Preston: Ravens need to draft a top pass rusher to complete defense

Rumors and speculation will be flying around this week, especially Wednesday, one day before the annual NFL draft.

Despite the hysteria, very little will change for the Ravens, who have the No. 22 overall pick in the first round Thursday night. They’ll likely try to trade down and gain second- or third-round picks because they only have one in the top 84. If they can’t, the suggestion here is that the Ravens select a pass rusher, regardless of whether it’s an outside linebacker or defensive end.


And if they pull off a trade, they should target offensive and defensive linemen because there are still a lot of quality players available in the second and third rounds.

It’s interesting traveling around town hearing the fans talk about which players the Ravens should draft. There is a consensus that the Ravens shouldn’t take a receiver in the first round because of the franchise’s previous failures in drafting wideouts.

Some fans also believe the Ravens shouldn’t draft a receiver in the first round because second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson isn’t accurate and a receiver would be a wasted pick. For those folks, I offer this advice: Please don’t give up your day job. Keep working, life will get better.

Another belief is that Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta will take a receiver high in the draft because he wants to show up his predecessor Ozzie Newsome, who failed to select a top-notch one.

That’s hard to believe, too, especially since DeCosta and Newsome are pretty good friends and any failures on Newsome’s record also appear on DeCosta’s.

The only way for the Ravens to solve their wide receiver problem is to keep drafting them. The Ravens kept striking out at quarterback until they selected Joe Flacco out of Delaware in the first round in 2008. Flacco isn’t going into the Hall of Fame, but turned out to be pretty good and provided stability for a decade.

Just as important, he gave the Ravens a blueprint of what to look for before they went new wave with Jackson in 2018. It’s the same with receivers. The Ravens have to keep swinging until they get it right because that position is one of the big three on offense along with quarterback and running back.

Now, if the Ravens stay at No. 22, they should take a pass rusher such as Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell. They have already invested in the secondary with two first-round picks in cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Marlon Humphrey. They recently signed nickelback Tavon Young to a contract extension and added former Seattle Seahawks standout safety Earl Thomas as a free agent.

This could be one of the best secondaries in the NFL, but the Ravens could neutralize that strength by not bringing in a pass rusher. They might argue that they have some young players on the roster who might be able to fulfill that role, but third-year linebackers Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams have showed very little promise.

With players such as outside linebackers Matthew Judon and Za’Darius Smith, there were signs that they could be starters early in their careers, but that hasn’t been the case with either Williams or Bowser.

So go get Ferrell. And if not, trade down and go get Louisiana Tech’s Jaylon Ferguson or Boston College’s Zach Allen in the second round. I like what the Ravens are doing on defense. I like defensive lineman Michael Pierce and linebackers Kenny Young, Patrick Onwuasor, Judon and Chris Board. They all seem to have a special relationship with coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale.

So, the Ravens should make the defense their calling card again.

The Ravens need interior offensive linemen. With a dominant offensive line, you can keep your defense off the field and control the pace of the game. Centers such as Texas A&M’s Erik McCoy, Mississippi State’s Elgton Jenkins and guards such as Boston College’s Chris Lindstrom and Wisconsin’s Michael Deiter should be available in the second and third rounds.

If the Ravens remain at No. 22, they will be tempted to take a receiver. Mississippi’s D.K. Metcalf could be available, as well as Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown, Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry and Mississippi’s A.J. Brown. The Ravens have other needs, but it all depends on their draft board and how impressed they are by a prospect.


But if DeCosta opts for a receiver, it won’t be because he needs to prove a point about Newsome’s failures or just to butter up owner Steve Bisciotti to find Jackson a weapon. It’s because he wants to make the Ravens and the organization better. He wants to win.

He likes his day job.