Earlier in the week, I broke down the biggest needs still facing the Baltimore Ravens this offseason. Now, I’ll delve further into the areas of the depth chart that general manager Ozzie Newsome needs to focus on and how he’ll go about filling those holes.
The needs discussed in part one of this article were the glaring needs where a starter or more depth is absolutely necessary: free safety, right tackle and tight end.
This article focuses on the needs that are less obvious but are still very important if the team is going to bounce back from a disappointing 2013 campaign and get back to the playoffs. The Ravens are set with starters at these positions but could benefit by bringing in competition or added depth.
For every position we’ll go through:
- the current situation of the position
- possible solutions on the open market
- potential draft-day targets
- predictions for how Ozzie Newsome will address the need
As a refresher, here is the depth chart as it currently stands:
|QB||Joe Flacco||Tyrod Taylor|
|RB||Ray Rice||Bernard Pierce|
|WR||Torrey Smith||Jacoby Jones||Deonte Thompson|
|WR||Steve Smith||Marlon Brown||Aaron Mellette|
|TE||Dennis Pitta||Matt Furstenburg|
|LG||Kelechi Osemele||Ryan Jensen|
|C||Jeremy Zuttah||Gino Gradkowski||A.Q. Shipley|
|RT||Rick Wagner||Jah Reid|
|NT||Haloti Ngata||Brandon Williams|
|DE||DeAngelo Tyson||Kapron Lewis-Morre|
|OLB||Terrell Suggs||Pernell McPhee||John Simon|
|ILB||Daryl Smith||Albert McClellan|
|ILB||Arthur Brown||Josh Bynes|
|OLB||Courtney Upshaw||Elvis Dumervil|
|CB||Lardarius Webb||Chykie Brown|
|CB||Jimmy Smith||Asa Jackson|
|FS||Omar Brown||Darian Stewart||Anthony Levine|
|SS||Matt Elam||Jeromy Miles||Brynden Trawick|
The Ravens were right not to match the $4 million per year contract offer that Corey Graham received from the Buffalo Bills, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t miss him. Graham was an often overlooked member of the defense, but he was a very valuable contributor.
Baltimore is set with its top two cornerbacks (Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith) poised to become one of the better tandems in the league if they continue to play like they did to end the 2013 season.
Smith finally delivered on the combination of size and athleticism that made the Ravens draft him in the first round in 2011, while Webb started to look completely recovered from the torn ACL that ended his 2012 season early.
But two good cornerbacks isn’t enough in this day and age where three-WR formations are ubiquitous.
What Graham provided as the third-string corner was reliability. He was very solid and capable of starting in the event of an injury. He was versatile with the ability to play outside or in the slot, and he was a very solid tackler.
Without Graham, the next men up are Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson. Brown is definitely the front-runner given his experience and how he’s been able to impress the coaching staff.
Before the 2013 season started, defensive coordinator Dean Pees singled him out, saying, “Chykie has improved maybe as much as anybody on this football team in the last couple of years. I really think he’s come light years from where he was,” per Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com.
Even though Brown has developed nicely, it would be nice if the Ravens added another cornerback to compete for the job and provide depth.
Possible Free-Agent Targets
There are a couple of veteran options on the market that the Ravens could pursue to improve the depth at the position. One example is Carlos Rogers, who had a down year last year but is a couple of years removed from being one of the better corners in the league.
The Ravens may also go after one of their former players, Josh Wilson. Both Rogers and Wilson would be limited to covering the slot, but given the prevalence of speedy slot receivers in the mold of Wes Welker, that could prove problematic for Baltimore.
Furthermore, since Webb thrives in the slot, it would make more sense to get a third cornerback with the size to match up outside the numbers if possible.
Players like Dimitri Patterson or Terrell Thomas are bigger cornerbacks who still have a few good years left in them, making them better fits for the roster.
Potential Draft Targets
Fortunately for the Ravens this is a very deep draft at the cornerback position, which means Newsome should be able to add a contributor on Day 3 of the draft if he needs to.
If Baltimore wants to add a corner who can definitely walk in and win the job of No. 3 cornerback, an earlier draft pick may be necessary, but there are a number of players with intriguing long-term potential in the secondary.
Keith McGill (Utah) impressed at the combine with his measurements, according to Ben Volin of The Boston Globe:
Big corners are all the rage in today’s NFL, and McGill, the draft’s tallest at 6'3", did himself a lot of favors by running a 4.47 in the 40 and recording a 39-inch vertical. He also has the longest arms among DBs at 33¼ inches.
His physical tools alone make him worth a flier if he’s still on the board in Round 4, but he may have lifted himself out of that range at the combine.
