The NFL draft hype undoubtedly will accelerate over the next couple of weeks, with the scouting combine set to begin Feb. 23. The draft is still 10 weeks away, and a lot can and will change in the weeks ahead. But already a dilemma of sorts is shaping up for the Ravens with their sixth overall pick.
The Ravens’ two most pressing needs are perhaps pass rusher and cornerback. Yet most draft pundits think the only cornerback worthy of a top-six pick is Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey, who is expected to be gone before the Ravens are on the clock. The only pass rusher slated to go that early is Ohio State’s Joey Bosa, who might end up being the first pick overall.
If you’re the Ravens, do you trade up a couple of spots to try and land Ramsey; stay where you’re at and “settle” for an offensive tackle like Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley; or trade back in the first round to that 10-to-12 range, where you might have your choice of Mississippi wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves and Eastern Kentucky pass rusher Noah Spence? Again, such a question is about six weeks premature, but if you ask me, it sure seems like a perfect scenario for general manager Ozzie Newsome to trade back, given his love of collecting picks.
I’ll give credit where it’s due: My colleague, Jon Meoli, brought up the idea of the Ravens using the sixth pick on UCLA linebacker Myles Jack last week. I certainly applauded the potential selection. Jack isn’t the prototypical edge rusher the Ravens badly need, and he’s also coming off a season-ending knee injury (torn meniscus).
But he’s an extremely explosive and quick linebacker who can cover tight ends, running backs and even some slot wide receivers, and he makes plays in space. Team officials are well aware that the Ravens need to upgrade their speed and athleticism on defense, specifically in the middle of the field. Jack would do just that. He also could allow them to move on from veteran Daryl Smith, who turns 34 next month.
I wrote last week about the positions the Ravens don’t really need to address, and I included defensive line on that list. But don’t confuse “don’t need” to address with “won’t” address. This year’s draft is loaded with quality defensive linemen.
ESPN draft guru and Baltimore native Mel Kiper Jr. has nine defensive linemen listed among his top 25 players in the draft. His colleague, Todd McShay, includes 10 in his top 32 players. Fifty-nine defensive linemen will be at next week’s scouting combine. The Ravens have taken at least one defensive lineman in seven straight drafts, as Newsome loves building his team from the inside out. The bet here is that the Ravens won’t be able to resist adding another one in the middle rounds, even though it’s clearly not a need.
Pro Football Focus ranked the pending free agents by position, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Kelechi Osemele was ranked as the top guard. Consider this your weekly reminder that it’s going to be awfully tough for the Ravens to re-sign Osemele given their limited salary cap space.
Justin Tucker was also the top-rated pending free-agent kicker, but nobody expects him to hit the open market. Consider this your reminder that Tuesday is the first day that teams can use the franchise tag on prospective free agents. Tucker is likely to get tagged unless the two sides can agree to terms on a contract extension over the next two weeks.
It’s almost become a foregone conclusion that the Ravens will release veteran cornerback Kyle Arrington, and I’m as guilty as anyone for suggesting that will happen. That’s still how it might play out, but I don’t feel as strongly about it as I did earlier this offseason.
Arrington struggled in his first season with the Ravens and was benched several times throughout the year. But at times, he was miscast as an outside cornerback because of the team’s preference to keep Lardarius Webb in the slot. Arrington belongs in the slot, where he had a lot of success earlier in his career.
With the Ravens moving Webb to safety, that could open up the slot to Arrington. Will Davis is really the only other potential slot corner on the roster, and he’s coming off his second knee injury in as many years. Releasing Arrington would open up a little less than $1.5 million in salary cap space. That’s not a whole lot of money when you have very little cornerback depth as it is.
In case you missed it, the NFL last week upheld the three-game suspension for Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, stemming from his hit on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown in the playoffs. That could have ramifications for the Ravens.
In three of the past four seasons, the Ravens have played the Bengals within the first three games of the season. If that trend continues, they’ll face the Bengals once in 2016 without Burfict, who dropped Ravens tight end Maxx Williams with a cheap shot the last time the teams met.