Ravens draft needs: Cornerback and wide receiver top the list, but don’t overlook the lines

Published 4/17/2023 5:30 a.m. EDT, Updated 4/17/2023 2:53 p.m. EDT

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - OCTOBER 02: Brandon Stephens #21 and Marlon Humphrey #44 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrate after Humphrey made an interception in the first quarter against the Buffalo Bills at M&T Bank Stadium on October 02, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland.

The good news for the Ravens is that their roster, a month into free agency, doesn’t have a lot of glaring, red-alert needs. The bad news: They don’t have a lot of draft picks, either.

“Of course, you have to have a little luck on draft day,” general manager Eric DeCosta said earlier this month, “but we see a lot of players that make us a better football team at those positions [of need], for sure.”

The Ravens will have to be selective. Of their five picks entering the draft, just two are among the first 86. Even if the team trades for more capital, it’d likely sacrifice the quality of its top options for quantity.

As the start of the draft approaches — the Ravens have the No. 22 overall pick in the first round, which will be held April 27 in Kansas City, Missouri — here’s a look at where their roster stands and which needs are most urgent.

1. Cornerback

Projected starters: Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Stephens, Pepe Williams

The Ravens’ hole here is bigger than it appears. The secondary needs five starters — two outside cornerbacks, one nickelback and two deep safeties — and so far, it has only three sure things: Humphrey at corner, and Marcus Williams and Kyle Hamilton at safety. The Ravens’ young cornerbacks struggled last year, with Stephens, Williams and Jalyn Armour-Davis all bouncing up and down the depth chart. New defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson should be an asset, and the Ravens could try to work out a deal to bring back veteran Marcus Peters, but the AFC North’s wide receiver talent doesn’t allow for many easy Sundays. The Ravens, unsurprisingly, have been linked to cornerbacks in the first round. Could the draft’s deep class tempt DeCosta to trade down?

2. Wide receiver

Rashod Bateman #7 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates with James Proche II #3 after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on September 11, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Projected starters: Rashod Bateman, Odell Beckham Jr., Devin Duvernay

Beckham’s signing doesn’t change anything about the Ravens’ need for reinvestment at the position. Bateman, Beckham and Duvernay played in a combined 24 games last year. None have surpassed 515 yards in a season over the past three years. Beckham, Duvernay and James Proche II’s contracts expire after this season. Bateman has yet to prove that he deserves to have his fifth-year option in 2025 exercised. After the group finished last in the NFL in receiving yards in 2022, the Ravens have to find a star and develop depth.

3. Interior offensive line

Projected starters: Ben Cleveland, Tyler Linderbaum, Kevin Zeitler

Ben Powers’ departure in free agency leaves the Ravens in search of a new left guard, and it’s unclear whether they have a suitable replacement lined up. Cleveland hasn’t played much over his first two years in Baltimore. John Simpson struggled over his three seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders. Patrick Mekari might be more durable and reliable as a swing tackle. With Kevin Zeitler entering the final year of his contract, the Ravens have to consider their future at right guard, too.

4. Outside linebacker

CINCINNATI, OHIO - JANUARY 15: Odafe Oweh #99 of the Baltimore Ravens sacks Joe Burrow #9 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the second quarter in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at Paycor Stadium on January 15, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Projected starters: Tyus Bowser, Odafe Oweh

The Ravens have good pedigree here. Bowser, a former second-round pick, should look more like he did in a breakout 2021 before a torn Achilles tendon cut into his 2022 season. Odafe Oweh, a 2021 first-round pick, won’t have a shoulder injury hampering him this offseason, as he did last year. And David Ojabo, a first-round talent who fell to the second round last year because of a torn Achilles, should have a normal preseason. Now, though, the Ravens need production. Justin Houston, who led the team with 9 1/2 sacks last season, remains unsigned. Bowser, Oweh and Ojabo, meanwhile, combined for six sacks in 28 games.

5. Defensive line

Projected starters: Michael Pierce, Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington

Even with Calais Campbell’s departure, the Ravens’ defensive front should be one of the team’s strongest units in 2023. It still needs an injection of youth this offseason, if only as a hedge against what might happen next offseason. Pierce is signed through 2024 but has been injury-plagued. Madubuike and Washington are both set to hit free agency next offseason, and both could play themselves out of the Ravens’ price range. Brent Urban’s on a one-year deal. Only Travis Jones has a near-certain future in Baltimore beyond this season.

6. Quarterback

Projected starter: Lamar Jackson

Publicly, Ravens officials remain committed to Jackson. But if they can’t privately envision a future together beyond 2023, there would be no greater need on their roster. Jackson isn’t the only question mark here. Backup Tyler Huntley has yet to sign his restricted-free-agent tender, and the Ravens poked around the free-agent class long enough this offseason to suggest that they’re looking for an upgrade. Huntley’s QBR fell from 55.0 to 41.3 last season, when he struggled with tendinitis in his throwing shoulder.

7. Running back

Projected starter: J.K. Dobbins

The Ravens’ top three backs from 2022 return, with Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill all another year removed from the injuries that ended their 2021 seasons. This could be their last year together: Dobbins is entering the final year of his rookie dea and Edwards and Hill have just one year remaining on their respective extensions. The trio combined for 1,215 yards and 5.3 yards per carry last season, so there’s no glaring need for help.

8. Offensive tackle

Projected starters: Ronnie Stanley, Morgan Moses

By the end of last season, Stanley and Moses were one of the NFL’s most reliable tackle duos. And with Moses signed through 2024 and Stanley through 2025, their partnership could prove long-lasting. Stanley’s often-injured ankle requires an insurance policy, but the Ravens have that in Daniel Faalele and Mekari.

9. Inside linebacker

Projected starters: Roquan Smith, Patrick Queen

Queen broke out in his third season in Baltimore, but with the Ravens so far unwilling to commit to exercising his fifth-year option, he’s become the subject of trade speculation. Queen would be hard to replace; he’s one of the Ravens’ best pass rushers and developed an instant rapport with Smith, an All-Pro in his first season in Baltimore. Malik Harrison, a strong run stopper with starting experience, is entering the final year of his rookie deal. Del’Shawn Phillips, Kristian Welch and Josh Ross round out the rotation.

10. Safety

Projected starters: Marcus Williams, Kyle Hamilton

The Ravens don’t have to worry too much about the position’s future, not with Williams signed through 2026 and Hamilton under team control for up to four more seasons. Backup Geno Stone, who signed a one-year extension this offseason, also proved himself a capable starter last year. There’s still room for another high-impact addition, though. With Hamilton expected to replace Chuck Clark as a deep safety in 2023, the Ravens could convert a safety into their new starting nickelback, as they did with Hamilton.

11. Tight end/fullback

Projected starters: Mark Andrews, Isaiah Likely, Patrick Ricard

Andrews is one of the NFL’s best tight ends, and Ricard one of its best fullbacks. Likely stood out as a rookie, finishing fourth among first-year tight ends in receiving yards (373) despite the Ravens’ quarterback instability. Charlie Kolar, a fellow fourth-round pick, also showed flashes after overcoming sports hernia surgery last year. If the Ravens want to draft help here, they’ll probably look for an in-line tight end; they need to replace the blocking of Josh Oliver, who left in free agency.

12. Specialists

Projected starters: Justin Tucker, Jordan Stout, Nick Moore

Tucker’s under contract through 2027. Stout’s on a rookie deal through 2026. Moore just signed a two-year extension. If Stout can improve on a solid but unspectacular debut year, the Ravens should have three of the NFL’s best specialists at their respective positions.

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