The Baltimore Ravens came close to making the playoffs in 2017 but fell short once again. It all came down to one play on defense against the Cincinnati Bengals at home in the season finale.
What appeared to be a playoff-clinching win went sour when Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton dropped back on a 4th and 12 with 44 seconds left in the game. He scanned the field and found wide receiver Tyler Boyd for a 49-yard touchdown that won the game and eliminated the Ravens from the playoffs.
The 2018 season can’t be a carryover from this past season. Head coach John Harbaugh has to find a way to get his team back into the playoffs. Ravens fans are not used to so many seasons ending this early. This team is not too far away from being a playoff contender.
Here are their needs:
Right tackle: Ronnie Stanley was a solid pick in 2016. He has solidified the left tackle position for years to come. However, Baltimore needs someone to be the bookend tackle on the right side if they want to keep the pocket clean for quarterback Joe Flacco.
At this point, Austin Howard and James Hurst are their options on the right side. Neither of them offers any long-term security there. The Ravens need to look towards the 2018 NFL Draft or sign a free agent to fill that void.
Offensive Guard: The return of Marshall Yanda will undoubtedly give the Ravens stability on the inside. However, they need another player that can hold it down on the interior.
If Baltimore wants to get back to the power running game that won them a Super Bowl in 2012, they’ll need to add a player such as Quentin Nelson from Notre Dame or Will Hernandez from UTEP in the first round of the draft.
Nelson will likely be gone when Baltimore is on the clock with pick No. 16 overall, but Hernandez would be a prime candidate for that spot.
Wide Receiver: The wide receiver position has always been a tough nut for the Ravens to crack. They’ve managed to hit on a few free agents such as Derrick Mason and Steve Smith Sr. over the years. They even traded for Anquan Boldin.
Their latest move was to sign Jeremy Maclin, but that hasn’t truly panned out. Maclin caught 40 passes for 440 yards and three touchdowns in 2017. That’s just not good enough.
On top of that, the Ravens will likely see Mike Wallace leave via free agency. A player such as Jordan Matthews would be an ideal signing for the Ravens. They should also look to add a wide-out in the draft. Alabama’s Calvin Ridley in the first round makes sense.
Tight End: Flacco is always at his best when he has a top tight end to throw to. Tight ends such as Dennis Pitta and Todd Heap have been his go-to players in the passing game.
The Ravens have missed on quite a few tight ends recently. Selecting Crockett Gillmore in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft never panned out because of injury. Baltimore seemed like they had a good one when they took Maxx Williams in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft, but he has not been able to make the transition to the next level so far.
While it’s early to give up on Williams, there will still be options for the Ravens in the draft. At pick No. 16 and No. 52, Baltimore will have a shot at some of the top tight ends such as Mark Andrews from Oklahoma, Dallas Goedert from South Dakota State, and Hayden Hurst from South Carolina.
Defensively, the Ravens are in good shape. They will be bolstered by the return of 2016 rookie standout cornerback Tavon Young. Young will team up with second-year corner Marlon Humphrey and veteran Brandon Carr to give Baltimore a solid group.
No team can ever have enough pass rushers, so don’t be surprised if the Ravens bring in someone that can get after the quarterback. Linebacker is another area that will need to be addressed.
It’s going to be an interesting off-season in Baltimore. Free agency is less than a month away, and the NFL Combine is in less than two weeks. Stay tuned.