What One 'Ravens GM for a Day' Would Do to Strengthen the Team
The Ravens are in a unique position this offseason. They're coming off a 14-2 year and return the majority of key players from a record-setting offense and fourth-ranked defense, but they went one-and-done in the playoffs for the second year in a row.
Clearly there's some work to be done to achieve their ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl, but there's a fine line between evolving and trying to fix what isn't broken, WNST's Luke Jones wrote.
"Having the most efficient running and passing games in the league and a top-tier defense isn't an identity from which to stray too far despite how tempting it can be to be bold addressing weaknesses," Jones wrote. "That's where you trust an analytics-minded front office and coaching staff to understand themselves and the entire body of 2019 work rather than to overreact to one heartbreaking loss or a couple failed fourth-and-1 plays.
"The truth is I'd take this team essentially as it is — meaning all but sitting out free agency and having only an ordinary draft class — up against any conference opponent not named the Chiefs next fall. Even with the disappointment of January being so slow to dissipate, that is rare territory and speaks to the tremendous opportunity Baltimore has to improve this offseason."
So what should the Ravens do with that opportunity? The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec played General Manager Eric DeCosta for a day to attempt to address the team's primary needs.
Here are some excerpts from what he came up with:
1. Franchise [Matthew] Judon and try to work out a long-term deal. If the divide between asking price and offer is too significant, attempt to trade him for a 2020 Day 2 draft pick.
2. Shop in the second-tier pass-rush market. If the Ravens don't re-sign Judon, it's hard to believe they'll be in the $20 million-plus a year pass rush market for a guy like Jadeveon Clowney or Yannick Ngakoue in a tag-and-trade. If they do re-sign Judon, they couldn't afford to be.
3. Re-sign [Jihad] Ward and/or [Pernell] McPhee.
4. Draft a pass rusher in the first three rounds.
Interior offensive line
1. Give Ben Powers, a fourth-round pick who played sparingly last year as a rookie, every chance to win the starting right guard job if Marshal Yanda retires.
2. Sign a veteran guard/center with starting experience on the cheap.
3. Draft an interior offensive lineman or two.
1. Choose a wide receiver in the first three rounds. This is billed as one of the deepest receiver drafts in years, so the Ravens should be able to find a pass-catcher who can come in and make an immediate impact even late on Day 2.
2. Sign a veteran to a modest deal in free agency. … The Ravens aren't going to find a No. 1 receiver in free agency, but they can supplement their young group.
3. Give Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin every chance to develop.
1. Draft an inside linebacker: If either Oklahoma's Kenneth Murray or LSU's Patrick Queen are available at No. 28, don't hesitate to turn in the card. If they're not, find a projectable and athletic linebacker in another round.
2. Sign an experienced veteran to a modest deal. … Pending free agents like [Josh] Bynes and Danny Trevathan fit that mold.
Interior defensive line
1. Consider signing a free agent if the price is right. The Ravens won't have a lot of money to spend here if they sink much of it into edge rushers, but there are a handful of available vets who might be willing to take a team-friendly deal to chase a ring late in their careers.
2. Draft two defensive linemen. There should be enough quality defensive linemen available in the draft, where the Ravens won't have to chase a need.
3. Re-sign [Justin] Ellis. He's a serviceable rotational defensive lineman and a solid run stuffer. Maybe the Ravens have that guy in Daylon Mack, but he played little as a rookie and a little veteran insurance wouldn't hurt.
Lamar Jackson Still 'Puzzled' Over Loss to Titans
Ravens fans would like to forget the team's 28-12 loss to Tennessee in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs seven weeks ago, but Lamar Jackson remembers the Titans – and he still doesn't have any answers for what happened.
Jackson reflected on the game last week at the 101 Awards, where he was named AFC Offensive Player of the Year and John Harbaugh won AFC Coach of the Year.
"I [still am] puzzled, just looking at highlights and stuff," Jackson told Alex Marvez and Gil Brandt of SiriusXM NFL Radio, per Pro Football Talk. "I'm like, 'I don't know what happened.' We had good plays. We had good drives. We'll hit a hump one play. They steal the momentum, and the NFL is like a momentum game. … We were flat the whole night. That game was not on our defense. I feel like we just didn't execute on offense. [If] we put more points up, it'd be a great game.
"We've got to elevate at some point in the game. I don't feel we did that, even though we scored [a touchdown] in the third quarter or something. But it was like when we scored, we didn't get excited. It was like we already lost. We can't do that no more. That's what I've seen, including myself."
After a nightmarish end to a dream season, Jackson and his teammates have plenty of motivation heading into the 2020 season. Jackson reiterated that he is determined to improve on a season in which he was named the unanimous league MVP and set a single-season rushing record for a quarterback.
"I want to work on my timing, getting the ball out even faster, you know, because those guys in the league, they're coming," Jackson said. "Defensive guys, they're running 4.4s, 4.5s. It's like, 'Man, we've got to get this ball out of your hand and put it in a dynamic playmaker's hands faster.' I want to work on everything, though, even the running. I just want to be great."
Making the No. 1 Rushing Attack Even Better
NFL.com's Jeremy Bergman assessed the running back situations for all 32 NFL teams. Not surprisingly, the Ravens were at the top of his list.
"When you set the record for team rushing yards in a single season (3,296) with an attack spearheaded by the league MVP, a free-agent acquisition who's bout dat (Mark Ingram II) and the best Gus in a decade, you're in a good place," Bergman wrote.
"Baltimore was just the second team in NFL history to boast three players with at least 700 rushing yards in a season (joining the 2011 Panthers), and if the Ravens bring back exclusive rights free agent Gus Edwards for dirt cheap (and they should), all three will be back in purple in 2020. If it ain't broke, woot woot."
That said, a growing number of recent mock drafts have the Ravens selecting a running back in the first round, including one by NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund.
Basing her mock draft "solely on a contextual, data-driven model that aims to do one thing: maximize each team's potential to win as many games as possible in 2020," Frelund said Baltimore should select Georgia's D'Andre Swift.
"The Ravens have a strong history of going 'best player available,' and I really like it when my model aligns with that," Frelund wrote. "Baltimore relies on the ground game SO heavily – I love the idea of reinforcing that strength by adding a truly gifted back like Swift to the RB stable."
As we highlighted in Tuesday's Late for Work, NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah also mocked Swift to the Ravens.
Meanwhile, Draft Wire's Luke Easterling has sent Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor to Baltimore in multiple mock drafts. His reasoning is that the Ravens can land an eventual successor to Ingram.
"They get their pick of some talented runners in this scenario, and Taylor's performance at the NFL Combine proved he's more than worthy of being the first running back off the board," Easterling wrote. "He would make the NFL's best rushing attack even better from Day 1."
- The Ravens are heavily favored to win their third consecutive AFC North title and trail only defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City as favorites to win the Super Bowl, according to BetOnline. Baltimore is at -250 win the division, ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers (+400), Cleveland Browns (+475) and Cincinnati Bengals (+2500) The Ravens are +800 to win the Super Bowl, behind the Chiefs at +500.
- The Ravens were ranked the top Twitter account in the NFL for 2020. [The Complex]