by Ryan Mink & Garrett Downing
Mink: The Ravens reportedly met with pass rusher Justin Houston and offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva over the past week, but even if they were going to sign them, I wouldn't expect it to happen until after May 3, when inking free agents no longer counts in the compensatory pick formula. The Ravens treasure picks, and it was highly unlikely that they would give away a projected fourth-round pick on top of what they would already pay the free agent.
Now, once the comp pick isn't in play, yes, I could see the Ravens making a move and doing so quickly. The reported visits could have been Baltimore just doing its homework and getting face-to-face time to make their pitch.
The results of the draft could impact whether the Ravens would still want to go through with a signing, but I don't expect that it would alter their intentions too much in the cases of Houston and Villanueva. Even if the Ravens draft a pass rusher in Round 1, they could still use another top option (and veteran) considering they lost two premier talents in Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue. If Baltimore picks an offensive lineman in Round 1, they could end up starting at right tackle, left guard or center. To me, the biggest draw of Villanueva is if Ronnie Stanley weren't ready to play at the start of the season after rehabbing from his two leg surgeries. The Ravens might have more confidence in a two-time Pro Bowler who started every game at left tackle for the past five years in Pittsburgh than a late first-round pick to fill in at the beginning of the season.
Downing: If the Ravens stay put at pick No. 27, they will have quality options at either pass rusher or wide receiver. The pass rushers likely in that mix will be Jayson Oweh, Gregory Rousseau, Azeez Ojulari and maybe Jaelan Phillips. Outside of Phillips, who is considered the best of that group, opinions are mixed on the others. As far as receiver, the likely targets at No. 27 would be Terrace Marshall Jr. or Rashod Batemen. If the Ravens stay at No. 27, I believe they are more likely to address wide receiver than pass rusher. The Ravens have a strong track record of finding quality pass rushers on the second and third days of the draft, so they could wait to address the edge spot and still land a quality defensive player in one of the middle rounds.
Now in terms of trading up, I wouldn't rule out this possibility. It's always easy to say the Ravens are likely to move back and acquire more picks. General Manager Eric DeCosta hasn't exactly kept it a secret that he loves draft picks. But this is a year I could see a trade up scenario, for a couple reasons. First of all, the Ravens are very much in win-now mode. They have a great opportunity this year to maximize their salary cap flexibility before some of their talented young players (like quarterback Lamar Jackson and tight end Mark Andrews) get second contracts. They also have the potential trade chip of offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. The two-time Pro Bowler is deserving of a major haul, and the Ravens could try to move him to get themselves into the mix for one of the top receivers in this draft. If the Ravens packaged Brown to move into the top-15 picks of this draft, then they would likely have a shot at one of the Alabama receivers, DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle. Adding one of them would inject some serious firepower into this offense, and the Ravens may have the assets to make that happen.
Mink: No, the Ravens aren't changing their offense. Throwing for 300 yards a game does not guarantee success. It does not automatically win games. The Ravens are in the business of winning games, and they feel that a run-heavy scheme with the best running quarterback in NFL history is a good way to do that. Considering the Ravens are 30-7 in the regular season with Lamar Jackson as the starter, I'd say the Ravens are onto something. I remember quite a few boat races (blowouts) in 2019 that were achieved with a record-setting rushing attack.
Baltimore's offense was at the bottom of the league in passing yards and attempts last season, but let's not forget that they were seventh in points per game. Scoring points matters more than passing yards, and that's the same in the playoffs as it is in the regular season. The Ravens aren't going to abandon their offensive scheme just because they've faltered in the playoffs. In fact, the pass protection and a pick-six were major reasons why the Ravens lost in Buffalo, so why does throwing the ball more make sense?
Downing: First of all, I think it's worth pointing out the thoughtfulness and honesty of this answer from DeCosta. It shows how the Ravens build their team with both short-term and long-term thinking in mind, and the Ravens plan out their roster years in advance. Not every team can say that. To the specifics of your question, I don't think the bubble players should be any more worried than usual. Players routinely talk about how the team is always looking to replace you. That's the nature of professional football. Yes, it may be tough for some of the veteran bubble players to make the team in 2022 if the Ravens have an influx of young talent. But it's always difficult for bubble players to earn a roster spot, especially veterans making more money, so this really won't be that significant of a difference.