It’s no surprise that the Ravens have some holes on the roster that need to be filled. They got out to a 9-2 record, seemingly with smoke and mirrors. But they have been exposed over the last three games falling to 9-5 at a point in the season where you want to get hot for that playoff run. Sure the injury list is longer than my Christmas list, but some of the guys out there just aren’t good either.
Taking a look at some of our recent top draft picks. General consensus is that Michael Oher is not good. Or at least not a good left tackle. I’m tired of hearing the excuses that “he’s so quick off the line that sometimes they call him for a false start.” Really? His “look out” blocks (when he turns to Flacco and yells “look out”) seem to come at the most inopportune times in a game. Jah Reid, a 3rd round pick, isn’t good either. I think they liked his versatility because he can play either guard or tackle position. But he doesn’t play any of them well. He’s just a body they are plugging in. On the defensive side, the jury is still out on corner Jimmy Smith. Injuries have taken a toll for the majority of his young career, but he made his return in the Denver game and was promptly benched in the second half. Whether it was performance based, or injury based, I don’t know. 2010 might go down as a busted draft for this team with top pick Sergio Kindle now on the practice squad, and overweight, out of shape Terrence Cody. Cody has made zero impact on the front seven, constantly getting shoved off the line on run plays, and I never see him near the QB on passing downs. Dennis Pitta has been the only the bright spot form that draft class. Ed Dickson has been serviceable, but I like Pitta a lot more.
I don’t want it to sound like I’m bashing Ozzie Newsome here, because I’m not. The top three picks from the 2012 draft, Courtney Upshaw, Kelechi Osemele, and Bernard Pierce are doing just fine in their rookie campaigns. With a salary cap, the fact that we can’t hang on to every decent player he finds, like Ben Grubbs, Tom Zbikowski, LeRon McClain, Jason Brown, Jarrett Johnson, is a testament to his and his teams scouting ability. Also the Ravens win so much that their draft position is often in the bottom 10 picks. That’s a problem that any team would love to have.
But, 2010 and 2011 are looking like a couple of hiccups in draft classes, and it’s starting to show. However, It’s not just the young men either. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Matt Birk. These guys aren’t getting any younger. They are all part of the holes that need to be filled. But which ones are the most important?
A lot of different schools of thought here. Offense or defense? Of course it depends on a number of other variables. Which players can be acquired via trade, or picked up from waivers, or which players are on the board when the Ravens pick is up in the draft.
In order of importance, I have to think the offensive line needs to be addressed first and foremost. You know the saying that games are won and lost in the trenches. I find this to be pretty true. Every great running back credits his offensive line for opening up holes for him. It’s no coincidence that Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, the two best QB’s of the past decade had the best offensive line groups in the game as well. For a small sample size, the Ravens scored 55 points against the Raiders and Joe Flacco was touched only once by the defense in that game. The entire offense could improve by adding maybe two more quality players to that front.
Next, I’m gonna say the secondary needs an upgrade. Jimmy Smith is not panning out yet, Cary Williams nickname is “toast”, and we don’t know how much more Ed Reed has left in him. He’ll also command a ton of money based on his playing history. Not for what he has or hasn’t done lately. He is the best safety ever, and he’ll want to be paid like it. It’s a pass happy kind of league these days. In order to stop it you need a decent pass rush (I’m fine with Suggs and Kruger) and shut down corners. Having someone high caliber opposite Lardarius Webb would give us one of the better secondaries in football. Until then, when Webb returns next year, teams will just pick on Williams or Smith all day long, and probably be successful.
Third, you have to find a replacement for Ray Lewis. You probably won’t find the next Ray Lewis, but having a good MLB can go a long way. I would try to go by way of the draft an find a young talent. In my opinion, if you get a young, quick MLB, the Ravens can go back to a 4-3 defense and be better off stopping the run game. Ngata and Kemoeatu hogging up the middle, with McPhee and maybe Suggs/Upshaw as edge rushers. At Ray Lewis’ age however, he can’t cover the ground as the lone MLB in a 4-3 as he once did in his prime.
I’m sure some of you out there are feeling like the first hole is at quarterback. I’m not one of them, but we’re going to have to face the fact eventually that Flacco is going to be here for a long time. The team has already expressed that he is the franchise quarterback. Filling these other holes, especially the O-line, should make him exponentially better.