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What Can The Ravens Do To Get Back Into The Playoffs?

These are worrying times for Ravens fans. After John Harbaugh guided the team to the postseason six times in his first seven years, they’ve now gone three consecutive campaigns without reaching the playoffs. For a franchise that has been as successful as the Ravens have, that’s a disappointing run, and fans will be hoping for better next season.

Despite their 2017 struggles, it is worth pointing out that they won five of their last seven regular season games and finished with a winning record. Though they are second favourites behind the Steelers to win the AFC North with most online sportsbooks, Ravens fans who bet with Stakers will be hoping that the disappointment of last season will lead to their side starting a few games at tempting odds this fall.

However, before then, there are some issues for the Ravens management to address, and the starting point has to be to analyze what went wrong last time.

The main problem was on offense. The Ravens’ passing game was poor last time, averaging 189.4 yards per game. That was largely down to the inconsistent and under-performing receiver group. They also struggled in third and long scenarios. Without a tricky back who can consistently pick up those seven or eight-yard gains, they were easy to counter, and their 4.6 yards per play on third downs was the worst in the NFL.

There were also defensive issues. Sure, C.J. Mosley had a second Pro Bowl season, but while the team were strong when it came to stopping wide receivers, the same can’t be said for tight ends. Both Mosley and Patrick Onwuasor were poor against passes thrown to the tight ends, and as the tight-end position continues to evolve into more of a receiving position, that weakness is going to cause problems going forward.

How can the Ravens improve this time around? Some of the offensive work has already been done. GM Ozzie Newsome has been busy overhauling the receiving core. Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin are out, and we won’t be seeing Michael Campanaro or Ben Watson return, while John Brown and Michael Crabtree have been added to the roster. Meanwhile, new defensive coordinator Don Martindale will be working on fixing the tight-end problem.

While some of the issues can be fixed in training and through free agency, the Ravens also need to add strength in the draft. At least one high-potential wide receiver and a fast, strong outside linebacker will be top of the list, but Newsome will also be looking for a talented back who can correct their third-down problem. Ravens fans shouldn’t be surprised to see them also looking at quarterbacks, given that Joe Flacco isn’t getting any younger.

The core of the Ravens’ roster is strong, particularly on defense, and if they can fix the tight-end receiving issue and refresh the offense, there is every chance that Baltimore will end their run and get into the playoffs next season.

Baltimore Gridiron Report 2018 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Ohio State CB Denzel Ward

Cornerbacks are always in high demand come draft night, and this year the 2018 draft will be no exception. One player that likely won’t last long is that of Ohio State Buckeyes CB Denzel Ward, a player who is quickly climbing the charts.

Ward is coming off a tremendous combine, and is known by many as the top CB in this year’s draft class. Here’s our official look at Ward and what he’ll bring to the table to the lucky team that grabs him this year in round one.

Here’s a Scouting Report from NFL.com

Overview

OSU cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs told reporters last spring that Ward was a “gifted player” and truly a “third starter” at cornerback, joining 2017 first-round picks Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley. Ward proved his coach correct, earning first-team All-American and all-conference accolades in 2017 with 37 tackles, two for loss, two interceptions, and 15 pass breakups (ranked in the top 10 in the nation). He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten notice from league media as a non-starter in 2016, playing 30 snaps a game on defense. Ward tied Lattimore for the team lead with nine pass breakups on the year (23 tackles), never giving up on a play and being quite physical despite his average size for the position. Ward got onto the field as a true freshman, making seven tackles, primarily on special teams. Ward was a first-team All-Ohio pick and Division II Co-Defensive Player of the Year as a high school senior (nine interceptions, 18 pass breakups). He also qualified for the state track meet as a long jumper and part of the 4×400 relay.

Analysis

Strengths Supreme athletic ability. Expected to be impressive Combine tester. Can park in a deep squat under wide receiver’s chin at the line. Patient from press showing no panic or hurry in initial movements. Can pedal and mirror for a long time without opening hips. Tremendously gifted footwork. Mirrors and matches with good balance throughout the route. Matches changing route speed stride for stride. Plays from low side of route to take away comebacks. Uses big burst for recovery and closeouts. Carries true long speed down the field. Reads clues from off-man. Reads slants and drives in front of the route in search of an interception. Allowed just over 32 percent completions over last two years. Ballhawk with sudden hands to attack the throw. Bats throws down and will swirl arms around the catch point to prevent target from finishing the catch.

