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Late for Work 5/10: Do the Ravens Still Need Another Pass Rusher?

DE Justin Houston

Do the Ravens Need Another Pass Rusher?

The Ravens took advantage of the free-agent market following the draft to address the right tackle position.

Will they do the same at pass rusher?

"If there is a piece of the offseason puzzle that feels incomplete, it's at edge rusher, where the Ravens re-signed Tyus Bowser and Pernell McPhee, watched Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngakoue and Jihad Ward leave as free agents and then drafted Odafe Oweh (first round) and Daelin Hayes (fifth round)," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote.

"In Bowser, McPhee, Oweh, Hayes and former third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson, the Ravens have a solid mix of veterans and youngsters, of guys who can set the edge or drop into coverage, of guys with pass-rush potential. What they don't appear to have is a veteran primed to register eight to 10 sacks in a season."

The Ravens reportedly brought in veteran Justin Houston for a visit last month, but Zrebiec said "there appears to be a good bit of separation between Houston's asking price and what the Ravens are willing to offer."

There are still other options available, such as Melvin Ingram and Ryan Kerrigan. Russell Street Report's Brian McFarland said the Ravens have just over $11 million in cap space to work with.

Without their two most productive pass rushers from last season in Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue, Zrebiec said adding another proven commodity at the position is a necessity.

"Whether it's Houston or somebody else, the Ravens are smart to look for edge-rush help," Zrebiec wrote. "Judon and Ngakoue combined for just nine sacks with the Ravens last year, but they still got pressure and had to be accounted for by defenses.

"... The Ravens have a difficult defense for rookies to learn and they ask a lot of their linebackers. It's tough to count on a major impact from a rookie from Day 1 and anything behind solid contributions would have to be considered a bonus. That's why, at least to me, adding a veteran pass rusher is closer to a necessity than it is a luxury. To beat the top teams in the AFC, the Ravens need more disruption from their front four and to be less dependent on blitzing."

Marquise Brown Is Poised for a Pro Bowl Season

There's been a lot of praise for the Ravens' new-look receiving core, but Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler is expecting big things for one of the young receivers already on the roster.

"The Ravens' top receiver in the 2021 season is going to be a player they didn't add this offseason," Schisler wrote.

Schisler said Brown was one of the biggest winners from the draft, and expects him to have a Pro Bowl season.

"The Ravens now have a group of receivers that can complement each other," Schisler said. "... The way defenses have to play the Ravens has completely changed. It's not just about taking away Brown and Mark Andrews. The Ravens went from having one wide receiver they could confidently take shots down the field with, to having a few guys Jackson could trust deep.

"... With all the additions to the offense, Brown has an advantage nobody else has in the receiver room. He's Jackson's favorite target. Jackson's chemistry with Brown is very obvious. That kind of connection doesn't get weakened when Jackson has more options. Brown is always going to be Jackson's guy."

Brown led all wide receivers on the Ravens last year with a career-high 769 yards and eight touchdowns. That came during a season in which Baltimore ranked last in passing attempts (404), and Jackson missed one regular-season game because of COVID-19.

There are reasons to believe Brown will continue to improve in a Ravens offense that's expected to expand with a number of new weapons.

"With proper health protocols now in place, vaccines available nationwide, more playmakers at receiver, and a revamped offensive line, the Ravens are equipped with the time and personnel to both expand and elevate their offense in 2021 and beyond," Baltimore Beatdown’s Joshua Reed wrote. "As far as what the Ravens' schematic expansion might look like, we will all have to wait until the regular season rolls around since no team tips their hand in the preseason. However, we should expect to see the new and returning receivers used in a multitude of ways that complement and open up more opportunities for one another."

Brown's postseason performances also speak to his potential. They've arguably been some of his best play, as he's racked up 18 catches for 322 yards in three games.

Schisler said a realistic expectation for Brown this season would be 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns.

"Brown is going to benefit from attention going to other play-makers and his production will continue to go up," Schisler wrote. "One of the most exciting aspects of the 2021 season is that the Ravens can finally try to showcase the talent they already had in the passing game. … The stage is also set for Brown to have a breakout year, the kind of year that lands you in the Pro Bowl."

Eric DeCosta Grades the Ravens' Draft

One week after the draft we've already seen plenty of grades roll in, but how about one from the general manager himself?

