Marshal Yanda is irreplaceable for the Baltimore Ravens
Somebody will fill in for Marshal Yanda at right guard. Replacing him however is something that just isn’t happening for the Baltimore Ravens:
The biggest change to the Ravens this offseason isn’t a player they added. It’s not a coaching hire. It’s definitely not one of the high value draft picks they landed in last month’s NFL Draft. The biggest change to the Baltimore Ravens wasn’t an addition at all… it was a subtraction. For the NFL’s all-time best rushing offense, losing Hall of Fame caliber guard Marshal Yanda hurts, and it hurts bad.
Thanks to the “next man up” culture created by John Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome (and continued by Eric DeCosta), there’s always another player in the pipeline, but, in this case, whether that’s second year guard Ben Powers, interior lineman Patrick Mekari, free agent signing D.J. Fluker, or one of the rookies, there are enormous shoes to fill with Yanda gone. In fact, Yanda’s absence could cause a shuffling of the entire line.
Yanda, an eight time Pro Bowler a two time first-team All Pro, five time second-team All Pro, and a unanimous selection to the NFL’s All Decade team, is destined for Canton, and that type of player isn’t one that’s easy to replace. His absence won’t only be felt in the starting lineup, there’s a huge hole in the locker room now, too. According to USA Today,
"“Yanda’s position as the team leader is evident on Sundays. Assuming the role formerly held by the retired Ray Lewis and departed Terrell Suggs, Yanda is the one who delivers the impassioned go-get-‘em speech before kickoff.”"
Who will be the next man up? Who will fill the hole left by Yanda, and who will be making the holes for Mark Ingram, J.K. Dobbins, Justice Hill, and the rest to run through? D.J. Fluker, now on his fourth team, has been underwhelming as an NFL starter in his seven journeyman seasons. PFF ranked him at 60.4 for 2019. By comparison, Yanda came in at 85.9. That’s a steep drop-off for an offensive line that absolutely dominated last year.
On the plus side, Fluker, an eight year veteran, does have the benefit of experience. And, he’s blocking again for Mark Ingram, who was his teammate at Alabama. After being selected 11th overall in the 2013 draft, Fluker played four years in San Diego, followed by a one year stop with the Giants. His last two seasons have been in Seattle.
The other options to replace Yanda aren’t great either. The rookies, Tyre Phillips from Mississippi State and Ben Bredeson from Michigan, are unknown quantities at best. Phillips is a tackle, and will be able to sit behind the best tackle combo in the business, Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr.; but Ben Bredeson is strictly a guard joining a young position group.
Ben Powers, on the other hand, had one year of tutelage from Yanda. Powers, a second year guard from Oklahoma, looked more than capable in his limited snaps last season. A fourth-round pick, Powers sat out the first 16 weeks of the season, only playing in the season ending game against the Steelers.
Most current projections put Fluker or Powers in the driver’s seat for the starting job, but, at best, the job is up for grabs. Whichever option proves the best, the fact remains that Yanda is simply irreplaceable, and the offense that set a record for rushing yards could struggle on that side of the line. Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman and Offensive Line Coach Joe D’Alessandris made magic in 2019—can they do it again in 2020 without Marshal Yanda? That remains to be seen.