Weaknesses

Frame is somewhat slight and he feels small in coverage at times. Lacks play strength to jam and disrupt. Appears to avoid route contact so he doesn’t upset coverage balance. Physical receivers can body him around at the top of the route. Needs to turn and find football sooner with back to the ball. Always around the throw, but lack of size and length shows up with “just misses” in pass defense. Several pass breakups came on throws with poor placement. Coverage benefitted from deep, talented rush unit up front. Has issues disengaging from big blocking receivers. Big backs drag him for a ride in run support.

Draft Projection Round 1

NFL Comparison Chris Harris Jr.

Chat Sports takes a look at Ward:

The cocky cornerback was a monster in the Big 10 this year, racking up 15 pass deflections and a pick while completely locking down one half of the field. He’s electric, smart, and will be bonafide #1 CB in the NFL. Despite his lack of size, he’s a very physical corner and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. He should be one of the first 10 picks in the upcoming NFL draft, but the only question for Ward at this point is what team he’s going to dominate on.

Strengths:

-Absurdly quick
-Excellent ball skills
-Has the swagger you want in a CB
-Big hitter
-Good blitzer when needed
-Very smart player

Weaknesses:

-Undersized
-Will struggle against physical receivers
-Not the most willing tackler
-Too timid in the run game
-Get blocked out of plays too easy
-Bigger WRs eat him up

Player Comparison: Chris Harris Jr.

NFL Draft Grade: 1st Round (#2 CB)

Projected Round: 1st

The Drafster on Ward:

Ohio State
Cornerback #12
Junior, 5’10” 191 pounds

Strengths:

Long and lean with the athleticism handle duties in the slot and along the perimeter
Production a product of his aggressive, competitive nature when the ball’s in the air
Easy mover with fluid movement skills, equal feet and loose hips that serve as catalysts for his ability to consistently mirror releases with ease
Elite burst and closing burst are evident when transitioning from his pedal to his downhill pursuit
Brings a battle to the catch-point with impressive savvy to directly play through pass-catcher’s hands
Plants himself in receivers’ pockets and remains in-phase down the field to consistently keep him in position to make a play
Understands how his responsibilities work in space and how to utilize leverage to generate turnovers when trailing
Springy leaper who times his attempts on throws with optimal timing

Weaknesses:

Frame is on the thinner side with room for further development
Timing remains a noticeable issue when getting his head around and locating the ball
Can transfer power through contact when he has space, but physicality as a run defender runs thin
Lack of overall girth has served as a hindrance when pressing and jamming bigger receivers
Requires further refinement when connecting his hands and feet to defend releases without panicking and grabbing in man
Has become reliant on explosion out of breaks to compensate for excessive steps

Pro comp: Jason Verrett

Draft projection: 1st Round

In a class of top-end talented corners, Ward is a name to stash away. He continues the recent run of impressive Buckeye corners that have been early selections and offer a potentially lengthy NFL career. Although he isn’t a physical specimen and is underwhelming size intensifies battles with receivers with the build advantage, Ward is supremely athletic and technically savvy to a degree that unquestionably warrants a first round selection. He can operate on both sides of the field and in the slot, increasing his value when considering his skill set that can succeed from a number of different coverage schemes. Ward has what it takes to find success in the league for a number of years.

Here’s the College Bio Page on Ward.

Some Quotes on Ward from NJ.com:

TODD MCSHAY, ESPN

“Ward wasn’t high enough on my radar early in the year, but I went back and watched some tape from this season — and boy was I impressed. Spending last season behind Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker and Gareon Conley (all 2017 first-round picks), he didn’t get much playing time, but he has elite fluidity, quickness and recovery speed. He has closed the gap with Fitzpatrick and had 15 passes broken up (Fitzpatrick had eight).”

DANE BRUGLER, NFL DRAFT SCOUT

“Quick-twitch athlete with explosive movements in any direction. Owns track speed with immediate acceleration to close gaps – the ‘fastest guy’ at Ohio State during the Urban Meyer era, according to OSU strength and conditioning coach Mikey Marotti. Sudden, but composed with swivel hips and velvet feet to stay in phase with elusive receivers.

“Lacks ideal height and length for the outside, creating mismatch issues vs. bigger targets. Works hard in the weight room, but lacks ideal bulk and limb strength. Bad habit of grabbing cloth at the line of scrimmage or near the top of routes. Ward’s lack of inches shows at times in coverage and as a run defender, but he is a premier athlete with the budding instincts and required toughness to be trusted vs. NFL receivers on an island, either on the outside or in the slot. He is one of the top-three cornerbacks in this draft class.”

