2013 Team Needs: Baltimore Ravens

The Super Bowl champions have little time to dwell on their success before the demands of free agency.. Gordon McGuinness highlights three areas of need.

| 4 years ago

The Super Bowl champions have little time to dwell on their success before the demands of free agency.. Gordon McGuinness highlights three areas of need.

2013 Team Needs: Baltimore Ravens


Despite backing into the playoffs by losing four of their last five games, the Baltimore Ravens got hot at just the right time and rallied all the way to a Super Bowl victory. In a season that saw them say goodbye to an all-time great in a manner that wouldn’t look out of place on a Hollywood script, they continued to find ways to win in the postseason.

Despite their success, the Ravens still have plenty of areas of need, with question marks over the future of at least one other high-profile defender and, while they have some cap space, a large portion of that will be on its way to Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco.

We’ve compiled a list of Baltimore’s impending free agents, but here’s a look at the Ravens biggest needs heading into free agency.

Inside Linebacker

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock since Week 17, Ray Lewis has decided to call time on a 17 year career that is likely to lead him to Canton, Ohio in five years time. While what Lewis means to the Ravens in an emotional and leadership sense can’t be quantified, his play on the field this past year suggests it won’t be as big a loss in a physical sense. Still a solid tackler when he gets to the ball carrier, Lewis struggled to make much of an impact against the run in his final season and had become a liability in pass coverage.

Add to that the struggles of Jameel McClain, even before he went down with a spinal injury, and it’s obvious the Ravens go into the offseason with a need at the position. Thankfully for them, the perfect fit is already on the roster, provided they can afford to keep him.

Free Agent Fix: Dannell Ellerbe

The highest graded inside linebacker on the Ravens roster, Dannell Ellerbe showed the production in 2012 to match the flashes we had seen from him in the past. He struggled in coverage, allowing 369 receiving yards from the 53 passes thrown his way, but was solid enough against the run. It was as a pass rusher where he really shone, however, leading all inside linebackers with a Pass Rushing Productivity rating of 18.7. Making that number all the more impressive is the fact that he struggled in the last few weeks of the season with an injury. Before the injury he had the highest Pass Rushing Productivity rating of any inside linebacker since we began grading.

The one concern with Ellerbe is that his play will attract the interest of other teams, with the divisional rival Cleveland Browns a potential suitor after a switch to the 3-4 themselves. That could drive the price too high for the Ravens, but as long as they can afford him, Ellerbe should be the guy.

Safety

While all the hype around the Ravens at the Super Bowl was on Lewis’ impending retirement, it’s fair to wonder if we’ve seen the last of another future Hall of Famer, at least as a player in Baltimore. Ed Reed has been the very definition of what you want from a safety in coverage for most of his career, and has earned a reputation that sees many quarterbacks do their best to avoid him in coverage. In playoff victories over Denver and New England, Reed was targeted just twice by fellow future Hall of Famers Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

Still, he isn’t what he once was, with injuries taking their toll over the years. Reed has often spoken about the struggle between wanting to keep playing and not wanting to end up in a wheel chair, and that dilemma shows up in his recent tackling, with 19 missed tackles in 2012. Even if Reed doesn’t retire this offseason, he’s out of contract in Baltimore and likely to attract plenty of interest.

Free Agent Fix: Jim Leonhard

Should they indeed by priced out of bringing Reed back, provided he opts to continue playing, the Ravens should be able to take advantage of a safety market filled with young players looking to earn their first big contract. With players like Jarius Byrd and William Moore likely to see plenty of dollar signs being waved their way, a budget option to bring back Jim Leonhard, who was solid in Baltimore next to Reed in 2008, could be ideal.

Leonhard will be 31 early into the 2013 season, but still showed himself to be a capable safety in coverage this past year. With just seven passes thrown his way from 195 snaps in coverage, Leonhard didn’t allow a reception of over 20 yards, while picking off two passes.

Nose Tackle

Whether or not the Ravens want to admit it, Terrence Cody has been largely a non-factor in his three seasons in Baltimore. Routinely pushed off the ball at the line of scrimmage despite his size, he offers little against the run or as a pass rusher.

The team brought back Ma’ake Kemoeatu before the season began, but while he finished the season strongly, he was just as poor as Cody for much of the year and is little more than a stop gap at the position.

Free Agent Fix: Aubrayo Franklin

Like they did with Kemoeatu this past year, it would make sense to take a look at bringing back Aubrayo Franklin who was originally drafted by the team in the fifth round of the 2003 draft. Not quite the size of the likes of Kemoeatu and Cody, Franklin was far more effective against the run during his 2012 stint with the San Diego Chargers, with 16 of his 18 solo tackles resulting in a defensive stop.

He doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher, with just five hurries to show from his 125 pass rush snaps, but with a Run Stop Percentage off 11.1% , a mark bettered by just one defensive tackle this past year, he would represent an upgrade over at a position of need on the Ravens defense.

 

Follow Gordon on Twitter: @PFF_Gordon

| Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst

Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.

  • Tom

    Interesting that you chose Nose Tackle over Left Tackle. With Bryant McKinnie’s contract set to expire, this becomes what I believe to be the number two or three team need (ILB is indeed number one). Yes, they can shift Michael Oher to LT, but he’s been far more effective on the right side. The team could keep their nearly flawless playoff O-Line exactly the same if they decide to  re-sign McKinnie, which seems unlikely. Would love to hear your thoughts on a decent budget FA, or whether the draft has any underrated guys who could slip to the 32nd pick.

