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Baltimore Ravens should open the competition along the whole offensive line

The Ravens added some key pieces in the draft this year, and they should let them duke it out with the incumbents for the privilege of starting

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With the draft behind us, the time has come to start looking ahead to the 2016 roster, as the upcoming camps will shape the hierarchy of the players and who will make the final roster. The offensive line is one area to which the Ravens made some key additions, but it is yet to be seen how the coaches will configure those additions in the coming months.

The Ravens started the offseason with a hole at left guard from the departure of Kelechi Osemele, and a question mark at left tackle with the injury prone Eugene Monroe slated as the starter and no decent depth behind him. The team did not address the position in free agency, and the front office and coach John Harbaugh made it clear they were comfortable going into the season with Monroe as their starter. The rest of the line was pretty solid, with Jeremy Zuttah providing solid play at center, Marshal Yanda far and away the best guard in the NFL, and Rick Wagner consistently improving as the season progressed coming off a foot injury. Ryan Jensen and John Urschel provided quality depth and some good starts over the past two seasons at guard, and at center too for Urschel, so the Ravens had options to fill the void left by Osemele. The depth chart behind Monroe left much to be desired, with James Hurst a turnstile and the reason the Ravens ironman Joe Flacco had his season cut short.

So the Ravens were expected to come out of the draft with some options, for depth behind Monroe and/or a guard to compete for the opening left by Osemele. The team was expected to use their first top 10 pick in over a decade on a premium defender to upgrade their defense. But the front office had other plans, and the Ravens used their most precious commodity on Ronnie Stanley, considered to be a top 2 or 3 left tackle in the draft this year. The Ravens hope he will lock down the blind side for quarterback Joe Flacco for the rest of Flacco's career, filling a premium position.

The Ravens also added Alex Lewis from the University of Nebraska in the 4th round, and he has experience starting at both left tackle and left guard. Lewis projects to fit as a right tackle or a guard at the NFL level, and both of those positions are possibilities for him over the next 2 years, with left guard open this season and Rick Wagner a free agent after the season, manning right tackle.

With these two important additions to the offensive line mix, the Ravens have 8 players who are likely to make the roster for the 2016 season at the position, plus developmental players like De'Ondre Wesley and the incumbent backup tackle Hurst, who now looks to be a longshot to make the roster. The Ravens now have the ability to answer the questions on the offensive line from the beginning of the offseason definitively, and they have options.

The Ravens and offensive line coach Juan Castillo should open up all starting positions to competition, except of course All Pro Marshal Yanda's right guard spot.

Left Tackle:

Eugene Monroe has yet to prove he can stay healthy for a full season, but when he is healthy he was able to compete in the NFL at an above average level. Ronnie Stanley is an investment for the future for the Ravens, but in his first year he is not guaranteed a starting spot, and definitely not at left tackle. He will have to earn it. However, the cap savings for cutting Monroe may not be worth reducing the teams depth at the position.


Left Guard:

The left guard position will likely be an open competition either way. 2014 draftee Ryan Jensen graded very well at left guard in 6 starts at the position. John Urschel may factor in at the position, having started 5 games (including playoffs) at guard in 2014, and filling in there in 2015 before ending up at center when Jeremy Zuttah went down with his injury. He would only be in the mix if Zuttah was the starter at center. Stanley would also be a possibility here if he does not beat out Monroe, although he never played guard at the college level. The last candidate would be 4th round pick Alex Lewis, if he does not end up being redshirted in 2016. Lewis has experience at left guard, having started 12 games there in the 2011 and 2012 seasons before moving to left tackle.

Center:

Jeremy Zuttah is a solid but unspectacular option for the Ravens at center, but he likely will be the starter there. His cap hit is reasonable, and the Ravens know what they have in him. That said, the future at center is likely John Urschel, the question is just how soon. The young mathematician took over center after Zuttah went down in 2015, and while he was probably a slight downgrade, playing center is an adjustment for someone who hasn't played it much before.

Right Guard:

For some reason, I think Marshal Yanda's job is safe.

Right Tackle:

Rick Wagner is the favorite, and rightfully so. His 2014 was stellar, so while he 2015 left some to be desired, he was coming off an injury and steadily improved as the year progressed. Alex Lewis and possibly Ronnie Stanley could be options if Wagner is not performing, and Lewis is insurance for Wagner's impending 2017 free agency.  But the team should open the position up to competition to bring out the best in all players involved.

So the Ravens now have many options at all the positions on the line, and they should use it to their advantage to find the best combination and bring out the best in every player. So while there is a chance that Monroe or Zuttah could end up off the roster come week 1, chances are they will both be in Baltimore and likely starting. If they can hold onto their jobs that is.