The Ravens’ plan at offensive tackle did not work in 2021.
Ronnie Stanley’s ankle did not heal sufficiently. Alejandro Villanueva could not deliver reliably above-average performance at age 33. They did not have a young starter waiting in the wings, though utility man Patrick Mekari did his best.
As a result, the Ravens allowed 57 sacks last season, second most in the league and up from 32 in 2020 and 28 in 2019.
They will go into 2022 hoping, again, that Stanley is healthy enough to shield quarterback Lamar Jackson’s blind side. They will likely rely on a different veteran, ultra-durable Morgan Moses, to hold the fort on the right side. But general manager Eric DeCosta has vowed not to leave his roster short of contingency options this time around. That means the Ravens will almost certainly add a young tackle, perhaps more than one, in next week’s draft.
DeCosta and director of player personnel Joe Hortiz have said this is a serendipitous year to go shopping for linemen, with quality players likely to be available in each of the first four rounds.
“We feel that there’s an opportunity in the draft to address the tackle spot at some point, whether it’s in the first round or in the fourth round,” DeCosta said at the team’s pre-draft news conference earlier this month. “There are good players all throughout this year; it’s a very, very deep position class. So, there are a lot of different ways for us to skin the cat, and we’ll do that at some point.”
Their opinion is echoed around the league, with analysts and team executives suggesting the best values in this draft will come from rounds three and four, where the Ravens will have seven combined picks.
“With the offensive line, you’re going to be able to find tackles pretty much throughout this draft,” said NFL Network analyst and former Ravens scout Daniel Jeremiah.
Will that depth obviate the Ravens’ need to look for a tackle in the first round, especially given that they expect to start veterans at both spots? The top three players at the position, Ikem Ekwonu of N.C. State, Evan Neal of Alabama and Charles Cross of Mississippi State, are generally projected to go ahead of pick No. 14. If Cross drops out of the top 10, the Ravens could consider trading up for him, but such a move would amount to a vote of diminished confidence in Stanley’s health, because Cross is considered a pure left tackle prospect with the most polished pass blocking technique in the class.
If the Ravens hold their spot, the tackle most likely to tantalize them is Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning, the consensus No. 4 player at the position and a fascinating blend of alluring and concerning traits. Would the Ravens use their first-round pick on a tackle who might not start over Moses as a rookie?
The case for Trevor Penning
If the Ravens wrote a job profile for their ideal offensive lineman, many of the traits would match up with those ascribed to the 6-foot-7, 325-pound Penning. They love ornery, gargantuan blockers who annihilate the object in front of them in the run game. Well, Pro Football Focus described Penning as “out for blood,” adding that “you absolutely will not see more dominant run-blocking tape at the Division I level.”
And Penning is no oaf. He was among the fastest, most agile tackles tested at the NFL scouting combine. Scouts consistently praise the bend he achieves with his massive, powerful frame.
Back in February, before the Ravens signed Moses, Jeremiah said Penning would be the surest fit imaginable if he were available at No. 14. “Because when you watch him, this guy is just a Raven,” he said. “The way he plays, the physicality, he’s huge. He’s 330 pounds. He’s almost 6-foot-7. One of my favorite nuggets on him was the guy literally watches horror movies the night before the game to get into character. I can think back to my back to my time in Baltimore when we had Orlando Brown, Zeus, the original Orlando Brown, and I thought, oh, my gosh, this would be Zeus reincarnate here with Trevor Penning.”
Scouts do not love everything about Penning. He bullied lesser competition at Northern Iowa, his balance and hand technique as a pass blocker need work and he sometimes let his ferocity get the better of him in college, where he drew 34 penalties over his last 31 games.
In recent mock drafts, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay predicted the Ravens will pass on Penning in favor of a pass rusher or defensive back. They have more holes to fill and more immediate snaps to offer on defense. They have eight picks in rounds two through four to use on a deep tackle class.
So, there are plenty of reasons to think they will look elsewhere at No. 14.
But if Penning is available, it would not be easy for them to pass on a potential starting tackle who so clearly fits their prototype for an offensive lineman.
Here are some other tackles the Ravens might consider later in the draft:
Tulsa’s Tyler Smith: The 6-foot-5, 324-pound Smith could be the Ravens’ man if they’re looking for a raw powerhouse to develop behind Stanley and Moses. He’s a Ravens-sized blocker who moves and bends well to complement his impressive strength. But draft analyst Dane Brugler of The Athletic described Smith as “incredibly raw” with fundamentals that “need to be rebuilt from the ground up.”
Minnesota’s Daniel Faalele: In a world of awesome physical specimens, they don’t come any more awesome than the 6-foot-8, 390-pound Faalele. The Ravens love big linemen, but Faalele would dwarf even Ben Cleveland, the mountainous guard they picked last year. The Australia native did not play in an organized football game until his senior year of high school but started for two seasons as a right tackle at Minnesota and proved about as immovable as you might expect. Faalele needs plenty of refinement as a pass blocker, but he would be a fascinating developmental prospect behind Stanley and Moses.
Penn State’s Rasheed Walker: The 6-foot-6, 324-pound Walker was a four-star recruit out of Waldorf and started at left tackle for three years at Penn State, where he displayed the quick feet and flexibility needed to thrive at the premium position. But some draft analysts say his college performance did not ultimately match his tools as he struggled to clean up bad habits with his footwork and body positioning. Nonetheless, he would be an intriguing prospect for the Ravens to coach up at either tackle spot.
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“If you want to like him, you can find tape that you will really like him. If you want to be bummed out about him, you can find tape to be bummed out about him,” Jeremiah said. “But this guy has got it all in his body. He is a true wild-card guy. If he gets with the right offensive line coach, he could end up being a really good starter, or he could end up really struggling somewhere.”
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