I’ve mentioned this before, but this season has entered a lot of uncharted territory for the Ravens. Sitting at a very unfamiliar 1-4, they look to rebound against the 1-4 49ers. This will be the first matchup between these two teams since Super Bowl 47, when the Ravens came away victorious. But this Ravens roster is much different since then.
Long gone are the locker room leaders such as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, and long gone is the defense that the team’s trademark was known for. Although statistically they’re in the middle of the pack, they gave up 505 total yards to the Browns last week, the 3rd worst defensive performance in team history. Josh McCown threw for 457 yards and two touchdowns last week in only the 2nd loss to the Browns at home in Ravens history.
But the problem isn’t only on defense either. The Ravens are a rusty Mike Vick incompletion being completed from being 0-5. Joe Flacco has the ageless wonder Steve Smith to work with, but that’s about it. Breshad Perriman, Baltimore’s 1st round pick hasn’t seen the field yet. Maxx Williams, the Ravens 2nd round pick also hasn’t had the impact many expected early on. Dennis Pitta is still recovering from a hip dislocation. Justin Forsett has struggled to get any real rhythm going on the ground. The offense and team is underachieving as a whole, but it brings forth the question, can this team win? And if not, where do you go from here?
The Ravens have only missed the playoffs once since John Harbaugh took over in 2008. That offseason, in a “rebuilding year”, the Ravens drafted Joe Flacco and Ray Rice, and helped refill the cupboards with depth and an infusion of young talent. If the Ravens drop this game to the 49ers, who were supposed to be bad this year, another short term “rebuild” may be in order in Baltimore. In that scenario, here’s how I’d start (Keep in mind, I’m not suggesting we go Jaguars full rebuild):
- Replenish the pass rush: Terrell Suggs is still good, but is coming off of his 2nd torn achilles, and should be treated that way. Elvis Dumervil is over 30, and Courtney Upshaw is not a pass rusher. Some major resources need to be spend on a premier pass rusher, whether in the draft, or going after a megastar in Free Agency.
- Replenish the secondary: The aforementioned point about the pass rush will do nothing but help the secondary, but in the case that the pass rush can’t get there, the secondary needs to be upgraded. When Baltimore was at it’s best, they had Chris McAlister and Duane Starks on the outside, and more recently, the best ball-hawking Safety in league history. Now you may not be able to find those very often, but again, significant resources need to be put into the defensive backfield.
- Find a featured ball-carrier: The Ravens have always been associated with tough defense and a ground and pound running game. When they won Super Bowl XXXV, they had Jamal Lewis, and he went on to be a top back in the league. Since then they have had Willis McGahee, Ray Rice, and a few other journeymen runners, like Forsett. Justin Forsett played well last year, but is 31. The Ravens need a big, tough workhorse back.
Ultimately, the Ravens need help in a lot of areas, but if the draft this year could go something like this, Baltimore would be on the right track: (Keep in mind the Ravens will likely be lurking around the 6-12 range for their first pick)
Round 1: Jalen Ramsey, CB/S Florida State 6’1″ 195 – This is probably about as low as Ramsey could go, barring some awful off-field issues. Ramsey is an elite prospect at either Cornerback or Safety, and would be a great addition to pair with Jimmy Smith, letting Lardarius Webb man the slot.
Round 2: Derrick Henry, RB Alabama 6’3″ 240 – Just like Anquan Boldin and Steve Smith, if Derrick Henry’s play style doesn’t scream Baltimore Ravens, I don’t know who does. The humongous runner has flashed his High School potential for the Crimson Tide. He has had a fairly light work load in college, which will benefit him in the NFL. Henry will become the bell cow the Ravens have needed since McGahee left.
Round 3: Joe Schobert, OLB Wisconsin 6’2″ 240 – Schobert has made a huge name for himself already this season for with the Badgers. The current national leader in Tackles For Loss and 2nd in sacks, the former walk-on brings the lunch-pail type work ethic that the Ravens are known for. He could be very similar to Jarret Johnson, just more athletic.
This scenario addresses all three major places of need for the Ravens. Adding some supporting cast around Joe Flacco will do wonders as well, but in my opinion shoring up the defense is the quickest way to get the Ravens back on the winning track. If the Ravens lose to the 49ers this week, they’re in big trouble, but if they’re not going to win more this season, they may as well start preparing for next year.