Somebody like Ross Cockrell is often overlooked because he played at Duke, but the Blue Devils were very good this year, and Cockrell was very solid against better competition—including in the Chick-fil-A Bowl where he frustrated Texas A&M’s Mike Evans with his physical press coverage.
Cockrell should be available in the fourth or fifth round, and he’d be a solid pick in that range as a smart cornerback who would bring immediate value as a nickel corner and on special teams.
Another prospect I’ve discussed in a few of my articles is Antone Exum (Virginia Tech). He may not be ready to contribute immediately, but as Mike Jones of The Washington Post pointed out, he could be one of the steals in this draft thanks to his impressive physical tools.
Those are just three prospects, but there are plenty of other mid- to late-round defensive backs who can compete for that nickel corner position.
Prediction: Ravens Trust Chykie Brown and Use Draft to Beef Up Secondary
With the underwhelming class of cornerbacks still left on the market, the Ravens will turn to the draft to shore up their secondary. That’s partly due to the large number of draftable prospects at the position but also due to the coaching staff’s confidence in Chykie Brown.
Brown should get every chance to earn the job in OTAs and training camp as the coaching staff determines whether or not he’s capable.
Baltimore will still add a cornerback in the draft because the value will be too good, and you can never have enough cornerbacks. But it won’t take one early in the draft, instead opting to select a mid-round player as a developmental prospect.
5. Running Back
Running back depth was a need all along, but the news that Ray Rice is being indicted on charges for aggravated assault means that the Ravens may need to add a back who can split carries with Bernard Pierce depending on what happens to Rice.
Rice and Pierce are the only two running backs on the roster, so it’s certain that Newsome will bring in another back. But what is unclear is where that back will come from.
Possible Free-Agent Targets
Baltimore could really use a bigger, bruising back, and there are two free agents who fit the mold perfectly. The first is LeGarrette Blount, who re-established himself as a punishing runner for the New England Patriots last year.
The other is Michael Bush, who has shown at multiple points in his career the ability to be more than a situational back.
Both men are powerful with the potential to thrive in Gary Kubiak’s zone-running scheme, making them worth a look on the open market.
Potential Draft Targets
Given the number of late-round (or even undrafted) running backs who have found success in the NFL, it would behoove the Ravens to wait until Day 3 to add a runner.
Moreover, waiting that long doesn’t prevent Newsome from having a crack at some talented prospects. James Wilder Jr. (Florida State) fits the mold as a huge back, standing at 6’3” and 232 pounds with enough burst to do consistent damage at the next level.
Another player who will be available in Rounds 6 or 7 is Lorenzo Taliaferro (Coastal Carolina). Taliaferro is also a big back, but he’s impressed scouts with his skills in the passing game—both as a receiver and a blocker:
Coastal Carolina RB Lorenzo Taliaferro, at 6'0" 229 lbs., ran a 4.53. Strong time for him. Big, tough rusher. Teams will love his blocking.— Dion Caputi (@nfldraftupdate) February 23, 2014
Prediction: It all depends on Rice
How the Ravens address the position will depend on what happens to Ray Rice. If Rice is still a part of the Ravens in 2014, the organization wouldn’t need to reach for a running back and would be able to select a late-round back like Taliaferro.
If Rice does face any jail time or a suspension, the Ravens will probably be forced to turn to a free-agent back who is a known quantity in the NFL.
6. Defensive End
As expected, Arthur Jones moved on from the Ravens and left a fairly sizable hole in the defensive line. There are three young players who figure to fill that void by committee: DeAngelo Tyson, Kapron Lewis-Moore and Brandon Williams.
All three have given the coaching staff plenty of reason to have faith in them.
Tyson was a seventh-round pick and worked his way into the rotation at defensive end last year, making plays when he was on the field. He’s an athletic player but may struggle at the point of attack against the run.
Brandon Williams was a small-school prospect but didn’t look overwhelmed by the professional game at all in his rookie year. With the strength to play nose tackle, defending the run won't be a problem for Williams if he shifts over to defensive end, and he has plenty of speed and upper-body strength to generate pressure on the quarterback from the position.
The wild card in this equation is Kapron Lewis-Moore, who only practiced for three weeks at the end of the season after practically redshirting his rookie year with a torn ACL. Lewis-Moore has drawn comparisons to Arthur Jones due to their similar frames and run-stuffing ability. If he’s ready to contribute, Lewis-Moore could end up winning the starting job outright.
All three players are young and have plenty of talent and upside, so depth isn’t the issue at this position. The problem arises if neither of them can truly be effective as a 3-technique lineman.
