Have the Ravens Done Enough to Improve the Offensive Line?

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Have the Ravens Done Enough to Improve the Offensive Line?
David Kohl/Associated Press
The offensive line—the source of all of the Ravens' woes on offense last year—needed major attention this offseason.

The Baltimore Ravens had a terrible offensive line in 2013. That terrible line directly contributed to the team's 8-8 finish. The Ravens had a franchise-low 1,328 rushing yards on the season, and quarterback Joe Flacco was sacked a career-high 48 times. It was clear improving the line was going to be a major offseason priority this year.

However, the Ravens haven't done much to address the line in both free agency and the draft. They made a few moves of note: Re-signing left tackle Eugene Monroe, letting right tackle Michael Oher leave in free agency, trading a draft pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Jeremy Zuttah, who is presumed to be the starting center this year, and taking the guard- and center-capable John Urschel in the fifth round of this year's NFL draft.

Zuttah is certainly an upgrade over last year's center, Gino Gradkowski. Gradkowski ranked dead last at the position for 2013, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), giving up three sacks, seven quarterback hits and 26 hurries. In contrast, Zuttah ranked just 22nd, but gave up no sacks, five hits and 18 hurries. His grade was minus-1.9; Gradkowski's was minus-18.1.

Right tackle, however, is somewhat up in the air after the Ravens didn't address the position in the draft. Granted, it would have been difficult to find a starter considering their situation—picking in the middle of the rounds and coming in with four compensatory picks that could not be traded, there was not a lot of room to try to trade up—or "reach down" as general manager Ozzie Newsome said.

Still, the position remains up in the air.

Effects of the Ravens 2013 Offensive Line
Rushing Attempts/Game 26.4 Rank: 18th
Rushing Yards/Game 83.0 Rank: 30th
Yards/Rush Attempt 3.1 Rank: 32nd
Rushing TDs/Game 0.4 Rank: 30th
Joe Flacco Sacks/Game 3.0 Rank: 30th

via TeamRankings.com

The Ravens have options, yet none seem like the perfect one. They could move Kelechi Osemele back to right tackle, where he started for every game of his rookie 2012 season. They could put Ricky Wagner there full time—he spent limited time at the position last year. One of their undrafted rookies could compete for the job, such as Parker Graham or James Hurst. Jah Reid could also be promoted to right tackle or left guard, especially if Osemele shifts back to tackle.

They could also trade for a tackle, considering Newsome said that the Ravens are "not done as far as building this football team. If the opportunity presents itself for us to acquire a player to play tackle if we need to, we'll be able to do it." Free agents could also be another source of talent. Right now, Eric Winston is still available; however; Pro Football Focus has him ranked just under Oher for 2013—69th out of 76.

Nick Wass/Associated Press
Ricky Wagner is among the players vying for the starting right tackle job.

Even though the Ravens don't have the right tackle situation sorted presently, just the replacement of Gradkowski with Zuttah should result in better play from the line. Gradkowski, a 2012 fourth-round draft pick, moved to starting center after Matt Birk retired. His lack of experience combined with the overwhelming responsibility of being the quarterback of the line was the first piece in the puzzle that was the Ravens' poor offensive showing last year.

Zuttah, however, has started at both center and guard since he was drafted in 2008. He's been good-to-great at both positions. According to Football Outsiders, 59 percent of the Ravens' rushing attempts last year came through the middle of the line.

If that remains the case in 2014 with Gary Kubiak controlling the offense, it's clear why center was the biggest area of concern on the line—they ranked dead last in yardage in rushes from that direction last year. At least that problem appears to have been solved.

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
The biggest upgrade—and most necessary one—is at center. The Ravens traded for Jeremy Zuttah to replace Gino Gradkowski.

And though the options at right tackle seem a little underwhelming, the Ravens do have a number of them. They also have one of the league's better left tackles under contract and a very reliable right guard in Marshal Yanda. Osemele is coming off of back surgery, but that's a good thing—he was barely mobile last year before agreeing to the operation. 

Though the Ravens didn't, and couldn't, do much about the offensive line in the draft, they are in much better shape than they were when the 2013 season wrapped. The right tackle problem has a solution—we just don't know exactly what it is yet—while center, their biggest deficiency, was addressed via trade.

It might be a bit frustrating to look at the Ravens, a team so needy for offensive line help, and their draft, which resulted in only one new lineman. But the Ravens have made incremental and significant improvements to their line and more are coming. Baltimore's run game—and Flacco's ability to stay upright—already look like they'll be much better in 2014.

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