Top 5 Baltimore Ravens Needs Going Into The Offseason

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PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 25: Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens lines up over center in the first quarter during the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on December 25, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

The Baltimore Ravens fumbled around the 2016 season and fittingly ended the year at 8-8. A tough week 16 loss to the Steelers is going to make Baltimore a very hungry when they look to return to the playoffs. Citing tough wins and losses in 2016, the Ravens are going to have to improve in a couple key areas if they hope to be competitive in the 2017 season.

Baltimore started the season strong, relying heavily on a defense anchored by CJ Mosley, Eric Weddle and Brandon Williams. The Ravens were at one point the number one total defense in the league but ended the season at seventh. Their defense truly was their defining characteristic. The Ravens improved on their secondary immensely in 2016. Baltimore jumped from dead last in the league in 2015 to first in INTs with 22 this past season.

With the defence in mind the Ravens must look to improve on an offence that looked completely out of sync the final game of the year. The Ravens didn’t have a great offence but it is not awful either. Key drops and missed opportunities lead to the Ravens finishing 21st in points scored. However, Joe Flacco was seventh among QBs in passing yards despite only throwing for a below average 6.4 YPC.

Top 5 Baltimore Ravens Needs Going Into The Offseason

Honourable Mention: The Running Game

The running game for the Ravens in 2016 was a mess. For an organization that prides itself in having an ‘in your face’ running game the duo of Terrence West and Kenneth Dixon could not get the job done. This forced the Ravens to rely more heavily on Flacco and nullified the balanced attack that Baltimore likes to have. Coach Harbaugh also told ESPN.com “we need another back”.

However, the Ravens have the in house ability to improve on their running flaws next year. Kenneth Dixon will be back and ready to improve on a solid rookie year. West is an RFA but if the depth chart stays the same going into next season he will find himself behind Dixon. The Ravens would be smart to pick up another running back in the draft but they have bigger needs. They will most likely pick a running back after the first round of the draft.

MAJOR KEYS

Inside Linebacker

Before January 20th this might have been the Ravens biggest strength but with the surprise retirement of Zachary Orr the Ravens are now looking for answers again in the middle of the field. The Ravens still have one of the elite inside linebackers in the league in CJ Mosley but Baltimore will be looking to find him a partner for the third time in four seasons. Coming into the 2016 season Mosley didn’t have a clear starter at his side but Zach Orr stepped up. Orr led the team in tackles and added three INTs and a forced fumble.

Replacing Orr will be tough but the Ravens typically have good luck finding players to play in the middle of the field. Expect a depth player to pick up the other spot next to Mosley or a veteran in free agency. Recently, the Ravens had a lot of success after picking up Daryl Smith. He finished 10th in total tackles twice in his three years with Baltimore. Smith had just turned 30 before signing with the Ravens.

Offensive Tackle

The Ravens and Ozzie Newsome typically like to build a big, mean offensive line and they maintained that mindset when drafting Ronnie Stanley 7th overall in 2016. Finishing the year ranked 9th by Pro Football Focus, the Ravens don’t have a horrible O-line. The problem is they are more than likely going to be losing starter Ricky Wagner at right tackle to free agency.

Wagner’s departure means there is now another hole to fill on the right side of the line. Last season the Ravens had a similar problem when Eugine Munroe did not return. Baltimore then drafted Ronnie Stanley as the long term solution. The Ravens will most likely opt to sign a tackle in free agency like they did with Jeremy Zuttah. However, Ozzie Newsome may pick one up in the draft if they do not find the player they want in free agency.

Cornerback

The Ravens secondary as a whole didn’t look awful in 2016 but when Jimmy Smith went down the unit struggled. Smith has been the number one corner in Baltimore for the last four years and it is time for Ozzie to help him out. When hurt, the Ravens cornerbacks were constantly exposed for big plays. The safeties helped out but Shareece Wright was consistently picked on and could not make plays at the right times. The other option is Tavon Young. The Ravens fourth round rookie, had a solid first campaign but has a long way to go before he’s a dependable corner in the NFL.

The Ravens are going to be looking for a compliment to Smith in the draft but the Ravens haven’t used their first round pick on a CB since picking smith in 2011. The depth at cornerback in this years draft plays greatly into the Ravens hands and may potentially lead to Ozzie taking a corner early. If a corner such as Tre’Davious White or Cordrea Tankersley is left on the board in the second or third round, the Ravens would be more than pleased to add their services.

Baltimore also has Kyle Arrington locked up for this year so the chances of the Ravens signing a corner is not too high. The CB free agent class is fairly deep this year but cap issues may play a factor. Unless the Ravens cut Wright there will not be much wiggle room on the 53-man roster for another corner to come in before the draft.

Pass Rusher

It’s no secret that Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dummerville’s best days are behind them. The Ravens ranked 24th in sacks this past season as the whole team only racked up 31 on the year. Baltimore’s sack numbers have been up and down the last six seasons but they finished in the top three, two of those years; most recently in 2014. They were also fifth last this season in QB hurries.

When Dummerville signed with the Ravens, it was after getting cut by the Devner Broncos. The Ravens could find his replacement in the same fashion. Newsome likes to find gems that have been cut by their previous teams like he did when he picked up Dummerville from the Broncos, Arrington from the Patriots and Steve Smith Sr. from the Panthers.

However this is a position that the Ravens pride themselves at being elite. Terrell Suggs has been a staple on this defence for over a decade now but Baltimore know he is getting older. They have been planning for life after Suggs since last year when they drafted Brandon Kaufusi (missed the whole season with an ankle injury) and Kamelei Correa. The Ravens could use their 16th overall pick overall on a partner for Suggs. Baltimore is going to hope that a premier pass rusher is still available for them at the draft. The good news is that the draft is deep with defensive ends. The problem is that the top four might be gone by the time the Ravens are on the clock.

Wide Receiver

First off, Steve Smith isn’t coming back.

Smith was the Ravens best receiver and their most valuable playmaker on offence and the Ravens will feel his loss. Kamar Aiken is also a question mark for the team as he is set to hit free agency this offseason. This means the middle of the field is wide open for Baltimore. If Aiken comes back, the Ravens will most likely be looking for help on the outsides. The Ravens are set for speed on the outside with Bershad Periman and Mike Wallace. However, Wallace most likely will not be sticking around for at most one more season. Wallace’s cap hit spikes to 8 million this season after being 3.5 million this past season.

Aiken was the most dependable player for the Ravens in 2015 but his role diminished after the return of Smith in 2016 and the signing of Wallace. Whether Aiken signs or not will determine how the Ravens approach free agency and the draft. However if Aiken were to sign somewhere besides Baltimore, the Ravens may look to grab a receiver with their 16th overall pick.

The Ravens want to win now so don’t be surprised if they go after a veteran receiver. Baltimore has a history of signing veteran receivers; most recently Steve Smith. The Ravens have found players like Anquan Boldin and Derek Mason after they had turned thirty and made them valuable pieces in their offence. The free agent class of wide receivers does not particularly favour the Ravens so Newsome and Harbaugh will be keeping their eyes out for notable releases around the league.
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