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Even after strong draft, Ravens remain vulnerable at cornerback

Posted on 05 May 2015 by Luke Jones

As the Ravens receive much-deserved praise for addressing an extensive list of needs and wants in this year’s draft, one clear truth remained at the end of an otherwise-successful weekend.

The secondary remains vulnerable after the Ravens finished 23rd in pass defense during the 2014 season. To be clear, this isn’t meant to be a biting criticism as detractors pointing to the failures of the Ravens defense in the divisional playoff loss to New England last January are conveniently failing to mention that Baltimore needed to replace starting wide receiver Torrey Smith and starting tight end Owen Daniels before worrying about a No. 3 cornerback or help at safety, a position with few immediate solutions in this year’s draft.

Yes, the defense deserved more blame than the offense in that 35-31 defeat to the Patriots, but the Ravens weren’t going to replace two individuals responsible for 32 percent of Joe Flacco’s 2014 passing yards on hopes and dreams alone, which is why they selected Brehad Perriman and Maxx Williams with their first two picks.

Of the nine selections made by general manager Ozzie Newsome, however, fourth-round cornerback Tray Walker has raised the most eyebrows as many projected the Texas Southern product to be a late-round selection or even a priority free agent. The Ravens really like the 6-foot-2 corner’s upside and worked him out privately during the pre-draft process, but it’s fair to wonder if it was a reach to ensure they’d come away with at least one cornerback with room for grwoth. At the very least, it would be quite ambitious to assume Walker will be ready to immediately step into the No. 3 cornerback role behind starters Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb.

“Could we have taken a corner in the first round? We probably could have. In the second round? We probably could have,” Newsome said. “But at the point when we were picking, it wasn’t the best player. But we do feel good. Getting Jimmy back healthy, Lardarius having a year to train, and then some of the young guys to have a chance to play being in the system for a second year [will help].”

Newsome’s correct about the Ravens being ravaged by injuries with five cornerbacks finishing the season on injured reserve. While Rashaan Melvin wouldn’t have been filling a starting role late last season under normal circumstances, the former Tampa Bay practice-squad member played well enough to garner a look as the potential third cornerback. He, Walker, Anthony Levine, and the oft-injured Asa Jackson currently stand as the candidates for the No. 3 job, but the Ravens will also be depending on first-year cornerbacks coach Matt Weiss and first-year defensive backs coach Chris Hewitt — who served as Steve Spagnuolo’s assistant secondary coach a year ago — to oversee their development.

Finding a No. 3 cornerback is not an impossible task, but that only comes with the assumption that Smith is back to form after a season-ending Lisfranc injury and Webb can build on the improvement shown late in 2014 after a back injury cost him all of training camp and the first month of the regular season. The two have missed 33 regular-season games due to injuries in their respective careers and have only played full 16-game seasons three times between them.

It’s also worth noting that the Ravens ranked just 24th in pass defense before Smith went down for the season in Week 8, proof that all wasn’t well in the secondary before defensive coordinator Dean Pees lost his top cornerback.

With the draft complete, it’s worth noting that some teams will part ways with veteran cornerbacks in the coming days and weeks like the Patriots did with Alfonzo Dennard on Tuesday. Of course, none of those names can be regarded as a sure bet, but the Ravens could find an appealing candidate or two to throw into the current No. 3 and No. 4 mix, especially with more than $10 million in current salary cap space.

“We’re not done putting this team together right now,” Newsome said at the draft’s conclusion. “It’s still maybe four months before we have to play Denver [in the season opener]. We’re still going to be mining for players to make our roster to make us better.”

Despite everything accomplished with their nine selections this past weekend, cornerback remains a top position to try to improve between now and the start of the season.

Pondering Pitta’s future

Admittedly, I’ve been surprised by some of the reaction to the Ravens drafting two tight ends and the “new-found” conclusions many have reached about the future of veteran Dennis Pitta.

All offseason, Baltimore has expressed hope that the 2010 fourth-round pick would be able to play again after suffering two devastating right hip injuries in a 14-month span. But, like everyone else, the organization saw the manner in which Pitta innocuously caught a short pass and tried to turn upfield before crumpling to the ground without even being touched in Cleveland last September.

Knowing Pitta’s character and commitment to the game, I would never count out his potential return to the field. But I’m also rooting for a 29-year-old man to do what’s best for him and his family, whether that means trying to play football again or calling it a career with what should be plenty of financial security.

