King Expects Ravens to Take 'Best Sideline-to-Sideline' Inside Linebacker
Less than two weeks until the NFL Draft, it remains to be seen which direction the Ravens will go with their first pick.
Mock drafts have exhausted almost every option imaginable, but NBC Sports' Peter King offered an interesting take on the Ravens' draft strategy on "The GM Shuffle" podcast with Michael Lombardi and Adnan Virk.
"They've made a huge amount of changes on their defense," King said. "If I do a mock draft, I don't know who it's going to be, but I'm probably going to take the best sideline-to-sideline linebacker that I can find wherever they're picking."
In King's "non-mock draft" last week, he had the Ravens trading down. That's no surprise given the chatter around that possibility, but King said Ole Miss wide receiver D.K. Metcalf and Texas A&M center/guard Erik McCoy would be smart picks for General Manager Eric DeCosta if the Ravens stay at 22.
There was no mention of an inside linebacker, but that may be in part because Devin White and Devin Bush, the consensus top two linebackers, aren't expected to be available late in the first round.
King had White landing with the Broncos at pick No. 10 and Bush with the Steelers two picks before the Ravens at No.20.
Sports Illustrated's Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling emphasized inside linebacker as a "hidden need."
"Patrick Onwuasor came on strong down the stretch last year, particularly as a blitzer, and can pick up some of the slack following [C.J.] Mosley's departure," Benoit and Gramling wrote. "The question is 2018 fourth-rounder Kenny Young. He's an explosive downhill mover … Can he move laterally? Can he read the field? Is he comfortable in Baltimore's myriad pressure packages? The answer could well be yes, but the Ravens need insurance in case it's no. And even if Young improves, they need depth behind him."
Peanut became the regular starter alongside Mosley last season and put together an impressive campaign. Young flashed at times, particularly early in the season.
The Ravens have a knack for drafting and developing mid-to-late round and undrafted talent at the position, which suggests they could follow the same route this year. DeCosta said at the pre-draft presser that he also expected White and Bush to be gone, and that the Ravens were keeping an eye on the second-tier inside linebackers.
But replacing the production of a four-time Pro Bowler in Mosley is a challenging task.
"The Ravens haven't used many high draft picks on inside linebackers, but when they have, they've generally struck gold, as they did when they picked [Ray] Lewis 26th overall in 1996 and Mosley 17th overall in 2014," The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker wrote.
Bush is an attractive option if he falls within the Ravens' range. The need, plus the Michigan connection with Jim Harbaugh, seem to make a lot of sense.
Lamar Jackson vs. Kyler Murray? The Possibility Has Pundits Excited
With the NFL preseason schedule announced, it's only a matter of time until the regular season schedule is released. It could happen as early as this week, and SI's Albert Breer picked the top four games he's most excited about in 2019.
One game features a potential matchup of two former Heisman Trophy winners.
"The idea of Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson squaring off at quarterback has all sorts of potential—so long as Murray is actually a Cardinal and actually starting whenever this one goes down," Breer wrote.
As Breer mentioned, this rides on the expectation that the Cardinals will draft Murray with the first-overall pick.
Jackson and Murray lit up the scoreboard during their collegiate careers en route to Heisman Trophies. Two of football's most dynamic quarterbacks would make for must-see television.
PFF: Ravens Ranked Among Top Pass-Blocking Teams
The Ravens relied heavily on the run game for the better portion of last season.
As Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman focuses on building a balanced offensive attack in 2019, he can rest assured knowing the offensive line is practically as good as it comes when protecting the quarterback.
Pro Football Focus' Mark Chichester ranked all 32 offensive lines by pass-blocking efficiency last season and the Ravens finished third with an 88.7 rating.
"The Ravens finished the 2018 regular season with a pass-blocking efficiency of 88.7, as they surrendered 129 total pressures on 606 passing plays," Chichester wrote. "They allowed only eight sacks on the year, which ranked first among teams, while their 25 knockdowns (hits + sacks) allowed ranked second only to the Browns."
Marshal Yanda's one-year contract extension helps further that notion.
The Ravens have an influx of young talent on the offensive line, headlined by Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. on the edge. Matt Skura, James Hurst, Alex Lewis, and Bradley Bozeman are all key pieces. Baltimore has also been clear that it could upgrade along the interior in the draft.
Pundits believe the interior offensive line is one of the draft's biggest strengths this year and the Ravens will have their pick from a talented pool of players.
What Can the Ravens Accomplish in Phase One?
It's back to work for the Ravens and 22 other teams as Phase One of the voluntary nine-week offseason program begins today.
Activities are limited to strength and conditioning and physical rehabilitation only, but Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz highlighted three key things the Ravens can accomplish.
1. Check in on the fitness of healing players
"Injured players are allowed to rehab at the team facility during the offseason, and only a few Ravens ended the season with serious ailments," Kasinitz wrote. "Still, the opening of the workout program provides an opportunity for Baltimore's coaches and training staff to monitor how some players are faring in recovery."
2. See how Lamar Jackson and other young players have changed their bodies
"After a rookie season, a player can transform his body through diet and altered training regimens," Kasinitz wrote. "It'd be easy to understand, then, if coach John Harbaugh was itching to eye up quarterback Lamar Jackson, offensive tackle Orlando Brown and tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews, among others. He'll want to see whether those young players have grown stronger or faster, especially Jackson, the face of the team's revamped offense."
3. Get the newcomers acclimated to the locker room
"But when it comes to leadership and personal connections, Thomas and Ingram can start leaving marks on the Ravens this week," Kasinitz wrote. "The two veteran newcomers, if they both attend the workouts, will have a shot to meet their teammates and establish their voices in a changing locker room."
- "For me, I think it was just average. I give myself a C. I think I'm capable of a lot more. But the foot thing kind of held me back," said Hurst, reflecting on his rookie season.
- NFL.com's Bucky Brooks has the Ravens doubling up on wide receivers with their first two picks, taking Metcalf and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.