Ravens' Most Pressing Question
The Ravens have taken care of most of the big questions facing them at the start of the offseason.
They re-signed quarterback Joe Flacco to a long-term deal. They strengthened the middle of the defense. They brought back left tackle Bryant McKinnie to help solidify the offensive line.
But as they get ready to begin OTAs next week, Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke says there is still one pressing question facing the Ravens:
Who is the No. 2 wide receiver?
"Anquan Boldin is off to San Francisco via trade, leaving Dancing With the Stars star and Super Bowl hero Jacoby Jones to pick up the slack alongside Torrey Smith," Burke wrote.
Smith is clearly slated to be the top receiving threat going into his third year, and Jones is the logical choice to take over behind him.
However, questions remain about whether Jones can handle the workload of being the No. 2 receiver. The seven-year veteran struggled as the No. 2 weapon for the Texans in 2011, and finished the season with just 31 catches. He has thrived as a speedy weapon in the vertical passing game, but has never gone over 562 receiving yards in a season.
Burke also pointed to the other receivers on the roster as possible options to pair with Smith.
"Also in the mix [are] Tandon Doss, David Reed, Tommy Streeter and Deonte Thompson. Baltimore needs at least one to raise his game," Burke wrote.
Another alternative, and one that has been explored recently, is the idea of bringing in a veteran receiver.
Burke sees former Patriot Brandon Lloyd as a good fit in Baltimore.
"There has not been much buzz around Lloyd in free agency thus far, but there are few remaining players at that position who can match Lloyd's recent production," Burke wrote.
While the market has been cold for Lloyd, he's still a highly productive veteran receiver that finished last year with 74 catches and 911 receiving yards. If the Ravens feel like they need to add a veteran to the mix, Lloyd could be the guy.
Watch Out For Deep Passing Game
One thing is clear whenever Smith and Jones are on the field together: They can fly.
The two speedy receivers made their share of big plays last season, giving the Ravens one of the most dynamic downfield passing games to go along with Flacco's rocket arm.
And it's not the catches Smith and Jones hauled in that made them so dangerous. Their ability to draw penalty flags is an underrated part of their games, and they thrive in that area.
Statistical analysis website Pro Football Focus looked at all NFL receivers to see who caused the most flags on the defenders. The analysis was broken down based on the percentage of penalties drawn compared to the routes run.
Smith topped the NFL in both categories. He led all receivers with 16 flags drawn, which averaged out to be a flag on 2.27 percent of all his routes.
"The most striking thing is that not only did the Ravens Torrey Smith draw the highest number of flags, but he also had the biggest percentage too," said PFF writer Neil Hornsby.
Jones ranked 12th on the list, drawing seven penalties on his 375 routes (1.87 percent).
"With Jacoby Jones also in the Top 20 it gives a clear indication of just how much opposing teams feared the Baltimore deep passing game," Hornsby wrote.
Defensive Line Could Be Division's Most Improved
The Ravens made it a priority to upgrade their defensive line, which struggled to stop the run last year.
Baltimore has brought in veteran free agents Marcus Spears and Chris Canty, drafted Brandon Williams in the third round, and re-signed Arthur Jones as a restricted free agent. Plus, they still have Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata in the middle of the line.
"This could end up being the most improved defensive line from a year ago, when the Ravens' defensive line was the weakest spot on the team," ESPN AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley wrote. "Haloti Ngata is primed for a bounce-back season after playing out of position last season. He is expected to line up more inside (perhaps replacing Terrence Cody at nose tackle), where he's more comfortable playing."
But even with those moves this offseason, Hensley put Baltimore as the third best defensive line in the AFC North behind the Bengals and Steelers.
The Ravens are expected to have a steady rotation on the line, as players like Spears, Canty, Cody, Jones, and DeAngelo Tyson will also mix in to keep everybody fresh. The unit is expected to be much improved against the run, and provide a more adequate pass rush with athletic players like Canty and Jones.
"The free-agent addition of Chris Canty will boost the pass rush and the signing of Marcus Spears will significantly upgrade the run defense," Hensely wrote. "Art Jones got better as the season progressed, starting six of Baltimore's final 10 games."
Torrey Smith is praying for former Detroit Lions wide receiver Titus Young, who was arrested three times within the last week. @TorreySmithWR: "Prayers up for Titus right now...he is going thru something that seems easy outside looking in to handle...we don't know his problems." [cont.] "Back to Titus..people do dumb things everyday and mess up great opportunities he's not the only one..just like them he needs help" [Twitter]
@TorreySmithWR: "Support my bro @i_amquan crab feast....proceeds go to the Lupus foundation." [Instagram/Twitter] http://instagram.com/p/ZRlmnhk-f6/
@TeamFlacco: "@TheRealJacoby12 Jacoby nailed it! Awesome job!!! Vote!!" [Twitter]
@MichaelOher: "30 great job @TheRealJacoby12" [Twitter]
@mspears96: "We got 3 choices in life Give up, Give in, or Give it all you got!! I suggest number 3!!! Get to living peeps it's a whole world out there." [Twitter]
Former Ravens defensive lineman Ryan McBean visits the Kansas City Chiefs. [The Baltimore Sun]