If Pitta returns, having too many tight ends is a great problem to have, but the Ravens simply can’t count on any production from him in 2015 or beyond. Even if he does resume playing, it will be difficult for the Ravens — or anyone else — to shake the fear of what happened to Pitta in Cleveland from happening again.

Return game

Another position of interest that appeared to go unaddressed in this year’s draft was return specialist as the Ravens must replace veteran Jacoby Jones.

Many have pointed to wide receiver Michael Campanaro as the top candidate to return punts, but it will be worth keeping an eye on rookie free agent DeAndre Carter from Sacramento State. Carter is only 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, but he was projected by some to be a late-round pick with potential to be a solid return man at the next level.

The Ravens have a history of finding rookie free agent returners from B.J. Sams and Cory Ross to Deonte Thompson, so an opportunity could be there for Carter despite a very crowded group of young wide receivers.

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Football a family affair for Ravens’ top picks Perriman, Williams

Posted on 04 May 2015 by Luke Jones

Breshad Perriman and Maxx Williams will forever be linked as the first two Ravens picks of the 2015 draft, but the standout pass catchers share another connection as second-generation NFL players.

With fathers who combined to play 21 years in the NFL, Perriman and Williams have a lot to live up to in not only becoming immediate starters for the current Baltimore offense, but they’ll also try to step outside of their fathers’ NFL shadows. Brett Perriman, a standout receiver at the University of Miami, caught 525 passes and 30 touchdowns in 10 NFL seasons with New Orleans, Detroit, Kansas City, and Miami. Brian Williams spent 11 seasons as a center with the New York Giants, appearing in 129 games and making 62 starts.

Of course, a strong bloodline doesn’t guarantee success as Jarrett Payton — the son of the late Walter Payton — and Jerry Rice Jr. both went undrafted after their collegiate careers. But both Perriman and Williams hope their professional careers play out more like Peyton and Eli Manning, who have both surpassed their father’s acclaim in the NFL by wide margins.

Though not a trait the Ravens were intentionally seeking — general manager Ozzie Newsome admitted he wasn’t even aware that Williams’ father had played in the NFL before drafting the Minnesota tight end — it’s clear that the organization views the circumstance as a positive trait.

“The thing that I like about Perriman is that he has grown up around the game of football with his dad, Brett,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “He’s been around Michael Irvin, Bennie Blades, Brian Blades, and all of those guys [from Miami], so the game is not going to be too big for him.”

Breshad Perriman has already surpassed his father in terms of where he was drafted after being picked 26th overall by the Ravens. The senior Perriman was drafted by the Saints in the second round of the 1988 draft.

Brett’s greatest success came in Detroit while playing with former Ravens quarterback Scott Mitchell. Posting 1,488 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in 1995 and following that with another 1,000-yard season in 1996, Brett Perriman has shared his experiences with his 21-year-old son, who was too young to remember his father’s playing days.

“For me looking up to him when I was a child, I kind of wanted to follow in his footsteps,” Breshad Perriman said. “Once I created a great passion for the game, I wanted to make a name for myself. I’m slowly doing that, and I feel like there’s no one else better to celebrate that with.”

Similar to his new teammate, Maxx Williams was only five when his father retired from football, but it was actually his mother, Rochelle, who taught him how to catch. She and Brian Williams also attended the University of Minnesota where she played volleyball and he was a future first-round pick for the Gophers. Maxx’s grandfather was a quarterback at Notre Dame and was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1959 before choosing to go to medical school.

Such a bloodline would make you wonder if complacency would be a problem, but the 2015 second-round pick exceeded expectations at Minnesota where he made 25 receptions for 417 yards and five touchdowns as a redshirt freshman and was named a finalist for the John Mackey Award last year after catching 36 passes for 569 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore.

With some already touting the 6-foot-4, 250-pound target as an offensive rookie of the year candidate, what advice did Williams’ father offer him about life in the NFL?

“You have to earn respect,” the 21-year-old tight end said. “You have to go in, shut your mouth, and go to work every day and earn the respect of your teammates and show who you are, because now you’re at the highest level where no matter what, everyone’s the best there is.”

Having dealt with the reality of trying to escape their fathers’ shadow for most of their lives, Perriman and Williams will have a better idea of what to expect as they prepare for their first minicamp later this week. With the Ravens needing both to fill significant roles as rookies, their bloodlines and mentors figure to help along the way.

