On the surface, it appears that the Ravens have a lot of work to do in the off season. But, let’s look a little deeper. The Ravens led the league in a terrible stat last year: players on the IR. IR names from the Ravens roster include names like Flacco, Forsett, Pitta, Smith, and Suggs. Those are only the names of players that your “average fan” would know! There was a point in the season where the Ravens IR accounted for, roughly, $50 million in salary.
So, when you consider that the Ravens lost a lot of significant starters, including some of the biggest leaders on the team, you can understand why they’ve got the #6 pick in the draft this year. Assuming players can stay healthy, the Ravens are already a significantly better team in 2016. That being said, every team has needs.
Shifting the focus is key. Let’s start by ensuring that players are healthy, then look at a few basic needs.
The Ravens’ Problems (other than health)
Lardarius Webb moved to safety and finished as a serviceable player. He graded out as the #34 safety out of 88 qualifying players according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). I think this is going to be a long-term move, meaning there is an empty spot at CB on the roster.
The opening may be exactly what Shareece Wright needs to take the next step. Wright finished the season as the #41 ranked CB out of 111 players who qualified. He’s not Darrelle Revis, but he’s startable. The Ravens should still look at adding someone.
Brandon Williams was a great DT last year. He finished #21 out of 123 players, but he specialized in run defense. The Ravens focus should be on rushing the QB. The pass rushers that Baltimore has along the line are average at best.
Before being injured, Jeremy Zuttah was an above average center. Kelechi Osemele split time between guard and tackle. He was #2 against the run as a tackle. When healthy, Eugene Monroe is a little better than average. The issue is, we have one usable guard right now. Marshal Yanda is the best in the league, but has no counterpart. Osemele may walk as a free agent this year. That could leave the Ravens wondering about how to protect Flacco who will be coming back from a torn ACL.
Free agents: The Ravens won’t be making any big splashes in free agency, so let’s look at the second tier of CB this year.
Patrick Robinson has the ability to be a great slot corner. He allowed more than 30 yards once in 2015. Brandon Boykin played well while in Pittsburgh. He was great in pass coverage; finishing tied for the 17th best coverage rating. The Ravens would do well to look at one of these corners if they’re not depending on the draft.
Jalen Ramsey is going to be the popular pick. He’s an athletic freak who graded out as the best cover corner in College football last year. Ramsey did himself a favor when performing at the combine too. He finished 7th in the 40 and was the top performer in vertical and broad jump. These stats tell me that he is great in coverage, explosive, and able to jump with the best in the NFL. Ramsey also offers positional flexibility as he can play Safety. The Ravens will love that. They’ll have to take him with their first round pick, if he lasts that long.
William Jackson III is someone most fans won’t know. He went to a smaller school (Houston), but performed incredibly. Jackson finished the season with the second best coverage rating (according to PFF) in college. He was behind, you guessed it, Jalen Ramsey. Jackson finished with the fourth best 40 of all CB’s at the combine. Jackson didn’t perform as well in strength or jumping exercises, and didn’t perform in the 3-cone, vertical, or shuttle drills. He is, however, a fast CB with good size and great speed. The Ravens could get him in the 3rd round.
Other players worth noting: Vernon Hargreaves, Eli Apple, Kendall Fuller
Derrick Shelby is a solid DE. He graded out as a better run defender than pass protector, but he performed well while filling in for Cameron Wake. Shelby finished with 41 pressures in 455 snaps. The Ravens could get him cheap, then teach him how to finish.
Joey Bosa is the obvious name here. He projects to be a great, overall, prospect. He’s able to beat linemen because of his technique and strength. Technique is something that doesn’t go away, so he’ll be a star. The Ravens will have to select Bosa at number if he’s available that late.
DeForest Buckner is a huge bear of a man who is a plus player in against the run and the pass. He ranked as the nation’s number one pass rusher in 2015. Buckner seems to be a tireless prospect as he also led all defensive linemen in snaps played. Buckner was on peoples’ watch list because of his potential, this year, he earned a spot because of his performance. Like most of this list, the Ravens will have to draft him early.
Carl Nassib is a powerful lineman that most fans haven’t heard of. He’s a raw player who has a lot of upside, but will have a lot of work when he gets to the NFL. After earning a spot as a walk on at Penn State, Nassib led the country in sacks last year. I don’t expect him to be the next Julius Peppers, but he has the potential to be an every Sunday player down the line. The Ravens could get him anywhere between the second and third rounds.
Other players worth noting: Chris Jones, Shawn Oakman
Donald Penn may be a hopeful statement, but he’s not a huge name that’s hitting free agency. He is, however, a huge guy who has played very well recently. He’s missed 52 snaps in eight years. That’s pretty darn good. He’s much better in pass protection than run blocking. Penn finished 11th in pass grading last year.
Brandon Brooks has been a great guard in recent years. He’s was top-10 in 2013 and 2014. Last year, he struggled in run blocking, but finished as the 8th best pass blocker in the NFL. Given his down year in the run game, the Ravens could get Brooks at a discount.
There is no shortage of linemen in the draft.
Laremy Tunsil was projected to be the number 1 choice before the combine. With combine action complete and now being analyzed, some experts see that changing. I don’t expect Tunsil to fall to #6, but if he does, the Ravens should sprint to the podium. Tunsil was selective about what drills he participated in during the combine, meaning there are no raw scores. That being said, he’s still going to go high in this draft. Some experts compare him to Tyron Smith. The Ravens could use a franchise-type left tackle again.
Ronnie Stanley isn’t quite what Tunsil is, but should still perform well in the NFL. He has a legitimate shot at being a long-term pro bowl member. After completing his junior year, Stanley returned to Notre Dame to work on his weaknesses which shows a level of maturity that many prospects lack. He’s an interesting prospect who could benefit the Ravens greatly, but they’ll have to take him at #6.
Cody Whitehair is an interesting prospect that the Ravens could pick up after trading back in the draft. He’s offers positional flexibility (playing RT, LG, and LT in college) which the Ravens would love. He was a four year starter and became captain in 2015. He’s a workroom freak who has incredible strength and body control. He showed great agility during the Combine, but didn’t perform well in the bench.
Jack Conklin earned his spot at Michigan State when he was a walk-on. He had to prove his value before he could earn any sort of special status. Conklin was a Freshman All-American and a second-team Big Ten honoree. It’s been said that Conklin is “tougher than beef jerky” which fits perfectly with the Ravens philosophy.
Other players worth noting: Taylor Decker, Le’Raven Clark (it would be a bit ironic if they did draft him), Jason Spriggs.