BALTIMORE — In the 2020 NFL draft, the Ravens selected several rookies who made an immediate impact. They need to have similar success this year if they want to be serious contenders in the AFC.
In baseball vernacular, the Ravens need to hit a couple of home runs, starting with the first round April 29 in Cleveland. The team made modest improvements in free agency by adding guard Kevin Zeitler and wide receiver Sammy Watkins, but they are still basically the same team they were a year ago, minus outside linebacker Matthew Judon.
The Ravens haven’t closed the gap between themselves and the top two teams in the conference, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills. They don’t have a top pass rusher, nor a big-time receiver on the outside. Until they find those pieces, they are the same Ravens they have been the previous two years.
But if they can find rookies who can contribute immediately, similar to how linebacker Patrick Queen and running back J.K. Dobbins did last season, they might be able to go deeper in the postseason than the divisional round.
There are plenty of top edge rushers in this year’s draft, including Miami’s Jaelan Phillips and Gregory Rousseau, Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari, Michigan’s Kwity Paye, Penn State’s Jayson Oweh and Texas’ Joseph Ossai.
Who’s the best? The Ravens should be able to get one with the No. 27 overall pick, but they can’t afford to miss.
They need to find another Peter Boulware or Terrell Suggs, both outside linebackers who were named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Remember when Boulware held out of training camp his rookie season in 1997 but had two sacks in his first preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles? There were rumors that former Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome was break dancing in the press box during that game. Boulware recorded 58 tackles and 11 1/2 sacks that season on his way to a Ring of Honor enshrinement by the Ravens.
As a rookie in 2003, Suggs had 29 tackles and 12 sacks, and he also forced five fumbles and knocked down three passes. Suggs was eventually named to seven Pro Bowl teams in what many consider a Hall of Fame career.
Now, that’s not to say that the edge rusher the Ravens select has to be as good as Boulware, the No. 4 overall pick, or Suggs, the No. 10 overall pick. But they need a player who can disrupt the passing game and not allow quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen to sit in the pocket, drink a cup of coffee, eat a sandwich and smoke a cigarette before throwing.