The Baltimore Ravens will have an open competition for their starting left guard spot for the second year in a row after the 2022 starter for all 17 games, Ben Powers, departed in free agency to sign a lucrative multi-year deal with the Denver Broncos.
Given their more pressing needs at premium positions such as wide receiver, cornerback, pass rusher, and possibly quarterback depending on what happens with Lamar Jackson in the next month, it’s highly unlikely that the team will use one of their first two draft picks to address the spot especially when they have multiple capable in-house candidates.
During his media availability at the annual league meetings on Monday, March 27, 2023, head coach John Harbaugh talked about all of those options, and at the top of the list was veteran utility lineman Patrick Mekari followed by 2021 third-round pick Ben Cleveland.
“Pat Mekari is going to be in the mix for sure,” he said. “Pat can start at anywhere at any time basically so he’s going to want to do that. Ben Cleveland, obviously, is a young guy that we’re bringing along.”
Mekari went from an undrafted gem to the Ravens’ most versatile offensive lineman and is capable of playing at any of the starting five positions has started 29 of his 54 career games between center, right tackle, and left tackle.
Cleveland was selected at No. 94 overall out of the University of Georgia two years ago and while he has yet to seize a starting spot, the 6-foot-6 and 357-pound mountain of a man has made five starts in 21 career games in which he has shown a lot of potential.
Even though the two aforementioned players are viewed as the early favorites in the running to replace Powers in the starting lineup this fall, according to Harbaugh, they aren’t the only ones currently on the team that will be competing and under consideration.
Late Season Addition is ‘Going to Surprise Some People’
While many media pundits and draft analysts believe that the team will turn to the mid-to-late rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft to address or add more competition for Mekari and Cleveland, Harbaugh brought up the name of a player that was signed during the back half of the 2022 season that will be in contention as well.
“John Simpson who I think he going to surprise some people,” he said. “He has had a nice offseason so far.”
Simpson was originally drafted in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft by the Las Vegas Raiders out of powerhouse Clemson at No. 109 overall. He started two games as a rookie, all 17 and a playoff game in 2021, and the first two games of last season before being benched and later released on December 9th and picked by the Ravens 10 days later on the 19th.
At 6-foot-4 and 321 pounds, Simpson looks the part and has a good bit of starting experience under his belt. In fact, he had one of his better games against the Ravens in the 2021 season opener the Raiders won in overtime as offensive and defensive line film breakdown guru, Brandon Thron, highlights below.
A change of scenery and better coaching can work wonders and potentially turn a young player’s career completely around. The Ravens happen to have one of the better offensive line coaches in the league in Joe D’Alessandris while the units he was on with the Raiders weren’t known for being ranked among the league’s best.
Massive Mid-Round Selection is Another Possible Option
The fourth and arguably most surprising potential candidate that will get a chance to earn the starting spot on the interior despite playing exclusively on the perimeter at tackle for the entirety of his football career is a rising second-year pro the team selected early on day three of the draft last year.
“We could move Daniel Faalele in there too and take a look at him,” Harbaugh said.
The Ravens used the first of their six picks in the fourth round in the 2022 NFL Draft to take the gigantic offensive tackle out of Minnesota at No. 110 overall. He was projected to come off the board in the second or third round and some even had him going as high as the late first so when he fell to the early first, the team couldn’t pass on the tremendous value he presented at that point.
Since they had signed stalwart veteran Morgan Moses to be their next starting tackle, it bought them time to develop a still very raw Faalele slowly. However, injuries suffered by Mekari and veteran Ja’Wuan James in the first three weeks of the season thrust him into making his first career start at left tackle, a position the career right tackle had never played until he had to lineup across from future Hall of Fame pass rusher Von Miller in Week 4 of his rookie year.
Faalele acquitted himself well in his limited snaps as a rookie and it is widely believed that playing inside at guard where linemen can get help from either side of them is often easier than being on the island where tackles are often left on.
He wouldn’t be the first massive 6-foot-9 offensive tackle for the Ravens to be asked to play on the interior of the starting unit early on in his career. Before he went on to make 11 straight Pro Bowls at left tackle and become the first Hall of Fame inductee in franchise history, the great Jonathan Ogden started his entire rookie season at left guard.
In no way am I suggesting that Faalele will have even half of the gold jacket-worthy career of Ogden but rather just pointing out that the organization has done this before with a player of a similar body type with rare athleticism for that size.
One thing that is certain in the ultimate meritocracy that is professional football, especially with the Ravens, no jobs will be given, snaps will be earned, and whoever proves to be the best option will be the opening day starter in Week 1 when the 2023 season kicks off.
“I think those are all possibilities and may the best player who plays the best, win the job,” Harbaugh said.