After a quiet two weeks in free agency, the Ravens went back to checking boxes last weekend.
They needed a veteran inside linebacker, so they re-signed starter Josh Bynes to a one-year deal Friday. They needed an impact defensive lineman, so they re-signed starter Calais Campbell to a two-year deal Saturday. And because they need a lot more help elsewhere — and because they have 10 NFL draft picks to acquire it — general manager Eric DeCosta and Ravens officials went right back to studying prospects and finalizing their big board.
With the draft just two weeks away, the Ravens are close to knowing not only what roster holes to fill but also which prospects to target. Some positions, of course, require more help than others. Here’s how the Ravens’ needs stack up, from least urgent to most urgent.
The Ravens have a Pro Bowl player in Lamar Jackson and a more-than-competent backup in Tyler Huntley. Coach John Harbaugh didn’t even bother with any draft trickery during his appearance last week on “The Rich Eisen Show,” saying the Ravens won’t be drafting a quarterback in the first round. If they wanted to find Jackson’s eventual replacement this year, that’s where they’d have to start.
10. Wide receiver
Ravens director of player personnel Joe Hortiz joked with reporters after the team’s predraft news conference last week that one topic had gone conspicuously unremarked upon: wide receivers. But the Ravens, for the first time in years, don’t need to find a starting-level prospect in the draft. Former first-round picks Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Rashod Bateman impressed last season, and there’s solid depth behind them.
If the Ravens do target a wide receiver, size should be a priority. Of the position’s most likely contributors, only the 6-foot-1 Bateman and 6-4 Miles Boykin are taller than 6 feet. If Boykin is released or traded in a cost-cutting move this offseason, the Ravens would lose their best perimeter blocker — an overlooked asset in an offense as run-centric as coordinator Greg Roman’s.
The Ravens ended a lot of speculation about their potential safety upgrades when they signed Marcus Williams to a five-year, $70 million contract last month. Williams should be a seamless fit in first-year coordinator Mike Macdonald’s defense. His arrival not only gives the team a center field ball hawk but also allows Chuck Clark to play more often as a box safety and amplifies Brandon Stephens’ versatility.
Now, would the Ravens pass on Notre Dame star Kyle Hamilton if he fell to No. 14 in the draft? Maybe not, but it depends on who else is available. And with Geno Stone, Ar’Darius Washington and Tony Jefferson all under contract, there’s a solid core in place behind the Ravens’ top three safeties.
8. Tight end
New Ravens tight ends coach George Godsey is stepping into a pretty nice gig. Mark Andrews led all NFL tight ends in receiving last year. Patrick Ricard is coming off a third straight Pro Bowl honor and his most well-rounded season yet. Josh Oliver made it through his first year in Baltimore healthy. Nick Boyle has the offseason to get his surgically repaired left knee back to game shape.
But if injuries get in the way again — Boyle played in just five games last season, and Ricard missed four of the Ravens’ final five losses — Roman might not have the personnel to play the kind of smashmouth style he wants. And unless Oliver takes a step forward, the Ravens could enter 2022 with just one dynamic downfield target at the position.
7. Interior offensive line
With a handful of solid, young options at left guard and Patrick Mekari expected to return to center, the Ravens should enter offseason workouts on relatively solid ground here. Kevin Zeitler is coming off a strong season at right guard. The battle on the left side will feature three recent mid-round draft picks: Ben Cleveland, Ben Powers and Tyre Phillips. And behind Mekari is Trystan Colon, a solid backup center.
Still, adding a versatile Day Two or Day Three interior lineman would make sense; Hortiz said last week that the Ravens have had the chance to work out guards at center during the predraft process. If the team can find a potential starting center later in the draft, Mekari could step in as the Ravens’ swing tackle. Considering the team’s injury situation out wide, he might be even more valuable there than in the middle.
6. Running back
There might not be a bigger gulf in the NFL between what the Ravens have at running back now and what they could have by the middle of the season. Move Week 1 up to May, and Ty’Son Williams might be starting again, backed up by a mix of unproven young players and well-traveled veterans. Move Week 1 back to October, and J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards could be fully recovered from knee surgery, both ready to return to their impressive 2020 form.
