The 2016 NFL season begins now, with 32 teams scheming to knock off the reigning champion Denver Broncos. The NFL Draft is just around the corner, but the first step in any offseason plan is to assess a team’s needs. Here we look at what the Baltimore Ravens team needs are.
These reports were compiled with the help of Inside The Pylon’s writers and editors, as well as the outstanding offseason primers at OverTheCap.com, which are invaluable for understanding the salary cap and contractual obligations of each team. In addition, the depth chart data is courtesy RosterResource.com – thanks for all your support!
Coming off a disappointing season, the 2013 Super Bowl Champions are looking to saddle up and ride one more time under the John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco regime. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for Baltimore last season, with defensive leader Terrell Suggs suffering a season-ending injury in Week One against the Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos. And the hits just kept on coming, as Steve Smith Sr. fell to injury, while tight end Crockett Gillmore, tackle Eugene Monroe, and last year’s first round pick Breshad Perriman also missed significant time. It is the hope of future two-time NFL Hall of Famer (already in as a player) Ozzie Newsome and his front office staff that a return to health, and a little luck, will propel the Ravens back to the playoffs and toward another title.
The offensive coaching staff returns intact, with Marc Trestman having a second season to implement his tweaks to the base offensive system developed by Flacco over the years with the likes of Cam Cameron and Gary Kubiak. Defensively, linebackers coach Ted Monachino departed for the defensive coordinator job in Indianapolis. However, veteran coordinator Leslie Frazier joined the staff as the defensive backs coach, while Matt Weiss moved from that role to become the linebackers coach. Meanwhile, long-time defensive line coach Clarence Brooks shifted to a senior defensive assistant role, giving Harbaugh the chance to add respected veteran defensive line coach Joe Cullen the mix as well. Despite some new faces, this group appears both deeper and better on paper this season, ready to help the Ravens integrate new talent.
The biggest acquisition – aside from the 6th overall pick – for Baltimore is five-time All-Pro safety Eric Weddle, formerly of the San Diego Chargers. Weddle is a smart leader in the backfield, who should solidify the Ravens pass defense and help get the younger linebackers lined up properly before the snap. He remains a rangy playmaker who is a sure tackler, and instantly makes this Ravens defense more formidable than last season’s edition.
The loss of Kelechi Osemele creates a significant hole, and while John Urschel can plug in as an emergency replacement and reliable depth, the Ravens should be targeting a guard to solidify their interior. Right guard Marshal Yanda remains a unique talent, but he is aging, and another talent influx to the position group only accentuates the Ravens’ best players – Flacco and Forsett.
Meanwhile, an almost equal need is 5 technique defensive end who can “do it all” in Baltimore’s scheme. The addition of coach Cullen and the future of the aging warhorse Suggs makes the edge a place where Baltimore could look to add two draft picks, one to play right away, and one to develop or to provide depth.
With the departure of Courtney Upshaw to Atlanta, the Ravens need to address the SOLB position. They could consider moving linebacker Za’Darius Smith to this spot, but likely they invest in this position via the draft, given some of the options available in this year’s class.
Finally, Baltimore’s defensive scheme does not require superstar cornerbacks. However, because of injuries the Ravens have needed to pull in street free agents to fill out their depth chart in each of the last two seasons. Acquiring more reliable and healthy reinforcements will likely be Newsome’s mid-round priority.
Meanwhile, the return to health of Monroe and development of Ricky Wagner (in his absence last season) makes offensive tackle less of a clear need, however, a number of the Ravens current options on the roster are nearing the end of their careers, and Baltimore needs to address the depth at this position sooner rather than later. and more a depth need for the Ravens. That said, Monroe takes up makes significant cap space money and is aging, making this a spot that Newsome would like to add both depth and a potential young replacement to maximize his flexibility over the next several seasons.
The addition of Weddle took this from a clear need to desired depth – though counting on the veteran safety to be an All-Pro for several more seasons is likely wishful thinking. In addition, former starter Will Hill has been suspended (again) and released, making this a position that Newsome and top lieutenant Erik DaCosta will look to bolster with some mid-to-late round magic.
Forsett has been a revelation since his arrival in Baltimore, and there’s no reason to think he won’t be productive for another few seasons in a scheme that maximizes his talents. However, he too was injured last year and depth is always something good teams seek out aggressively. Newsome is too good to not be looking hard at a deep crop of prospects that may have his next superstar concealed in the late rounds or UDFA market.
Set, For Better Or Worse
Flacco signed an extension this offseason and he will be the starter in Baltimore through 2019. His cap number is often a source of comedy fodder for the Ravens-haters out there, but the truth is that QB investment is a hard thing to properly gauge.
The Ravens added veteran deep threat / defensive pass interference target Mike Wallace to provide balance to their WR corps, and with a return to health by Smith Sr., and Perriman, this group could be the deepest on the team. Kamar Aiken is a capable depth player with special teams value, and even Michael Campanaro blossomed last season before he too was injured. The Ravens will likely look at WR in the undrafted free agent market, but it would be surprising to see them invest much draft capital this season, especially after using the 7th overall pick on Perriman a year ago, and having him yet to debut on the field.
Jeremy Zuttah is the definition of a dependable veteran starter. He is not going to “wow” anyone and he could certainly be improved upon were Newsome to find the right guy, but he’s also perfectly cromulent as a starting option in 2016.
Baltimore signed veteran Ben Watson to compliment recent 2nd/3rd round picks Maxx Williams and Gillmore. This is another positional group in contention for deepest on the team and is unlikely to be a spot the Ravens target in the upcoming draft.
Finally, at inside linebacker the Ravens return the versatile C.J. Mosley and Arthur Brown to the middle of their defense, and while they need a starter (on paper), it is highly likely they will fill that role the way they have for several seasons running – with the best remaining FA in June. Daryl Smith was a useful player in the post-Ray Lewis era for the Ravens and Newsome is adept at finding low-cost, dependable veterans to plug into this “generalist” role that doesn’t require special skills – just the ability to tackle.
Overall, the talent in Baltimore is better than your average team drafting 6th overall. While the Ravens have clear needs, they will likely find useful starters at both left guard and edge in the first two rounds, and be able to paper over any others with shrewd signings by one of the greatest general managers in NFL history. It is entirely reasonable to expect the Ravens to bounce back with a playoff appearance in 2016.