The Ravens already have wide receiver, edge rusher and offensive tackle on their wish list heading into the NFL draft at the end of the month.
They should also add safety.
The Ravens don’t need another strong or “box” safety, but the fast, rangy type who can cover a lot of ground in the deep third of the secondary and at least make it difficult for teams to complete long passes. The Ravens haven’t had that kind of player since Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed left Baltimore in 2013 after the team won Super Bowl XLVII.
The Ravens already have two young starting safeties in DeShon Elliott and Chuck Clark, but their styles are similar, with both best suited for strong safety roles. Clark was second on the team in tackles last season with 92, while Elliott was fourth with 82.
That’s a good thing because of the interchangeable parts philosophy used by defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale, but not good enough to beat two-time defending AFC champion Kansas City. The Chiefs won the past two meetings because the Ravens couldn’t get consistent pressure on quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City had too much speed at wide receiver.
Part of the Ravens’ focus this offseason has been finding a dynamic edge rusher, but they also need to find a free safety. They might not have to use a first-round pick to get a quality one.
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay says TCU’s Trevon Moehrig is the best in the class, but because of the high volume of quarterbacks and receivers expected to be taken in the opening round, a top prospect such as Oregon’s Jevon Holland might be available in the second or third round.
Some other highly rated safeties include Syracuse’s Andre Cisco, Florida State’s Hamsah Nasirildeen and Central Florida’s Richie Grant.
“I went into the year thinking the Oregon safety, Jevon Holland, was going to be the best safety in the class,” McShay said. “And after I studied the tape on Moehrig, I fell in love with him. First of all, he has length and great ball skills. His ball production is outstanding. I don’t have his Pro Day numbers in front of me, but he is 6-2, 200-plus pounds. He is long and he plays long, and you love that for a safety.
“He has got speed, I think he has 12 pass breakups in 2019, and eight in 2020, so we’re talking about 20 breakups in a two-year span. He has really good hands as well. He can be a single-high safety, but also support the run. I think he is a really complete player. He is the only safety possibly going in the first round and one of the best defensive players in this entire class.”
The Ravens’ secondary lacks speed. Cornerback Marcus Peters is a big-play specialist and his experience is a major asset, but he likes to peek in the backfield at the quarterback. Years ago, he could get away with that because of his great recovery speed, but not anymore. Give Peters a double move, and goodbye, it’s over.
Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey is a rising star in the NFL and great at forcing turnovers, but he can’t run with Kansas City receivers Tyreek Hill or Mecole Hardman on crossing routes. In a 33-28 win against the Ravens in 2019, Mahomes threw for 374 yards and three touchdowns. In a 34-20 win in Baltimore on “Monday Night Football” last season, he threw for 385 yards and four touchdowns.
Two seasons ago, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce caught seven passes for 89 yards against the Ravens. Last year, he had six catches for 87 yards. Tight ends are usually the primary responsibility of one of the safeties.
The Ravens have tried hard to find a safety who can play center field. Besides Clark and Elliott, they’ve gone through players such as Matt Elam, Darian Stewart, Lardarius Webb, Will Hill and Tony Jefferson. They’ve brought in big name Pro Bowl players such as Eric Weddle and Earl Thomas III who were efficient moving straight ahead, but too slow in pass defense.
A lot of teams dedicate their offseason to catch and match up with the champions. The Ravens couldn’t do that because they had a lot of holes to fill. But now that they have improved on the offensive side of the ball by adding guard Kevin Zeitler and receiver Sammy Watkins, they might want to work on the defense.
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They have to find ways to slow down the Chiefs, and that means improving the back end of their defense.