Five Offseason Moves the Ravens Should Make
Like every team in the NFL, the Ravens have some difficult decisions facing them this offseason. ESPN's Bill Barnwell highlighted five moves the team should make.
In yesterday's Late for Work, we looked at what the future could hold for cornerback Brandon Carr. Barnwell believes the Ravens should decline the veteran's option for financial reasons.
"The acquisition of Marcus Peters and the expected return of Tavon Young from a neck injury means the Ravens will move forward with Peters, Young and Marlon Humphrey as their top three corners," Barnwell wrote. "Jimmy Smith is a free agent and might be priced out of Baltimore's range, but Carr's $6 million compensation in 2020 is more than he would get on the open market.
"Carr played some safety for Baltimore last season, but it locked up Chuck Clark on a three-year, $16 million extension last week to continue playing alongside Earl Thomas III. Carr's still a useful player at 33, but he will probably need to take a pay cut to come back to Baltimore in 2020."
Conversely, Barnwell thinks retaining pending free agent outside linebacker Matthew Judon should be a priority.
"I have no doubt the Ravens will find a great pass-rusher given their history of drafting and developing talent, but with enough cap room to maneuver, they should use a chunk of it on Judon," Barnwell wrote.
"At the very least, Baltimore should franchise tag its edge rusher. One year of Judon at the projected franchise tag number of $16.3 million wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, and it would give the team the ability to try to pursue a franchise-and-trade opportunity for a draft pick. If the Chiefs were able to get a second-round pick for Dee Ford last year, the Ravens could get a similar return for Judon."
Our own John Eisenberg also believes the Ravens should retain Judon.
Here are some excerpts from Barnwell's other suggestions for the Ravens:
Find an inside linebacker.
"I wouldn't expect the Ravens to spend big here given how many options typically come available at inside linebacker during the offseason. While they are likely to net significant compensatory picks for losing Judon and/or Michael Pierce in free agency, I'd expect General Manager Eric DeCosta to pursue cap casualties who won't upset the compensatory formula, such as Avery Williamson and Mark Barron. This is also a position the Ravens will likely address in the draft."
Sign left tackle Ronnie Stanley to a long-term deal.
"The Ravens are as aggressive as any team in football when it comes to letting star players go if their price isn't right, but I can't imagine them letting Stanley leave. With the Notre Dame product entering the final year of his deal, they will likely end up making Stanley the league's highest-paid left tackle on something close to a five-year, $85 million pact."
Pick up Humphrey's fifth-year option.
"Humphrey isn't going anywhere over the next couple of years, but with the Ravens now paying Peters, Young, Thomas and Clark, I wonder whether they'll wait a year before extending the contract of their 2017 first-round pick."
Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin Among Breakout Candidates
One of the reasons there's so much optimism for the Ravens heading into next season and beyond is that they have a number of young players from a 14-2 squad that appear to be just scratching the surface of how good they can be.
Baltimore Beatdown's Frank J. Platko looked at which Ravens players are primed for a breakout season in 2020. To the surprise of no one, the player Lamar Jackson said is going to be dangerous next season -- wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown -- is at the top of the list.
Despite missing two games and never being completely healthy during his rookie season, the Ravens' 2019 first-round pick finished second on the team with 584 receiving yards and tied a franchise rookie record with seven touchdown catches. Brown had one of his best games in the AFC playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans, catching seven passes for 126 yards.
"With a full offseason to work, train and perfect his craft rather than rehab and recover, a major leap could be in store for 'Hollywood' next year," Platko wrote. "He has a great connection with Lamar Jackson and all the tools to establish himself as a bona fide No. 1 receiver."
Another wide receiver who could make a big leap in his second year is Miles Boykin, Platko wrote. The third-round pick had an impressive offseason last year, but it didn't carry over into the regular season, as he finished with 13 catches for 198 yards and three touchdowns on 22 targets.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Boykin was an effective blocker who appears to have the skills to significantly improve his receiving stats.
"Boykin possesses a unique combination of size, speed and catch radius," Platko wrote. "If he can become more consistent and establish himself as a more of a stalwart in the team's passing attack, Boykin could blow his rookie year numbers out of the water in 2020."
On defense, Platko identified outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson and safety DeShon Elliott as breakout candidates.
Ferguson, a third-round pick and the NCAA all-time leader in sacks, started nine games as a rookie and had 31 tackles, 2.5 sacks and nine quarterback hits this past season.
"It was quietly a solid all-around first-year campaign, especially considering Ferguson was thrown into the fire early," Platko wrote.
Elliott, a 2018 sixth-round pick, sat out his entire rookie season after suffering a broken forearm, and a knee injury limited him to six games this past season. One of the Ravens' biggest defensive playmakers in summer practices, "The Joker" could be a serious contributor if he can stay healthy.
