It’s fair to say the a lack of depth at cornerback may have cost the Ravens the Week 16 game against the Steelers, and thus the playoffs. Over the past few seasons, health in the secondary has been a major issue for the Ravens.
The Ravens found a gem at the position with fourth round pick Tavon Young, but aside from Young and top corner Jimmy Smith, the Ravens don’t have many options. Shareece Wright can be a coverage liability, and Jerraud Powers was far from great this season. However, despite all of the above, cornerback is not the biggest issue the Ravens front office will face this offseason.
Instead, they need to focus on wide receivers. The reason why boils down to two main points.
First, the Ravens are set to lose two key pieces in passing game. Despite reportedly attempting to coax him back, Steve Smith Sr. is retired, and it seems unlikely that he returns. The Ravens will be losing its number one wide receiver. Smith’s influence on the game, with or without the ball, is profound. Joe Flacco will be losing one of his favorite targets, and oh yeah, Smith is one of the greatest wide receivers of all time. That’s really hard, likely impossible, to replace. But that may not be the Ravens only loss at the position.
Kamar Aiken is an impending free agent, and finished the year disgruntled. He may be looking for a change in scenery just one year after leading the team in receiving yards. That would leave Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman as the top two wide receivers on the team. Both are very similar players, both pure deep threats, and the Ravens would thus lack a truly reliable possession receiver. Perriman’s hands are inconsistent, and Wallace’s play faltered down the stretch in the biggest games.
However, the Ravens will owe Wallace $8 million next season, which seems awfully high. Wallace very well could end being a cap casualty. If even two of the above three events happen (and two of the three, Smith and Aiken leaving, are near locks), the Ravens will lack depth at the position, and will severely lack a reliable receiver.
Secondly, wide receiver is a position that needs addressing due to the Ravens offensive system. If Marty Mornhinweg truly is going to stay in Baltimore, then the Ravens will likely continue to throw the ball, and throw it a lot. Therefore, the Ravens need to invest in a player that can make an impact throughout the game, not a player like Wallace or Perriman that will make a big play or two, and not provide much other impact.
GM Ozzie Newsome will have two options, find someone through free agency or look to the draft. Alshon Jeffery is obviously the most intriguing option in free agency, however he would cost the most of any receiver, and comes with injury concerns. If the Ravens were to sign Jeffery, Wallace’s odds of being cut due to salary rise. I’m sure the Ravens would like to be able to keep Wallace, and still upgrade at the position if at all possible. The less costly options are nothing worth getting excited about, as Pierre Garcon and Kendall Wright headline the cheaper wide receivers that fit the Ravens needs.
The draft is easily the most intriguing option, and at the 16th overall pick, the Ravens should be able to find an elite receiver. Mike Williams and Corey Davis are the clear top two receivers, while John Ross and JuJu Smith-Schuster make up the second tier. This year’s receiver class is not deep, so the Ravens need to use an early pick on one of the elite players. If I could pick any of the above four, it would be Davis. Check out a full analysis of Davis in my second Ravens seven round mock draft.
Mike Williams was very impressive against Alabama, and closed the gap on Davis. Williams made both tough and clutch catches down the stretch. Like Davis, the Clemson Tiger is a playmaker. Like Davis, Williams showed up in the biggest moments on the biggest stages. Like Davis, Williams has superstar written all over him. It really doesn’t matter which of Davis or Williams the Ravens take, they both fit the mold of what the Ravens need. Especially with John Ross shooting up draft boards as wide receiver needy teams ahead of the Ravens crave a deep threat, at least one of Williams or Davis should be available at the 16th pick.
The Ravens have multiple routes to take, but with a deep cornerback class, Ozzie Newsome can afford to wait to the second round in the draft to select a corner. However, if he doesn’t attempt to add a playmaker at the wide receiver position early, the Ravens will struggle on offense more so than in this recently concluded season.