The ending to last season will sting in the heart of many of Ravens fan for years to come, with two critical errors stopping them from first winning the AFC Championship Game outright and then taking it to overtime. Those two plays don’t tell the whole story of the Ravens season however. Joe Flacco (-2.8) had a difficult start to the year but had just one negatively graded game from Week 12 through that AFC Championship Game. If he can produce like that throughout next season, then the Ravens will likely be competing for the Super Bowl again late in the season.
Notoriously good drafters, there’s not a lot of key needs on the Ravens roster here. A couple of improvements could very well be the difference between heading to the Super Bowl or watching the confetti drop for someone else like in Foxboro last season. So where do the Ravens need to improve, and who fits those needs? Let’s take a look at the Ravens free agency needs.
Primary Need: Left Guard
It’s difficult to predict how the Ravens will shuffle the interior of their offensive line this offseason. Both left guard Ben Grubbs (+1.4) and center Matt Birk (+5.1) are slated to be free agents. They already have Andre Gurode (-15.0), who took snaps at all three interior positions last season, on the roster so ideally they’d like to have him fill one of the vacant spots. Center makes the most sense, he showed the talent to play there in Dallas and when pushed out to left guard in 2011 for the Ravens he struggled.
They’ve already intimated that they are offering Grubbs a lot of money so it’s clear they are going to make a run at re-signing him. That being said, Grubbs pedigree as a first round draft pick, and his solid play in the last three seasons, will likely lead to his price being driven up. Meanwhile, Evan Mathis (+34.6), our top rated guard by some distance, was utterly dominant last year. He doesn’t have the same number of starts with just 22 since we began grading in 2008. That will keep his price down below Grubbs and Carl Nicks (+28.4) in all likelihood. Surely what’s important is what he has done when on the field? Last season, Mathis allowed just 15 total pressures while dominating in the run game. If Baltimore can look past his somewhat limited body of work, they could upgrade their offensive line and do so at a lower cost than re-signing Grubbs.
Secondary Need: Wide Receiver
The Ravens look set at their top two receiver positions. Anquan Boldin (+5.6) showed last season that when required, he can still take over a game. Two solid examples are Week 6 against Houston and the second half of the Week 8 encounter with Arizona. Opposite Boldin, Torrey Smith (-1.6) instantly became the deep threat at WR the Ravens were lacking. His 4.43 speed is more than enough to give many defensive backs nightmares. Outside of those two, however, there’s not a lot in Baltimore. Lee Evans (-3.9), who dropped what would have been the game winning pass in the AFC Championship Game, has just been released. Rookies LaQuan Williams (-2.8) and Tandon Doss (-0.6) never really did anything of merit in their first seasons.
There’s a real need for a third WR now in Baltimore and in a crowded free agency market, Robert Meachem (+4.2) could be an ideal fit. Meachem averaged a touchdown once every 10 receptions this past season and has been a reliable target for Drew Brees in New Orleans over the past few years. With just nine drops over the past three seasons, he would round out the top three receivers in Baltimore quite nicely.
Tertiary Need: Running Back
After franchising Ray Rice (+16.0), the heart of the Ravens offense won’t be going anywhere this season. However, Ricky Williams (+0.6) retired leaving untested Anthony Allen (-0.5) as the backup running back in waiting. With Rice’s skill set, in particular his success as a receiver, the Ravens don’t need a typical third down back. They just need someone to spell Rice and keep him from being overworked.
Forgotten in Green Bay amidst their Super Bowl run, and the play of James Starks (+9.6), Ryan Grant (+2.7) would make a nice backup in Baltimore. His opportunities were limited last season, but when he got the chance, he made the most of it. Averaging 4.2 yards per carry, with more than half his yardage coming after contact, Grant ran for 594 yards in 2011, including 33 yards in the divisional playoff loss to the Giants. He fumbled just once and forced 14 missed tackles on 142 carries. If called on as a receiver, he showed that he’s more than capable, averaging 13.0 yards per catch. It’s unlikely that Grant will be able to find a starting job this offseason, so replacing Williams on a contending team could be an ideal fit for both parties.