Last year, Ozzie Newsome went into the offseason with a vision, make the Ravens defense the best in the NFL.
In free agency, he re-signed the hulking anchor of the defensive line, Brandon Williams, to a big contract. Safety Tony Jefferson and cornerback Brandon Carr were brought in to help bolster the secondary. Then, in the draft, the Ravens used five of their seven picks on defensive players. They wanted to win with a suffocating defense.
Sadly, the plan fell short. Brandon Williams missed several games, and the run defense fell to worst in the league during his absence. Then, Jimmy Smith tore his Achilles, and the secondary suffered against elite receivers.
The Ravens failed to generate a consistent pass-rush despite all of their attention to the outside linebacker position. They had nightmares trying to cover tight ends.
Despite pitching three shutouts and leading the league in turnovers, this was far from the defense envisioned on paper. Injuries played a part of this outcome for sure, as well as play calling at times.
The offense must be addressed heavily this time around, as it’s hard to win with defense alone in today’s NFL.
In 2016, the Ravens had a strong draft. Ronnie Stanley, Tavon Young, Kenneth Dixon, Alex Lewis, and Matt Judon were all key contributors to the teams rebound from the previous 5-11 season.
They did not receive the same production from this years draft class. First-round cornerback Marlon Humphrey was the only major contributor. Tyus Bowser flashed potential in his limited playing time, while Chris Wormley and Tim Williams were inactive for several games. Chuck Clark proved to be a solid sixth round pick, but he didn’t make a big impact. The jury is still out on this group, as many players barely saw the field, but there’s no denying that the 2016 class was better as of now.
The Ravens need to replicate the success of their 2016 draft for the upcoming season if they want to finally surpass the state of mediocrity they’ve been stuck in for several years.
Look to the New Orleans Saints as a prime example of what a strong draft can do. They absolutely nailed their first four picks with Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, Marcus Williams, and Alvin Kamara. Lattimore and Kamara should be, arguably, the defensive and offensive rookies of the year, respectively. Ramczyk and Williams were key cogs to the offensive line and secondary. They helped push the Saints to a division title with a record of 11-5, sending them to the playoffs for the first time in years. Without this rookie class, the Saints would not have enjoyed this success.
I’m not saying Baltimore needs to have a draft as good as the 2017 Saints, as that’s nearly impossible, but more immediate production is needed from this year’s rookies. A wide receiver who can step in and immediately become a go to target for Joe Flacco, or even a reliable pass catching tight end would help tremendously.
An inside linebacker to plug next to C.J. Mosley, an offensive tackle to replace Austin Howard, or even a true center field safety would be great additions as well. Even though the Ravens are good at these positions for now, a game changing running back or shutdown corner would be welcomed as well.
I truly believe the Ravens can be a very good team next year. They must acquire the right men for the job though. Fans will be watching free agency and the draft this year closer than ever before. Ozzie Newsome must prove he still has his magic.
This team must break the trend of 8-8, 9-7, or even worse from recent years. Ravens fans are yearning for the playoffs after missing them for three years in a row. Baltimore has been in a mini rebuild since winning the Super Bowl, and that will continue this offseason.
They must find answers for several positions, mainly on the offensive side of the ball. If they can find playmakers for Joe Flacco then this team will be in much better shape. Ozzie Newsome has to be feeling the pressure this time around. Hopefully, he will renew our faith in him, and remind us all why he’s called the Wizard of Oz.