Now playing in an organization that values family — beginning with head coach John Harbaugh who grew up the son of a longtime college coach and regularly has his father around the training facility — Perriman and Williams should fit right in despite high expectations. The former didn’t wait long to find another tie to his father’s NFL career when he met the inspirational O.J. Brigance on Friday.

“I don’t think he really knew the O.J. story, and he went in and Breshad was great,” Harbaugh said. “O.J. was talking through his machine, and he said, ‘I played with your dad in Miami,’ and Breshad was like, ‘Wow!’ They played together in 1997, I think it was. Another amazing connection.”

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Puzzle pieces impressively fall into place for Ravens’ 2015 draft

Posted on 02 May 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The smiles on the faces of the Ravens decision-makers said it all at the conclusion of the 2015 NFL draft.

Entering the three-day event with 10 scheduled picks and an extensive grocery list of positions to address, general manager Ozzie Newsome was able to put a check mark next to nearly every item by the time Saturday evening rolled around. The Ravens may have stayed true to their draft board, but it’s difficult to recall a time when it aligned so closely with their biggest needs and wants.

“It couldn’t have worked out any better,” assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said. “I think, just in terms of if we had imagined this draft beforehand, we’d be very, very excited. We got it, and it looks great on paper. But hopefully, it looks good in person as well.”

Seven weeks after waving goodbye to Torrey Smith, Owen Daniels, Haloti Ngata, and Pernell McPhee, the Ravens said hello to wide receiver Breshad Perriman, tight end Maxx Williams, defensive tackle Carl Davis, and defensive end Za’Darius Smith with their first four draft picks. It’s a sequence of selections that would make you think the Ravens were drafting solely for need if not for the fact that all four prospects were projected to be taken earlier in the draft by many pundits.

Newsome followed that by adding a cornerback (Tray Walker) and a running back (Buck Allen) — two other positions of need in most minds — before finally building more offensive depth with tight end Nick Boyle, guard Robert Myers, and wide receiver Darren Waller.

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Time will tell how well these nine players pan out — history tells us at least a couple won’t — but it’s difficult not to be impressed with the manner in which the Ravens worked. Newsome only pulled off one trade to do it, forfeiting one of three fifth-round picks to move up three spots in the second round to take the consensus top tight end in Williams.

“We’re not done putting this team together right now,” said Newsome, adding that they had already begun the process of signing rookie free agents. “It’s still maybe four months before we have to play Denver [in the season opener]. As a personnel staff, we’re still going to be mining for players to make our roster to make us better.”

Of course, no draft is perfect as the fourth-round selection of Walker, a lesser-known player from FCS school Texas Southern, could be considered a reach with many projecting him as a late-round pick or priority free agent. His 6-foot-2, 191-pound frame is impressive for a corner, but he’s unlikely to quell concerns about the depth behind starters Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb.

Then again, Walker’s performance at the College Gridiron Showcase game as well as his private workout with cornerbacks coach Matt Weiss left the Ravens very impressed, making you wonder if they’ve uncovered the latest diamond in the rough. Unsurprisingly, Newsome wouldn’t rule out the possibility of making other additions when he was inevitably asked about a secondary that endured a mountain of injuries in 2014.

The selection of two tight ends confirmed what we’ve known all offseason about the Ravens not counting on the return of veteran Dennis Pitta, who reiterated last week that he hopes to play again despite two serious right hip injuries in two years. Baltimore wasn’t going to forgo the opportunity to add the best tight end in the draft as well as Boyle, a physical blocking tight end from Delaware.

If Pitta can make his way back to the field at some point, a position of clear weakness before the draft could ultimately become of the Ravens’ biggest strengths. Having too many tight ends would be a good problem to have in the West Coast offense that will continue to be used by new offensive Marc Trestman.

“I still don’t know what’s going to happen with [Pitta],” Newsome said. “But Maxx Williams was way ahead of anybody that we had on the board when we picked him, and Boyle was the same way. We have a very tight end-friendly offense, so having one or two is not enough.

As always, the Ravens weren’t only drafting for 2015 as the selection of Myers provides insurance behind guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele, who are both set to become free agents next offseason. And while Baltimore hopes Perriman becomes an immediate starter and the eventual No. 1 receiver, the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Waller is an intriguing project to keep an eye on during training camp as the 204th overall pick and final Ravens selection of this year’s draft.

