Could Baltimore Ravens go with surprise pick in first round?

2022 NFL Draft Baltimore Ravens

There’s some momentum building toward Kentucky offensive lineman Darian Kinnard as Baltimore’s first-round pick in the upcoming draft. Justin Fried of Fansided’s Ebony Bird mocked Kinnard to the Ravens last month; The Bleacher Report’s Michelle Bruton called Kinnard a player who can help turn the franchise around next season.

Indeed, offensive line has been called one of Baltimore’s greatest needs going into the offseason, as injuries and ineffective play all played a part in the Ravens’ struggles at times this season.

While Kinnard would no doubt represent an immediate upgrade, as he can play tackle or guard, it’s nonetheless overlooking one important factor: Baltimore is famous for taking the best player available.

It’s hard to imagine Kinnard as the BPA when the Ravens are on the clock.

Instead, the choice could be a bit of a surprise: linebacker Nakobe Dean of Georgia.

Consider this potential scenario, courtesy of the Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board:

There’s a limit to the BPA approach.

For example, Jacksonville likely isn’t going to take a QB in the first round after drafting Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick this past draft.

And Baltimore likely isn’t in the market for a new center like Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum, regardless of the situation with Bradley Bozeman. Arguably the best sixth-round pick in recent Ravens history, the 27-year-old was Baltimore’s highest-grade lineman (74.2). And if he doesn’t re-sign? Then you can expect Baltimore to turn to 2019 undrafted free agent Patrick Mekari, who has had a solid season and has started 12 games at center in recent years. The Ravens recently re-signed Mekari through 2024.

His presence also explains why the team could bypass offensive tackle in the draft, even if someone like Mississippi State’s Charles Cross is available. Baltimore already has Ronnie Staley, Alejandro Villanueva, Mekari (who has started at RT this season) and part-time tackle Tyre Phillips. When healthy, that’s a very crowded OT room before adding yet another one.

Likewise, you can probably rule out receiver with Baltimore’s first pick. For starters, the Ravens have drafted 14 WRs the past 10 drafts, including three in the first round and seven between Rounds 1 and 4. With recent first-rounders Rashod Bateman (2021) and Marquise Brown (2019) already in tow, taking either Jameson Williams or Garrett Wilson seems like a luxury, even if either one is the best player available on the Ravens’ own big board.

That’s why Dean would be the likely pick in this scenario.

Recent first-round pick Patrick Queen (2020) has seen his play improve as the season has progressed – Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin recently said Queen “might be the best linebacker in the AFC North — but he still has a PFF grade of 43.5. Queen’s turnaround coincided with the insertion of Josh Bynes into the starting lineup. Malik Harrison, a 2020 third-round pick, also factors into the linebacker rotation.

But Bynes, in his third stint with the team, will be an UFA at the end of the season, and Harrison’s PFF grade (40.3) is even lower than Queen’s.

Dean would present an immediate upgrade for the Ravens at inside linebacker, presumably at the MIKE position. Assuming Dean starts alongside Queen, Baltimore would have one of the smallest inside linebacker duos in the league, as Queen is 6-foot-1, 227 and Dean is 6-foot, 225 pounds. But the two would also give the team the fastest set of ILBs in the league.

Just how good is he? Fansided All Lions’ Daniel Kelly called Dean, “the best coverage middle linebacker I have seen in my 40 years of being around the game.” An NFL executive told ESPN that Dean was “a game-changer.” PFF has listed him as the No. 2 overall inside linebacker, saying: “Dean is a heat-seeking missile at linebacker, as there aren’t too many other players who crank it up as hot as he does from play to play. Even though he’s a tad undersized at 6-foot, 225 pounds, Dean still routinely beats blocks with ease.” PFF gave Dean a 90. 1 overall grade, second-highest of any linebacker in the draft. And ESPN’s Todd McShay said on Twitter that Dean, “… proves every game why he’s the best LB in the country and worthy of a top-10 pk!”

Dean goes into the championship game with 68 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, 6 sacks, 2 INTs, 4 PDs and 2 FFs.

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