Late for Work 9/30: What Position Should Ravens Try to Upgrade Before Trade Deadline?

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Ravens Offense

What Position Should Ravens Try to Upgrade Before Trade Deadline?

The NFL trade deadline isn't until Nov. 2, but it's never too early to start talking about possible upgrades considering how aggressive General Manager Eric DeCosta has been in recent years (Marcus Peters in 2019, Yannick Ngakoue in 2020).

In looking at which positions the Ravens should seek to upgrade, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec identified running back, inside linebacker and cornerback, but said offensive tackle should be the top priority.

"The Ravens haven't publicly ruled out All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) for the rest of the season, but they've said nothing that suggests they expect him back anytime soon," Zrebiec wrote. "Right now, they're relying on Alejandro Villanueva, who has struggled in two of three games, at left tackle, and Patrick Mekari, who has been their reserve center the past two years, at right tackle. Andre Smith, yes he's still around, is their swing tackle.

"It's hard to imagine they'll be able to get through the season and make a postseason run with their current mix of tackles."

Stanley has missed the past two games after playing in Week 1, which was his first regular-season action since suffering a severe ankle injury last November. He will continue to rehab for a couple weeks, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, who reported that no additional surgery is planned after Stanley visited the doctor.

Getting Stanley back at some point would obviously alleviate some of the concern at offensive tackle, but Zrebiec's point about needing more depth at the position is valid.

The problem is that the Ravens don't have a lot of salary-cap space, which makes trading for an established veteran or signing one in free agency easier said than done.

Plus, the Ravens have invested in Villanueva, who signed a two-year deal with a reported $8 million guaranteed in the offseason. The 33-year-old veteran played well in Week 2 against the Chiefs, which was encouraging. Baltimore also has Ja'Wuan James, who is rehabbing from a torn Achilles, waiting in the wings as a possible late-season activation.

The top offensive tackles on the free-agent market are Mitchell Schwartz (32), former Raven Rick Wagner (31) and Russell Okung (32).

Schwartz, a former All-Pro right tackle with the Chiefs, underwent back surgery in February. He said earlier this month that he's "in the last stages of recovery." Before his season-ending injury last year, Schwartz had started every game in his eight-year career.

Bradley Bozeman Is Playing at an Elite Level

The Ravens' offensive line has been beset by injuries and inconsistency, but center Bradley Bozeman has played as well as any player on the team.

In fact, according to Pro Football Focus' grading system, Bozeman has been the Ravens' best player through the first three weeks of the season.

Bozeman's 81.7 PFF grade ranks second among all centers. He's ranked third at his position in run-blocking and second in pass-blocking.

"Bozeman has allowed just one pressure, hasn't allowed a sack, and has not been flagged a single time through three weeks," Ebony Bird's Justin Fried wrote. "His best game arguably came this past week against the Detroit Lions when he was given a PFF grade of 82.7 that ranked him as the best center that week."

Not bad for a guy who hasn't played the position in four years. Bozeman was a center at Alabama but spent his first three seasons with the Ravens as a guard. He started all 16 games at left guard in both 2019 and 2020, playing a vital role in Baltimore's league-leading rushing attack.

Center was a position of concern for the Ravens last season due in large part to errant snaps. Bozeman has given the team one less thing to worry about.

Before the start of the season, The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer said Bozeman might be the second-most important player on the team, behind Lamar Jackson.

"Or at least it feels that way after a season in which the Ravens' pistol and shotgun snaps were no longer the formality they'd been in years past," Shaffer wrote.

Fried said that Bozeman, a sixth-round pick in 2018 who is in the final year of his rookie contract, has earned a contract extension.

"Bozeman has solidified what was a major position of weakness for the Ravens last season. And he's done so by elevating his play from an average starter to one of the best players at his position," Fried wrote. "Bradley Bozeman has earned a new contract. And the Ravens will likely reward him with one in the near future."

Odafe Oweh Makes ESPN's Top 10 Rookie Rankings

Four edge rushers were drafted before the Ravens selected Odafe Oweh with the 31st-overall pick, but he has outplayed all of them thus far.

Oweh, who is PFF's top-graded rookie edge rusher, is No. 7 in ESPN's top 10 rookie rankings, which were based on opinions of NFL personnel executives and the viewing of game film.

ESPN's Jeff Legwold said Oweh has gone from one of the biggest riddles in the draft (because he had no sacks in seven games last year despite possessing freakish athleticism) to one of the league's most consistent rookies in the early going.

"Oweh has steadily played more and more in Ravens' defense, with 56% of snaps in the opener jumping to 75% in Week 2 and 79% in Week 3," Legwold wrote. " … He is the only rookie with at least 50 pass-rush plays so far."

Oweh made one of the Ravens' biggest plays this season when he punched the ball out of the hands of Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and recovered the fumble himself to preserve a 36-35 win in Week 2. For his performance in that game, Oweh was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week in just his second NFL game.

Jay Feely: Unquestionable That Justin Tucker Is Greatest Kicker of All Time

Add CBS Sports analyst and former NFL kicker Jay Feely to the long list of people who believe Justin Tucker is the GOAT at his position.

"It's unquestionable that he is the greatest of all time to ever play that position," Feely said on Glenn Clark Radio earlier this week while discussing Tucker's record-breaking, game-winning 66-yard field goal against the Lions. "You look at his career, he's 91 percent for his career. He has as many seasons over 90 percent as seasons under 90 percent. Just to give that context, I was hoping just to have a year or two in my whole career over 90 percent. That used to be the gold standard. … He's done it for his entire career."

Feely said he gives Tucker the edge over Adam Vinatieri, who played 24 seasons, holds numerous kicking records,[comma] and has four Super Bowl rings.

"Adam Vinatieri had some bigger kicks because he was able to go into the Super Bowl and have three game-winning kicks in the Super Bowl," Feely said. "… But Justin Tucker has been better than Adam Vinatieri in his career. If you look at their careers and put them up against each other, it's not a question of who is a better kicker over the course of their career."

Feely praised Tucker for being both clutch and consistent.

"Not only does [Tucker] make the kicks when you need them the most, that's what you're defined by as a kicker, he's perfect on those last-second, game-winning field goals," Feely said. "But also, he makes all the kicks throughout the game, throughout the season, at a better rate than anyone has ever done it before, every single year. He is so remarkably consistent."

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