Late For Work 5/20: Ravens Still Thin At Two Positions

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Ravens Still Thin At Two Positions

It's nearly four months into the offseason, and Baltimore has shored up most of its roster. But it's not complete.

There are two positions that are still relatively thin, says The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec: safety and pass rusher.

Despite signing Kendrick Lewis, tendering Will Hill and using high picks in the last two drafts (Matt Elam, Terrence Brooks), Zrebiec believes safety may be the biggest need of all. And the thing is, the Ravens may have shown they agree when they put in an unsuccessful waiver claim on former Houston Texans safety D.J.* *Swearinger, who was awarded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"[That] was a potential move for both the present and future," wrote Zrebiec. "A definite case could be made that safety is the Ravens' thinnest position right now. But the position could also continue to be an issue next offseason, when Hill is scheduled to hit free agency."

While there are seven safeties on the roster, the Ravens have not been satisfied with Elam, Brooks is still recovering from a season-ending knee injury and Zrebiec says neither rookie free agent Nick Perry nor Brynden Trawick is a lock to make the roster.

For this year, the Ravens at least appear set with Lewis and Hill as the starters. Beyond that, there are depth questions for 2015 and some holes in the starting unit for 2016.

"As big of a disappointment as he was in Houston, Swearinger could have provided some insurance in the future," Zrebiec wrote. "Now, the Ravens will have to hope that Brooks gets healthy and matures as a player."

Zrebiec dubbed pass rusher as the second thinnest position group, citing unproven depth behind Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil.

"The Ravens are always monitoring the free agent market and the waiver wire. Along with a safety, another piece that they could still probably use is a veteran outside pass rusher," Zrebiec wrote.

During his pro career, Upshaw hasn't gotten after the quarterback much. That's in large part because rushing the passer hasn't been his role. Suggs, Dumervil and the recently-departed Pernell McPhee mostly handled terrorizing opposing quarterbacks. Before McPhee emerged, there was Paul Kruger. So Upshaw has played the SAM linebacker role on first and second downs and usually sets the edge to allow his teammates to capitalize and beef up their stats.

Fourth-round pick Za'Darius Smith may become McPhee 2.0, but Zrebiec questioned whether he will develop fast enough to contribute early. Steven Means, another young pass rusher on the roster with some potential, doesn't have a career sack.

"There are still several accomplished pass rushers available on the free agent market, though it's unclear how much any of them have left. That group includes John Abraham, Dwight Freeney and Osi Umenyiora.

"I can't see the Ravens doing anything now, preferring to give Smith and Means the repetitions. But if one of the outside linebackers gets injured or if the position looks to be an issue later in the summer, I wouldn't be surprised if the Ravens brought in a veteran."

Perriman A 'Wild-Card Pick' For Rookie Of The Year

Tight end Maxx Williams has already got an early vote of confidence from ESPN's Mel Kiper for the 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year (OROY) award.

Now receiver Breshad Perriman is getting a little love as a "wild-card pick" for the coveted award, making Scouts Inc. Kevin Weidl's top-five list of candidates.

Perriman was surprisingly named over other receivers drafted ahead of him, including Amari Cooper, Kevin White and DeVante Parker. But Perriman is heading into a promising situation in Baltimore with the chance to become the No. 1 receiver and potentially benefit from plenty of snaps and targets from quarterback Joe Flacco.

"This is a bit of a wild-card pick, given that Perriman is a little raw as a prospect, and he wasn't selected until the No. 26 overall pick," wrote Weidl. "But Perriman is a high-ceiling player who landed in an ideal spot in terms of scheme fit and a roster on which he will have a chance to produce right away."

Not only will Perriman get plenty of snaps, but he'll benefit from running back Justin Forsett, who will force opposing defenses to respect the run game. That could open up one-on-one opportunities for the rookie in the play-action. He has the size and speed that, on paper, perfectly complements Flacco's big arm.

ESPN's Jamison Hensley looked back on recent trends for the rookie of the year award and they don't bode well for Perriman.