Eric DeCosta sat down with ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio to discuss a number of topics, including what he thought of the Ravens' 2021 draft class.

When asked what grade he'd give the class, DeCosta said a C-plus or B.

"I mean, nobody really knows," DeCosta said. "You know, some of the best drafts I thought we ever had ended up probably being some of the worst drafts we ever had. And then on the flip side of that, you'll have a draft that looks average on paper, but then as you go back and look at it four, five years down the road, you just can't believe how lucky you got.

"One of the biggest things is just players staying healthy and getting a chance to play. Durability is a critical thing for players. Guys that stay healthy and play usually end up playing pretty well and contributing. And then sometimes you take a guy … pretty high, and the first thing that happens to him in training camp is, he gets hurt. And that doesn't bode well for your draft class."

DeCosta may have been a little harsh considering the majority of pundits had high remarks for the Ravens' rookie class.

Among the other topics discussed was Lamar Jackson's contract negotiations. After picking up Jackson's fifth-year option, DeCosta said a long-term deal is something the Ravens want to make sure they do right.

"I know he has people that he trusts and respects that can help him and advise him, because this is a big deal, DeCosta said. "And we want to do it right. We want to do something he feels really good about, and we want to do something that we feel really good about as well."

Ravens in Line for Two Fourth-Round Compensatory Picks

No team has been better at collecting compensatory picks than the Ravens, and they've put themselves in a good position to receive more next season.

The updated projections from OverTheCap’s Nick Corte have the Ravens receiving two fourth-round comp picks for the losses of Judon and Ngakoue in free agency.

According to the chart, they would be the fifth and sixth-highest picks given out.

"What stands out as of now is just how few 3rd round compensatory picks are on the board," Korte wrote. "This was an offseason, perhaps aggravated by the fall in the salary cap, that saw very few players leave for other teams on high valued contracts. As of now, only two 3rd rounders are projected to be awarded: to the Steelers for Bud Dupree going to the Titans, and to the Lions for Kenny Golladay going to the Giants."

Korte said Judon and Ngakoue are players to watch that are just below the 3rd/4th-round pick cutoff.

"[T]hose who are hoping for teams with 4th rounders to see those picks upgraded to 3rd rounders, that hope is founded, with two possibilities on how it could be fulfilled," Korte wrote. "One is if the formula considers fewer leaguewide players than last year's number of approximately 1,944, which is what the 2022 projection is currently using. That precise number will be unknowable until the conclusion of the regular season. The other is if the players in question beat their estimated snap count percentages, an estimation of which the projection uses a snap count average over the past four seasons."

Korte also said one thing to watch is Jihad Ward's playing time with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Ward's loss is currently offset by the addition of Sammy Watkins. But if Ward's playing time doesn't qualify under the compensatory formula, Watkins could potentially cancel out one of the projected fourth-round picks for Judon or Ngakoue.

"The extra picks give DeCosta the freedom to be aggressive before the trade deadline if there's a player available he believes will get the team over the hump," Zrebiec wrote.

Brandon Stephens Talks About Emotion Draft Night Experience

Getting drafted can be a life-changing experience for many rookies. Often, that comes with a range of emotions, and third-round pick Brandon Stephens talked with Glenn Clark Radio about the moment he heard his name called.

"When I got the phone call, I had just a flashback of everything that I've gone through in the past three, four years," Stephens said. "Every decision I've made and every workout that I've had and all the moments — just everything, man — I just had a whole flashback of what I've been through.

"It's really been a long time coming. Not a lot of people know exactly what I've been through, but it's been a long time coming. I had this vision from a little kid. Just to see my phone ring and talk to Coach Harbaugh and Eric DeCosta, it was literally a dream come true. I was emotional. They could've held out the crying part a little bit, but it's all good."

Stephens, who played two seasons as a running back at UCLA before transitioning to cornerback at SMU, was seen as a surprise pick by some, but is a player who DeCosta says has “a lot of upside potential.”

Stephens would join one of the deepest secondaries in the NFL, but Baltimore Beatdown’s Joshua Reed said the rookie could carve out a role on special teams early on.

"I grew up watching Ed Reed and Ray Lewis," Stephens said. "This team, they're known for their defense. Just to be able to be selected to represent this organization, filling in big shoes that came before the ones who are here now is really an honor and a pleasure."

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