The only way trading defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan makes sense is if the Ravens are able to get a second-day draft pick in return for him, and that appears unlikely; or if the Ravens believe the 24-year-old has peaked and might benefit from a change of scenery.
Jernigan, the team’s second-round pick in 2014, was one of the Ravens’ best defensive players over the first half of last season with sacks in his first three games, and five sacks over his first nine. However, his level of play dropped significantly; Jernigan had one total tackle over his final four games. That’s inconceivable for a player of his caliber.
Jernigan clearly wasn’t happy with his reduction of snaps, and it seemed to affect his play, which had to open some eyes in the organization.
I’m by no means suggesting that he burned any bridges. Ravens coach John Harbaugh made it clear Tuesday that’s not the case and maintained that teams are calling about Jernigan, rather than the Ravens trying to deal him. He also predicted that a motivated Jernigan would have the best season of his career. If that’s the belief, why trade him?
Jernigan is the team’s only real interior pass-rush threat. Sure, the Ravens have some young defensive linemen behind him, but three of those guys, Carl Davis, Bronson Kaufusi and Willie Henry, didn’t play a single regular-season snap last year. And I get the New England Patriots-like rationale about making sure they get something for a guy a year early who they know they won’t re-sign, but this is a huge season for the Ravens and several members of their organization. They need to win now, and Jernigan would help them toward that goal much more than a fourth or fifth-round draft pick.
Two other quick points on this: In the days leading up to the start of free agency, many members of the Ravens’ organization were convinced that Brandon Williams was heading out of town. Yet, they turned that around and signed him. The point, as it relates to Jernigan’s situation, is things change and you can’t just assume a player is going to leave a year in advance. It seems unlikely that the Ravens can afford to give out huge deals to both Williams and Jernigan, but you never know. And second, I cannot imagine the Ravens are too broken up that the Jernigan rumors are out there. Harbaugh had an opportunity to downplay them or dismiss them altogether and he didn’t. A ticked off Jernigan isn’t exactly a bad thing for the Ravens as long as he uses it as motivation.
Projecting draft targets: Only because I get asked this all the time, I’m going to take a shot at the most likely positions the Ravens could address with their first-round pick in a month. Of course, the Ravens are going to take one of the highest-graded player on their board, regardless of position. But their first-round selection often addresses one of their biggest needs, too.
1. Pass rusher: I say this not because it’s the Ravens’ biggest need, but because there are so many talented pass rushers that figure to come off the board in the middle-to-late stages of the first round. The Ravens are in great position to snag one of them.
2. Wide receiver: This is the position the fans clearly want to address, although I’m skeptical, given the Ravens’ history in drafting receivers. Still, they could have their pick of one of the draft’s top three pass catchers: Corey Davis, Mike Williams and John Ross.
3. Inside linebacker: Alabama’s Reuben Foster probably won’t be available, but if he was, the Ravens should hand in the card immediately. Given his versatility, Temple’s Haason Reddick would be a great fit, too.
4. Right tackle: It wouldn’t shock me if the Ravens picked a tackle, as ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. recently projected with the selection of Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk. Team officials have talked an awful lot about improving the offensive line and they’re just about out of free agent options that can do that. Still, it would be tough for the team to bypass taking a first-round playmaker for a second straight year.
5. Running back: The only way I see this happening is if Louisiana State’s Leonard Fournette is still on the board. The Ravens love him. Otherwise, I’d be surprised if the team considers Florida State’s Dalvin Cook or Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey at 16.
Down on the corners: If you would have asked me a month ago, I would have predicted without hesitation that the Ravens would take a cornerback with their first-round pick. What changed? The Ravens signed Brandon Carr. Washington’s Sidney Jones tore his Achilles at his Pro Day and could miss his entire rookie season. Florida’s Teez Tabor is reportedly dropping on draft boards. There are plenty of other talented corners, but it seems that teams could get corners in the second and third rounds that are not a whole lot different than ones projected to go in the mid-to-late first.
Once a Raven, nevermore: There are a ton of ex-Ravens on the free agent market and a few of them would help plug holes on the team’s current roster. But something worth keeping in mind: Despite general manager Ozzie Newsome frequently reminding reporters that the “door is not closed” on re-signing players that the team lets go, reunions have been relatively rare in Baltimore.
It has happened a few times, most notably with defensive end Chris Canty. (I’m not counting the return of wide receiver Michael Campanaro last season because the plan all along was to let him get healthy and then try and re-sign him). However, way more often than not, when the Ravens move on, they indeed move on. That’s worth mentioning with the lengthy list of ex-Ravens available.
Just a cursory glance of the available free agents and you’ll see names such as running backs Justin Forsett and Bobby Rainey, wide receiver Anquan Boldin, offensive guard Chris Chester, pass rushers Elvis Dumervil and Paul Kruger, defensive lineman Arthur Jones, inside linebackers Daryl Smith and Josh Bynes, cornerback Shareece Wright and safeties Lardarius Webb, Kendrick Lewis, James Ihedigbo and Corey Graham.
Of that group, Boldin still makes the most sense if he’s interested in a return, and it’s hardly a formality that he is. NFL Network reported that Boldin wants to play closer to his South Florida home. I also think Graham would be a decent addition. The Ravens could use a little more depth at safety behind Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson, and Graham, who was let go by the Buffalo Bills after starting all 32 games the past two seasons, is known as a good teammate and a solid special teams player.