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Late for Work 3/22: Pundits Say Veteran Receiver Remains a Necessity for Ravens

Chiefs WR Sammy Watkins
Chiefs WR Sammy Watkins

Do the Ravens Still Need a Veteran Receiver?

After what was a relatively quiet start to the first week of free agency for the Ravens, things picked up over the weekend in the wide receiver market.

The Ravens reportedly made a play for wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster before he chose to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers on a one-year deal.

ESPN's Adam Schefter then reported that the Ravens reached out to the agent of Kenny Golladay before he agreed to a four-year deal with the New York Giants.

It prompted plenty of reaction as to how General Manager Eric DeCosta and company should address the position this offseason.

The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec believes adding an experienced pass catcher is still a necessity for the Ravens.

"After swinging and missing at JuJu Smith-Schuster, the Ravens remain in the mix for a veteran receiver," Zrebiec wrote. "... The Ravens' options in the slot are all second-year guys, and they still lack a big and physical receiver on the outside. [Marquise 'Hollywood'] Brown is a legit starter and [Miles] Boykin will have a role because of his blocking alone. The team feels like [Devin] Duvernay and [James] Proche will develop into reliable options. Still, there's room to make at least one significant addition here and a case could easily be made for two."

The question becomes, who fills that need?

Ravens Wire’s Matthew Stevens identified the top remaining receivers after the first wave of free agency and the list has thinned out considerably.

Among the available names are Sammy Watkins, T.Y. Hilton, Antonio Brown, Josh Reynolds, and Larry Fitzgerald.

"In typical Baltimore fashion, the team could look to the second wave of free-agent wide receivers," Stevens wrote. "Though they might not have the star power fans have been begging for, second-tier wide receivers offer the potential for more value. The second wave of free agents are often far cheaper but they can still fill a role well, potentially giving a budget-conscious team some serious return on investment."

Russell Street Report’s Tony Lombardi said the complementary piece to the receiving core is a player who has size and can win contested catches.

He believes the Ravens already could have Smith-Schuster's production on the roster.

"Count me among those who believe that Duvernay can provide that kind of production, if given the chance in the Ravens offense," Lombardi wrote. "Count me also among those who believe that James Proche, a smooth route runner with excellent hands, can also provide some production. If given the targets that Smith-Schuster would conceivably get in the Ravens offense, I think you'd see comparable production and of course the price is significantly less."

Pro Football Focus Says Kevin Zeitler Signing Among Most Underrated Moves

While the Ravens haven't made any earth-shattering signings, they continue to receive praise for the moves they have made.

Pro Football Focus looked at the most underrated and overrated signings at each position so far. Among the underrated deals was the addition of Kevin Zeitler.

"Zeitler's release from the Giants can be chalked up to the team's cap situation, but it's still puzzling as to why they couldn't make it work," PFF wrote. "Their offensive line was the lowest-graded pass-blocking unit in the NFL last season, and Zeitler was by far their highest-graded pass-protector."

"The 31-year-old might no longer be the same player he was back in Cincinnati and Cleveland, but he's still producing at a top-tier level. He has generated the 15th-most WAR among guards over the past two seasons and ranks eighth among right guards in PFF grade over that same span."

Zeitler will reportedly make $7.5 million per year with the Ravens. That makes him the eighth highest-paid right guard in the NFL, according to OverTheCap, but it's still good value considering that six of the players in front of him are making $10 million or more.

One of the reasons why PFF believes Zeitler is an underrated addition is his run blocking. That bodes well for a team that has run the ball more than any other team over the past three seasons.

"Zeitler's run blocking will be a massive asset to Baltimore's offense, too, as he ranks 13th among all guards in negatively graded run-blocking rate since 2019," PFF added. "Ben Powers and Tyre Phillips each saw 100 run-blocking snaps at right guard for Baltimore in 2020 yet ranked 32nd and 44th, respectively, in run-blocking grade (among 46 qualifiers)."

Should the Ravens Re-Sign L.J. Fort?

Count Baltimore Beatdown’s Jakob Ashlin as one of the pundits who was surprised the Ravens didn't pick up the 2021 contract option for L.J. Fort.

"[Patrick] Queen and Malik Harrison both have plenty of upside, but the Ravens should not let another good veteran linebacker leave when the cost is so low," Ashlin wrote. "The front office was fortunate to find Fort, and he has been integral to their success. Queen definitely could take a leap forward in his development next season, and I would like to see Harrison get more snaps. Still, why not keep Fort for a little over $2 million?"

The move came as a surprise to Ashlin because of how involved Fort was in the defense last season. He made eight starts finishing with 53 tackles, two tackles for loss, and one quarterback hit.

Pundits noted that it's still possible that Fort could re-sign with the Ravens after testing the free agent market, but it signals a shift to a younger linebacker core.

After drafting Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison last year, Baltimore also re-signed Chris Board to a one-year deal this offseason.

"Queen is 21 and his potential sidekick, Malik Harrison, is 23," Zrebiec wrote. "At the age of 25, Board is the graybeard of a group that also includes 22-year-old Kristian Welch and 24-year-old Otaro Alaka. Whether it's Daryl Smith or Josh Bynes or Fort, most Ravens teams in the post-Ray Lewis years have had a veteran inside linebacker, even in some cases, just occupying a supporting role."

"Moving on from Fort — and it's not completely out of the question that he comes back down the road at a reduced rate — puts the onus on Queen and Harrison and even Board, who has been around since 2018, but mostly in a special teams role. Queen and Harrison, first- and third-round picks last year, had uneven rookie seasons. They flashed enough to show why the Ravens wanted to draft them. But they also had enough ups and downs to reveal just how much progress they need to make before the start of the 2021 season. They need to grow up fast."

Derek Wolfe Confident Lamar Will Get Better

Derek Wolfe is happy to be back in Baltimore and is extremely confident in his quarterback.

The recently re-signed defensive end appeared on "The Herd" with Fox Sports Radio's Colin Cowherd and spoke about the Ravens' young quarterback entering his fourth season.

"He was one of those guys I watched and was like, 'I don't want to have to play against this guy,'" Wolfe said. "You can have the perfect play as a defense and have everything covered, and he'll just take off and beat you with his feet. He's got an arm to make the throws. He's got everything you can ask for."

Wolfe knows what it takes for a quarterback to win a Super Bowl. He saw it first-hand during his time with the Denver Broncos playing alongside one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time in Peyton Manning.

"People have to remember, this is a 23-year-old kid," Wolfe added. "… Every year he's going to get better, better, and better because he wants it. He's hungry. He doesn't care about the MVP and all the other stuff. All he cares about is winning a Super Bowl."

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