to being favored and likely to be crowned 'Kings of the North' for the foreseeable future, so they should construct their roster with that in mind this offseason and beyond," Reed wrote.

Specifically, Reed said the Ravens have to build a defense that is better equipped to compete against Burrow, which means adding quality depth in the secondary and more playmakers.

"Even though the Ravens were far from full strength in either 2021 matchup with the Bengals, they didn't play them nearly as close from start to finish as they did other quality opponents such as the Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams, and Las Vegas Raiders in narrow defeats," Reed wrote. "All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey and starting safety DeShon Elliott were still in the lineup for their first meeting in Week 7 when rookie phenom Ja'Marr Chase torched their secondary for 201 receiving yards and a touchdown on eight catches.

"Burrow has proven that he can go toe-to-toe in a shootout with the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Justin Herbert, and Patrick Mahomes. He has also proven to be adept at eluding pressure, reading pre-snap pressure and making the right checks, exploiting mismatches in coverage, and fearlessly throwing the ball up to give his playmakers a chance to be special. To combat his emergence into borderline if not already elite status, the Ravens will have to plan and build accordingly."

Alejandro Villanueva's Contract Is Named Worst on Ravens' Roster

Bleacher Report’s Alex Ballentine picked every team's worst contract heading into the offseason.

For the Ravens, it's offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva's.

"It's difficult to pick out a bad contract for the Baltimore Ravens. General Manager Eric DeCosta generally manages to put a competitive team on the field without overspending on any one player," Ballentine wrote. "Alejandro Villanueva is the rare example of Baltimore taking a gamble on a veteran that hasn't panned out."

The Ravens signed Villanueva this offseason to a two-year deal reportedly worth $14 million ($8 million fully guaranteed) after granting Pro Bowl offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr.'s trade request by sending him to the Kansas City Chiefs. As part of the deal, the Ravens got the Chiefs' first-round pick, which they used to select Odafe Oweh.

Villanueva had an up-and-down season. The former Steeler struggled in pass protection, allowing nine sacks, which was tied for second-most in the league.

"Fortunately for the Ravens, the deal only has one more year left," Ballentine wrote. "However, they're still set to shell out $9.3 million to a 33-year-old who should have competition for the starting right tackle spot next season."

There's speculation that Villanueva won't return next season. Zrebiec wrote that it seems likely Villanueva will move on (via retirement or release), creating $6 million of space.

Ravens Finish Season at No. 1 in Special Teams Rankings

Baltimore's offense and defense struggled at times this season, but the special teams unit performed at its usual high level. The Ravens, under Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton, are No. 1 in Sports Illustrated’s Rick Gosselin’s special teams rankings for the 2021 season.

The Ravens have finished in the top five in Gosselin's rankings in eight of the past nine seasons. They also were No. 1 in 2015.

Gosselin ranked every team in 22 kicking-game categories and assigned points according to their standing — one for best, 32 for worst. The Ravens compiled 241.5 points to finish 30.5 points better than the runner-up Indianapolis Colts at 272. Baltimore was first in five of the 22 categories.

The Ravens special teams unit also finished No. 1 in the Football Outsiders DVOA metric.

For the Ravens, it all starts of course with Justin Tucker, the most accurate kicker in NFL history. This season, Tucker was named first-team All-Pro for the fifth time. Another Ravens' special teams player, return specialist Devin Duvernay, also was named first-team All-Pro.

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