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Late for Work 1/9: Biggest Needs for the Ravens This Offseason


Biggest Needs for Baltimore This Offseason

In the NFL, the page turns reaaal fast. The Ravens' 2018 season ended three days ago, and pundits are laying out the plan for 2019.

The conversation starts with assessing the biggest needs, and that's exactly what ESPN and The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec did yesterday.

Last offseason focused a lot on the offense with a wide receiver rebuild in free agency, then an offense-heavy draft. And ESPN believes that should continue with Lamar Jackson under center.

"The Ravens produced 57 plays of 20 yards or more, which ranked 24th in the NFL," ESPN wrote.

"Baltimore has to add more explosive talent around Lamar Jackson, whether it's a young wide receiver or a dynamic running back. The Ravens can't count on marching down the field on 10- and 11-play drives. Baltimore needs someone to generate chunk plays and take pressure off its new franchise quarterback."

Jackson quickly became the Ravens' most dynamic offensive weapon, and it was evident from the Los Angeles Chargers' comments after Sunday's game that their defensive focus was put squarely on stopping the electric rookie quarterback.

If opponents have to scheme to stop other offensive playmakers, it will become more difficult to keep the Ravens under wraps as the Chargers did in the wild-card loss.

Zrebiec also had wide receiver and running back help on his list of top-five needs, but they weren't listed first, or even second. Here's his top two needs:

Interior offensive line

"If you don't recognize the importance of the Ravens solidifying their offensive line, you didn't watch Sunday's loss to the Chargers or notice that many of the teams with the top offensive lines this year, including the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints, are still playing," Zrebiec wrote.

"That's not a coincidence. The Ravens probably need to find two capable starters inside."

The Ravens' left guard job was shared throughout the season with Alex Lewis opening as the starter, then James Hurst stepping in late in the season after recovering from a back injury. Hurst had trouble in the playoff loss (three sacks allowed, per Pro Football Focus) and was replaced by rookie Bradley Bozeman.

"James Hurst and Alex Lewis haven't proven to be the answer at left guard, and Matt Skura has some developing to do at center," Zrebiec wrote. "Right guard Marshal Yanda is still one of the best in the game, but he's 34 and it's uncertain how long he'll play."

Edge rushers

With Terrell Suggs and sacks leader Za'Darius Smith scheduled for unrestricted free agency, Baltimore needs more help at edge rusher.

"Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams don't appear to be long-term answers," Zrebiec wrote. "Defensive Coordinator Don 'Wink' Martindale's defense depends on pressuring the quarterback, and Matthew Judon can't do it alone. Smith will probably make more money than the Ravens are prepared to offer. Suggs could be back on a one-year arrangement, but the Ravens need to prepare for the future."

Bowser, a second-round pick in 2017, had five tackles and a half sack in 16 games. Williams, a third-round pick that same year, had eight tackles and two sacks in seven games and was a healthy scratch for the past four games.

"The lack of development from Bowser and Williams, second and third-round picks in 2017, was easily one of the season's biggest disappointments," Zrebiec wrote.

Obviously, it's too early to say Bowser and Williams can't improve and play bigger roles next year (Smith did not have a big sophomore season either with just one sack), but at this point, they're unproven talent.

Zrebiec's other top needs were, as mentioned above, wide receiver, safety/middle linebacker and running back. His honorable mentions were backup quarterback, blocking tight end and cornerback.

Constructing of Wide Receiver Unit May Be Different This Year

A huge part of last year's offseason was the complete overhaul of the wide receivers room, and that group will be in for some more change this year.

John Brown was on a one-year deal, so he's an unrestricted free agent who said he wants to return.

Michael Crabtree finished the regular season with 54 catches for 607 yards and three touchdowns – a drop-off from his 2017 production in Oakland. He's also slated to have a salary cap hit of $9.3 million next year, per Spotrac.

"Two fourth-quarter touchdowns don't make up for a disappointing season from Michael Crabtree," wrote WNST’s Luke Jones.

Willie Snead IV led the team in receptions (62) and showed the best chemistry with Jackson of the wide receivers. His salary-cap hit jumps from $2 million to $5 million next season. Pundits believe Snead has the best chance of the three of staying.

"The Ravens figure to return Willie Snead IV and Chris Moore, and maybe they find a capable contributor from the group that includes Jordan Lasley, Jaleel Scott and Quincy Adeboyejo," Zrebiec wrote. "However, they need to add some speed and game-breaking ability on the outside. They also could use a big and physical possession receiver on third down and in the red zone."

And here's the point that's really interesting in this whole matter. The Ravens have long attacked their wide receiver need by plugging in veterans (Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith Sr., Jeremy Maclin, Crabtree). That may need to change this offseason, however.

"It could be a tough sell to get free-agent receivers to sign with a run-first offense, so they might have to fill this need in the draft," Zrebiec wrote.

Considering that Jackson had more rushing attempts than any quarterback in single-season history, Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz also believes the way in which the Ravens construct their wide receiver unit this offseason is "one of the most intriguing and pivotal questions new general manager Eric DeCosta faces this offseason."

"The Ravens must also think about how much to invest in outside wideouts and what style of players they want to pair with Jackson for the long-term. It's easy to say that blocking and unselfishness are priorities. Less simple is the task of finding receivers who marry those traits with big-play ability and come at an affordable price," Kasinitz wrote.

"Another factor is whether top-notch route runners and speedsters will want to play with Jackson. The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner is an energetic and electric player, but there's no debating that Baltimore's rate of deep passes plummeted with Jackson behind center. Receivers hoping for bloated stat lines and hefty pay days might hesitate to join the Ravens — at least until Jackson's passing numbers improve."

Ray Lewis Wanted to Go to Joe Flacco

The debate about whether the Ravens should have turned to Joe Flacco continues to rage on days after Baltimore's playoff exit.

Yesterday, it came from an interesting source, as former Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams told "The Tony Kornheiser Show" that Ray Lewis, who was in Owner Steve Bisciotti's box on Sunday, thought Flacco should enter the game (got all that?).

"Well, Ray Lewis was standing right next to Steve Bisciotti, and he had his arm around Steve's neck, and he says, 'We got to go to Flacco.'" Williams chuckled.

Here's the full story, via The Sun’s Jonas Shaffer.

Quick Hits

  • There was a flurry of head coaching hires yesterday, as Matt LaFluer went to the Packers, Kliff Kingsburgy to the Cardinals and Bruce Arians to the Buccaneers. Catch up on it all, and where the Browns and Bengals currently stand, here. [Sports Illustrated]
  • The Ravens finished just outside the top-10 in the divisional round power rankings. Presumably, that wouldn't change moving forward. []
  • Former Ravens Head Coach Brian Billick believes the Browns will be Super Bowl contenders in the next two years. [92.3 The Fan]

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