The 2016 Baltimore Ravens offensive line was the 8th most efficient when pass blocking and 21st rated rushing offense, according to Football Outsiders. After the season, the team’s decision makers were in agreement that upgrading their personnel along the offensive line was one of their greatest offseason priorities. Unfortunately at this point in the offseason, the Ravens depth chart on the offensive line is considerably worse than it was at the end of the season.
Former right tackle Rick Wagner, Baltimore’s third best blocker, signed a generous contact with the Lions. Center Jeremy Zuttah was traded to San Francisco in exchange for an earlier sixth round draft pick. Journeyman Vlad Ducasse started eight games at guard for the Ravens last year, but he will be playing his home games in Buffalo next year. And the team’s best pass blocking back, Kyle Juszczyk, also fled to the Bay Area.
The Ravens do possess a strong foundation for a top tier line. Guard Marshal Yanda is perhaps the best overall player on the team. He recently underwent shoulder surgery and while it is never wise to assume an older player will fully recover from surgery to correct a recurring injury, Yanda’s legendary toughness should allow him to play at a high level on willpower alone. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley had an inconsistent rookie campaign, but finished the season with an impressive streak of consecutive dominant pass blocking performances. With a full offseason in the weight room, Stanley is expected to add the play strength that will make him a Pro Bowl caliber player.
Fielding a blindside protector that is able to neutralize the best pass rushers one-on-one and an elite two-way guard should make life easier on the other lineman. However, the other three starting spots are legitimate areas of concern.
Alex Lewis performed admirably as a left guard, but was underwhelming when forced to fill in at tackle for an injured Stanley. His rookie season was derailed by a gruesome ankle injury. Allowing Lewis to develop further as a left guard would be the ideal scenario.
Center is a major question mark. John Urschel and Ryan Jensen are expected to compete with Matt Skura for the starting job. Urshcel and Jensen have combined to start 22 games on the interior over seven total seasons. Skura is an undrafted rookie who spent last season on the practice squad.
Right tackle appears to be most problematic position. James Hurst has been thoroughly embarrassed when forced into game action during the last two seasons after turning in an adequate rookie season. Two developmental tackles, De’Ondre Wesley and Stephane Nembot, round out the competition. The Ravens could also stand to supplement their depth across the line.
Compounding the issue, almost all of the quality free agent offensive lineman have already been signed and the 2017 NFL draft class is notoriously weak on blockers. Offensive lineman will probably be overvalued on draft day considering the massive overpays in free agency and the dearth of capable lineman throughout the NFL.
The Ravens certainly have other needs on their roster. The team could use an upgrade at receiver and running back. Young players Matt Judon and Za’Darius Smith have played well at outside linebacker, but adding another pass rusher to complement Terrell Suggs would catapult the defense to the next level. Inside linebacker and defensive end contain uncertainty since Zachary Orr and Lawrence Guy were lost. And the Ravens need to add a decent fourth cornerback and third safety, it is unlikely the top five defensive backs will all make it through 2017 without missing time from injury.
All of these other positional needs pale in comparison to the offensive line. Quarterback Joe Flacco should be better when under pressure next season because he is further removed from knee reconstruction and has taken up boxing to improve his footwork. But he is never going to be a great quarterback when under duress. For a passer with Flacco’s skill set, pass protection and a rushing attack that keeps the offense in manageable down and distance situations is much more important to his success than weapons in the passing game.
With a solid offense line, the Ravens can rediscover to the formula that saw them advance deep into the postseason in ever year of John Harbaugh’s early tenure. A stout defense coupled with a offense capable of controlling the clock and occasionally connecting on vertical passes is still a recipe for winning in the NFL.
If the Ravens can piece together an above average offensive line, they have a chance to contend for the championship in 2017. If not, they will be little more than pretenders once again. Keep your fingers crossed that Ozzie Newsome’s plan for the offensive line comes together in the upcoming draft.
What is the Ravens biggest weakness?
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Depth in the secondary