The Baltimore Ravens shored up their offensive line at the expense of an AFC North rival after signing veteran tackle Alejandro Villanueva on Tuesday, per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
Villanueva spent the previous seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and earned two Pro Bowl selections as the left tackle protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger‘s blind side. Now, Villanueva will slide over to right tackle once Ronnie Stanley, returns from injury, replacing recently traded star Orlando Brown Jr.
After the blockbuster deal that sent Brown to Kansas City, it was obvious that Baltimore needed to fill its right tackle spot. That it took away from the Steelers’ already shorthanded unit is an even bigger plus.
What Alejandro Villanueva signing means for Baltimore Ravens
There really weren’t many viable tackles left on the free-agent market, so when the Ravens emerged from the 2021 NFL Draft without a new tackle, the presumption was that a veteran would ultimately fill that role.
However, it was unclear how general manager Eric DeCosta was going to approach filling the need. It appears Villanueva was in Baltimore’s plans all along, though, and suddenly the line protecting MVP QB Lamar Jackson looks rather strong on paper.
In every season he’s played, Villanueva has rated higher in Pro Football Focus’ grades as a pass blocker than he has in the running game. There will be less pressure on him playing on the right side, though, as stalwart guard Kevin Zeitler will be right next to him, and Stanley will be viewed as the anchor of the starting five up front.
What stands out about Villanueva is his athleticism and tremendous length at 6-foot-9. He’s almost impossible to get around due to his savvy technique and immense length. Even though his power at the point of attack doesn’t always translate to run blocking so well, his movement skills should be an asset when Jackson makes plays out of structure.
The Ravens also invested a third-round pick in Georgia guard Ben Cleveland, who’s skilled in pass protection but is more known as a mauler who can get after it as a run blocker. If Cleveland can fulfill expectations and start right away, Baltimore has more than enough quality blockers to keep its rushing attack operating at an elite level, even with a superior player in Brown out of the picture.
Again, though, let’s reflect on how detrimental Villanueva joining the Ravens is for the Steelers.
Pittsburgh drafted Kendrick Green in Round 3 as the hopeful replacement for retired center Maurkice Pouncey, but those are huge shoes to fill. Losing Pouncey to retirement, along with Villanueva and starting left guard Matt Feiler to free agency, puts the Steelers’ league-worst rushing offense from 2020 in an even worse spot, and leaves Roethlisberger exposed when he drops back to pass.