Twelve Ravens thoughts one month ahead of free agency

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With the start of NFL free agency roughly a month away, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. J.J. Watt might be a logical fit reuniting with Anthony Weaver in Baltimore, but a team already devoting two of its top three salary cap numbers to the defensive line should probably allocate available resources elsewhere. That’s especially true if Watt profiles better as an inside player moving forward.

2. As much as we focus on areas in which Lamar Jackson can improve, it’s fascinating to see how prevalent quarterback rushing became in 2020 with records set for touchdowns, attempts, and yards, according to Sharp Football. Jackson has no equal running the ball, but he’s certainly headlining a new era.   

3. Pro Football Focus noted the Ravens have ranked in the top four in empty formation usage with strikingly different results from 2019 to 2020. Beyond Jackson’s individual play, protection must improve or Greg Roman needs to use fewer empty sets, which requires a more dynamic receiver to beat single coverage.

4. After finishing first (21.7 percent) in PFF’s pressure rate allowed metric in 2019, Baltimore dropped to 25th (34.8 percent) this past season. That’s why Eric DeCosta needs to be extremely picky before pulling the trigger on an Orlando Brown Jr. trade. You don’t easily replace a Pro Bowl right tackle.

5. If Brown is dealt, you’d expect the Ravens to add at least one legitimate veteran at center, right guard, or right tackle. Offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris has done a good job developing Day 3 picks and undrafted players, but you can’t count solely on incumbents and rookies for 2021.   

6. If higher-profile and younger options such as Allen Robinson or Corey Davis require more than Baltimore is willing to pay, Marvin Jones has been a consistent performer playing outside or from the slot. I’d take him over A.J. Green, who gave off a Jeremy Maclin-like vibe last year.  

7. With the Ravens having rushed for over 3,000 yards and 5.5 yards per attempt in consecutive years, the question I keep pondering is whether the ground game can realistically get any better. If that answer is no, you have to do everything you possibly can to improve the passing game.

8. The offense ranked 30th in the NFL in seconds per play (situation neutral) in 2020, according to Football Outsiders. That isn’t a problem itself — Green Bay was last after all — but quickening the pace against opponents already stressed by Jackson’s dynamic athleticism seems like a plausible way to evolve.

9. Safety is hardly a big need with Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott providing the kind of floor the Ravens lacked for years after Ed Reed’s departure, but they combined for just one interception and eight pass breakups. With Elliott entering a contract year, drafting a safety with upside makes sense.

10. According to Sports Info Solutions, Gus Edwards led the NFL in running back positive play percentage, defined as an increase in expected points added. I’m leery of paying running backs, but I’m fascinated to see how Baltimore values Edwards, who’s averaged over 5.0 yards per carry in three straight seasons.

11. Rick Gosselin offered a good piece laying out a Hall of Fame argument for Jamal Lewis. Given what we’ve learned about positional value in recent years, I’m not inclined to argue for Lewis simply because Terrell Davis was inducted, but the former Raven does deserve more credit for his career.

12. Regardless of how the quarterback situation plays out in Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger’s departure will bring an end to an incredible era of Ravens-Steelers games that featured multiple Hall of Famers on both sides. It’s become the kind of legacy rivalry that will continue, but new faces will need to emerge.