Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has taken multiple steps towards revamping the offense during the first week of the 2018 NFL league year. The acquisitions of possession receiver Michael Crabtree and vertical threat John Brown represent a great start towards remaking the receiver room. The front office also locked up offensive lineman James Hurst on a four year deal, albeit at the expense of starting right tackle Austin Howard.
Newsome indicated the Ravens would still like to make another signing or two in free agency, yet at this point they have subtracted center Ryan Jensen, backup running back Danny Woodhead and wideout Jeremy Maclin. Top receiver Mike Wallace and veteran tight end Ben Watson are also currently uncommitted.
Obviously the Ravens need to add a few more pieces to create the versatile and deep offense they will need to earn a postseason berth in 2018. However, instead of bringing in mediocre veteran stopgaps that will burden future salary caps, the team should aim to fill three crucial needs in the upcoming NFL Draft:
- Sturdy Right Tackle
The aforementioned Howard had an inconsistent year with the Ravens in 2017. He was a reliable mauler who handled powerful pass rushers well, but required help to neutralize speedy edge defenders. Unfortunately there are no clear upgrades available in the free agency market, and in-house options Alex Lewis and James Hurst have left much to be desired when forced to play tackle in the past.
The Ravens definitely need to bolster the right side, to both make Joe Flacco comfortable in the pocket as well as keep tailback Alex Collins on an upward trajectory. If they can land a plug and play tackle in the draft, Lewis, Hurst and Matt Skura can battle to fill the positions between left tackle Ronnie Stanley and right guard Marshal Yanda, with the loser of the competition able to supply important depth.
Mike McGlinchey is likely to be overdrafted because the 2018 crop is lacking in high caliber tackle prospects. Nonetheless, three tackles should be fine fits for Greg Roman’s scheme and could all be available on Day 2 of the draft. Oregon’s Tyrell Crosby is a powerful, wide bodied right tackle with a nasty blocking disposition. Next in the pecking order is the polarizing Orlando Brown, a massive man who may be able to overcome his lack of athleticism by relying on sheer size. Jamarco Jones of Ohio State is flying just under the radar as a slightly more nimble tackle who handles his assignments in a workmanlike fashion.
- Dynamic Slot Receiver
The newly signed Crabtree and Brown should complement each other well as the starting wideout tandem. The Ravens will also bring some promising young receivers to training camp - Tim White, Quincy Adeboyejo and Chris ‘Scoop and Score’ Moore. Ideally the Ravens will draft two rookie receivers, as teams now need four to five pass catchers to provide flexibility and depth through a grueling sixteen game regular season.
While John Brown has the build of a slot man, he does much of his best work outside the hashes and the Ravens would be wise to minimize the hits he takes across the middle in the rugged AFC North. Therefore, landing a dangerous, dynamic slot receiver should be Baltimore’s top draft priority. Adding a rookie with returner ability would be a nice bonus.
D.J. Moore’s skillset is perfectly suited to round of the Ravens depth chart. With quickness, strong hands, breakaway speed and a solid build, Moore has the total package and should be considered in the first round. If the Ravens go in a different direction early on, both Michael Gallup and Anthony Miller could be valuable Day 2 selections. Gallup is a sharp route runner who makes contested catches and racks up yards after the catch. Miller is not quite as big as Moore or Gallup, but is an extremely competitive, savvy route runner with deep speed. Moore and Miller are also experienced return men.
- Mismatch Tight End
Pass catching tight ends have become the preferred matchup creator for many of the NFL’s best offenses. Maxx Williams still could become the weapon he was billed as when the Ravens traded up for him in the second round, but time is running out for the 2015 draft pick. Nick Boyle is a solid blocker, which is a necessary role, but will never develop into a pass catcher the opposition fears. The other tight ends under contract should be viewed as core special teamers until proving otherwise.
With a steady running game, diverse skillsets at receiver and stout offensive line, a mismatch tight end is the final piece to the Ravens offensive puzzle. A well rounded tight end is not needed, a player who can simply stretch the seams in passing situations fits the bill. No defense is without flaws, and a vertical tight end would allow the Ravens to exploit any weakness they detect.
The 2018 crop features three intriguing pass catching tight ends, yet their draft ranges are rather unpredictictable right now. Mike Gesicki headlines the class as a freaky athlete with the size, speed, leaping ability and hands to beat any linebacker or safety in the league. Hayden Hurst of South Carolina is another athletic specimen with the speed to run away from defensive backs. Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews rounds out the class as essentially an oversized slot receiver who has a knack for finding the soft spots against zone coverage.
In order to complete their offensive retool via the draft, the Ravens will probably have to completely neglect the defense until Day 3 of the draft. That is not necessarily a negative development, the defensive depth chart features proven performers along with rising young players at nearly every position. Furthermore, the defense will be put under much less pressure if the offense can be more efficient and put points on the scoreboard early.
The greater challenge may be acquiring difference makers all all three key offensive spots considering the limited early round draft assets at their disposal. The Ravens may have to engineer multiple trades to fill these three voids at draft slots that they consider to represent reasonable value. Fortunately, Ozzie Newsome has retained his nickname as ‘The Wizard’ due to draft day maneuvering and overall managerial expertise.