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Here are the biggest remaining needs for the Ravens after a busy start to free agency

Here are the biggest remaining needs for the Ravens after a busy start to free agency

This last week has been a whirlwind in Baltimore. The Ravens have been extremely active, strengthening a roster that won 14 games in 2019.

That roster has been impacted in nearly every possible way. The Ravens gave Matt Judon the franchise tag. They traded for Calais Campbell. They traded away Hayden Hurst for a second-round pick. They agreed to sign Michael Brockers.

Oh, and franchise legend Marshal Yanda retired.

The activity shows the front office isn't content to rest on its laurels after a magical season that ended so much sooner than expected. Baltimore general manager Eric DeCosta has made it clear he wants to build as strong a roster as possible while they have the financial flexibility to do so. Now, this flurry of moves leaves a few notable priorities entering the heart of draft season. 

The Ravens hold seven picks in the first four rounds, including No. 28 (first), No. 55 (second), No. 60 (second), No. 92 (third), No. 106 (third), No. 129 (fourth) and No. 134 (fourth). They also hold two fifth-round picks and a seventh.

Here are the biggest remaining holes for the Ravens to focus on moving forward.

Offensive Line

Without Yanda, it’s the offensive line that takes top priority.

This team was blessed with great health along the offensive line in 2019, a sneaky key to their offensive explosion. They still have Pro Bowlers at both tackle positions, but the interior OL is both unproven and shallow.

James Hurst has been released. Matt Skura is coming off of a devastating knee injury. Patrick Mekari filled in well in his absence, but is still an undrafted free agent who was exposed in the playoffs.

And it will all be without the safety net of the best guard of his generation.

“I mean, I think we're open for suggestions if you all have any suggestions,” DeCosta said, tongue-in-cheek, at Yanda’s retirement press conference. “But you can't replace a guy like Marshal. As great a player as he his, he's a better person and a leader by example day to day. And the other guys see that. They feed off of that. It becomes contagious. You can't replace that overnight. You hope you hit on some guys at some point who could become that guy, but that's like a once-every-10-years type of guy.”

If the offensive line falls apart, the entire offense falls apart. It’s the least appreciated position on the field, yet perhaps the second-most vital behind quarterback alone. 

Thankfully, the end of the first round or rounds two and three - the Ravens hold five picks in the first three rounds - is the sweet spot to find their next plug-and-play guard.

 

Linebacker

The Ravens struggled substantially with their tackling in 2019, and their rush defense did them no favors during the upset loss to the Titans. They’ve spent some resources beefing up the defensive line, adding stalwarts in Campbell and Brockers to pair with Brandon Williams in the middle.

But eventually, the linebackers will need to step up as well. With Patrick Onwuasor a free agent, the Ravens are extremely thin at this position, arguably the roster's biggest hole.

Thankfully, they are also in a great spot to address this need.

The two most common names linked to the Ravens early in mock drafts are Patrick Queen (LSU) and Kenneth Murray (Oklahoma). Two college stars from proven programs who have the speed to cover the middle of the field and stick with players from sideline to sideline, plus the physicality to make their tackles.

The biggest question for the Ravens is less would they have interest in either Queen or Murray, and more will either of those two be available with the 28th pick? Eric DeCosta has plenty of ammo to move up if he wants to get his guy. 

Edge rusher

Strong arguments to be made for wide receiver, tight end, running back, or even safety. But you can’t make a list of Ravens needs without mentioning a pass rusher.

Keeping Judon in town helps immensely, but he’s still the only player on the roster with a proven track record of getting to the quarterback. There's a reason the Ravens were just 21st in sacks last season despite leading in almost every game.

The Ravens were clearly uncomfortable relying on youngsters Jaylon Ferguson and Tyus Bowser to fill the potential void Judon would have left, despite always being willing to let pass rushers walk in previous offseasons.

That’s not to say those two can’t contribute - pass rushers take time to develop. But the Ravens don’t want to be in a position where they are forced to rely on it. Even with an elite secondary, the best possible thing a defense can do is pressure the passer.

