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Late for Work: Ravens Have 'Myriad of Options' in Free Agent Running Back Market

Eagles RB D'Andre Swift
Eagles RB D'Andre Swift

Ravens Have 'Myriad of Options' in Free Agent Running Back Market

The free agent running back market for 2024 is loaded with proven veterans. Stars include Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs, Tony Pollard and Saquon Barkley, along with another dozen players who have been big contributors. This bodes well for the Ravens who are looking to add to their depth chart.

"Free agency, though, will offer the Ravens myriad opportunities," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "They haven't traditionally spent big money in the open market on the position but lining up a game-breaker such as Henry, Jacobs or Barkley behind a dual-threat quarterback in Lamar Jackson is an enticing proposition for a team that has mostly adhered to a running back-by-committee approach in recent years."

Many pundits have linked Henry to Baltimore, including ESPN’s Aaron Schatz.

"A lot of people are putting two and two together on this one, including other ESPN analysts. Although the Ravens have not spent big at running back in the past, this marriage would make sense," Schatz wrote. "J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards are both free agents, and the Ravens could use a hard-running, physical back -- particularly because they liked to go for it on fourth-and-short (but not in 2023) and needed someone to get those tough yards. Quarterback Lamar Jackson ability to attract defensive attention would likely recharge Henry's numbers, and none of the Ravens' opponents would want to encounter Henry in the open field."

If the Ravens aren't willing to spend big, there are options, Zrebiec wrote.

"Baltimore could opt to go the safer and cheaper route by signing a player such as (Zach) Moss or (D'Andre) Swift, both of whom are coming off strong seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles, respectively," Zrebiec wrote. "Pairing one of them with (Justice) Hill, (Keaton) Mitchell (when healthy) and a mid-round rookie would represent a strong combination, as well."

Paying for a player at the second tier of the running back market may be where the Ravens go, Zrebiec notes, as their offseason priorities and cap space will push them to rebuild other areas.

"The stated priority of the Ravens' decision-makers is to solidify the offensive line, and that won't be cheap," Zrebiec wrote. "They also need to add at wide receiver, edge rusher and cornerback. Depth at interior defensive line, inside linebacker and safety feels like a necessity, too. Paying $10-to-$12 million a year, if not more, for a running back simply may not fit in Baltimore's budget."

Don't Rule Ravens Out From Taking a Quarterback in the Draft

While the Ravens have mostly areas of need encompassing the pass rush and offensive line, backup quarterback is another area the team must address this offseason. As it stands, the Ravens have under contract only quarterback Lamar Jackson and Malik Cunningham, who was signed off the New England Patriots’ practice squad in mid-December. With both Tyler Huntley and Josh Johnson becoming free agents, it's likely the Ravens will add a quarterback in either free agency or the draft. One player to watch, according to Last Word on Sports’ David Latham, is Tennessee's Joe Milton.

"Two-time MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson isn't going anywhere, but he could use a better backup. Tyler Huntley is a free agent, and despite his Pro Bowl selection, the Utah product hasn't set the world on fire when given a chance to run the offense," Latham wrote. "Joe Milton can do everything Huntley can, and he has a much stronger arm with a bigger build. Seeing as Jackson missed significant playing time in two of the past three seasons, the Ravens should think about upgrading the QB2 position."

Milton, 23, is a three-year starter for Tennessee, and in 2023 impressed by throwing for 2,813 yards and 20 touchdowns on 64.7% completion. He's also a savvy runner, rushing for 299 yards on 78 carries (3.8 ypc) and found the end zone seven times. While the numbers aren't stunning, Milton has arm talent.

"… Joe Milton has one of the best arms in the class – something he continuously demonstrated throughout the NFL Combine," Latham wrote. "The Tennessee product was easily the most impressive quarterback at the event, ripping a 62 MPH pass while also completing an absolute beauty of a throw down the sideline."

Milton is being labeled more as a Day 2 or Day 3 pick, which could give the Ravens a chance to consider selecting him in the later rounds.

"After his performance, he might be worthy of a fourth-round pick, but he's nowhere close to being an elite prospect. Every single team in the league will have a chance to draft him, and [the Ravens, among others] could justify investing a Day 3 pick in the Tennessee product."

Offensive Line Draft Class Expected to be Among Best in Recent History

Following the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine, the Ravens have a lot to like. Arguably their biggest area of need, offensive line, is the greatest strength of the 2024 draft class.

It's expected that the Ravens will see new faces along the offensive line in 2024. How many remains to be seen, but it's projected to be at least two and up to four, according to The Baltimore Banner’s Giana Han.

"There is a world in which Pro Bowl center Tyler Linderbaum could look to his left and to his right in training camp this summer and not have a single face next to him from the 2023 starting offensive line," Han wrote. "The top two guards, Kevin Zeitler and John Simpson, are pending free agents. The top two tackles, Ronnie Stanley and Morgan Moses, are potential salary cap casualties."

And after an impressive performance from the class, the Ravens won't need to rush or reach to get a player they like at pick No. 30, if they desire.

Ravens Could Go Receiver in Round 1

Adding pass-catchers to the Ravens offense has been a staple of General Manager Eric DeCosta's tenure since 2019. In five drafts, DeCosta has taken a receiver in the first round three times (Marquise Brown, Rashod Bateman, Zay Flowers), and has in total selected seven receivers. With the 2024 draft class also boasting talent at the position, The Baltimore Sun’s  Brian Wacker isn't ruling out the Ravens grabbing a receiver early this go-round.

"With what's been dubbed a deep draft class at receiver, there are plenty of intriguing prospects the Ravens will get a look at this week at the scouting combine, where receivers will work out on the field Saturday, along with quarterbacks and running backs (the latter being another area of interest for Baltimore)," Wacker wrote. "They've already interviewed several of them."

According to Wacker, the Ravens met with: Texas' Adonai Mitchell, Oregon's Troy Franklin, Florida State's Keon Coleman and Georgia's Ladd McConkey and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint.

While Wacker won't rule out the Ravens taking a receiver high in the draft, he's also speculating whether it's all a ruse by DeCosta to make others trade above them in a panic and making a prospect fall to them.

"And because the days between now and the draft are as much about deception as anything else, there's also the possibility that talking to several receivers at the combine is simply a smokescreen to get other teams to trade up ahead of the Ravens to draft one, thus leaving an offensive tackle or cornerback to Baltimore," Wacker wrote. "Still, the receiver position is at least on DeCosta's mind, or at least appears to be."

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