Beyond giving two thumbs up for addressing virtually every need and want on their list — safety and kick returner were the only real positions of interest to go untouched — you don’t grade a draft immediately after its conclusion despite the many who will try to. Three or four years from now, Newsome and the Ravens might look at this weekend fondly or they could cringe with regret.

The value and names are impressive on paper, but now these draft picks — along with a batch of rookie free agents to follow — must show how it translates on the field.

“Our needs and the types of things that are going to make our team better — specifically by position or by the type of player and where they were strategically found — I just thought it was masterful,” said Harbaugh in summarizing this year’s draft. “It’s a big success. Now we have to turn these guys into a football team.”

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Iowa defensive tackle Carl Davis added to Ravens’ defensive line depth

Posted on 01 May 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens finally addressed their defense in the third round with the selection of Iowa defensive tackle Carl Davis with the 90th overall pick.

And it’s clear the 6-foot-5, 320-pound lineman is out to prove to other teams that he shouldn’t have lasted so long on the board with some pundits previously projecting him to go as early as the end of the first round. Despite not having much contact with Davis during the evaluation process, the Ravens felt fortunate to have him fall into their laps.

“I feel like I’m one of the best defensive tackles in this year’s draft,” said Davis, who didn’t think he was on the Ravens’ radar. “I saw a lot of guys that got picked ahead of me, and that puts a chip on my shoulder. I feel like, especially when I’ve got a chip on my shoulder, there’s nobody that can stop me. I feel like I’m that much of a dominant player.”

In his senior season with the Hawkeyes, Davis was named second-team all-Big Ten after collecting 36 tackles (nine of them for a loss) and two sacks.

Davis is considered a strong run-stopping lineman who will help fill the void of five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. The Ravens will likely count on 2014 second-round pick Timmy Jernigan to step into the 3-techinique spot, but his slighter build could be replaced by Davis in short-yardage situations next to nose tackle Brandon Williams. Davis expressed confidence that he’ll be able to play all over the defensive line, which is a valuable asset with defensive coordinator Dean Pees preferring versatility in the rotation.

The Ravens were impressed with Davis’ dominating performance at the Senior Bowl and were even more surprised to find his combination of size and speed available late in the third round. The defensive line faces a tall order in replacing Ngata’s production, but Davis sounded more than willing to embrace the challenge as the Ravens have now taken a defensive tackle in the second or third round in each of the last three drafts.

“Somebody has to carry the fire, somebody has to make the tradition go on, and why not be me?” Davis said. “I know they’ve got other guys up there [like] Jernigan. Those are terrific players. I plan on learning from those guys that have already been there and know and played next to Haloti. He’s a great player, but he’s human just like we both are. And if he can do it, I feel like I can do it.”

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Ravens swing for fences with speedy wideout Perriman

Posted on 01 May 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens swung for the fences with their first-round selection of Central Florida wide receiver Breshad Perriman on Thursday night.

Less than two months after watching speedy wide receiver Torrey Smith depart via free agency, general manager Ozzie Newsome came away with a bigger and faster version of the 2011 second-round pick who will immediately give the passing game a much-needed vertical threat. Of course, the Ravens’ struggles in developing talent at the position are no secret as Perriman became the first receiver drafted by the organization in the first round since Mark Clayton in 2005, making you wonder if it will finally be different this time around.

Clayton? Disappointing.

Their 2000 first-round receiver Travis Taylor? A flop.

No, we can’t forget the laundry list of disappointing names, even after Smith served as the exception to the rule over the last four years.

Baltimore hopes the son of former 10-year NFL receiver Brett Perriman becomes their greatest success story at the position yet after Smith left the franchise ranked second in all-time touchdown receptions and third in career receiving yards. The 6-foot-2, 212-pound Perriman is easily the most physically-gifted receiver the Ravens have drafted in their 20-year history after he ran the 40-yard dash in under 4.3 seconds at his pro day.

With the Ravens in desperate need of a receiver to blow the top off opposing defenses, the selection looks good on paper.

“I saw a big, fast, physical stallion,” said assistant general manager Eric DeCosta about his impressions watching Perriman’s game tape at Newsome’s urging in February. “A younger player; he’s going to get better. We’re very excited about him. He complements our group of guys extremely well. I think he’s a great kid, and I think he makes us a better football team.”

