Ranking the Ravens positions of need entering offseason

On Episode 37 of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast, Nolan McGraw, Ian Schultz, and myself dished out our Ravens postseason positional report cards. We gave letter grades for each position on the Ravens roster, following up with our bye week grades from Episode 24. After making it to the playoffs for the first time in four years, the Ravens roster graded out as follows:

Because of roster turnover or injury, the positions that graded out high may not match these grades next season. The same goes for the areas that turned in lower grades. Those who follow the Ravens can point to certain positions that need some work over the summer. Here’s my positional ranking, from the ones that need addressed most to the ones that should be addressed last.

Image Credit: Getty Images

#1: Running back

Along with Lamar Jackson, Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon helped turn one of the worst rushing attacks in the NFL to the second best. They deserve credit for that. But let’s not forget that Edwards began the season on the practice squad and Dixon has a history full of injuries and suspensions. Both of them can contribute in 2019, but shouldn’t be considered a #1 running back.

Both Ty Montgomery and Buck Allen will hit the open market as free agents. Allen was barely used on offense after the bye week. The same can be said for Montgomery even with the Ravens trading for him midway through the season. Alex Collins is a restricted free agent, which basically means that the Ravens have control over where he plays next season. Before hitting injured deserve in December, Collins was in John Harbaugh’s dog house due to a fumbling problem. I’d consider his chances of staying on the Ravens roster a long shot.

Guys like Collins and Justin Forsett have given the Ravens decent one-year runs, but the last running back the Ravens had that scared opposing defenses was Ray Rice. They desperately need to find a play-making running back that can carry the ball 15-20 times a game to take some of the load off Jackson’s shoulders.

A name that comes to mind right away is Le’Veon Bell, who followed Jackson on Instagram and responded to Ian Rapoport‘s claims that Bell would fit well with the Ravens. It’s unlikely that the Ravens would take a flier on Bell, but a player like him is someone the Ravens need to try to find this offseason.

#2: Linebacker/Pass rusher

It’s going to be interesting to see what the Ravens decide to do with Terrell Suggs, who’s entering free agency. Suggs, 36, just wrapped up his 16th season with the Ravens. He ended the year with seven sacks, but accumulated just 1.5 of those over the final nine games. He’s a shell of his former self but still provides a type of leadership that’s hard to replace.

Za’Darius Smith, also entering free agency, led the Ravens with 8.5 sacks last season. It’s hard to see new General Manager Eric DeCosta matching what other teams in the league are going to offer Smith, especially with the Ravens expected to do all they can to retain C.J. Mosley.

Under the assumption that Smith and Suggs aren’t back next season, that would leave Matthew Judon, Tyus Bowser, and Tim Williams to fill the void at outside linebacker. Judon, along with Suggs, posted seven sacks in 2018 and has 19 over the past two seasons. Bowser and Williams have barely seen the field at all in their first two seasons despite being drafted in the first three rounds of the 2017 draft. Williams was even benched and was a healthy scratch during the final stretch of the season.

No matter if Suggs is back or not, the Ravens need to find a pass rusher that opposing offenses are required to game-plan for.

Focusing on inside linebackers, Mosley is an exceptional leader. He is nowhere near the player of Ray Lewis‘ caliber, but he calls plays in the huddle and gets his teammates lined up in the correct spots. The younger players on the team follow his lead and have respect for him.

The #1 Ravens defense could get by with Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young starting inside next season, but the production and chemistry within the unit would take a significant dip downward. Onwuasor and Young are talented young linebackers, but at this point none of them can fill the gap that would be left by Mosley’s departure.

#3: Offensive Line

The Ravens have three spots solidified on their offensive line for next season: Ronnie Stanley at left tackle, Orlando Brown at right tackle, and Marshal Yanda at right guard. Beyond that, there’s some work to be done.

James Hurst and Matt Skura, while both under contract in 2019, shouldn’t start again next season. Neither of these guys is physical and oftentimes they get outmatched in pass protection. While a lot of the Ravens run plays with Jackson went outside, their deficiencies got hidden. Alex Lewis continued to battle injuries last season and had another procedure on his shoulder just a few weeks ago. I wouldn’t say he’s a lock to remain on the team in 2019.

The Ravens offensive line is awfully young. I would look for DeCosta to sign a veteran guard and give Bradley Bozeman a chance to win the center job in training camp. If that doesn’t work out, there’s other options.