The Ravens will have to negotiate that uncertainty in the coming weeks. They’re reportedly interested in free agent Melvin Gordon, a two-time Pro Bowl selection who averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season for the Denver Broncos. And DeCosta said at the team’s predraft news conference that, considering the Ravens’ run-heavy tendencies, they would “certainly strike” if the “right guy” falls to them in the draft. It’s hard to imagine team officials using a premium pick on the position, but it’s just as hard to imagine them standing pat this month.
5. Inside linebacker
With Bynes re-signed and Patrick Queen returning for his third season as a starter, the Ravens have their top two inside linebackers back in Baltimore. But they’ll need more help, especially as they plan for the future.
Chris Board’s one-year deal with the Detroit Lions and Malik Harrison’s cross-training at outside linebacker has left Kristian Welch, primarily a special teams contributor, as the Ravens’ only other full-time inside linebacker. Even if the 32-year-old Bynes can recapture his 2021 form, the Ravens will have to start looking soon for a potential replacement. They could add a rookie in the draft, possibly as early as Day Two, or find cheap free-agent help available after it.
4. Defensive line
Defensive ends Campbell and Justin Madubuike and nose tackle Michael Pierce make up a solid starting front. It’s probably better than the Ravens’ front from their 2021 season opener, when Brandon Williams started at nose tackle against the Las Vegas Raiders.
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But the group’s limitations are obvious. Campbell is coming off a 1 1/2-sack season, Madubuike has shown only flashes of his pass-rush potential, and Pierce was rarely asked to pressure the pocket during his first stint in Baltimore. Elsewhere on the depth chart, Derek Wolfe is recovering from offseason hip surgery, and Broderick Washington is still better known for stuffing the run. In a league where everyone wants their own Aaron Donald, the Ravens must find their own young, disruptive interior presence. Campbell and Wolfe’s uncertain futures should only hasten the Ravens’ search.
3. Offensive tackle
Morgan Moses’ arrival in Baltimore hasn’t kept mock drafts from linking the Ravens to tackle prospects like Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning or Mississippi State’s Charles Cross, but it has changed the narrative at No. 14. The Ravens, finally, now have at least one healthy starting tackle. If their encouraging updates on Ronnie Stanley’s ankle and Ja’Wuan James’ Achilles tendon continue into the summer, they could have at least two or three.
Still, backup plans are necessary. Asked last week about the front office’s outlook on Stanley’s future as it prepares for the draft, DeCosta said the Ravens “try to protect ourselves as best as we can.” After all that Jackson endured last season, and with Mekari perhaps entrenched at center, that could mean spending a Day One or Day Two pick on a left tackle.
A year ago, the Ravens had maybe the NFL’s best cornerback situation. And now? “I think we’re definitely concerned,” DeCosta said last week. Of the team’s full-time corners, only rehabilitating stars Marlon Humphrey (pectoral) and Marcus Peters (knee) have started at least three games over the previous two seasons. “But again, until they come back,” DeCosta added, “it’s question marks.”
Stephens can line up anywhere in the secondary, and Humphrey’s experience in the slot is an asset. But after a disastrous season of pass defense, the Ravens still need to find at least one more starting corner before training camp opens. They could double-dip in the draft, rebuilding the depth that injuries depleted last year, and still be on the lookout for more help in the subsequent wave of free agency. There are just too many good passing attacks around the league, and too many question marks in Baltimore, for the Ravens to play it safe.
1. Edge rusher
In an ideal world for the Ravens, Odafe Oweh would enter training camp fully healthy after offseason shoulder surgery, while Tyus Bowser would be cleared by the season opener, having recovered from his Achilles tendon tear in just nine months. For veteran backup, they would have Daelin Hayes, finally healthy after an injury-marred rookie season, and Jaylon Ferguson, looking to bounce back after a largely anonymous third year.
So, yes, the Ravens’ edge rushers will need some injury luck. They will need some self-improvement. Most of all, though, after finishing 28th in sack rate and 24th in pressure rate last season, according to Pro Football Reference, they will need some new pass-rush juice. Za’Darius Smith would’ve helped, but the Ravens’ deal for him fell through in the first wave of free agency. The top edge rushers still available, including Jadeveon Clowney and Justin Houston, are only short-term solutions. That puts tremendous pressure on the Ravens to find an impact player with one of their first three picks in the draft.