Perriman doesn’t come without questions as his highlight-reel plays and 20.8 yards per catch average at UCF the last two years were too often offset by inconsistent hands resulting in “concentration drops” as Newsome described them. Primarily used in the vertical passing game, the 21-year-old will need to prove he can run the entire route tree, something that prohibited Smith from becoming a bona fide No. 1 receiver in his time with Baltimore.

At the very least, the Ravens will break even if Perriman can be as good as Smith was over his first four years. The University of Maryland product may have only been a second-round pick compared to Perriman being a first-rounder, but the Ravens will pay the latter a fraction of the $40 million contract Smith signed with San Francisco in March.

Ultimately, Perriman’s selection represents the Ravens’ best attempt to find 30-year-old quarterback Joe Flacco a true No. 1 receiver. It doesn’t need to happen immediately with veteran Steve Smith still present to lead a young group of wideouts, but the Ravens haven’t aimed this high at the position at any point during Flacco’s career.

After Perriman caught 115 passes for 2,243 yards and 16 touchdowns in his three collegiate seasons — two of them playing with current Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles — it’s clear the Ravens envision much more after he declared for the draft as a junior.

“This is a developmental receiver who has gotten a lot better in the last two years,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He really played well in the last five or six games of this past season. We think he’s on the rise. He rose for a reason in the draft as far as in the past couple months in the draft process, and we are really excited about him as a coaching staff.”

The Ravens have found productive veterans over age 30 (Steve Smith, Derrick Mason, and Anquan Boldin) over the years and taken fliers on late-round picks such as Tommy Streeter, Aaron Mellette, and Michael Campanaro over the year, but drafting Perriman is their strongest attempt yet to find a top-flight receiver after using a second-round pick on Smith four years ago. His upside is easy to see, but receivers with his skill set are difficult to project as his hands could ultimately be his undoing despite such impressive physical gifts.

Perriman’s selection might ultimately prove to be a whiff, but Newsome hopes his speed, size, and football pedigree make for a winning combination while also maximizing Flacco’s ability in the prime of his career.

Selecting a receiver like Perriman is a risk, but it’s worth it if the Ravens can take their offense to the next level.

Sometimes you just have to try to knock one out of the park.

“I feel I had my best visit that I had by far [with the Ravens],” Perriman said. “That was actually the team that I was wishing to go to. I know it’s a great opportunity, and I can’t wait to get there.”

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Ravens with six remaining picks in 2015 NFL draft

Posted on 30 April 2015 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 2 p.m. Saturday)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have six remaining picks in this year’s NFL draft.

With a clear need remaining at cornerback and other positional wants such as running back, edge pass rusher, safety, interior offensive lineman, and kick returner, the Ravens will be busy continuing to build a 2015 roster capable of making the postseason for the seventh time in the last eight years. Of course, general manager Ozzie Newsome will stay true to his draft board with a sterling record of success overly nearly two decades in Baltimore.

While player personnel assistants Corey Krawiec and Patrick McDonough will represent the Ravens at the draft in Chicago, Newsome and the rest of the Ravens brass will be working hard at their Owings Mills headquarters. Teams have 10 minutes to select a player in the first round, seven minutes in the second round, and five minutes in each of the remaining rounds.

Below is a look at where the Ravens are currently scheduled to pick:

Round 1 (26th overall): Central Florida WR Breshad Perriman
Round 2 (55th overall): Minnesota TE Maxx Williams
Round 3 (90th overall): Iowa DT Carl Davis
Round 4 (122nd overall): Kentucky DE Za’Darius Smith
Round 4 (125th overall): USC RB Buck Allen
Round 4 (136th overall – compensatory): Texas Southern CB Tray Walker
Round 5 (171st overall – compensatory): Delaware TE Nick Boyle
Round 5 (175th overall – compensatory): Tennessee State G Robert Myers
Round 6 (203rd overall): Georgia Tech WR Darren Waller

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With many needs, Newsome, Ravens need to strike gold in 2015 draft

Posted on 30 April 2015 by Luke Jones

I’m intrigued and, frankly, surprised as the Ravens are only hours away from the 2015 draft.

No one should doubt the ability of general manager Ozzie Newsome to find talent in this year’s draft class — especially with 10 scheduled selections — but can you recall a year in recent memory in which the Ravens have had so many needs?