If they can’t do their job, the Ravens D-line will be pushed around, and the defense will be very susceptible to the run—especially with Daryl Smith and Arthur Brown (two linebackers who are better in coverage than against the run) projected to start at inside linebacker.
Possible Free-Agent Targets
With all the young talent on the defensive line, if the Ravens add a free agent it will be a proven veteran. Players like Andre Carter, Adam Carriker or Brett Keisel come to mind as options who will definitely be able to hold up against the run.
Regardless of which free agent the Ravens pursue—if they do—it will only be after training camp since they need to figure out if their current crop of defensive linemen can be factors this season.
Potential Draft Targets
Given the young talent on the roster, it would only make sense for the Ravens to draft a defensive end if a tremendous prospect falls into their lap in the first three rounds.
For example, if the scouts feel that Stephon Tuitt (Notre Dame) or Ra’Shede Hageman (Minnesota) is a can’t-miss prospect who falls to them in the middle of the second round, we know the Ravens will take the “Best Player Available.”
Likewise, a player like Dominique Easley (Florida) could be a bargain who falls due to injury concerns.
Dominique Easley has just passed Aaron Donald as my highest graded interior lineman based on tape only at this point. .— Ryan Riddle (@Ryan_Riddle) March 24, 2014
Any of those players would be the starter from Day 1, taking pressure off players like Brandon Williams and Kapron Lewis-Moore and giving them more time to develop and acclimate to the professional game.
Prediction: Baltimore Tests Its Young Linemen
While not a pressing need, the D-line is the foundation of a strong defense (especially against the run), so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Ravens pounce on an elite prospect in the draft if the value is too good to pass up.
That said, the likely outcome is that the Ravens display faith in the aforementioned trio of defensive linemen on the roster.
Brandon Williams in particular could turn out to be a revelation at the position with the strength and speed to anchor the line and eat up blocks on the edge.
7. Wide Receiver
It may disappoint some of you to see wide receiver this low on the list of needs, but the fact of the matter is that this is Joe Flacco’s deepest receiving corps. There is definitely room for another receiver—especially a young one—but it’s not a pressing need for the 2014 season with the roster as it is right now.
Torrey Smith and Steve Smith will combine with Dennis Pitta to form a reliable trio of pass-catchers for Joe Flacco to target. Furthermore, Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown are both excellent No. 3 options in the passing game—and Brown has plenty of upside.
If the Ravens address some of their other needs via free agency, it would not be at all surprising to see Newsome pick a receiver early in the draft. But right now, every need listed above is more important than a wide receiver.
Possible Free-Agent Targets
The Ravens aren’t going to sign a free-agent receiver. It just makes no sense at all. There aren’t any appealing names on the market who could be signed for cheap, and with the huge number of excellent prospects in the draft, Newsome will turn to the draft to add a receiver.
Potential Draft Targets
Where do we start? There are just so many options in first three rounds who can come in and contribute right away.
Regardless of need, it would be tough for Ozzie Newsome to pass on Mike Evans (Texas A&M) in the unlikely event that he’s still on the board at pick No. 17.
Given the depth at the position, any other receiver would be an unnecessary reach in the first round, but prospects like Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt), Allen Robinson (Penn State) or Davante Adams (Fresno State) will be available in the second round, and all of them would be contributors in their rookie seasons.
The targets keep going in the later rounds, with somebody like Jarvis Landry (LSU) being a potential steal if he’s around in the third round.
Mayock: One of my favorite players in draft is LSU's Jarvis Landry. Reminds me a little bit of Hines Ward.— CollegeFootball 24/7 (@NFL_CFB) February 18, 2014
The viable prospects continue into Round 4 with the likes of Robert Herron (Wyoming) and Jared Abbrederis (Wisconsin) looking like very competent complementary receivers from the get-go.
Prediction: Baltimore Adds a Day 2 Receiver
The Ravens learned the value of solid receivers in 2013, as Joe Flacco had a brutal year. Even with the addition of Steve Smith, Newsome won’t be able to pass on the value of a third-round receiver who would be a second-rounder in any other draft.
Jarvis Landry is a prospect who jumps off the film as an Anquan Boldin-type who knows how to get the job done and make contested catches despite the lack of topnotch athleticism.
Shehan Peiris is B/R's Lead Featured Columnist covering the Baltimore Ravens and a co-host of Ravens Central Radio, a weekly podcast on the Pro Football Central radio network that focuses on all things Ravens-related. For the latest Ravens news, draft analysis and links to episodes of Ravens Central Radio, follow me on Twitter.