    Also, a thought on Safety – moving Jimmy Smith or, more likely, LD Webb to FS is a potential move they could make. LD played safety in high school and will be returning from his second ACL. Jimmy has the size and skils to fill in at S and has shown vulnerability in one on one coverage. The Ravens have 4 starting caliber CBs (assuming Cary Williams leaves) and can afford to move one to S if they feel they can get production.

    • Byah

      Tom, 4 starting-caliber corners is a stretch. Lardarius, yes. Graham, yes. Smith and Brown still need to prove it, although I’m optimistic that at least one will. It helps that both Lardarius and Graham are adept at shifting inside to cover the slot. That means Smith and Brown can really focus on working the outside.

      As for the thoughts on moving a corner to safety, I think that Lardarius would figure it out and become a very good safety at some point, but there’s going to be a learning curve there, and this team is looking to win right meow.  It also wouldn’t make much sense to move an elite cornerback (assuming Webb is able to maintain his 2011-12 level of play after the surgery) to safety, a position that is generally not valued so highly. As for moving Smith, he hasn’t even proven that he’s a good corner yet and that’s a position he’s been playing for a long time. I think his skill set may actually fit a bit better at free safety than corner, but again there’s going to be a learning curve. I doubt he’d be a good option at safety in 2013, although I admit that I’d be more interested in moving him than Webb. All of this is probably irrelevant, because Ed Reed is >50% to return IMO. 

      The LT omission is pretty glaring. If the Ravens don’t acquire a LT or retain McKinnie, they’ll have to move Oher back to left tackle. That would mean Osemele goes to RT and we either find a new LG or start Reid/Gradkowski/Harewood. Basically losing McKinnie and failing to replace him would lead to a downgrade at RT, a major downgrade at LG, and arguably a downgrade at LT (depending on how you feel about Oher vs. McKinnie at the position). McKinnie basically said that Osemele can either be a pretty good RT or an elite LG. He had an obvious incentive to say that, but I still believe it to be true. Moving Osemele back to RT should be avoided at all costs and the same goes for moving Oher back to LT. 

      • Tom

        Smith and Brown are fringe starting-caliber, so perhaps that was a stretch. My point was even without Cary, we have enough depth and talent at CB to afford the move of one of them to Safety. To your point, Jimmy would be the preferable move since LD is much more talented (assuming he retains his quickness after surgery) at CB. I’m not as keen on Nigel Carr or Emmanuel Cook’s talents as free safeties, but they were signed this past season for depth. Perhaps the team will look to one of them at a cheaper price should Reed leave.

        LT, to me, is the biggest question this off season (assuming the Boldin rumors are false), since I believe we can find talent at LB either through free agency or the draft. Ozzie has shown the ability to replace this position time and time again. But it’s nearly impossible to find a viable LT through free agency – teams simply don’t let them leave or you have to overpay (i.e. Jared Gaither) someone with question marks either on or off the field. I’d have to do some research, but I would believe that it’s difficult to find someone who can step in right away at the end of the first round. Ozzie could trade up, but at what price? My point is, no matter what we end up doing, LT is definitely the biggest off-season question mark.

  • Martinjackson909

    I was 

  • Martinjac8kson909

    I was thinking the same thing as Tom (below). The Ravens have a need at LT. Hopefully Jah Reid can step up the way the Ravens think he can. If not, This brute o-line that dominated in the playoffs becomes a weakness.

    • Byah

      Reid wouldn’t line up at LT, so I assume you are referring to an Oher-Reid-Birk/?-Yanda-Osemel line.  I agree that it’s a much worse line than Mckinnie-Osemele-Birk-Yanda-Oher, but I don’t think that it would be a weakness. You still have one elite performer in Yanda. Osemele was decent at RT as a rookie. Birk is still a pretty good center (although who knows what you’d get from a potential replacement). Reid could be a decent LG. Oher doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence as a pass blocker at LT, but it’s not like he’s anywhere near bad enough to play tackle for the Bears or Cardinals.

      • Tom

        I really think, if they can find a viable option at LT, keeping Oher at RT is key. He’s proven the ability to run block as well as shut down elite pass rushers from that side. I don’t know what it is about the left side that he can’t deal with, since he swallowed Mathis and Von Miller in back to back weeks. Miller’s only sack in the Denver game was one in which Joe couldn’t find an open receiver. But if they don’t re-sign McKinnie (why would he even want to stay?), they’ll likely have to sign someone in free agency, draft someone, or move Oher back to LT.

  • MJHendrickson21

    You really think Jameel McClain is that bad? Martinjac8kson909 I think the Ravens have given up on Jah Reid and Ramon Harewood. They should use there first round pick on a offensive lineman since its a deep draft for that.

  • Tom

    Have to give it up to you, Gordon. I thought LT was a bigger need than DT, but I listened to Ozzie Newson’s press conference today and he agreed that DT is the second biggest need. Top 3 needs according to Ozzie line up exactly as you’ve laid them out here.

    This is why you write for PFF and I do not. Great work!