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.
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.
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.
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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