The end of the regular season is nearly upon us, and while the Ravens will likely move on to the post-season, off-season wish lists can never come too early. The Ravens are having a strong year, but they still have a few areas that they need to address in the off-season.
The Ravens' offense has struggled at times this year, and only Ray Rice has proven to be a star on that side of the ball. Mediocre teams like the Jaguars and the Seahawks have exploited the Ravens' vulnerabilities on offense to score surprising victories.
Meanwhile, the Ravens' defense has had a tremendous year. They've managed to be near the top in the league in nearly every single defensive category. Age is catching up to a lot of their stars, though, and the Ravens have to start preparing for life after Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
Finally, the Ravens' special teams have been anything but special this year. Billy Cundiff has been off this year, the coverage units have been spotty and kick returns have been abysmal.
They're 9-3, but the Ravens still have significant needs to address this off-season.
Bryant McKinnie has stepped into the left tackle position and has played well through most of the season. At 32 years old though, the Ravens already need to start planning for life without their new left tackle. Michael Oher struggled at left tackle in 2010, and Jah Reid is strictly a right tackle. A prospect to take over the left tackle position when McKinnie moves on would help Joe Flacco sleep at night and would ensure Ray Rice has big holes to run through.
While McKinnie is aging, he can still call Matt Birk "Grandpa." He's 35 years old, and while he's played at a high level this year, offensive lineman don't usually last into their late 30s. Andre Gurode is an elite backup, but he too is past his prime and the Ravens could use a young prospect to develop while Birk or Gurode can still play at a high level.
Yes, the Ravens lead the NFL with 41 sacks. Yes, Terrell Suggs is an elite pass rusher in his prime. And yes, Pernell McPhee and Paul Kruger have looked very good at times this year. Other than McPhee, though, this is the same group that was only good for 27 sacks in 2010. As the Pittsburgh Steelers have proven to the NFL, you can never have too many good pass rushers.
Ask any Ravens fan how the Seahawks beat the Ravens and they will point to David Reed. His two fumbles undoubtedly gave the Seahawks just enough push to beat the Ravens; he has since been benched for the unspectacular Tom Zbikowski. The Ravens have had consistently poor field position this year. With an offense that is only average, field position is crucial to be able to score consistently.
It was a tough call between inside linebacker and safety, but inside linebacker is a more pressing need. Ray Lewis is closer to retirement than Ed Reed. While the linebackers have thrived without Lewis, the Ravens would love to have a big time leader in the middle of their defense for years to come. This is a team built around their star inside linebacker; when he retires, it will take a special player to fill those shoes.