Wide receiver and tight end are the positions most glaring, but Baltimore also can’t afford to make the same mistake two years in a row by failing to add a No. 3 cornerback behind Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb, two players with injury history. That’s not counting the list of wants that includes a running back, an edge pass rusher, a safety, a run-stopping defensive tackle, and an interior offensive lineman.

A lot of holes to fill, no matter how well you evaluate talent.

As you’d expect, the Ravens will stay true to their draft board, creating an abundance of possibilities as they’re not scheduled to pick until 26th overall in the first round.

“We’ll value the board,” Newsome said earlier this month. “We’ll watch it very closely, and as we get close to our pick if there’s somebody that we really covet, then we’ll [move up] and get him. If not, we’ll just value all the guys that are available to us.”

All along, I expected the Ravens to swap a pick or two for a veteran player as they did last spring with the acquisition of starting center Jeremy Zuttah and two years ago with the in-season acquisition of starting left tackle Eugene Monroe. Of course, a move of that sort could still be in the works during the draft or even in the days after with the Ravens once again projected to net multiple compensatory picks next year.

But the Ravens appear too vulnerable at more than one spot, which is not a position you want to be in if you truly want to draft the best player available while minimizing the number of holes on your roster entering training camp.

“It would be really helpful for us to do that,” said head coach John Harbaugh last month about the desire to make more additions before the draft. “Obviously, the more you can add before the draft, it takes pressure off of the draft to chase a position need. The more we can do that, obviously, the better off we’ll be.”

The Ravens have signed safety Kendrick Lewis and backup quarterback Matt Schaub as their only notable additions of the offseason while they’ve lost defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, wide receiver Torrey Smith, rush specialist Pernell McPhee, tight end Owen Daniels, safety Darian Stewart, and backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

Wednesday’s ESPN report of Chicago Bears tight end Martellus Bennett being on the trading block creates natural speculation that the Ravens could be in the mix. New Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman is obviously familiar with the 28-year-old, who had the best seasons of his NFL career playing under the former Bears head coach.

Armed with more than $10 million in cap space and needing a tight end, the Ravens might be willing and able to give Bennett the new contract he reportedly desires if they can pull off a trade. If possible, it would be wise to eliminate one of their biggest needs, especially at a position that’s thin in this year’s draft.

Otherwise, Newsome will need to be at his best — while having the board really cooperate — to address the Ravens’ biggest needs while also satisfying a few wants over the next three days.



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Ravens reach contract extension with cornerback Jimmy Smith

Posted on 21 April 2015 by Luke Jones

A little over a week away from the NFL draft, the Ravens have reached a contract extension with one of their best draft picks in recent years by coming to terms with cornerback Jimmy Smith.

Originally scheduled to earn $6.898 million in the fifth-year team option of his rookie contract this season, Smith will now make up to $48 million over the next five years with $21 million fully guaranteed, according to Pro Football Talk. The extension includes a $13 million signing bonus, a guaranteed $1 million base salary for 2015, and a $7 million guaranteed base salary next season, per multiple outlets.

The 2011 first-round pick was in the midst of the best season of his career when he suffered a season-ending foot injury last October. Graded by Pro Football Focus as the ninth-best cornerback in the NFL through the first seven weeks of 2014, Smith suffered a Lisfranc injury against Cincinnati on Oct. 26 that eventually required season-ending surgery on his left foot.

“For me, it was never truly about being the highest-paid corner,” Smith said. “I know I couldn’t be that on this team and be here just because of the talent already spread around. You have to pay other people. I knew that going into this [that it] would be that with the injury and all that. All those things came to mind, but it worked out.”

Smith had collected 28 tackles, an interception, and six pass breakups prior to the injury. The 6-foot-2 corner has secured five interceptions in his career.

After two disappointing and injury-riddled seasons to begin his NFL career, Smith is a good example of exercising patience with draft picks who don’t immediately blossom into starters. To show how far the Colorado product has come in two years, he began the 2012 postseason as the No. 4 cornerback behind even Chykie Brown on the depth chart before eventually making key plays on the final defensive series to protect a 34-31 win over San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII.

General manager Ozzie Newsome made it clear this offseason that keeping Smith in Baltimore beyond the 2015 season would be a priority. The Ravens would also like to sign guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele and kicker Justin Tucker to long-term deals as they enter the final year of their current contracts.