"Thomas and Clark are entrenched as the starters next year, but with [Tony] Jefferson no longer in the fold after being released, there's an avenue for Elliott to see some legit playing time," Platko wrote.
One player not mentioned by Platko is running back Justice Hill, who Ebony Bird's Chris Schisler chose as having the most potential among Baltimore's young, unproven players. The 2019 fourth-round pick is behind Mark Ingram II and Gus Edwards on the depth chart, but he could be more of a factor in the offense next season.
"Because he was relatively unused, Hill could become a secret weapon for the purple and black," Schisler wrote. "Hill has potential to make a big impact out of the backfield as a receiver and his speed and low center of gravity scream big-play ability. Don't be surprised if Hill is a breakout star in 2020.
"The Ravens are going to have to keep adding wrinkles to their offensive attack. They have to throw things at their opponents that they have not seen before. That's why Hill should see more action in his second season (presuming the Ravens don't add to the running back group)."
Colorado WR Laviska Shenault Could Be 'Another Toy' for Ravens Offense
NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah joined Glenn Clark Radio to discuss the Ravens' needs in the draft. Like a number of other mock drafts, Jeremiah's first mock draft has Baltimore selecting Oklahoma inside linebacker Kenneth Murray in the first round with the 28th-overall pick.
"When you look at overall athleticism and ability there at the second level and [the ability to] be a playmaker off the ball as a linebacker — I think that could have a dramatic impact on that defense, and that goes back 20 years where the Ravens went from one Hall of Famer [Ray Lewis] to another All-Pro [C.J. Mosley] at the inside linebacker position, and it just seems like they're a little light there right now," Jeremiah said.
A player with Murray's skill set could be especially important considering the Ravens play in the same conference as Patrick Mahomes and the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, Jeremiah said.
"Having linebackers like that that can really, really run and you can use him as a matchup guy in coverage against the [tight end Travis] Kelces of the world, that's still a pretty darn valuable commodity," Jeremiah said.
Regarding wide receivers, Jeremiah believes Clemson's Tee Higgins – who has been linked to the Ravens in some mock drafts -- would be a solid pick. Jeremiah also likes Colorado's Laviska Shenault, who he compared to the San Francisco 49ers' Deebo Samuel because of his versatility.
"He is not super polished, but if you want to give the most creative offense and [give Offensive Coordinator] Greg Roman another toy … He is a 220-pound athletic freak who is still developing and growing as a pure wide receiver," Jeremiah said. "If you're asking me who, selfishly, I would like to see plugged into that offense? That would be my choice."
If the Ravens choose to draft an edge rusher in the first round, Jeremiah said Auburn's Marlon Davidson would be a good fit.
"Some people will list [Davidson] as a D-tackle because he's around 300 pounds, but I've seen him play outside on the edge," Jeremiah said. "I watched him against LSU the other day and they have a tackle who's going to be a top-50 pick and he just grabs him and throws him on the ground. He was dominant at the Senior Bowl. He's that big power rusher that we've seen the Ravens play with who also has the versatility to kick inside if you want him to. So he's one that makes sense."
Mock Drafts Link LSU Guard Damien Lewis With Ravens
The offensive line isn't a "sexy" position, so it's understandable that much of the draft discussion regarding the Ravens is focused on edge rushers, linebackers and wide receivers. That said, the importance of the O-line cannot be overlooked, so let's give it some love.
In two recent mock drafts, LSU guard Damien Lewis went to the Ravens. The Baltimore Sun's C.J. Doon had Baltimore selecting Lewis in the second round, while Draft Wire's Luke Easterling mocked Lewis to the Ravens in the fourth round.
How significant the Ravens' need at guard will be hinges on whether All-Pro Marshal Yanda returns for his 14th season or decides to retire.
"If selected and Yanda does retire, I'd expect Lewis to be in the competition for the starting right guard job as a rookie," Ravens Wire's Matthew Stevens wrote. "If given a year to develop behind Yanda, he could be a good plug-and-play option as a replacement for Yanda's fierce run-blocking."
NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein also praised Lewis' ability as a run-blocker.
"The run-blocking tape shows a forklift dressed as a right guard with the power and leverage to move some of the best interior defenders in the conference," Zierlein wrote. "He can hold his own against bull rushers but will struggle to move and recover against moving pieces in pass protection."
Pro Football Focus' Michael Renner wrote: "Lewis was born to play guard in the NFL. At 6-foot-3, 332 pounds, Lewis looks as if he couldn't get under 300 pounds even if he trained for a marathon. He also looks like he wouldn't cede an inch on a bull-rush against a Mac truck. And he routinely didn't until Auburn's Derrick Brown came along.
"While Brown got him a couple of times in that game, the matchup was must-see TV for any trench-play enthusiast. Both got their nice wins in, and Lewis held up about as well as any guard did against Brown all season."
- Edge rusher Shaquil Barrett is the ideal free-agent target for the Ravens, Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski wrote.