Image Credit: Business Insider

#4: Wide Receiver

Wide receiver would rank higher on my list, but finding a game-changing running back with Jackson at quarterback takes precedent over receivers. John Brown led the receiving core in 2018 with 715 yards and five touchdowns, but he’s a free agent and will likely find a new home elsewhere.

Willie Snead caught a team-high 62 receptions and proved to be a reliable target for Jackson in the slot. He will return next season in the latter half of a two-year deal.

Many are under the assumption that the Ravens are going to part ways with the disappointing Michael Crabtree. However, Crabtree has two years remaining on his deal. With Brown likely finding work elsewhere, the Ravens receiver room would look awfully empty without Crabtree.

Beyond Crabtree and Snead as the default starters, the Ravens are looking at special trams standout Chris Moore, along with Jordan Lasley and Jaleel Scott, who did not see any regular season snaps during their rookie years.

As always, the free agent pool for wide receivers is slim. In history the Ravens always whiff on selecting receivers in the early rounds of the draft. There’s no way to tell if DeCosta’s methods can change that trend, but the Ravens need to take a chance on another early-round receiver this year to grow with Jackson.

#5: Secondary

The Ravens could potentially be without two of their four starters in the secondary next season. Both Eric Weddle and Jimmy Smith are under contract in 2019, but Weddle turned 34 in January and Smith’s cap number (over $15 million) doesn’t match up with his production or reliability.

At this point, I think it’s more likely that Weddle returns than it is for Smith to willingly take a pay-cut. If Smith isn’t around next season, Brandon Carr could start again, but he turns 33 in May. Carr played exceptionally well in 2018 but he’s not a player the Ravens want out there on every down.

What the Ravens do with the secondary will ultimately come down to what happens with Smith, Weddle, and potentially Carr. If at least two of these guys are back in 2019, there’s not much that needs to be done with the defensive backs. But it’s a real possibility that the Ravens will need to add a corner and a safety this offseason.

#6: Backup Quarterback

If the Ravens are going to go forward with Jackson as their starting quarterback, they need to be prepared to replace him in the event of Jackson going down. It’s no secret that mobile quarterbacks like Jackson have had durability problems in the NFL. It’s inevitable that Jackson’s playing style will cause him to miss a handful (or even a big chunk) of games at some point.

Perhaps the Ravens retain Robert Griffin III. He was the perfect mentor for Jackson and played well when needed. Look at what the Redskins did when they took Griffin second overall in 2012 – they drafted Kirk Cousins two rounds later. Completely different quarterback, but someone who can come in and play efficiently.

The Ravens can’t have another Ryan Mallett backing up Jackson. If it’s not the draft, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tyrod Taylor, Geno Smith, and Tom Savage are some names to keep an eye on.

Image Credit: Getty Images

#7: Tight End

Entering last offseason, tight end was the weakest position on the Ravens. A year later, it is arguably the least of the Ravens concerns regarding the offensive side of the ball.

Mark Andrews dazzled in his first season, leading rookie tight ends with 552 receiving yards and three touchdowns. No matter if Jackson or Joe Flacco was playing quarterback, Andrews made his presence felt. Hayden Hurst‘s rookie season was disappointing, but with an injury-free training camp he should bounce back. It’s fair to be skeptical until it happens, though.

Both Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams are unrestricted free agents. None of them will command a big market. If I’m Eric DeCosta, I’m making a strong effort to retain Boyle. He may not offer much in the passing game, but he’s an outstanding run blocker. He’ll continue to be useful in the Ravens run-heavy offense if he returns. Williams has a lot of injury baggage and hasn’t been productive enough to justify giving him a new contract.

#8: Defensive Line

Aside from Brent Urban likely leaving in free agency, there’s not much to be done along the defensive line. Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce will continue where they left off, and Willie Henry will be back after missing almost the entire 2018 season with multiple injuries. Chris Wormley took a step up in his second season. If Urban isn’t in the mix next season, Wormley could slide into his role.

#9: Special Teams

There’s not much to be said here. Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, and Morgan Cox will make up ‘The Wolfpack’ once again under Jerry Rosburg’s tutelage. Moore and Cyrus Jones remain under contract and will likely handle the kick/ punt return duties again. The personnel making the tackles on kickoffs and punts may change, but the special teams unit doesn’t need to be tweaked too much.

Cover Image Credit: New York Post

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