In finance, diversification is a technique that mixes a variety of different investments to manage risk. The basic idea is to balance risky investments against safe and expensive against cheap. In theory, underperformance by some of the assets will be neutralized by over performance from other parts of the portfolio. This method can be applied to football roster construction.
Scanning the Baltimore Ravens roster of players currently under contract or team control, you will notice the offensive two-deep is relatively young at receiver, running back and along the offensive line while the defensive depth chart features aging starting outside linebackers and safeties. Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Eric Weddle and Lardarius Webb are all at least 31 years old.
The offensive depth chart includes several promising players who are still in the early section of their expected developmental arc. Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore, Maxx Williams, Darren Waller and Kenneth Dixon all provide a great deal of growth potential. Most of the top returning defensive players are presently in their prime playing years. C.J. Mosley, Jimmy Smith, Timmy Jernigan and even Tavon Young are probably close to their peak abilities already.
Considering these characteristics of the roster right now, the Ravens should address most of their offensive needs through free agency and focus the majority of their draft on the defensive side of the ball. This plan would help diversify the roster in order to minimize risk and maximize upside.
It would be unwise to stack the offensive depth chart with rookies because that could stunt the growth of the athletic players who are poised to mature from experience. But the young returning talent on the line and in the receiving corps could benefit from playing with savvy veterans. On defense, the opposite holds true. It could be reckless to rely on aging players at two crucial position groups. Adding a few high ceiling defenders in the early rounds of the draft would elevate the overall potential of the Ravens defense.
Another factor that favors free agency shopping on offense and a defensive draft is the specific positional availability this offseason possesses. The free agent market boasts several intriguing veteran receivers and a few proven offensive lineman that should be affordable. But the top tier pass defenders are likely to be particularly overpriced. Conversely, the 2017 draft class is absolutely loaded with valuable safeties, cornerbacks and edge rushers. And the offensive line crop is unusually weak.
The final reason is Ozzie Newsome’s historical strengths as a general manager. Ozzie has signed more than his fair share of declining receivers who played an important role for the Ravens and rarely misses at the position in free agency. He has also acquired a few vital offensive lineman over the years but his success rate when signing defensive backs has been inconsistent.
Furthermore, in 21 drafts Newsome has selected defenders that combined for 44 Pro Bowl seasons compared to 27 on offense. This disparity is probably impacted slightly by the fact that the Ravens have chosen one more defender in the first round and two more in the first three rounds over their history, but they have drafted an offensive player with 55-percent of their total draft picks.
In summary, the Ravens should enter the offseason with the goals of diversifying their investments, giving their young offensive playmakers support and opportunity, increasing the athletic capabilities and future promise of the defense, taking advantage of market efficiencies in all avenues of acquisition and falling back on the front office’s reliable scouting competences. A general strategy that supplements the offense in free agency and boosts the defense through the draft will be most effective path to success in 2017.