  • No Ravens player has received votes for the offensive rookie of the year award since 2000. That's when running back Jamal Lewis finished second to Denver running back Mike Anderson.
  • Only two receivers have won in the past 11 years. Perhaps the Giants' Odell Beckham Jr. started a new trend by winning it last season.
  • OROY awards have eluded the AFC North for more than a decade. The last person to win it was Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, and the last AFC North (formerly AFC Central) receiver to win was the Bengals' Carl Pickens in 1992.

Why Dolphins Made Ravens Look Really Smart

The Miami Dolphins made Ryan Tannehill their franchise quarterback this week, extending his stay through the 2020 season. (Interestingly, he was the first to get an extension of all QBs drafted in 2012, including Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III and Nick Foles).

The Dolphins paid Tannehill $96 million, including $45 million guaranteed, according to The Miami Herald.  That works out to about $19.25 million annually, which is only $1 million less per season than Flacco.

That figure has blogger Nathan Beaucage at Baltimore Beatdown feeling like the Dolphins just made the Ravens look really smart for the deal they made with Flacco.

"Yep, that's right, an elite Super Bowl MVP-winning QB is being paid almost the same as a fourth-year QB who hasn't even seen playoff action yet," Beaucage wrote.

"The ink had hardly dried on the contract before Dolphins fans were singing praises of how the team didn't have to shell out 'Flacco money' on the deal. But the truth is, they did." 

Beaucage admits it's not completely fair to compare the two quarterbacks because Flacco has had a better supporting cast and a better coaching staff. And they are happy in Miami after Tannehill set career highs in seven statistical categories last season.

"But the point is pretty simple, Flacco had done a lot more when he signed his extension than Tannehill did," wrote Beaucage. "The Ravens front office made a smart move, and [Monday's] Tannehill signing proved just that."

Kicking Rules Could Change Even More

Even though he's up for the challenge, Ravens kicker Justin Tucker isn't a big fan of the league moving the extra point attempt back 13 yards. It will now be a 33-yard attempt (Tucker has never missed a field goal inside of 37).

But if Tucker doesn't like this, he might be even more upset if team owners vote to move it back further next offseason. That is a possibility, according to TheMMQB.com's Peter King.

"I'm told the owners could change the system again in 2016. One of the significant and salient points made during Tuesday's vote was this: The measure passed for one season only. That means teams wanted a change to what's become a gimme—99.5 percent of all PAT kicks have been made in the past four seasons—but wanted to see how the new system worked before doing something revolutionary.

"The league wants to promote exciting plays after touchdown; just 59 two-point plays were attempted in 2014. If the new extra point doesn't motivate coaches to go for two more, look for the owners next offseason to vote to push the PAT back eight or 10 yards further so some drama is created in the touchdown conversion."

Quick Hits

  • "[T]he best thing that could come out of the next couple of weeks for the Ravens, other than staying healthy, is to get [Marshal] Yanda signed to a long-term contract extension," wrote Zrebiec. "With their perennial salary cap issues, it's very hard to see the Ravens paying top dollar for two guards, especially with recent draft picks John Urschel and Robert Myers waiting in the wings. As good as [Kelechi] Osemele is – and it wouldn't surprise me at all if he made the Pro Bowl this season – I would think the Ravens will prioritize trying to make sure Yanda finishes his career with the team." [The Baltimore Sun]
  • "[Cornerback Kyle Arrington] could also be a much-needed deterrent," wrote Hensley. "Last season, offenses looked to exploit the Ravens' lack of depth at cornerback and spread out Baltimore as often as they could. Teams lined up with three or more wide receivers on 650 plays against the Ravens, which was the 10th-most in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information." [ESPN]
  • "As soon as [the Ravens] got in contact with my guys and representation, I said, 'Hey, do what you got to do to make this happen," Arrington said in a recent radio interview. "I said, 'I don't want to step on your toes, but I'll be sitting here waiting by the phone.'" [Glenn Clark Radio]
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