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Ravens Insider: Mike Preston: Drafting offensive linemen who can protect Ravens QB Lamar Jackson must be a priority | COMMENTARY


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The Ravens are looking for offensive linemen in the NFL draft, but their philosophy should change. Instead of looking for the dominant, physical maulers up front, they should seek versatile performers who can balance run and pass blocking.

In recent seasons, the Ravens have been one of the best — if not the best — in the NFL at running the ball, but they can’t get to the Super Bowl because of their inability to protect quarterback Lamar Jackson.

It hasn’t mattered who has lined up under center, the results have been the same. In the gut-wrenching wild-card playoff loss to the Cincinnati Bengals two seasons ago, backup Tyler Huntley was sacked twice and hit five times.

In the 17-10 AFC championship game loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs, Jackson was sacked four times in a game that was reminiscent of the 23-17 wild-card-round loss to the Los Angeles Chargers after his breakthrough 2018 rookie season.

The Ravens should stress more versatility with their offensive linemen and draft players who can do more than maul people in the running game. There are several holes to fill, including both guard spots and right tackle. This draft presents them with several opportunities to find a starter, or more than one.

“It’s a very deep pool of players,” Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said of the offensive linemen class in this draft, which begins Thursday night in Detroit. “We see a lot of different opportunities in different rounds to get players at tackle, guard and center, and we’re excited about that.”

It’s still possible that the Ravens might want to trade down from their No. 30 overall spot in the first round to acquire more picks in later rounds or for next year’s draft, which is already considered to be one of the strongest in a while. They might also want to select a receiver or a cornerback, but filling out the offensive line is the more pressing need.

One of the main reasons the Ravens have struggled in the postseason is because they either can’t keep pace with opposing quarterbacks or have panicked out of fear.

In the playoffs, the Ravens have to face quarterbacks such as the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes or the Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen. The Houston Texans’ C.J. Stroud isn’t going away and the Chargers’ Justin Herbert, with new coach Jim Harbaugh, should be formidable.

Those quarterbacks excel in the passing game, and a 10-point lead might seem insurmountable against some of those top signal-callers. That’s what happened to the Ravens in the AFC title game — Baltimore panicked and its top two running backs, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill, had only six rushing attempts.

Ravens training camp
Baltimore Ravens offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris gives instructions to rookie guard Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu, right, during training camp at Under Armour Performance Center.
Kevin Richardson
Ravens offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris gives instructions to guard Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu, right, during training camp last year. (Kevin Richardson/Staff)

The Ravens’ struggles haven’t just been in the postseason, either. For most of the 2023 regular season, right tackle Morgan Moses had problems with speed rushers. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley was constantly overpowered.

The Ravens traded Moses in March to the New York Jets in exchange for draft picks, and Stanley’s monstrous contract was renegotiated to make it more salary cap friendly. The Ravens also lost their two starting guards in free agency in John Simpson to the Jets and right guard Kevin Zeitler to the Lions.

So, rebuilding on the offensive line and protecting their star quarterback is the priority. The Ravens might have some capable replacements in 6-foot-8, 380-pound right tackle Daniel Faalele and 6-6, 370-pound right guard Ben Cleveland, but neither bend well at the knees and have struggled in pass protection in limited action.

Perhaps if both have strong offseasons in the weight room, that will change. Stanley, in his ninth season, has struggled since his 2020 ankle injury and his best years are probably behind him.

That leaves the Ravens with Pro Bowl center Tyler Linderbaum, swing lineman Patrick Mekari and possibly Andrew Vorhees, who missed all of his rookie season while recovering from an injury, as their starting left guard. Merkari can play any position on the line, but his body probably can’t hold up for an entire season as a starter. He’s more valuable in his current role.

DEC. 10, 2023: Baltimore RavensÕ Tyler Linderbaum , left, and Patrick Mekari stand together during warm up before game against the Rams at M&T Bank Stadium. (Kenneth K. Lam/Staff photo)
Center Tyler Linderbaum, left, and swing tackle Patrick Mekari will be playing next to new guards in 2024. (Kenneth K. Lam/Staff)

Vorhees, who had a stellar career at Southern California before the Ravens selected him in the seventh round, might be a sleeper. He was projected to be a fourth-round pick before tearing his ACL at the scouting combine.

“Andrew was a guy that I’ve seen on tape, and I thought that he was a good player and that he would have a chance long term to be a player for us and be a starter for us potentially,” DeCosta said. “He’s a physical, tough guy that loves football. He’s done a fantastic job with rehab. The strength coaches and the trainers and the doctors are all very excited about him. So, we’ll see what he does.”

It will be interesting to see what the Ravens do in the first round. According to some draft experts, there could be as many as 10 offensive tackles taken in the first round. The Ravens might end up with Alabama’s JC Latham, Oklahoma’s Tyler Guyton or Georgia’s Amarius Mims.

All could help immediately, and all of them are huge. The Ravens certainly have some inside connections with executive vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome being an Alabama alumnus and offensive coordinator Todd Moknen having spent three years in the same capacity at Georgia.

After a tackle, the Ravens might target a guard, such as Kansas State’s Cooper Beebe or Connecticut’s Christian Haynes, in the second round. Regardless, though, the Ravens need to get out of that old-school mindset when it comes to evaluating offensive linemen.

They had the prototype for years in Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden, who was far from one-dimensional. They also had another possible Hall of Famer in right guard Marshal Yanda who, like Ogden, was mean, nasty and preferred run blocking over being in a pass set.

But they could do both. The Ravens need more linemen like them.

NFL draft

Round 1: Thursday, 8 p.m.

Rounds 2-3: Friday, 7 p.m.

Rounds 4-7: Saturday, noon

TV: ABC, ESPN, NFL Network

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