The Baltimore Ravens’ first big move of the 2021 offseason was the initial step towards delivering on their promise to improve the offensive line, particularly the interior. On Monday they agreed to terms with nine-year veteran offensive guard Kevin Zeitler on a three-year deal worth $ 22.5 million. His arrival will inevitably cause some reshuffling to the starting lineup not just at right guard where he is expected to be inserted but at other positions as well.
Here are the projected possibilities for each of the starting five positions from right to left following the notable signing-
Right tackle: Orlando Brown Jr. or rookie draft pick or veteran stopgap
The two-time Pro Bowler has been granted permission to seek a trade so that he can start living out his dream of playing left tackle in 2021 instead of waiting until his rookie contract expires next offseason. However, if he doesn’t get dealt, fully expect him to be back as the right bookend.
If Brown Jr. and his representatives can find a trade partner willing to give the Ravens fair value for his services then they would have a huge hole to fill at right tackle. With a strong incoming draft class of versatile offensive tackles that can play on either side of the line, the Ravens could pick one up in the top three rounds to plug and play from day one.
If they don’t want to go the rookie route or still draft one and give him a year to develop then signing a stopgap veteran to hold it down in 2021 could be a short-term answer. Some ideal candidates with extensive starting experience at right tackle are Rick Wagner, Demar Dotson, and Dennis Kelly.
Right guard: Kevin Zeitler
Retired All-Pro guard and future Hall of Famer Marshall Yanda helped recruit him to Baltimore with a glowing endorsement of the Ravens franchise. Zeitler has played right guard for his entire career and will presumably slide into the spot that Yanda vacated when he hung up his cleats following the 2019 season.
Center: Bradley Bozeman or rookie draft pick or surprise veteran signing
In his first time addressing the media since the week of the Senior Bowl, General Manager Eric DeCosta told reporters last week that the team has “a plan in place” on how to address the center position.
Growing speculation suggests that Bozeman, who has started every game at left guard for the last two seasons, is the leading internal candidate currently under contract. Center is his natural position dating back to his college days where he started and shined for the Alabama Crimson Tide.
If the Ravens opt to bring in some outside options at center, they could do so with a high rookie draft pick since there isn’t great interior depth in this years’ class. The top two center prospects in the 2021 Draft are Alabama’s Landon Dickerson and Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey. Some affordable veteran centers still on the open market include Austin Reiter and Ted Karras.
Left guard: Bradley Bozeman or Ben Powers or Tyre Phillips
If the Ravens go with one of the other two aforementioned routes to address the center position then Bozeman will be returning to man the starting left guard spot for the third consecutive season. He isn’t a perennial Pro Bowler like Stanley or Brown Jr. but Bozeman has been an integral of a piece during the Ravens’ historical rushing dominance since 2019 as puller who has made several key blocks to spiring chunk runs over the last two years.
If Bozeman were to move to center and Brown Jr. doesn’t end up getting traded, that would mean that there would be just one starting spot up for grabs. Powers, a 2019 fourth-round pick, finally got his first chance to start in meaningful games last season from Week 10 on and finished strong. He was viewed as the incumbent to start at right guard before the signing of Zeitler.
His chief competition will be 2020 third-round pick Tyre Phillips who had a rocky rookie season where he started 10 games, including the playoffs. He split time at right guard and right tackle and while he didn’t consistently standout at either, he especially struggled at tackle where he rotated with veteran D.J. Fluker.
A dark horse candidate to monitor in the competition for both left guard and center is 2020 fourth-round pick, Ben Bredeson. He played sparingly as a rookie last season, mostly as an extra blocker in heavy personnel packages, but he shouldn’t be completely counted out of contention. Bozeman surprised many when he won the starting left guard spot coming out of the 2019 training camp so there’s still hope for the former Michigan Wolverine heading into his sophomore season.
Left tackle: Ronnie Stanley
Assuming that he’s healthy and recovered from the ankle injury that ended his 2020 season, the First-Team All-Pro will be back as the Ravens’ starting blindside protector in 2021 and beyond.