“I think that his best football is still ahead of him,” Newsome said. “If he doesn’t get hurt in the Cincinnati game last year, I don’t know where he could have ended up as a player, but he was definitely trending up. I just want to thank Jimmy for committing five more years of football to us, and I’m looking forward to it.”

The deal does not come without some risk, however, as Smith has battled a number of injuries throughout his career and missed 17 games in his first four seasons.

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Separating wants from needs as Ravens approach NFL draft

Posted on 16 April 2015 by Luke Jones

In football and in life, wants and needs are relative terms often used interchangeably when they shouldn’t be.

As we’re finally two weeks away from the NFL draft, the line between those wants and needs has been blurred by the saturation of too many mock drafts as well as the attempt to decipher the truths, half-truths, and outright lies told by executives around the league.

We all know the Ravens will take the “best player available” and will “stay true to the board” over the three-day event, but it’s difficult to recall a time in recent years when they’ve had this many apparent needs going into the draft. With all significant free-agent activity over, below is a look at which positions remain real needs and which ones are merely wants.

Wide receiver — NEED
Skinny: I’d be more inclined to buy into the hype about Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, and Michael Campanaro if this weren’t the same organization that thought it could find a starting receiver among Jacoby Jones, Deonte Thompson, and Tandon Doss two years ago. The trio of young receivers do show promise, but a team with Super Bowl aspirations can’t count on two former undrafted free agents and a 2014 seventh-round selection to be enough opposite veteran Steve Smith. The Ravens have done too good a job trying to convince everyone that they don’t need a receiver for them not to take one early, whether it’s a Jaelen Strong or Breshad Perriman in the first round or coming away with a wideout like Devin Smith or Devin Funchess in the second round.

Pass rusher — WANT
Skinny: Make no mistake, this one likely tops their list of wants, but the Ravens aren’t doomed if they don’t find a replacement for Pernell McPhee, who was a unique talent but not always consistent in his four years in Baltimore. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are still a formidable duo while Timmy Jernigan looks like a perfect candidate to help pick up the slack with some of the inside pressure that McPhee was so good at applying. The Ravens hope defensive end Brent Urban can also be part of that pass-rush equation, but he will need to prove he’s healthy. Perhaps outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw finally seizes the opportunity to rush the quarterback more often, but he’s never shown a consistent ability to do it at the NFL level.

Tight end — NEED
Skinny: Even if Dennis Pitta returns to football or Crockett Gillmore is ready to become a starter, another tight end is needed if the offense is serious about continuing to use the same system installed by former coordinator Gary Kubiak last season. The problem will be trying to find one as Minnesota’s Maxx Williams or Miami’s Clive Walford would be a reach at 26th overall, but both could be gone by the time the Ravens’ second-round pick rolls around. There are a few other decent mid-round options such as Ohio State’s Jeff Heuerman, Florida State’s Nick O’Leary, or even Penn State’s Jesse James, but none of the aforementioned prospects scream immediate starter, which will put substantial pressure on Gillmore going into the 2015 season if the Ravens don’t add another veteran.

Running back — WANT
Skinny: There’s been plenty of conjecture about the Ravens selecting Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon or Georgia’s Todd Gurley in the first round, but you’ll have a tough time convincing me there’s enough value there unless either rapidly becomes one of the top four or five backs in the NFL. The release of Bernard Pierce shouldn’t faze anyone considering he was a major disappointment over the last two years anyway. The combination of Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro is enough with such a formidable offensive line in front of them. With an eye toward the future, the Ravens will still have a good chance to grab a solid back in the middle rounds such as Northern Iowa’s David Johnson, Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford, or Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon, but it’s not the pressing need some have made it out to be.

Cornerback — NEED
Skinny: There’s validity to general manager Ozzie Newsome’s assessment that the position will be in better shape with the return of Jimmy Smith, but let’s not pretend the pass defense was playing that well before his injury last year. Rashaan Melvin showed promise as a solid depth corner, but neither he nor Asa Jackson — who will be coming off a knee injury and wasn’t very good when he played in 2014 anyway — should be penciled in as a No. 3-caliber corner. With Smith having a history of injuries and Lardarius Webb turning 30 this season, the Ravens are again begging for trouble if they put too much confidence in their current cast of corners. If it’s not a first-round talent such as Kevin Johnson or Marcus Peters, a second-round corner such as Quinten Rollins or Ronald Darby would be quite desirable.