Ravens May Bring Back Wide Out Mike Wallace

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has not ruled out re-signing free agent wide receiver Mike Wallace according to Jamison Hensley of ESPN.

The 31-year-old Wallace has been in Baltimore the past two seasons and was without a doubt the Ravens’ best wideout in 2017-not that that is saying a lot considering he accomplished that feat with only 748 yards and four touchdowns on a woeful offense.

If the Ravens do bring Wallace back, he will likely have to settle for a team-friendly deal after the team signed free agent receivers Michael Crabtree and John Brown. There have been no other teams linked to the much-travelled Wallace since the start of free agency.

Ravens Free Agent Deal with WR Ryan Grant Voided After He Failed His Physical

Former Redskins wide receiver Ryan Grant’s four-year, $29 million contract with the Baltimore Ravens has been voided after Grant reportedly failed his physical according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.

Grant’s deal — which included $14.5 million guaranteed —was widely criticized around the league as a gross overpay for a former fifth-round pick who has never topped 573 yards in any season of his four-year NFL career. It is strongly suspected that what the Ravens saw in Grant’s physical was mainly buyer’s remorse and the front office used a rather underhanded tactic to get out of it. The timing is also curious, given that the news is coming out almost simultaneously with the Raiders release of veteran wideout Michael Crabtree and word that Baltimore will be the first team Crabtree visits on Friday. Crabtree is four years older than Grant but has a far more impressive resume. Even in what was considered a down year for him and the entire Oakland defense, Crabtree scored eight touchdowns-two more than Grant has scored in his entire NFL career.

What the Ravens have done is remarkably similar to what the Raiders did in 2014 to get out a massive free agent contract they immediately regretted signing with offensive tackle Rodger Saffold. As for the 27-year-old Grant, he will return to the free agency pool but will struggle to land a deal with even half of the guaranteed money initially offered in Baltimore.

Ravens to Sign Cardinals Wide Out John Brown

The Ravens already are set to ink Redskins free agent wide out Ryan Grant to a big deal, but that’s not the only piece or even wide out the team wants to bring in, as Adam Schefter says the team will also ink Arizona Cardinals receiver John Brown.

Brown, who was drafted in the third round in 2014, began his career making a big impact. He had over 1,000 receiving yards in 2015, but his last two season have been a struggle.

He battled sickle cell trait, a cyst on his spine and lower leg injuries, causing his production to drop tremendously.

After 65 catches for more than 1,000 yards in 2015, his last two years’ production combined for 60 catches for 816 yards.

Before the start of the legal tampering period leading up to free agency, it was reported several teams had interest in Brown.

Ravens to Ink Redskins Free Agent WR Ryan Grant to Four-Year Deal

The Ravens are set to add a new piece to their offense, as Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports the team is going to ink Washington Redskins wide out Ryan Grant to a massive 4-year deal worth $29 million.

Last season Grant came on with the Kirk Cousins led Redskins, pulling in 45 passes for 573 yards and four scores, becoming a reliable target for Washington.

Ravens Part Ways with Veteran CB Lardarius Webb

The Ravens are parting ways with cornerback Lardarius Webb, as today the 32-year-old tweeted out that he was released by the team.

Parting ways with Webb clears $2.15 million in cap room.

The 32-year-old former cornerback signed a three-year deal last offseason. He’s been with the Ravens his entire nine-year career, but moved to safety in 2016.

Baltimore Gridiron Report 2018 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Louisville QB Lamar Jackson

He could be this season’s Kordell Stewart, a player who can play both quarterback, and at a moment’s notice shift to being a wide receiver.

He’s Lamar Jackson, who just wrapped up a solid college career that saw him throw 9043 yards in three college seasons with 69 touchdowns, and he’s ready to make an impact on the team that drafts him come late April.

Jackson is a possible game breaker of a player, but at what position and how long he’ll have to be developed are two big questions about him, and if a team is patient, they may get a player that could stretch the field either under center or lined out wide.

Here’s our report on Jackson, a player to watch in this seasons draft.

