3 biggest offseason needs for the Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore suffered greatly from key injuries this season—John Breitenbach gives three areas the team must address in 2016.
3 biggest offseason needs for the Baltimore Ravens
A number of issues have plagued the Ravens in 2015, resulting in a 4-9 record. Offensive coordinator Marc Trestman has failed to get the best out of Joe Flacco, and the loss of defensive stalwarts Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs has set back a once-dominant defensive unit.
Clearly, depth on the offensive line is an issue too; James Hurst (26.6 overall grade) is not yet a serviceable NFL player, but the Ravens are financially committed to Eugene Monroe (79.1), and will be relying on a bounce-back year from Ricky Wagner (42.0). Although the offensive line could do with an injection of talent, it was far from the Ravens’ biggest weakness this year. Joe Flacco was pressured on just 30.2 percent of dropbacks this season, the sixth-lowest mark in the league, and the line currently has a pass blocking efficiency of 78.5, which is 10th-best.
Baltimore isn’t a bad team, and one or two slight adjustments could see the Ravens re-emerge as a contender in the AFC in 2016. Here are three priorities for the Baltimore Ravens’ offseason, along with some solutions.
It may be that the competitor in Steve Smith, Sr. (92.0) will not allow one of the best NFL receivers of the past decade to retire on the back of an injury-curtailed season. The former Panther has been one of the most exciting players to watch over the course of his career, and it’s a massive shame that he couldn’t finish a season where, despite not playing since Week 8, he sits as our 10th graded WR, in terms of receiving alone. The Ravens can’t rely on him, though, and need a difference-maker on the outside to open up their intermediate threats. Kamar Aiken (84.2) has had an impressive season, and currently ranks as our 18th-best wide receiver. The mid-season trade for Chris Givens (67.8) has added a deep threat to the mix, as well. Neither player can really take over games, though, and should be considered merely complimentary pieces.
If the season ended today, the Ravens would have the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Such a lofty position would see Ozzie Newsome have his choice of this year’s crop of top wideouts. Baylor’s Corey Coleman graded as one of the best wide receivers in the nation this season. He picked up the fourth-best receiving grade amongst Power-5 receivers after catching 73 passes for over 1,300 yards and 20 touchdowns. While he had a few too many drops (17 over the past two years), Coleman has made his fair share of plays (29 broken tackles), too. Alternatively, the Ravens might target Ole Miss WR Laquon Treadwell, who finished with the seventh-best receiving grade among Power-5 peers. Treadwell’s numbers—77 catches for 1,100 yards and eight scores—are impressive. He’s capable of bullying defensive backs when he gets into a rhythm. The draft looks like the best personnel route for finding a solution at WR this offseason, with an unconvincing crop of free agents.
Interior pass rusher
Haloti Ngata was undoubtedly on the decline in 2014, and it’s reasonable that the Ravens were reluctant to offer him anything close to the five-year, $61 million contract ($37 million guaranteed) the Lions handed to the 31-year-old defensive tackle in the 2015 offseason. With that said, the Ravens have really missed a player that can push the pocket from the interior. No interior defensive lineman has gotten close to Ngata’s pass rushing grade from 2014. Timmy Jernigan (76.0) has done a fair job; his four sacks, seven hits, and 16 hurries are a decent return, but nothing more.
It isn’t like Newsome to splash the cash on free agents, but he’s open to bargains when they become available. Daryl Smith’s addition in the 2013 offseason is a good example. Smith was one of the best coverage linebackers back then, and filled a niche in the Ravens’ defense perfectly. One of the most intriguing impending free agents is Eagles’ defensive end Vinny Curry. His pass rushing grade is fifth-best amongst 3-4 defensive ends, and he’s taken fewer snaps (268) than all those above him. Curry is versatile, too, having played on the edge in a 4-3 defense, as well as inside in the 3-4. While he’s not a guy you’d want dropping into coverage much, he’s a capable pass rusher from both the interior and exterior.
Alternatively, the Ravens might use their top-five pick on a defensive lineman. This draft has depth at the position but players like DeForest Buckner don’t come along very often. Assuming Joey Bosa is gone, Buckner would be a great pick for the Ravens. He’s suited to the 3-4, having played five-technique at Oregon, and was one of the most productive players in all of college football in 2015. This season, he led all interior defensive lineman with his pass rush grade (11 sacks, 14 huts and 39 hurries) and had the eighth-highest run defense grade. We think he’s definitely deserving of a top-five pick.
Both Jimmy Smith (48.5) and Ladarius Webb (73.0) have flattered to deceive at points in their Baltimore careers. Smith looked like he’d finally turned a corner in 2014, before going down with an injury in Week 8. Webb, meanwhile, had an excellent 2013 season when he graded as our 16th overall corner. Both players have regressed, however. Smith has a negative cumulative coverage grade this season, having allowed 62 percent of passes to be caught, six touchdowns surrendered, and a QB rating when targeted of 102. On the other side, Webb also has a negative coverage grade and is giving up 66 percent of targets to be caught, seven touchdowns surrendered, and a QB rating of 113.7. The Ravens need to re-tool the secondary.
Again, though the Ravens front office are unlikely to target a big name in free agency, they might aggressively target a mid-tier guy. Rams CB Trumaine Johnson (88.8) is set to hit the open market. He suits the physical press man style the Ravens like to run, and has impressive coverage numbers in 2015. Johnson’s coverage grade is eighth-best in the league, and he’s allowing a QB rating of just 54.0 when targeted (fourth-best). He’s allowed just a single touchdown and has five picks and four pass deflections. Baltimore might wish to target a corner early in the draft. FSU’s Jalen Ramsey is one option, but he performed better in 2014 as a safety who could come down and man the slot rather than a purely perimeter defender in 2015.