Though the Ravens’ run through free agency went as well as could reasonably be expected for a team without bundles of money to burn, they’re still left with a few holes on the roster headed into the NFL Draft.
The Ravens have nine picks in the draft, which begins on April 23, seven of which come in the first four rounds. There, general manager Eric DeCosta said he expects the Ravens to be able to get players that can contribute immediately with the team's first seven picks.
Here are a few of the most pressing needs on the roster with just over two weeks until the draft begins.
Baltimore selections are: 28th, 55th, 60th, 92nd, 106th, 129th, 134th, 170th, 225th overall.
The ranking of the needs can be varied a little bit, but this stands as the Ravens’ biggest hole on the roster.
It’s a position they didn’t address in free agency, and Josh Bynes and Patrick Onwuasor left for other teams. L.J. Fort is the only off-ball linebacker with starting experience. He’s backed up by special teams linebacker Chris Board and Otaro Alaka, who was placed on injured reserve before Week 4 by the Ravens.
Last season, the Ravens used Chuck Clark heavily at the linebacker position in a lot of sub-package roles. That will likely happen once agai with the return of Tavon Young and a bolstered defensive front on the way, but the Ravens won't be able to use Clark as their de facto middle linebacker for forever.
If Monday’s conference call with reporters was any indication — which could mean anything — the Ravens don’t need to take a linebacker that can be on the field for all three downs, or a linebacker in the early rounds. Instead, they can find a one or two in the mid-rounds with a specialized trait and build packages around him for one or two downs.
“I think when we look at the board, there's obviously guys who can do all three things — play the run, cover and blitz — but I think when we look at the guys throughout the draft, there are players that can help us in specific roles,” director of player personnel Joe Hortiz said. “There are guys in the mid-rounds that can come in and cover, maybe play the run.”
Interior offensive line
The Ravens interior offensive line isn’t in the best shape right now. In fact, they might need to add two or three different pieces to the entire line before next season begins.
“You’ve certainly got guys,” DeCosta said Monday. “There are some tackles that we think can play inside, play guard. There are some really good guards (and) some centers in this draft. I think we’ve shown in the past that we can find guys in the second, third, fourth, fifth rounds, offensive linemen who can come in and play.”
With Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. the bookends at both tackle spots, the interior of the Ravens’ offensive line is in a state of flux. Left guard Bradley Bozeman played well last season, but the two spots to his right are still up in the air.
Center Matt Skura is still recovering from a significant knee injury where he tore his ACL, MCL and PCL in late November. He also suffered a dislocated kneecap. Patrick Mekari played admirably in his absence, but only started five regular season games in his rookie season.
Then, legendary guard Marshal Yanda announced his retirement and left a hole at right guard. For now, Ben Powers figures to be the one to replace his spot along the line, but Powers has just one game of experience in his NFL career.
The Ravens also cut reserve tackle James Hurst, a versatile offensive lineman who could fill in at four of the positions along the line. Meaning, the Ravens could enter the 2020 season with a center and a right guard who have played, including playoffs, a combined seven games.
Expect the Ravens to add multiple picks along the line, even extending out to the tackle position as well. Backup tackle Andre Smith is 33-years-old, so some youth could be needed there as well.
“So, we’re going to have to really do a great job there,” coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s one of the biggest challenges. It’s probably job one or two. We’ve got to make sure that we do a great job of making sure the interior offensive line is all set. How you do it, you do it the old way. We’ve got to look at all the players, try to find the best fits.”
This ranking of need can be debated as well, but the Ravens need another pass-rusher on the outside to go with Matthew Judon and Jaylon Ferguson.
Teams can always use more pass-rushers, and the Ravens are no different in this case. Judon is coming off a Pro Bowl season where he registered 9.5 sacks and 33 quarterback hits — both team highs. The Ravens placed the franchise tag on him in the offseason, which will pay him just over 16 million dollars. After him, though, the Ravens had a noticeable drop in production..
Ferguson, a rookie, slowly found his role throughout the season and finished with 2.5 sacks and nine quarterback hits. Tyus Bowser placed second on the team in sacks and quarterback hits with five and 10, respectively, but the Ravens could be without two of their top five leaders in sacks last season in 2020.
The situation with Judon’s contract only adds to the need, as the Ravens quite simply might not be able to afford Judon long-term, should he have a breakout season. With not much depth on the roster behind Judon, Bowser and Ferguson, adding to that is paramount.
While the defensive line additions of Derek Wolfe and Calais Campbell should help mightily with the pass rush, the Ravens could still use another body on the edge.
In a draft class loaded with talented wide receivers, the Ravens have a lot of options. Those options could include trading up in a loaded year for wide receivers to get their guy, or trading back to take one of many on the board.
DeCosta said 25 players on the Ravens’ draft board will be wide receivers. But the Ravens have options in terms of when, and how, they want to select their receiver — or receivers.
“We like our receivers, first and foremost,” DeCosta said of the current roster. “I think Miles (Boykin) and Marquise (Brown) and Willie (Snead IV) and we brought Chris Moore back, Jaleel (Scott) — we have some guys that we think are going to make another jump. We really like that room. So, do we feel the urgency? We probably feel that with every position.”
As it stands now, the Ravens wideout room is led by two players entering their second seasons. Brown played all of his rookie season, a year in which he finished second on the team in receptions with an injured foot. He's expected to be healthy for his second season in the league. Boykin, after a strong training camp, struggled to break through and caught 13 passes for 198 yards. But in his second year in the league, there’s hope he can develop into a strong possession wideout.
The Ravens have got a talented stable of pass-catchers with Brown and Andrews leading the way, so the need for a talented third option to emerge is big for the development of the Ravens’ offense.
“We want to be the best we can be at every single position,” DeCosta said. “This happens to be a wide receiver class with a lot of really good players, and if we're on the clock and we think that guy is the best player, we'll probably pick him.”
The Ravens added to this position most in the offseason, so it might seem surprising for this to be on the list. But a deeper dive indicates it’s more of a need than originally thought.
Baltimore’s starting defensive front next season will consist of Campbell, Wolfe and Brandon Williams. After that, though, the proven depth begins to fade. And there’s even question marks with the starters.
Wolfe, Williams and Campbell are all over the age of 30, and Wolfe has played all 16 games just once since 2014. He maintains his healthier now than he was in Denver, but the concern won’t go away until he hits the field.
From there, the depth chart has Jihad Ward, Justin Ellis and Daylon Mack as backup linemen. The unit could use an influx of talent, and youth, to a position that could have some big holes to fill rather quickly.