PRESTON: Mel Kiper weighs in on Ravens' major needs
- ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper says the Ravens were fortunate to be in playoff contention in 2016.
- Kiper recommends that the Ravens pursue a wide receiver through free agency.
- Kiper also believes the Ravens should not pursue a running back in the draft's first round.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has never backed away from giving an opinion, and in a telephone interview Monday he shared a few on the Ravens and the upcoming offseason.
According to Kiper, the Ravens (8-8) were fortunate to be as close to a playoff spot as they were in 2016, considering the lack of offensive cohesion. He also believes it is time for the team to develop some new defensive stars.
As for who the Ravens should take is the first round with the No. 16 overall pick? Before that happens, Kiper recommends the Ravens sign a veteran receiver in free agency, such as Terrelle Pryor or Alshon Jeffrey.
"The Ravens have had a history of finding those kinds of receivers; it has worked out well for them," Kiper said. "They had Anquan Boldin and Steve Smith, who played at high levels here. ...Mike Wallace, though not in his prime, made plays. I think they ought to get one and then augment him with one or two players in the draft."
The Ravens currently don't have a No. 1 receiver, and have a history of failing to develop the players they've drafted. The list goes back to 1998 with Patrick Johnson, taken in the second round. The Ravens also missed with first-round selections Travis Taylor (No. 10 overall in 2000) and Mark Clayton (No. 22 in 2005).
The latest disappointment has been Breshad Perriman, taken in the first round, No. 26 overall, out of Central Florida in 2015.
"Perriman reminds me of the shortstop who can go in the hole, make the play behind second and then throw out the runner with a strong arm. But then, he can't handle the routine grounder," Kiper said.
"He was like that in college and he hasn't gotten any better. The Ravens thought it was a concentration problem and that coach Bobby Engram could make him better, but he hasn't."
Kiper doesn't believe Clemson receiver Mike Williams will be available when the Ravens pick, and there are questions about Washington receiver John Ross' knee. Kiper, though, says there are other intriguing prospects, such as Western Michigan's Corey Davis.
No running back in first round: Kiper said he would not draft a running back in the first round, even if Louisiana State's Leonard Fournette or Florida State's Dalvin Cook were available.
"If you look at all the playoffs teams, the only one with a starting running back taken in the first round was Dallas," Kiper said. "You look at teams like Atlanta and New England — they are playing with running backs who were third- and fourth-rounders. Everybody wants balance, but nobody has balance any more. Most teams are pass-happy, and you can succeed with a good offensive line and good, solid running backs.
"Atlanta is good because they are the only team where the offensive line has been together Day 1 until now. You don't need to take a running back in the first round to get where you need to go, and I've been against that for a while."
Disagreement: Sorry, I disagree.
Fournette probably won't be around when the Ravens select in the first round, but if he is, he'll be a Raven. If Cook at No. 16 is around where I would take him, too. In fact, I'd take Cook over Fournette because Cook is a better all-around back and Fournette hasn't showed he can stay healthy.
When great players are available, take them.
As for the rest of the offense, Kiper likes running back Kenneth Dixon and wishes receiver Michael Campanaro could stay healthy. He wouldn't be surprised if the Ravens drafted another tight end, because Maxx Williams and Crockett Gillmore also can't stay healthy.
QB evaluation: As for quarterback Joe Flacco, Kiper says he never got in sync.
"There was never any cohesion on the offensive line," Kiper said. "Rookie guard Alex Lewis was playing well and then got hurt. The same thing happened to rookie tackle Ronnie Stanley. ... They had problems with the running game and switched coordinators, and all of that affected Joe, who was coming off an injury.
"Joe isn't a great quarterback, but a good quarterback. I've said that all along. When they are winning, Joe is cool, calm, and unflappable. When they lose, he has no command of the offense, no passion, and he isn't a team leader. It's all just positive when you win and all negative when you lose."
Player development: Kiper likes defensive linemen Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce and Timmy Jernigan. But he points out some of the team's recent failures in developing players such as linebacker Arthur Brown and safeties Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks.
Rookie linebacker Kamalei Correa, a second round pick, didn't play that much this season, either.
"For some reason, they are getting swallowed up and you can't have that," Kiper said. "The Ravens are going to have to address that and find some young guys with energy."
Kiper likes the combination of second-year player Tavon Young and Jimmy Smith at corner, and is satisfied with Eric Weddle at safety, even though he thinks Weddle should have made the tackle on Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown on the game-winning touchdown in Week 16.
Need for linebackers, pass rushers: But the Ravens need to find linebackers, cornerbacks and pass rushers. According to Kiper, the draft is deep with cornerbacks, with Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore, Florida's Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson, and Alabama's Marlon Humphrey.
There are a lot of good pass rushers, namely Texas A&M's Myles Garrett, Alabama's Tim Williams and Stanford's Solomon Thomas.
"You can go always get good pass rushers. Some of the best have come in the fourth and fifth rounds. They are out there, you just have to go find them," Kiper said.
"Overall, I thought John Harbaugh and his staff did a good job to come as close as they did. People want to say he should have been fired, but I disagree. I think they can find some people who can help this team and make a difference headed into next season."