Urgency is at an all-time high in the John Harbaugh era with the Ravens falling short of the playoffs for the third straight year and fourth time in five seasons.
Most offseason attention has naturally fallen on free agency and the draft, but a less-than-ideal salary cap situation and picks falling in the middle of each round are challenges to making significant improvements to last year’s team. Those realities make it critical for the Ravens to see improvement from within as they did from Matthew Judon and Willie Henry in 2017.
It’s no secret that a number of underwhelming Day 1 and Day 2 draft picks in recent years have stunted the upside of rosters and have even forced general manager Ozzie Newsome to dump further resources into certain positions. Safety is one example as failed draft picks Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks and a number of underwhelming free-agent additions preceded the expensive contracts awarded to Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson in the last two offseasons.
Below is a look at five young players the Ravens need more from in 2018 to improve their chances of making it back to the postseason:
1. LB Tyus Bowser
The 2017 second-round pick from Houston looked poised to become a standout rookie when he recorded a sack and an interception against Cleveland in Week 2, but a rough performance in London the following week led to him playing more than 10 defensive snaps in only three more contests the rest of the way. With Terrell Suggs turning 36 in October and entering the final year of his contract and backup Za’Darius Smith also a free agent after 2018, Bowser needs to look like a player ready to step into a starting role in 2019 if needed. New defensive coordinator Wink Martindale shouldn’t hesitate to utilize Bowser’s athleticism and versatility in creative ways like Rex Ryan did with Bart Scott years ago.
2. DE Chris Wormley
Wormley became the latest 5-technique defensive end drafted by Baltimore to make little impact in his rookie year, but it’s a position requiring strength and discipline, making it less than shocking that the third-round pick from Michigan played only 120 defensive snaps. This is a critical offseason for him with the oft-injured Brent Urban being a free agent, 2017 starter Carl Davis recovering from shoulder surgery, and 2016 third-round pick Bronson Kaufusi rapidly approaching bust territory. There’s a golden opportunity for Wormley to seize the starting job and become a meaningful contributor as an inside pass rusher in sub packages, another need for the Baltimore defense.
3. LB Tim Williams
Are you noticing a trend here? The Ravens went all in on defense in the 2017 draft and received very little from their trio of Day 2 picks as Williams was inactive for eight games and played only 125 defensive snaps. It was hardly a shock to see the Alabama product struggle to set the edge and establish a role on special teams, but he’ll need to improve in these areas to put himself in better position for meaningful playing time. That said, Williams being a rush specialist in college was hardly a secret and the coaching staff needs to find ways to get him on the field to take advantage of that valuable dimension. As previously mentioned with Bowser, more snaps should be there if Williams is ready to capitalize.
4. G Alex Lewis
Of course, Lewis sat out the entire 2017 season after undergoing shoulder surgery in training camp, but this came after he missed eight starts due to injury as a rookie, making his durability a legitimate concern. The 2016 fourth-round pick showed promise at left guard as a rookie and even filled in at an acceptable level at left tackle when Ronnie Stanley was injured, but the time is now for Lewis to firmly entrench himself as a dependable starter, especially with starting center Ryan Jensen a free agent and questionable to return. With there being so many questions at wide receiver and tight end, the Ravens need their offensive line to be as strong as possible and Lewis is a major key to that happening.
5. WR Chris Moore
The special-teams standout’s mention on this list is a product of circumstance as he is the only sure bet among the incumbent wide receivers to be on next year’s roster. Moore received praise for his play down the stretch and recorded half of his season receptions and two of his three touchdowns in December, but that excitement was more a response to the terrible play of Breshad Perriman than anything else. The second-year wideout only reined in 18 of 38 targets and needs to be more consistent to be considered as much as a No.3 option. Make no mistake, Moore has met expectations as a fourth-round pick with his play on special teams alone, but the Ravens need as much help as possible at wide receiver.
Others considered: WR Breshad Perriman, LB Kamalei Correa, DE Bronson Kaufusi, G Nico Siragusa, RB Kenneth Dixon
Perriman, Correa, and Kaufusi landed on the wrong side of this list after being non-factors at positions that had major opportunities for playing time in 2017. There’s always the chance of any of these former early draft picks being late bloomers, but that sentiment now falls more into the category of wishful thinking rather than there being serious expectations. We’ve heard little about Siragusa’s recovery from a serious knee injury, but the Ravens had high hopes for him as a 2017 fourth-round pick and could have an opening at center. Dixon is a wild card after suffering a season-ending knee injury in July and serving two drug-related bans. The talent is there, but is he healthy and truly committed to playing in the NFL?