If the Ravens want to see their defense take a step forward to match their elite offense - boy, that sure is a weird sentence to type, huh? - then a great pass rusher is the missing ingredient.

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Ravens reopen training facility in Owings Mills without players and coaches

Ravens reopen training facility in Owings Mills without players and coaches

The Ravens reopened their training facility in Owings Mills, Maryland, on Tuesday under Phase I of the NFL’s process to reopen. This means that while the facility is open, players and coaches still cannot return.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan gave the green light last week that the Ravens could open their training facility and M&T Bank Stadium. 

According to the Ravens’ release, individuals returning to team facilities are mainly from the equipment crew, football video group, and the personnel department. The team is limited to a maximum of 75 people in the building at one time. Employees must wear masks and have their temperature checked before entering the building.

Phase II of the reopening process is to allow coaches, but still not players, into the facility — as long as the state allows for it. There has not been a date set for the beginning of Phase II.

For players and coaches to be in the facility at the same time, the Ravens indicated the target for the entire team to be together is for training camp, currently slated for the end of July. 

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Ravens wide receiver Miles Boykin heading to Florida to work out with Lamar

Ravens wide receiver Miles Boykin heading to Florida to work out with Lamar

The importance of Miles Boykin’s second season as a Raven cannot be overstated. 

After a strong offseason last year, one that included a standout training camp, Boykin went under the radar in his 2019 campaign. He posted just 13 catches for 198 yards in 16 games and caught three touchdown passes. He was targeted only 22 times all season. 

He was the team’s eighth leading receiver, in terms of catches and yards, and was fourth in targets at the receiver position.

Now, with two more rookies in the wide receiver room, the urgency Boykin is facing is palpable. 

“I just feel like I’m getting better as an all-around player,” Boykin said Tuesday on a conference call with reporters. “I’m capable of a lot more, I’ll be able to play faster this year and have more chemistry with Lamar and just be able to go out there and play the game the way I want to play.”

He’ll travel to Florida next week to throw with Lamar Jackson, wide receiver Marquise Brown and a host of other Ravens, in place of offseason workouts that have been canceled. In the meantime, he’s trained with fellow second-year player in quarterback Trace McSorley, who is closer to home for Boykin -- meaning workouts are less of an ordeal to make happen. 

Chemistry for Boykin will be important, as the Ravens shipped tight end Hayden Hurst to the Falcons in the offseason and have said they could look to become more of a passing team in the future. 

But the Ravens also drafted wideouts Devin Duvernay and James Proche in April’s draft, which muddies the water as to where the increased targets can come from. 

That’s where Boykin thinks he can step in with his experience in the wide receiver group.

“When you’re younger, you worry about, ‘What do I have to do?’” Boykin said. “When you’re older, you know, ‘Why am I doing this?’ Like, 'this makes sense.' Everything starts to roll off of it. Now I’m worried about how to do things right, I’m not worried about what I need to do right. That’s part of film study that you don’t have time for during the season.”

Boykin added he won’t be shy about helping those rookie wide receivers, though, as now he’ll be one of the veterans in the room just a year removed from his rooke season.

“I would say film is going to be huge, especially during July,” Boykin said. “Even though I wasn’t participating in OTAs, I was still involved in meetings, I was doing everything else. I just couldn’t practice because I was injured. Even then, for rookies, it gets hard and stressful because you’re trying to pick up a whole new playbook. In July, you have a chance to relax a little bit, and I don’t think it’s going to be like that this year, especially for rookies.”

Despite everything, from Boykin’s confidence to knowledge of the offense, the threat of coronavirus has dampened expectations for everyone across the league in terms of what can be expected. 

That’s not Boykin’s concern, however. Whenever the 2020 season comes, if it does, he knows he’ll be ready. 

“At the end of the day, I’m still playing football -- if we have a season, obviously,” Boykin said. “It doesn’t matter where I’m playing it, who I’m playing it against, football is football. There’s going to be 11 people on each side of the ball and I just have to go out there and do my job. It doesn’t affect me as much.”

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