Position Ravens Most Likely Address With First-Round Pick
Head Coach John Harbaugh and President Dick Cass made it clear this week that the Ravens are mostly done in free agency until after April's NFL Draft.
So that's where we'll turn our attention this morning.
The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec ranked which positions he thinks the team will most likely address with its No. 16-overall pick. In addition to looking at the Ravens' needs, Zrebiec factors in the depth of talent at each position and where a potential run on those positions could occur.
Before we get into which position Zrebiec thinks Baltimore will address, it's important to note that cornerback, one of the Ravens' biggest needs, doesn't make his top-5 list.
"If you would have asked me a month ago, I would have predicted without hesitation that the Ravens would take a cornerback with their first-round pick," wrote Zrebiec.
He's changed his mind after the Ravens added the league's most durable cornerback, Brandon Carr, and because Washington's Sidney Jones, who was regularly mocked to the Ravens, tore his Achilles tendon at his pro day workout. There's also UCLA's Fabian Moreau, who tore a pectoral muscle at his pro day, leading to NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah to say the highest he will be drafted is the third round.
Corner is one of the deepest positions in this year's rookie class, and as I noted yesterday, NFL Media's Mike Mayock believes the once-highly rated Teez Tabor could even be drafted on Day 2.
"There are plenty of other talented corners, but it seems that teams could get corners in the second and third rounds that are not a whole lot different than ones projected to go in the mid-to-late first," wrote Zrebiec.
OK, now on to the positions Zrebiec thinks the Ravens are most likely to address in Round 1:
1. Pass rusher
Zrebiec: "I say this not because it's the Ravens' biggest need, but because there are so many talented pass rushers that figure to come off the board in the middle-to-late stages of the first round. The Ravens are in great position to snag one of them."
2. Wide receiver
Zrebiec: "This is the position the fans clearly want to address, although I'm skeptical, given the Ravens' history in drafting receivers. Still, they could have their pick of one of the draft's top three pass catchers: Corey Davis, Mike Williams and John Ross."
3. Inside linebacker
Zrebiec: "Alabama's Reuben Foster probably won't be available, but if he was, the Ravens should hand in the card immediately. Given his versatility, Temple's Haason Reddick would be a great fit too."
4. Right tackle
Zrebiec: "It wouldn't shock me if the Ravens picked a tackle, as ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. recently projected with the selection of Wisconsin's Ryan Ramczyk. Team officials have talked an awful lot about improving the offensive line and they're just about out of free-agent options that can do that. Still, it would be tough for the team to bypass taking a first-round playmaker for a second straight year."
5. Running back
Zrebiec: "The only way I see this happening is if Louisiana State's Leonard Fournette is still on the board. The Ravens love him. Otherwise, I'd be surprised if the team considers Florida State's Dalvin Cook or Stanford's Christian McCaffrey at 16."
PFF: Ravens Were NFL's Top Special Teams Unit In 2016
Pro Football Focus (PFF) developed an algorithm to determine how much each NFL special teams unit contributed to overall wins, and the Ravens ranked No. 1.
Special teams rarely gets attention in the media, but the analytical website graded all six phases of special teams and found that it accounts for 19.18 percent of "the variability in the number of wins a team earns during the course of a season."
We didn't need fancy, complicated stats to know that Justin Tucker – currently the most accurate kicker in football history – has a major effect on the Ravens' ability to win. He's not the only one to contribute, however.
"Justin Tucker made the Ravens look good for giving him a four-year extension prior to the 2016 season, leading the league with 38 made field goals (in just 39 attempts), while not missing an extra point for the fifth time in his five seasons," wrote Eric Eager. "He was PFF's highest-graded kicker on field goals and extra points by a mile.
"Punter Sam Koch was fantastic as well, finishing fifth among punters in PFF's cumulative grading, while dropping 36 punts inside the 20-yard line (also fifth). After losing top cover-men Matt Elam, Kendrick Lewis, and Kyle Juszczyk (who combined for 19 total tackles a season ago) this offseason, it will be interesting to see if Baltimore can continue to boast the league's top unit in 2017."
The losses on the coverage unit are significant and was one reason the Ravens re-signed defensive back and core special teamer Anthony Levine Sr. to a three-year deal reportedly worth $4.2 million earlier this month. For any players on the bubble during training camp and the preseason, they'll need to show they can contribute on special teams to make the roster.
Detroit Wants Anquan Boldin Back Too
While speaking with reporters at the NFL league meetings in Phoenix Wednesday, Detroit Lions' decision-makers expressed interest in re-signing wide receiver Anquan Boldin after he was a big contributor for them last year.
With Head Coach John Harbaugh also expressing interest in Boldin this week, that makes at least two teams he could potentially decide between.
Boldin told the Lions that he will indeed return for this 15th NFL season, but didn't commit to playing in Detroit.
"Not real sure," Head Coach Jim Caldwell said, per MLive.com in Detroit. "Not real sure. I say you'll never say never."
Lions General Manager Bob Quinn has even spoken with Boldin about a potential return, but the soon-to-be 37-year-old isn't expected to make a decision until the summer.
"He's definitely an option," Quinn said. "We haven't made any decision on that one way or the other, but he's still out there.
"I've put him in the category of guys that we've talked to here in the last couple of months, but I think Anquan, he did a great job for us this year. Really stepped in and provided a real reliable target for Matthew [Stafford] and had, what, he had 60-plus catches this year?"
Based on reports that Boldin would like to be closer to his home in Florida, he may hope more options become available in a few southern cities.
"Boldin lives in Florida in the offseason so that's a tough commute even on a player's off day compared to, say, Atlanta, New Orleans or one of the teams in Florida, where he could get home on the team's off day every week and possibly even for 24 hours in the Friday-Saturday gap without much hassle," wrote ESPN Lions reporter Michael Rothstein.
Another Reunion That Would Make Sense
There are several former Ravens sitting on the market that fans wonder if the team will bring back to Charm City.
Among those available, in addition to Boldin, are running backs Justin Forsett and Bobby Rainey, guard Chris Chester, pass rushers Elvis Dumervil and Paul Kruger, defensive lineman Arthur Jones, inside linebackers Daryl Smith and Josh Bynes, cornerback Shareece Wright and safeties Lardarius Webb, Kendrick Lewis, James Ihedigbo and Corey Graham.
Of everyone on the list, Zrebiec says Boldin makes the most sense to bring back, but also thinks Graham, who is just 31, would make a decent fit.
"The Ravens could use a little more depth at safety behind Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson, and Graham, who was let go by the Buffalo Bills after starting all 32 games the past two seasons, is known as a good teammate and a solid special teams player," wrote Zrebiec.
WR Josh Gordon To The Browns … Again?
The Cleveland Browns were expected to release or trade wide receiver Josh Gordon when he announced he'd enter an in-patient rehabilitation facility after repeatedly being suspended by the NFL for failed drug tests.
The team has since changed its tune.
"We're not in a position at wide receiver to turn down a guy like Josh if we feel like he's settled himself," Browns Executive Vice President of Football Operations Sashi Brown said Tuesday at the owners meetings, per the Akron Beacon Journal.
Gordon, 25, is applying for reinstatement into the NFL. He hasn't played in a regular-season game since 2014.
"Josh, assuming that he'd play at the level we started to see glimpses of last preseason and certainly when he was in the league before, would be a talent I think no team in the NFL would turn down if he got back in," Brown said. "Our decision with Josh is just understanding where he is in his process and being able to add him.
"Josh is going to have an opportunity to reapply to the NFL, and, at that time, we'll make a decision when we know what's going on."