After being knocked out of the 2019 NFL playoffs via a 23-17 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, it’s time for the Baltimore Ravens to start preparing for 2019. Baltimore saw their season come to a crashing end on Sunday as the Ravens offense played their worst game of the season under Lamar Jackson in his first career playoff start. The thumping was just a reminder that the Ravens are not a perfect team on either offense or defense and have had the same running problems for multiple years.
Most of these problems have largely stemmed from a lack of offense but with Jackson looking like a deadly dual-threat quarterback, the time is now for Baltimore to finally improve their offensive arsenal outside of the pocket. The defense bailed the offense out far too many times throughout the 2018 season. The Chargers may have been the first to figure out the Ravens scheme surrounding their young quarterback but more teams will key in as more tape of Jackson emerges.
With the conclusion of 2018, Eric DeCosta is now officially the Ravens new general manager and he has a fair amount of work to do in his new position.
Biggest Baltimore Ravens 2019 Needs Heading Into Off-Season
The first of two parts of the offensive line the Ravens must address, the center position was a big question mark coming into 2018 and remains a weakness coming out. Baltimore lost Ryan Jensen to free agency after a great 2017 campaign and had no real plan to replace him. The solution was to convert second-year guard Matt Skura back to center and hope it worked. Skura was drafted out of Duke as a center but had a couple question marks coming into the draft. He performed OK in his first year as a starter, playing all 16 games for Baltimore. However, Skura was never a difference maker and had a number of bad games.
It’s hard to see Baltimore drafting another center after selecting one in each of the past two drafts. Bradley Bozeman was picked up by the Ravens in the sixth round of the 2018 draft but struggled when he got on the field for Baltimore. The interior of the offensive line is a weak spot in the draft so drafting a center in the early rounds is already off the table. Unless DeCosta finds a player he is in love with in a later round, the Ravens probably aren’t going to select a center in April. If they are going to replace Skura after one year as a starter, it will be through free agency.
Baltimore simply has bigger needs going into the offseason and the coaching staff will be hoping for Skura to have a breakout year in 2019.
3. Left Guard
After being exposed by Melvin Ingram all game against the Chargers, it is no surprise that the Ravens will be looking to improve the guard position next season. Baltimore has players that can fill the need but none that have shown they can be successful starters in the NFL. This problem has existed for three seasons and was not addressed coming into 2018. Third-year player Alex Lewis was supposed to take a large step forward after a decent rookie year in 2016 but battled injury all of 2018. Lewis missed all of 2017 with a shoulder injury as well and it appears to have hurt his growth.
James Hurst probably isn’t going to get another chance to start at guard after another subpar year on the line.
.@MelvinIngram. Sheesh. 💪
— NFL (@NFL) January 6, 2019
The level of confidence the coaching staff has in Lewis will determine where on the depth chart he ends up 2019. Considering Marshal Yanda‘s age and Lewis’ play, Baltimore could attempt to sign a guard to a multi-year contract — even if it is for only two seasons. Lewis is a free agent in 2020 and if he is more suited for a backup role, there is no reason for Baltimore to start him again in 2019. The upcoming class of free agent guards isn’t the greatest but there are names on the list that the Ravens will be keeping on an eye on as free agency approaches. One of those names could be Rams guard Rodger Saffold.
2. Wide Reciever
Going into the 2018 off-season, the Ravens biggest need was easily at the receiver position. This included finding tight ends as well. Baltimore addressed both of these slots and now have a completely new set of starters at all positions. The majority of those weapons will be returning in 2019 but the team’s deep threat John Brown likely priced himself out of Baltimore with the success he had when Joe Flacco was starting at quarterback. Brown was on a one-year deal and exhibited what he can bring to an offense when used properly.
Wide receiver is one of the first positions the Ravens are expected to address in the draft. There are a ton of quality receivers that are projected to be taken between the late-first and middle-second rounds of the draft and if DeCosta finds a guy he really likes, will presumably use the methods left on him by Ozzie Newsome to go and get his guy. Whether this is by trading up or down. The free agent market, outside of Brown, doesn’t really fit the needs that the Ravens are currently looking to fill. Recent overpaying of receivers will also keep Baltimore out of the mix for a number of receivers. There is still a possibility of the Ravens signing a solid WR2 in free agency but it would likely be another veteran similar to the signings of Michael Crabtree.
Finding another receiver is a must for the Ravens but the way they find him is up in the air.
1. Pass Rusher
It’s very rare for a team that finishes a season as the first-ranked yardage defense and second-ranked scoring defense to struggle in either getting to the quarterback and forcing turnovers. Baltimore did both. Only five teams finished with less forced turnovers than the Ravens. They finished the season 11th in sacks with 43.0 but collected 11 in a single game against the Tennessee Titans. Za’Darius Smith, who led the Ravens in sacks with 8.5, is also likely to leave via free agency after a breakout season in 2018. Terrell Suggs is 36 years old and showed regression after an impressive 2017 season.
Veteran Terrell Suggs reflected on the ups and downs of the 2018 season, and discussed what the future holds for him. pic.twitter.com/I7DQoAfCY4
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) January 7, 2019
The upcoming class of edge rushers in both the draft and free agency offer great options and the Ravens should find at least one new addition. Baltimore’s first selection in the draft is at 22nd overall, an area that a lot of top-end pass rushers should still be available. There is a group of around eight defensive ends/outside linebackers that could be drafted in the first round and one or more is sure to fall to the Ravens.
If a pass rusher is not taken with that 22nd overall pick, John Harbaugh could potentially inquire about one of his brother’s best players at Michigan. Chase Winovich has been a standout on the edge in Ann Arbor and is projected to land late in the second or early in the third round.
Another crazy scenario would be Baltimore making a push to sign Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney is one of the special talents in the NFL and fits the Ravens needs perfectly. However, they probably aren’t going to be able to pay him the money he demands…but it would be perfect.
Entering the 2019 off-season, the Ravens are looking to fix a lot of the deficiencies they had entering the 2018 off-season. Baltimore was able to mask a couple of these areas but still has to fully address them if they hope to be competitive again next season. They are also facing other potential challenges with the contract expirations of veterans like Suggs and Eric Weddle. C.J. Mosley is also set to hit free agency but should be re-signed as he is the best player on the Ravens defense and made the All-Pro second-team for the fourth time in five seasons this year.
There will certainly be fewer question marks heading into 2019 than 2018 but Baltimore is looking to become a perennial contender after finishing the season so strong with Jackson at quarterback. DeCosta has a big task ahead of him in his rookie year as general manager.