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Right tackle is now the Ravens’ biggest need

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Baltimore Ravens v New York Jets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The Ravens are still in need of wide receivers, even after signing John Brown and Ryan Grant in free agency. A possibly bigger hole has emerged at right tackle, however, after Baltimore declined to pick up Austin Howard’s option for the 2018 season.

After losing right tackle Rick Wagner in free agency to the Lions last offseason, the Ravens signed 30-year-old Austin Howard as a stopgap solution. After one year in Baltimore, Howard is once again a free agent, and the Ravens are once again searching for their starting right tackle. The long-term answer for the right tackle position could already be on the roster, or it could be a player from the upcoming NFL draft.

There are two names that immediately come to mind as potential in-house candidates to play right tackle for the Ravens in 2018. Guards Alex Lewis and James Hurst. Hurst was just re-signed by Baltimore to a four-year deal worth $17.5 million. He has experience playing both left and right tackle in the NFL. Hurst has been maligned by Ravens’ fans over the years for his shaky play at tackle, and his involvement in quarterback Joe Flacco’s knee injury in 2015, when he accidentally rolled into Flacco’s leg, causing him to tear his ACL and MCL. Hurst switched to left guard last season after Alex Lewis suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in training camp. He played much better at his new position, and going off of his new contract, it seems Baltimore would prefer to keep Hurst at guard.

Lewis has previous experience playing tackle as well, both in college and for the Ravens in a tight pinch in 2016. As mentioned earlier, Lewis suffered a shoulder injury before the start of the 2017 season, which caused him to miss his entire second year. In his rookie season, Lewis played the majority of his snaps at left guard, but missed several games due to injury then as well. Lewis has not showcased the ability to stay healthy in the NFL, and durability is a major factor for an offensive tackle. In comparison, Hurst has never missed an NFL game.

Of the two candidates, Lewis would seem to be the better fit at right tackle. He has better footwork than Hurst, and Hurst played much better at guard last season, so Baltimore would surely like to keep him there. As of right now, neither are ideal for the position, however.

Looking to the draft, the best option would seemingly be Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey. McGlinchey is widely viewed as the best tackle prospect in a relatively weak class. Texas’ Connor Williams is potentially better suited for guard in the NFL, and Orlando Brown, a popular name linked to the Ravens in early mock drafts, has seen his stock fall after a horrendous combine performance. This leaves McGlinchey as the best pure tackle prospect in round one.

Baltimore has the 16 pick in the first round, and McGlinchey could very well still be on the board by then. Wide receiver is the popular dream pick for the Ravens, with many fans clamoring for guys such as Calvin Ridley, Courtland Sutton, D.J. Moore and Christian Kirk in the first round. While these players all deserve first-round consideration, there is still plenty of talent to be found at wide receiver on day two of the draft. It’s harder to find a quality tackle past round one.

While everyone wants flashy playmakers to bring excitement to Baltimore’s dull offense, the offensive line is still the foundation. Without a good line, it is extremely hard for an offense to be successful in the NFL. Most of the time, the best teams have the best offensive lines. This is no coincidence. The Ravens need to fill the hole at right tackle for Flacco to have success throwing to anybody, even if that person is someone like Ridley.

The run game could suffer too without a solid right tackle. Howard wasn’t the best in pass protection, but he was a force in run blocking. If Baltimore wants to continue the success they had running the football with running back Alex Collins in 2018, then they would be wise to invest in the offensive line. Wide receiver has already been addressed in free agency with the acquisitions of Brown and Grant. While not the best receivers, they are both solid enough to help improve the Ravens’ offense, especially with a strong offensive line giving Flacco time to go through his progressions.