Ravens post-draft overview: Short- and long-term goals accomplished, but hurdles remain
With free agency effectively over and the draft now in the books, the Baltimore Ravens now know the identity of their 90-man roster. With training camp still over two months away, this relatively quiet period in the NFL’s calendar allows for some introspection and evaluation.
Through all the moves the front office has consummated offseason, the Ravens have addressed many of their short- and long-term goals, a notable feat considering the limited cap resources at their disposal in 2018. At the same time, the team still has hurdles to overcome between now and the regular season.
So what issues did the Ravens appear to resolve and which ones remain unaddressed?
Resolved: Long-term plan under center
Joe Flacco might forever divide opinion, but most agreed that the Ravens needed a long-term plan at quarterback regardless of whether the veteran starter could reclaim his Super Bowl-MVP form. In his final draft, Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome swung for the fences by trading back into the first round to tab Louisville superstar Lamar Jackson as Flacco’s heir apparent.
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The move shouldn’t come totally as a surprise. Jackson met with the Ravens before the draft and appeared a logical target for the team at their original first-round selection (No. 16 overall). By grabbing the rookie signal-caller with the 32nd pick, Baltimore gets the uber-valuable fifth-year team option tacked onto his contract. Even if Jackson doesn’t play much in 2018, the franchise maintains a long runway with him entering next offseason when releasing Flacco becomes a far more palatable proposition.
Still, the financials only matter if Jackson develops into a franchise quarterback, a process that could take several years to unfold. In the interim, the team will likely deploy him in certain situations to jumpstart the offense. Once Jackson gains comfort with the NFL game, John Harbaugh and the coaching staff can have serious discussions about when to hand over the keys.
Resolved: Reinforced offensive line
Injuries decimated the Ravens’ offensive line in 2017, contributing greatly to the unit ranking only 21st in DVOA. While All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda returns from a broken ankle and James Hurst signed a four-year, $17.5 million deal to remain in Baltimore, the lack of depth and the inconsistent play of the tackles made improving the line one of the priorities in the draft.
Rather than using a top selection at the position, the Ravens threw multiple mid- and late-round picks at the problem, a smart strategy for a club with so many draft choices. The headliner, Orlando Brown Jr., arrives as a readymade fan favorite (his late father, Orlando “Zeus” Brown played nine years with the organization) and viable option at right tackle. Additionally, the team invested sixth-rounders into Greg Senat and Bradley Bozeman, each of which has the ability to play multiple positions across the line. This “shotgun” approach could both benefit Baltimore in 2017 if one or more becomes a fixture and long-term considering the future needs of the unit.
Resolved: Tight ends for days
Few teams value tight ends as highly as the Ravens, who spent two top-100 picks at the position in 2017 including top selection Hayden Hurst. The rare old-school “Y” tight end, Hurst can block, catch, and do the dirty work required of the position. Meanwhile, third-rounder Mark Andrews offers plus athleticism and the ability to become a playmaker as a jumbo receiver when split out.
It remains unclear how the Ravens will balance all the tight ends, especially with the free-agent investments at wide receiver (John Brown, Michael Crabtree, and Willie Snead) suggesting fewer heavy sets. However, it seems less uncertain how the offense will deploy the new additions, with Hurst likely to serve primarily as an in-line tight end while Andrews working more in the slot.
Unaddressed: The future of the pass rush
Terrell Suggs has outlasted even the most optimistic forecasts for his career and he might well continue to terrorize quarterbacks for several seasons more. Still, the soon-to-be 36-year-old can’t play forever, and the Ravens have no obvious successor on the roster.
The 2018 draft class didn’t feature many great pass-rush prospects, which certainly factored into the Ravens’ decision not to draft one until 238th overall pick. Still, the defense remains precariously thin at outside linebacker should Suggs suffer an injury or decline precipitously. Matt Judon and Za’Darius Smith have produced in limited roles, but neither seems likely to become a true field-tilter. New defensive coordinator Don Martindale can mitigate some of these concerns in the short run with schematic adjustments, but that can only do so much.
In any event, the Ravens almost certainly have to address the pass rush next offseason, most likely through the draft.