NFL Analyst Calls Out ‘Past His Prime’ Ravens Lineman

Ravens Alejandro Villanueva

Getty Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva attempts to block Chicago Bears defensive end Robert Quinn during a November 2021 game.

Baltimore Ravens starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva has performed admirably in All-Pro Ronnie Stanley’s absence this season, but it’s clear he’s not the force in the trenches he used to be as a Pittsburgh Steeler.

While his 68.4 run blocking grade from Pro Football Focus is among the best of his career, Villanueva is also on track to finish with his first full-season pass blocking grade below 75.0, as he’s allowed 44 quarterback pressures this season, the fifth-most of any offensive lineman.

As a result, Villanueva earned a dubious distinction from Bleacher Report’s Brent Sobleski.

Villanueva was named the Ravens’ “Player Whose Best Days Are Behind Him Heading Into 2022” by Sobleski on December 10, as the 33-year-old Army veteran has struggled to protect star quarterback Lamar Jackson at times this season.

He attempted to switch from left to right tackle at the beginning of the season to catastrophic results against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 1, allowing 10 quarterback pressures and two sacks, per PFF.

Ronnie Stanley’s re-aggravated ankle injury allowed Villanueva to move back to his natural position at left tackle, where he looked better but still allowed eight pressures both to the Detroit Lions and the Cincinnati Bengals.

Will Villanueva Stay in Baltimore in 2022?

Sobleski isn’t sure if Villanueva’s improved play at left tackle is enough to keep him in Baltimore next season, writing:

Now at left tackle, Villanueva hasn’t looked out of place. He’s not nearly the caliber of player Stanley is when healthy. But the Army veteran has always been dependable, even though he’s never been an elite protector.

With Stanley back on the left side next season, the Ravens will have to decide whether Villanueva is worth keeping for the right tackle spot. The team can release Villanueva, save $6 million and find another replacement.

But uncertainty around the offensive tackle position will probably make the reliable Villanueva too valuable to release before 2022.

As of now, the Ravens only have three offensive tackles under contract for next season: Villanueva, Stanley and ex-Dolphins starter Ja’Wuan James. Stanley’s future in the NFL is in doubt after missing a second-straight season due to an ankle injury, while James just returned to practice on December 7 after tearing his Achilles in May.

Villanueva, on the other hand, hasn’t missed a single game due to injury in his seven-year career, starting 90 consecutive games at left tackle for the Steelers from 2015 to 2020. The NFL has seen other offensive tackles, like the Los Angeles Rams’ Andrew Whitworth, age gracefully as consistent contributors to their teams.

Ravens Projected to Beef Up O-Line in Draft

Even though the 2022 NFL Draft is still almost five months away, experts are already coming up with their predictions for the first round. The Ravens have been repeatedly projected to take an offensive tackle, with names like Northwestern’s Trevor Penning and Minnesota’s Daniel Faalele being linked with Baltimore.

But CBS Sports’ Josh Edwards sees Darian Kinnard out of Kentucky as a potential future mainstay on the Ravens’ offensive line, writing:

Baltimore is committed to its identity as a run first team. Kinnard is a run blocker first and foremost, but he has steadily improved in pass protection. Although listed as a tackle, he is best suited to kick inside at the next level. When a healthy J.K. Dobbins returns, the Ravens could be a force on the ground.

The Ravens badly need a future starter at right tackle, and Kinnard could fit that bill.

While James, an experienced right tackle, is expected to be ready for the 2022 season, he’s still coming off a major injury and hasn’t played a significant number of snaps since 2018. Currently-injured starting right tackle Patrick Mekari is set to become a restricted free agent after this season, as well, and it’s clear that Villanueva is not an option at right tackle.

While the Ravens may want a top-of-the-board prospect like Alabama’s Evan Neal, their current 8-4 record means they’re unlikely to have a shot at any top 10 prospects when the draft rolls around in April.

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