Maybe the most important person as far as the Ravens reaching the Super Bowl next year is Steve Saunders, the team’s head strength and conditioning coach.
Most of the attention this week has focused on the draft because of the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. The Ravens have several needs, one of those finding a big, physical wide out. But the Ravens have two young receivers who could make a major difference in 2020 in Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Myles Boykin, both about to enter their second seasons.
Both could improve dramatically with strong seasons in the weight room working under Saunders. They have the physical attributes, now it’s about the commitment. Brown, one of the fastest players in the NFL, started 11 of 14 games last season. He had 46 catches for 584 yards and seven touchdowns, which was tied for third among all rookies.
Boykin started 11 of 16 games and finished with 13 catches for 198 yards and three touchdowns. Together, they can give the Ravens something they lacked last season, weapons on the outside.
In college Brown and Boykin were limited by the NCAA as far as practice and time spent in the weight room. The NFL doesn’t have as many restrictions.
Both players need to muscle up, especially Brown, which would also give them more confidence. Boykin had a strong preseason but seemed to disappear once the regular season started.
Brown never seemed to fully recover from the Lisfranc injury he suffered to his left foot near the end of his career at Oklahoma. But because of Boykin’s size and Brown’s speed both have potential.
“We’re really excited about him. No. 1, he’s got a great work ethic, he’s explosive,” said Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta of Brown. “I think we all saw his hands, his ability to catch the ball in traffic and make contested catches for a little guy. We’re excited to see what this offseason is going to be. I think coming off the injury he had, which was a significant injury, to see how he rebounded week to week and played in the games and made big plays all throughout the year, that was exciting.”
“Receivers typically make a big jump from their first to second season,” DeCosta said. “We think that’s going to happen with Hollywood. I think also just working with Lamar in the offseason and working with Willie (Snead IV) in the off season are critical to the passing game.”
DeCosta also had praise for Boykin.
“Very, very excited about Miles,” said DeCosta. “He made some big plays for us throughout the course of the year. We expect him to improve quite a bit with an off season. He’s a big and strong and fast and physical guy. Great attitude.”
The loss of offensive lineman James Hurst for the first four games of the 2020 season because he allegedly used performance enhancing drugs shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Hurst played guard and tackle positions on both sides. That doesn’t sound like a big deal but being a second slow in stepping in the right direction might be the difference between going to the playoffs or staying at home.
Last season, Hurst played in all 16 regular-season games and started twice at left offensive tackle. Depth is important especially on the offensive line. If the Ravens have any early injuries the loss of Hurst will be critical.
For nearly a decade the Ravens have had a need for more versatile tackles and ends on the defensive line and maybe DeCosta has finally gotten the message.
The last time the Ravens had a player at those positions who could play the run and get pressure on a quarterback was Trevor Pryce from 2006 through 2010. Pryce was lean, smart, tough and far from being one-dimensional.
The Ravens need to get back to that mode.
“The idea is to always have guys in each round that you think value-wise will be there,” DeCosta said. “We may be holding our breath on some of these guys, but the challenge for us will be to find the right guys at the right spot in the draft. We think it’s a good year. We’re always looking at these defensive ends, undersized defensive ends in college; 4-3 defensive ends that we can convert to outside linebacker.
“We see those type of guys,” he said. “But we’re also looking at some guys that we can play five technique that can rush the passer as well,” he said. “We’re also looking at the three technique, the disruptive guys who can rush as a defensive tackle. We’re trying to find guys that can get after the quarterback. I think positionally we’re not as caught up at that, in terms of the actual skill set of being able to rush the passer. Just create some pressure and some havoc.”
There is a lot of speculation about free agency and where New England Pro Bowl quarterback Tom Brady might end up playing in 2020.
Brady, 43, needs to be careful. A lot of great players in the twilights of their careers believe they are still at their peaks but Brady can’t carry a team anymore.
He needs to work within the framework of a system and have capable players around him like Peyton Manning when he closed out his career in Denver.
If he can’t find that situation he should retire. The chuck and duck system used in New England last season could be hazardous to his health elsewhere.
The Ravens are currently in contract talks with cornerback Jimmy Smith who will become an unrestricted free agent soon but unless they are getting a great deal the team should let Smith hit the open market.
Throughout his nine seasons in Baltimore the former first-round pick out of Colorado has been on the verge of greatness but has never been able to grasp it.
There has always been an Achilles, ankle or foot injury. Always something. Now with Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey cemented as the Ravens starting corners and good depth in the secondary it might be time to allow Smith to move on.
He’s a good guy and a leader on this team but the skills are on decline. Smith has now entered the old category created by former Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome: “Right player, right price.”
Drafts often go in cycles and there are periods when teams hit or miss on certain positions for substantial lengths of time.
Remember when the Ravens couldn’t select a good quarterback or receiver and then they hit on quarterback Joe Flacco. They might have gotten a quality receiver last year in Brown
That’s what’s so intriguing about the 2020 draft.
The Ravens need to get inside and outside linebackers but have had problems selecting in those areas recently, failing with such draft picks as Tim Williams, Kamalei Correa, John Simon and Arthur Brown.
The Ravens have had two recent successes in outside linebackers Matthew Judon and Za’darius Smith, but before that they hit the jackpot with selections such as Ray Lewis, Jamie Sharper, Peter Boulware and Terrell Suggs.