Ravens Don't Necessarily Need a 'No. 1' Receiver
The construction of the wide receiver corps in Baltimore continues to be a major point of discussion this offseason.
It's been the Achilles heel of the Ravens' roster for many years, with fans clamoring for a "No. 1 target."
The notion could be overblown.
"I think people — and I've been guilty with this as well — are far too hung up on having a definitive No. 1 receiver," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec said. "Sure, it would be great. However, there aren't a ton of those guys out there, and precious few of them become available in trades or free agency."
Zrebiec believes the Ravens don't have a bonafide No. 1 receiver on their roster, which leaves questions about whether the passing game can take a step forward this season.
However, Zrebiec questioned whether there are reliable options on the free-agent market. The Ravens have prioritized signing veteran free-agent receivers in the past, but General Manager Eric DeCosta has taken a different approach this offseason.
The Ravens signed Seth Roberts to a one-year deal in early April and drafted Marquise "Hollywood" Brown and Miles Boykin.
Zrebiec doesn't see the need to use remaining cap space or draft picks (via a trade) on bringing in another veteran.
"The Ravens have to start developing receivers," Zrebiec wrote. "The early selections this year of Brown and Boykin is proof that they understand that."
Under Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman, the Ravens have made it clear they want to be a run-first offense. That's why Zrebiec believes DeCosta and the coaching staff are okay with a relatively unproven mix at receiver outside of projected starters Willie Snead IV and Chris Moore.
But some are still unconvinced.
On “The GM Shuffle” podcast, former NFL front-office executive Michael Lombardi questioned the weapons around Jackson.
"I worry that [the Ravens] have enough skill around him to really magnify what he can do," Lombardi said. "I would've drafted big receivers that can catch the ball and run after the catch. I wouldn't have drafted littler guys that can stretch the field because for me … he's not going to be accurate all the time … You need a bunch of De'Andre Hopkins to go along with Jackson. You don't need guys with a small catch radius."
The Ravens actually did both.
They added Brown, a lightning fast threat, and Boykin, a big-bodied target at 6 feet, 4 inches.
And in this case, looking strictly at the wide receiver depth chart is naive.
The Ravens return one of the league's most talented tight end groups. They've invested heavily into the position, re-signing Nick Boyle to a contract extension and using first and third-round picks on Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews in 2018.
Andrews returns as the team's second-leading receiver after a record-setting rookie season and has one of the best connections with Jackson.
Jackson's rookie contract provides a four to five-year window of opportunity for the Ravens to invest into their roster, but Zrebiec expects DeCosta to remain calm on that front.
"The Ravens' focus will remain on drafting, developing and rewarding their own. And then they'll make the occasional foray into free agency to fill one or two needs," Zrebiec wrote. "Sure, they'll continuously be on the lookout for upgrades in free agency, and they'll likely have more cap space next year than maybe they've ever had … but they're never going to be a team that believes in loading up on free agents."
Skepticism of the Defense Continues
Add Daniel Jeremiah to the list of the pundits who are skeptical about the Ravens' defense after its offseason losses.
The NFL Network analyst and former Ravens scout has the Ravens ranked outside of his top five defenses.
Needless to say, Ravens fans prideful of their defense took exception.
Wink Martindale's unit was the No. 1 defense last season, but the concerns remain centered around the losses in free agency. But too often the focus is on the subtractions, and the Ravens made significant additions, most notably in the secondary.
"The Ravens invested $58 million in its secondary this offseason, according to OvertheCap.com," Forbes’ Todd Karpovich wrote. "Consequently, that unit should be the strength of the team. The Ravens added Earl Thomas via free agency to replace [Eric] Weddle. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey is emerging as one of the top playmakers in the league. The Ravens made Tavon Young the league's highest-paid slotback, while Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr add a veteran presence."
"What's the best way to replace a Hall of Fame safety in one offseason? Bring in another Hall of Fame safety; one who is arguably more talented than the former," added Ebony Bird’s Richard Bradshaw.
There were questions and concerns after former Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees retired before last season. Martindale took over and the Ravens were even better.
The Ravens countered the losses of Terrell Suggs and Za'Darius Smith with Shane Ray, Pernell McPhee, and third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson. Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young and Chris Board will assume the duties of C.J. Mosley in the middle of the defense.
The strength of the defense lies in the secondary and Martindale's defensive prowess will be one of the Ravens' biggest weapons. In the debate of what's more important between pass rush and pass coverage, it seems Baltimore is in the latter camp.
"I also think Ravens decision makers are confident in the ability of their defensive coordinator to scheme up pressure on the quarterback," Zrebiec wrote. "Whereas there's very little, you can do if your cover guys aren't able to hold their own in their matchups."
Remember, this was the same unit that stopped Baker Mayfield and the Browns on four straight plays to capture the AFC North title.
Ozzie Newsome Leads Campaign for More Minority Coaches
Ozzie Newsome may no longer be the head decision-maker in Baltimore, but the Ravens executive vice president still has a major voice throughout the NFL, and he's hoping to impact the game in a different aspect.
Newsome attended the Quarterback Coaching Summit at Morehouse College earlier this week. The event, which is aimed to "help coaches of color advance on the offensive side of the ball," featured the likes of Newsome, Chiefs Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy and former Ravens defensive coordinator and longtime Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.
Newsome, who was the first African-American general manager in NFL history, was outspoken in the push for more minority coaching candidates.
"I didn't know there were this many African-Americans coaching quarterbacks," Newsome said, via NFL.com’s Jim Trotter. "It was a lack of awareness on my part. I had no idea. But I will be taking this back to Baltimore with me."
Many believe Newsome's voice can make a difference.