Interior offensive lineman — WANT
Skinny: Center Jeremy Zuttah had offseason hip surgery and guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele are scheduled to become free agents next winter, making it a slam dunk that the Ravens would like to add another interior lineman to go with 2014 fifth-round choice John Urschel. It isn’t a necessity for 2015, but Newsome could find himself in a tough spot a year from now if the Ravens don’t pick up a lineman in the middle-to-late rounds this year.

Defensive tackle — WANT
Skinny: Even if Timmy Jernigan is ready to step into the gigantic shoes left behind by Haloti Ngata, the Ravens lack an obvious backup to swing between the 3-technique and Brandon Williams’ nose tackle spot, which could be an issue if they don’t add a bulky defensive lineman. A mid-to-late-round talent with upside such as Ellis McCarthy of UCLA would make a lot of sense to give the defensive line a boost in short-yardage situations.

Safety — WANT
Skinny: Not that the combination of Will Hill and the newly-signed Kendrick Lewis will make anyone forget about Ed Reed, but there just aren’t any safeties in this draft beyond Landon Collins of Alabama who represent a clear upgrade over what the Ravens already have. The return of 2014 third-round pick Terrence Brooks from the knee injury he suffered late last year will be an improvement over anything else they would likely come away with in this draft.

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Ravens host red-flag prospects Peters, Green-Beckham for visits

Posted on 08 April 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With cornerback and wide receiver being two of their biggest needs, the Ravens are apparently exploring two of the most talented but troubled prospects in this year’s draft.

On Wednesday, general manager Ozzie Newsome revealed the Ravens have hosted Washington cornerback Marcus Peters and Oklahoma wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham for pre-draft visits at the team’s training facility in Owings Mills. Peters and Green-Beckham were both dismissed from programs during their collegiate careers.

“We’ve been able to do additional work,” Newsome said. “We will spend next week with basically our third set of meetings with the scouts, and coming out of those meetings we will have a better idea of where players will rank as far as our board is concerned. But, they both have been in the building.”

Considered a first-round talent and arguably the most-talented cornerback in the draft, Peters has seen his character come under question after he clashed with the Huskies coaching staff on more than one occasion, leading to his dismissal from the team last November. The 6-foot corner allowed just over 38 percent of targets against him to be completed and had 24 pass breakups and eight interceptions in his final two seasons at Washington.

There are even more serious questions about Green-Beckham, who has been charged twice for marijuana possession and was dismissed from Missouri after allegedly pushing a woman down several stairs. The 6-foot-5 receiver wasn’t charged in the incident, but the Ravens’ history with former running back Ray Rice would make Green-Beckham a very difficult sell from a public relations standpoint.

He transferred to Oklahoma last year but did not play for the Sooners due to NCAA transfer restrictions. From an ability standpoint, Green-Beckham is considered a top-10 talent by many evaluators, but his off-field issues are a serious concern.

Of course, pre-draft visits shouldn’t be taken as a definitive sign that Baltimore would be willing to draft either player. Newsome said in late February that it would very difficult to add a player with a history of domestic violence in wake of the Rice saga.

“We don’t treat anybody exactly the same,” assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said. “We consider all the different situations and circumstances, and we make a decision. And we’re not there yet. We have a lot more work to do. We have meetings next week. We have a set of meetings after that, the last week before the draft. We’ll talk about every situation that occurs and make decisions based on that.”

The Ravens have also reportedly met with two other troubled prospects: Florida State cornerback P.J. Williams and Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory. Williams was arrested for driving under the influence earlier this month while Gregory tested positive for marijuana at the NFL scouting combine in February.

How the organization has evaluated character has understandably come under scrutiny with eight players being arrested since Feb. 2014. No matter how diligent a team might be in doing its homework, even the “safest” prospects with no red flags are no guarantee to stay out of trouble over the next few years.

Which is all the more reason for the Ravens to stay away from the ones with a not-so-flattering track record if they’re truly concerned about repairing their image over the next year or two.

“We will do any and everything that we can to make sure the 10, 11 or six, seven, or eight players who we bring into Baltimore will hopefully stay out of trouble,” Newsome said. “We’ll probably do the extra work on that. But there’s not a guarantee that it’s going to happen. It’s just impossible for us to guarantee that.”

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