Walter Football’s breakdown of Jackson

In speaking with a general manager from an AFC team, they said that Jackson is the most dynamic player in the 2018 NFL Draft. With amazing running ability, speed, and a powerful arm, Jackson is a rare talent who possesses a phenomenal skill set. While he made highlight-reel plays on a routine basis, some in the media have criticized him to the point that he may not be a high first-rounder and could slip to the middle or back portion of the first round. Some analysts have even suggested Jackson should move to another position. However in speaking with team sources, multiple top executives and scouts think that Jackson is being undervalued and definitely can stay as a quarterback in the NFL.

Jackson broke into the starting lineup as a freshman and completed 56 percent of his passes for 3,543 yards with 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions. That season, he also ran for 960 yards and 11 touchdowns while averaging 5.9 yards per carry. In 2016, Jackson set college football on fire while winning the Heisman Trophy. The sophomore was a massive point-producer for the Cardinals. Jackson completed 56 percent of his passes for 3,543 yards with 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions on the year. He also ran for 21 touchdowns and 1,571 yards while averaging six yards per carry.

Jackson’s 2017 was comparable to his Heisman winning season although he wasn’t even invited to New York as a finalist for the sham award, which effectively excludes linemen and defensive players. In 2017, Jackson completed 59 percent of his passes for 3,660 yards with 27 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He averaged 6.9 yards per carry on the ground on his way to 1,601 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns.

Sources from around the league acknowledged that Jackson was a one-man team. Louisville did not have a good running game and fielded a bad offensive line that allowed steady heat on Jackson. Poor receivers consistently dropped well-thrown passes, and that kept Jackson from completing 60 percent of his passes. While a poor supporting cast is used to help justify some of the underwhelming numbers for Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, the same benefit of the doubt doesn’t seem to get extended to Jackson.

Of the top quarterback prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft, Jackson has the most athletic ability and dual-threat danger to give defenses huge problems. He has elite arm strength with a powerful gun that can make devastating throws. Jackson’s arm is so strong that he can make throws off platform that other quarterback can only make after having set their feet. With just a flick of the wrist, the ball explodes out of Jackson’s hands, and he can beat good coverage with perfect throws that very few quarterbacks can make. Jackson also hangs tough in the pocket while staring down the barrel to deliver passes while under the pass rush. He showed good field vision to work through progressions with pocket presence and patience to let routes develop. Jackson can buy time with his feet, and so many of his highlights are dominated by runs, but Jackson has a devastating arm to hurt defenses downfield. He also has run a complicated college offense under Bobby Petrino, displaying full command for the system.

A First Look Scouting Report from NFL.com

What I liked: Jackson primarily aligns in the shotgun/pistol, but he does take some snaps from under center. He shows quick feet in his drop and has an explosive/snap delivery. He can generate plenty of velocity without incorporating much of his lower half. He flashes the ability to accurately drive the ball into tight windows.

He has tremendous upside as a passer but his ability to make plays with his legs is what makes him special. He has Mike Vick-type explosiveness when he takes off on designed QB runs or scrambles. He gets up to top speed immediately and destroys pursuit angles from opposing safeties. He isn’t quite as shifty as Vick, but he is just as fast in a straight line.

Where he needs to improve: Jackson has a ways to go to develop into a consistently accurate passer. He has a bad habit of locking out his front leg, screwing himself into the ground and falling off throws. This dramatically affects his ball placement and touch. He flashes the ability to work to Nos. 2-3 in his progression, but usually if No. 1 isn’t there, he looks to run. In his defense, the pass protection at Louisville was terrible at times (see Houston game).

The other major concern about Jackson is his thin frame. He is very wiry and he’ll need to add some bulk to withstand a 16-game schedule at the next level. The same things were said about Deshaun Watson early in his college career. He packed on plenty of bulk before leaving Clemson and hopefully Jackson will do the same.

Biggest takeaway: I don’t use the Mike Vick comparison lightly. Vick is the most explosive quarterback to ever play the position. Jackson has that type of dynamic speed. However, Vick was a more polished passer and Jackson has some mechanical improvements that need to be made before he’ll be capable of matching Vick’s professional success. If Jackson can clean some of these issues up, watch out!

I can’t wait to see him play … Clemson on Sept. 16. Jackson put on an impressive display against the Tigers last fall, but Louisville came up a little short against the eventual national champions. This time, Jackson gets to play the Tigers at home. Last year, a highly rated Florida State squad came to Louisville and got thrashed. That was probably the moment that won Jackson the Heisman Trophy. If he leads his team to a win over Clemson this year, his campaign for a second consecutive Heisman would receive a huge jolt.

