Expect the Ravens to take at least one offensive lineman during the upcoming draft. The retirement of Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda and center Matt Skura's ongoing recovery from a serious knee injury leaves the offensive line as a top priority.
Head Coach John Harbaugh said replacing Yanda is "job one or job two" this offseason, and it seems the Draft will be the main avenue to do so.
"Offensive line is something that we definitely want to address in this draft," General Manager Eric DeCosta said. "We see some talent in all the rounds."
The top three offensive line prospects in this year's draft are Mehki Becton of Louisville, Jedrick Wills Jr. of Alabama and Tristan Wirfs of Iowa. All could be top-10 picks and they are expected to be selected well before the Ravens' first-round pick at No. 28. Offensive linemen Andrew Jones of Georgia and Josh Jones of Houston are also expected to be off the board within the top 25.
"It'd be great if a guy in the first round that we thought was a really good player fell to us," DeCosta said. "But I think those guys go off the board. As we see in most drafts, those offensive linemen, they go very quickly in the first 15 or 20 picks. We've got to assess the players that we think will still be there. We definitely took on some water this year with Marshal retiring and with Matt Skura with his knee injury."
The Ravens believe the experienced teaching of Offensive Line Coach Joe D'Alessandris gives any young offensive lineman that the Ravens draft a chance to reach his full potential. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley and right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. have developed into Pro Bowl players under D'Alessandris' guidance.
The offensive lineman most mocked to the Ravens at No. 28 is center/guard Cesar Ruiz of Michigan. Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, can provide inside information to his brother after coaching Ruiz in college, and DeCosta likes what he hears and sees.
"He's a guy that plays on his feet, he's very smart, he's a got a good body, he's a very good athlete, he's got a good strong punch, he can anchor, he can play in space," DeCosta said. "Basically, he can do all the things you want a center to do. Obviously, our connection to Michigan, we feel like we've got an advantage where we can get information on these guys that we feel will help us make decisions. And we will always use that information to the best of our ability."
Ruiz played center at Michigan but is considered versatile enough to play guard in the NFL. He's widely considered to be the top interior offensive lineman in the draft.
Netane Muti of Fresno State could be on the Ravens' draft radar with one of their two second-round picks (No. 55 or No. 60). The 6-foot-3, 315-pound Muti excelled as a physical run blocker in college, which fits the Ravens' style. He put up the most bench press reps at the Combine (44).
Guard was Muti's best position in college, would make him a candidate to compete for a starting job as a rookie to replace Yanda. Muti's last two seasons have ended with injuries (torn Achilles, shoulder), which could raise concern. However, Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus thinks Muti is the best guard in the draft.
Louisiana-Lafayette's Robert Hunt is another guard the Ravens could target as a Day 2 pick, and he's even bigger (6-foot-5, 323 pounds) than Muti. Imagine Hunt and Pro Bowl right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. (6-foot-8, 345 pounds) playing side-by-side on the Ravens' right side, providing nearly 700 pounds of blocking.
With nine draft picks, the Baltimore has flexibility to trade up a few spots at any point to grab an offensive lineman it is targeting. The Ravens haven't signed an offensive lineman during free agency, nor have they traded for an offensive lineman this offseason. However, don't expect the draft to pass by without seeing the Ravens add at least one player to their offensive front.
The Ravens ran the ball more effectively, and more often than an NFL team last season. To continue running successfully, and help Lamar Jackson take the next step as a passer, the Ravens will need an offensive line that excels.
"Our offensive line is very important," Harbaugh said. "It's a very critical element of our team and our offense. It always has been. I think even more so now than ever – the way we're built. We need to be great up front."