Ravens look almost fully reloaded following 2017 NFL Draft
The first four months of the offseason didn’t unfold as the Baltimore Ravens hoped. But after seeing many key players leave in free agency, general manager Ozzie Newsome and his front office put together one of the strongest drafts across the league. In doing so, they filled nearly every hole on the roster, setting the stage for a promising 2017 season.
Seven players who started six or more games for the Ravens in 2016 departed Baltimore through free agency or trades. As monumental as that figure seems, it doesn’t even account for significant losses like wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. (retired after 16 seasons), edge rusher Elvis Dumervil (health, cap casualty), inside linebacker Zach Orr (medical retirement) or cornerback Shareece Wright (released due to ineffective play). Few teams can withstand such turnover in a single offseason, let alone one that could have qualified for the postseason with just a few breaks over the course of the year.
However, the numbers alone don’t fully illustrate what the Ravens lost during the early parts of the offseason. Offensive tackle Ricky Wagner — now a member of the Detroit Lions — combined with All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda to form one of the best right sides of an offensive line in the NFL. Lawrence Guy and Timmy Jernigan gave Baltimore solid interior play that contributed greatly to the defensive turnaround last season. And though the fullback position has fallen out of favor in modern football, Kyle Juszczyk provided solid run and pass blocking while also serving as a more-than-viable ball carrier and pass catcher, a multi-purpose weapon heavily utilized by the Ravens.
Replacing so much talent presents problems in any context. However, the cap-strapped Ravens endured even more trouble finding suitable alternatives. Cornerback Brandon Carr signed on to handle the snaps relinquished by Wright, and safety Tony Jefferson agreed to a multi-year deal to join the secondary. Beyond those additions, Baltimore only acquired do-it-all running back Danny Woodhead in free agency. In the aggregate, the team lost far more useful players than it brought in.
That changed during the 2017 NFL Draft.
Faced with several gargantuan holes across the roster and no veteran reinforcements coming in the foreseeable future, Newsome carefully managed the draft and somehow scooped up a cavalcade of prospects capable of making an immediate impact. On Day 1, he stayed with his original selection and nabbed Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey, considered one of the top pure cover men in the class. With Jimmy Smith returning from injury and Carr handling the starting job vacated by Wright, Humphrey can come along at his own pace.
Newsome arguably outdid the rest of the league on Day 2, picking up Houston edge rusher Tyus Bowser and defensive lineman Chris Wormley, two of the draft’s best athletes at their respective positions. Bowser not only fills the void left by Dumervil, but he has the potential to become the heir to aging future Hall of Famer Terrell Suggs. Meanwhile, Wormely could step into Jernigan’s old spot by the time the season begins. Newsome’s final pick in the third round, Alabama pass-rusher Tim Williams, provides depth at a spot Baltimore badly needs it.
Though the chances of landing a significant contributor drop on the draft’s final day, Newsome selected prospects with high ceilings and well fit the Ravens. San Diego State guard Nico Siragusa — no relation to the retired Baltimore defensive tackle with the same surname — tested as one of the most athletic interior offensive linemen in the draft class. With second-year guard Alex Lewis coming off a shaky rookie campaign and Yanda turning 33 in September, a mere fourth-round investment in Siragusa could turn into a starter within the next 24 months, perhaps as soon as this season. Texas A&M’s Eluemunor doesn’t possess Siragusa’s athleticism, but his size — 6-foot-4, 332 pounds — allows him to play nearly every position on the line. The team’s final pick, Virginia Tech safety Chuck Clark, appeared in 50 games during his college career and scored in the 69th percentile athletically for his position.
Thanks to Newsome’s fine work in the draft, few holes remain on the Ravens’ roster. The offensive backfield still looks like a committee without a true lead, and the dearth of proven wide receiver depth will place more pressure on the tight ends to produce. However, outside of those manageable concerns, Baltimore doesn’t have any glaring weakness that it failed to address.
Given the lack of resources at Newsome’s disposal, the state of the roster serves as a credit to him and his talented front office. In lesser hands, the Ravens could have fallen into the lower rungs of the NFL hierarchy. Instead, the team has a viable shot at the playoffs again.