Some Highlights of Jackson:

Luke Easterling makes the Case for Jackson being the Best Player of the Draft:

First, I’d like to thank you for actually opening this article and beginning to read, rather than seeing the headline and angrily quote-tweeting “yur an moran” along with the link.

Let’s proceed.

The 2018 quarterback class got tons of hype this past offseason, with the likes of UCLA’s Josh Rosen, USC’s Sam Darnold, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph all getting top-10 projections from many outlets and analysts.

Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield has even shot up the invisible in-season draft board on his way to winning this year’s Heisman Trophy.

The four names I mentioned before have all shown flashes of brilliance this season, but have also provided far more head-scratching moments than many expected. From questionable decision-making and costly turnovers to injuries and inconsistency across the board, the flaws of this year’s top passers have been more evident than their strengths in 2017.

But while Rosen and Darnold continue to dominate the talk of who should go No. 1 overall, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson has been quietly putting together another fantastic season, showing the kind of marked improvement as a passer that should have him firmly planted in that conversation.

Instead, we’ve been forced to endure the tired but unsurprising barrage of “he’ll have to move to wide receiver at the next level” takes. Nobody’s talking about the athletic, talented but raw Allen needing to switch positions at the next level, but Jackson? Oh, definitely.

Before we go any further, let me make this clear: Lamar has flaws. Ugly ones, at times. He’s inconsistent, can be wildly inaccurate, and makes some head-scratching throws. Hell, he’s thrown two odious interceptions against Mississippi State in the TaxSlayer Bowl since I started writing this.

You feel more comfortable drafting the Blaine Gabberts, Christian Ponders, EJ Manuels, Brady Quinns, J.P. Losmans, Kyle Bollers, Joey Harringtons, Patrick Ramseys, JaMarcus Russells, Tim Couches, Akili Smiths, Ryan Leafs, Jason Campbells, Cade McNowns and Jim Druckenmillers?

Knock yourself out.

I’d rather ride or die with a player who could break the mold and become something the league has never seen before.

Again, he’s not perfect. He still needs refinement, and he’ll have bumps along the way. There’s plenty of “boom-or-bust” to his game, but he’s absolutely no more of a risky pick than any other quarterback in this class.

I’m not saying he will be a first-round pick. I’m not saying he’ll be an immediate NFL star, the next Deshaun Watson or a 10-time Pro Bowler who revolutionizes the position. I’m just saying he’s capable of everything we’re projecting for Rosen, Darnold and the rest of the bunch, if not just a little bit more.

Another Scouting Report from The Drafster:

Lamar Jackson is one of the most electrifying play makers in this years draft. Not only is he a solid passer, but he has no problem beating you with his legs. In his previous two years where he had more control of the offense, he passed for 7,203 yards with 57 touchdowns along with 19 interceptions, while running for 3,172 yards and 39 touchdowns. His running ability is likely more responsible for his hype rather than his passing ability.

However, if he wants to adapt to the NFL, Jackson will have to earn to survive without his legs as often. In his sophomore year of college, Jackson had 260 rushing attempts, his junior year he had 232 attempts. In the NFL, he will never see that many attempts, and never should. He has a special talent with running the ball, he has the speed and the elusiveness. This skill should definitely still get put to use, it just needs to be turned down multiple notches.

As said earlier, his running ability has probably accounted for more of his hype than his actual passing has. However this isn’t a fair claim. Lamar has nice velocity on his delivery that can get the ball into a tight window. He has very good accuracy on his short to mid-depth passes, but struggles with his deep ball at times. His on target down the field passes will be some of the most well placed throws you’ll see. His off the target passes downfield are usually barely off but still inconsistent nonetheless.

As far as his skills in the pocket, you’ve of course got the good and you got the bad. On one hand, he has a very good sense for when the pass rush is getting to close, and he’ll either get the ball off right then and there, or he will take off. On the other hand he could use some improvement on his footwork. When dropping back, his feet seem to move slightly slower than you would like, which is the cause for his inaccurate passes. On top of footwork, I noticed whenever he would decide to bolt out of the pocket and run, he would stumble out of his break. As a runner his feet are fine, but while working in the pocket it needs improvement.

Jackson is by no means a finished project and will probably take a season or two to achieve what he is capable of. But it is promising seeing how dynamic of a player he is even with his flaws. If he were thrown into a starter role, I see his rookie year being one of those seasons where certain games he will light up the scoreboard, but then a week later he struggles heavily.

Current Draft Value: Mid to late 2nd rounder.