Mon, 12 Apr 2021

Mailbag: The Best Way to Address the Interior Offensive Line

Baltimore Ravens
04 Mar 2021, 04:25 GMT+10

by Ryan Mink & Garrett Downing

Mink: The Ravens have been clear about their desire to improve the pass protection for Lamar Jackson. With that said, this is a situation where there's not a clear hole to plug, but rather an opportunity to upgrade.

The Ravens have plenty of contenders at center with Patrick Mekari, Trystan Colon-Castillo and Greg Mancz, a veteran former starter whom they signed to a Future/Reserves deal this offseason. Matt Skura is a pending free agent. Bradley Bozeman can play center if needed. At right guard, the Ravens have more youth with Ben Powers, Ben Bredeson and Tyre Phillips, unless they view Phillips more as a potential right tackle if Orlando Brown Jr. were to be traded.

My point here is that the Ravens have plenty of young, developmental players who have already received valuable playing time. There's reason to believe those players would continue to improve next season. So if Baltimore wants to upgrade, it's going to take a fairly hefty commitment to get a player who'll clearly surpass one of those younger players.

In free agency, that would be signing someone such as centers Corey Linsley or Alex Mack, or right guards Joe Thuney or Brandon Scherff. While all four are very good players, they wouldn't come cheap. In a year with limited salary-cap space, Baltimore has to be judicious. Does the bigger need for a veteran lie on the offensive line or wide receiver, for example?

If the Ravens are going to draft a center or right guard, I would think they would commit a first- or second-round pick because a Day 3 pick wouldn't be an obvious immediate upgrade. The top centers in the draft are Alabama's Landon Dickerson, Oklahoma's Creed Humphrey, and Ohio State's Josh Myers. It all depends on how the board falls, but it would not surprise me to see the Ravens pick one of them to secure one of those interior spots for years to come at a cheaper price.

Downing: I expect Dobbins to have a monster second season. It became clear over the course of the 2020 season that he deserved a bigger piece of the pie, and he made the most of his opportunities down the final stretch of the regular season. He finished his rookie campaign with 134 carries for 805 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns, and added 18 receptions for 120 yards. Dobbins will likely take on an even larger workload next season, and if he gets another 70 carries (Mark Ingram had 202 carries in 2019, so that's a realistic expectation), he could certainly be in that 1,200-1,300 rushing yard range. I think Dobbins has the ability to put himself in the mix for the league's rushing title, but that will be tough in an offense that still has Lamar Jackson and (likely) Gus Edwards putting up big yards on the ground.

An area where Dobbins could continue to improve is as a receiver. He flashed good hands at times throughout the season, but that didn't translate to major production through the air. With Dobbins as an integral part of the offense from the start of the year, he'll have a chance to develop early chemistry with Jackson and establish himself as a reliable option in the passing game. I don't expect him to get quite to that Ray Rice level of receiving production - the Ravens also don't throw the ball nearly as much as that 2011 team - but I wouldn't be surprised to see him with 300-400 receiving yards.

Mink: The short answer is yes. The Ravens absolutely will have their eyes on the wide receivers in this year's class, which ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. called the strongest position group in the draft. The Ravens have selected six wide receivers in the past three years. Four are still with the team. I expect that Baltimore will select at least one again this year because Eric DeCosta is committed to taking swings at the plate to help fix Baltimore's longstanding issue with drafting impact wideouts. The other good news is many of the draft's wide receivers who should be available on the first two days excel at what the Ravens need - somebody to reliably make contested catches, post yards after the catch and move the chains on the outside.

Downing: This is a good question. The Ravens were high on both players as undrafted free agents, but neither of them panned out as rookies. Breeland's season ended before it even started as he went on the team's reserve/non-football injury list in training camp because of a college injury. Wolf struggled with his own injuries as a practice squad player and ultimately landed on injured reserve. The two players have talent, but they have to prove they can stay healthy. This offseason will be important for them to get healthy and get their bodies ready for the grind of an NFL season. If they prove they can stay on the field, then they have the potential to carve out a role for themselves in Baltimore's tight-end friendly offense.

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