Mailbag: Will Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngakoue Return?

Left: DE Yannick Ngakoue; Right: OLB Matthew Judon

Brown: The Ravens will target both the draft and free agency looking for wide receivers and offensive linemen. But if they sign a free agent at either position, I don't think it will be one of the bigger names on the market. The Ravens don't usually make a big splash early in free agency and they have talented young players including Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews who they'd like to re-sign to long-term deals. I don't see the Ravens spending wildly in free agency.

This is another strong draft at wide receiver and General Manager Eric DeCosta has shown a willingness to target that position. The Ravens have drafted Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay and James Proche II over the last two years, and it wouldn't shock me to see them take another wideout early. Possibilities for the Ravens with the 27th pick include Rashod Bateman of Minnesota, Terrace Marshall of LSU and Kadarius Toney of Florida.

I'd also expect the Ravens to draft a guard or center, even if they sign a free agent offensive lineman. Several first-round offensive line prospects are being linked to the Ravens including Christian Darrisaw of Virginia Tech and Jaylen Mayfield of Michigan. Both are viewed as versatile enough to play either tackle or guard in the NFL.

Brown: That's asking a lot for the Ravens to accomplish! It would be great for Baltimore to re-sign both Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue, but I honestly don't expect both to return. Perhaps one, but not both.

Judon and Ngakoue will be highly-coveted free agents. Judon is coming off his second straight Pro Bowl season and he's an all-around player. Ngakoue already has 45.5 career sacks and he's 25 years old. The Ravens also have three other outside linebackers who are pending free agents, Tyus Bowser, Jihad Ward and Pernell McPhee so there's a lot to sort out at that position.

Since I don't see the Ravens signing top tier players early in free agency, I expect the Ravens to target the draft for offensive line help. However, a veteran offensive lineman could become available via trade if another team is looking to create more salary cap room. The Ravens were happy to trade for defensive end Calais Campbell last year, and perhaps a veteran offensive lineman who fits Baltimore will become available via trade during the coming weeks.

Brown: The Ravens should have plenty of good options with the first pick whether they choose offense or defense. A lot of it will depend on how free agency changes the roster.

If I have to guess right now, I'll say they'll go with defense and take an edge rusher. But they don't have to be locked into any position, and the Ravens believe in their draft board and have the confidence to take whoever they grade as the best player available.

It's interesting you bring up cornerback, because while the Ravens are deep at the position, Todd McShay of ESPN has the Ravens taking South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Lamb in the first round of his latest mock draft. A lot of people were surprised when the Ravens took J.K. Dobbins in the second round last year, despite being deep at running back. That worked out very well for Baltimore, and it's more evidence that even when you think you know what a team will do, you can never be certain. Whether they go offense or defense in the first round, the main goal for the Ravens will be to select a quality player.

Brown: The most obvious success was that the Ravens won a playoff game for the first time since 2014. That was an important step in my view, because there's just a different intensity during the playoffs and the Ravens are a relatively young team. Having that experience to draw from, winning a tough playoff game in Tennessee, is going to help the Ravens moving forward.

The way Baltimore handled adversity in general last year, overcoming a COVID-19 outbreak and winning their last five regular season games after falling to 6-5, was extremely impressive. The coaches and players showed resiliency, one of the main qualities it takes to win a championship.

As for fixes, I'd say that improving the passing game, all aspects of it, is an area the Ravens will focus on. They have already hired Pass Game Specialist Keith Williams and Wide Receivers Coach Tee Higgins, and both DeCosta and Head Coach John Harbaugh mentioned pass protection as an area that needs to improve. Jackson will continue to work on his overall skillset as a quarterback, and I think there's reason to believe that Baltimore will be a more efficient passing team next season.

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