With 2016 coming to a close, it’s time to make New Year’s resolutions. Here are seven resolutions that will guide the Ravens to a rebound year.
Make the playoffs
After being eliminated from the playoffs following a heartbreaking loss to Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens biggest goal for next season is clear, make the playoffs. The Ravens have now missed the playoffs in two straight seasons, a streak that is unprecedented during the Harbaugh era. The Ravens are not very far away from being able to make the playoffs, but may need a few more additions to compete for a Super Bowl. But to succeed next year and make the playoffs, the Ravens will need to...
John Harbaugh and the Ravens would never say that injuries are an excuse, but the void left by not having Jimmy Smith against the Steelers was enormous. For the Ravens to make the playoffs next season, their stars will need to stay healthy. If healthy, the Ravens defense will prove once again to be one of the best, if not the best in the NFL. In addition, during games without Marshal Yanda this season, it was clear that the offense had a harder time. Stability on an offensive line is huge for the offense, thus making Yanda’s health even more important.
Resign Ricky Wagner, but give the franchise tag to Brandon Williams
As mentioned above, the Ravens need stability on the offensive line. Baltimore Beatdown’s Vasilis Lericos explains why the Ravens need to resign Wagner. The Ravens should give the franchise tag to Williams because of how important he is to the Ravens defense. Yes, he was fairly neutralized in the Ravens last two games, but he is clearly one of the best nose tackles in the NFL. Williams is an elite run stuffer, who has an underrated ability to rush the quarterback. Williams is the Ravens top priority, as it is harder to replace an elite interior defensive lineman, than an above average right tackle.
Find a new offensive coordinator who is willing to throw the ball down the field
The Ravens offense was not a particularly scary one in 2016. Marc Trestman started the year as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator, but was fired after a first half of the season that saw the Ravens completely unable to score consistently. The Ravens were better with Marty Mornhinweg manning the offense, but stalled before the end zone too many times, and thus were forced to solely kick field goals as their main source of points. The Ravens, under both coordinators, showed an unwillingness to throw the ball down the field, and instead opted for short dink and dunk passes to do the bulk of the work on offense. This was brought to a head as the Raven failed to take a shot down the field in the final seconds against the Steelers in Week 16. That system may have cost the Ravens the game against Pittsburgh, as the offensive game plan held the Ravens from converting many opportunities given to them, none more painful than Ben Roethlisberger’s second interception being turned into just a field goal.
It’s time to get a new offensive coordinator, and one that will last for more than one and a half seasons. Norv Turner is the guy the Ravens need to bring in this offseason. The former Viking offensive coordinator resigned after a 5-2 start to the 2016 season, and still remains without a job. Ozzie Newsome would be wise to bring in the experienced coordinator, who will be able to take advantage of the talent the Ravens have on the offensive side of the ball.
Upgrade the pass rush
The Ravens pass rush has been very inconsistent this season, highlighted in being completely shut down by the Steelers in Week 16. The Ravens need to make an upgrade in its pass rush. With Elvis Dumervil on his way out, and Terrell Suggs nearing the end of his career, now is as good a time as any to invest in the future. This year’s free agent market is loaded with young, talented pass rushers, namely Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones. However, both Jones and Collins are likely out of the Ravens price range, especially if Ozzie Newsome plans on keeping Brandon Williams, Ricky Wagner and Kamar Aiken in Baltimore.
Therefore, once again, the Ravens will turn to the draft, a draft that is absolutely loaded with potential stars off the edge. The Ravens are unlikely to have the top two pass rushers, Myles Garrett and Derek Barnett, on the board upon its first round selection, but if Newsome chooses to go with a pass rusher over a corner or wide receiver in the first round, a ton of talent will still be there. Missouri’s Charles Harris and Alabama’s Tim Williams are both projected first rounders who will be available upon the Ravens first selection.
However, in the second round, where the Ravens are more likely to look at pass rushers, Newsome could be choosing from a stack of talented players including UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley, Illinois’ Dawuane Smoot, Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt, and Stanford’s Solomon Thomas. And that’s not even mentioning Florida State’s Demarcus Walker and Auburn’s Carl Lawson. It would truly be difficult for the Ravens to fail to upgrade at pass rush with the talent in front of them.
Add a cornerback in the draft
The Ravens health hurt them, especially at cornerback, in 2016. But having better depth would help to overcome the injuries. Tavon Young has had a breakout rookie campaign, but he seems better suited for the slot. He showed that he can overcome his size disadvantages on the outside, but Jerraud Powers was not what the Ravens hoped he could be, and Young would be a massive improvement over the former Arizona Cardinal. Shareece Wright is not the solution opposite Jimmy Smith either.
The Ravens thus should invest a first or second round pick in a corner in the 2017 NFL Draft. With the Ravens eliminated from the playoffs, the team will be more likely to pick a more talented corner than who they would have gotten had they made the playoffs. In my initial Ravens seven round mock draft, I have the Ravens selecting Desmond King out of Iowa, who is one of the best corners in the nation.
However, this was before the Ravens loss to the Steelers, and with the higher selection, the Ravens should go after USC’s Adoree Jackson, the 2016 Jim Thorpe Award winner. Jackson is exactly the kind of play maker the Ravens are looking for. Plus, Jackson would be immensely helpful for the Ravens in the kick/punt return game.
(Attempt to) replace Steve Smith Sr.
You can’t replace Steve Smith Sr. The Ravens star wide receiver brings a level of toughness unmatched by any player in the entire NFL. But as the best wide receiver on the Ravens prepares for retirement, the Ravens need to plan for the future. Mike Wallace will likely slide up into the number one role, with Breshad Perriman (or Kamar Aiken if re-signed) starting on the other side of the field.
However, the Ravens still need to spend a draft pick on the position. The 2017 wide receiver class is loaded. The Ravens don’t need to spend an early pick on a wide receiver (unless Aiken signs elsewhere). Even if the Ravens wait until the third or fourth round, a plethora of talent will likely remain on the board. If the Ravens want to take a receiver earlier, projected slot receivers John Ross of Washington, and Dede Westbrook of Oklahoma are intriguing options.
If Newsome chooses to wait until later rounds, Syracuse breakout star Amba Etta-Tawo could prove to be one of the bigger steals of the 2017 draft. I still believe that Western Michigan’s Corey Davis is a perfect fit for the Ravens, but it is doubtful the Ravens will take the projected first or second round prospect over a cornerback, especially one of Jackson or King’s caliber if available.
The Ravens obviously want to make the playoffs, and the other six resolutions will be key for the Ravens if they want to make it there. As previously mentioned, the Ravens roster is close, but has a few holes. Finding a pass rusher, cornerback and wide receiver, in addition to health, will be what puts the Ravens over the hump in 2017.