Here’s what Garrett Downing said in a recent reader mailbag: “The Ravens could go in any number of directions in the first round. I think they could pick a first round offensive tackle, center, cornerback, defensive lineman, edge rusher … or safety.”
Translation: Baltimore could use upgrades at almost every position.
The Ravens have the No. 14 overall pick in the draft and have 10 picks overall, including a league-high five picks in the fourth round.
Here’s how the team could address those needs:
The draft is top-heavy at OT, with only six ranked among the top 50 and 10 in the top 100. The top tackles – Alabama’s Evan Neal (No. 4), North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu (No. 6) and Mississippi State’s Charles Cross (No. 10) – could all be gone by pick 14, but 6-foot-6, 332-pound redshirt sophomore Tyler Smith of Tulsa could still be available. The Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board lists Smith higher than most publications, but Smith is expected to be a fast riser after the Combine. What that means: Waiting to the second round to draft a rookie capable of starting is risky, so the team would need to take a tackle in the first round if it wants a walk-in starter. However, the team recently signed RT Patrick Mekari to a three-year contract extension after the former 2019 undrafted free agent out of California exceeded all expectations once he was inserted into the starting lineup as an injury replacement. Therefore, if Baltimore bypasses the position in the first round, then it could skip the position altogether in the draft.
It’s not a good year for centers, as Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum (No. 5) is far and away the best. The next-highest rated center, Dohnovan West of Arizona State, is ranked No. 132. However, if Linderbaum is gone, several guards could be converted to center, including Zion Johnson (No. 33) of Boston College, Dylan Parham (No. 75) of Memphis and Cole Strange (No. 117) of Chattanooga. Georgia’s Jamaree Salyer (54), who played tackle in college but projects as a guard in the pros, can also play center. What that means: With the 14th, 45th and 76th picks, Baltimore is in a difficult position to draft a center, as the supply versus the demand might mean none of those aforementioned players are available when Baltimore is on the clock – unless the team overdrafts for one. Of course, all this goes out the window if Bradley Bozeman re-signs, but reports say the two sides are far apart in negotiations and that his return is unlikely.
Jimmy Smith (294 snaps on defense) and Anthony Averett (808 snaps) will be unrestricted free agents, so the Ravens could use some depth behind starters Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters and key backup Tavon Young. Still, taking a corner on Day 1 seems like a luxury, especially with corner options available in later rounds. There are eight CBs ranked among the top 50, 13 in the top 100 and 18 in the top 150. However, there are only four who are ranked in the fourth round, which is between picks 104 to 142. Overall, 30 cornerbacks are ranked among the top 264 players. What that means: With five picks in the fourth round and a limited number of CBs in the fourth-round range, the team will need to draft one before the fifth round if they hope to find a rookie who can contribute right away.
With Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams set to become unrestricted free agents and Derek Wolfe coming off of successful hip surgery, finding a 5-tech defensive end and a nose tackle may become a big priority. However, the team addressed the defensive line in the 2020 draft, taking Texas A&M’s Justin Madubuike in the third round and Texas Tech’s Broderick Washington Jr. in the fifth round. Both could see a significant bump in playing time, as Madubuike received 484 snaps on defense last season, while Washington received 448. What that means: While addressing the DL is, indeed, a potentially significant need for Baltimore, you can find 3-4 linemen later in the draft. Overall, there are eight who can play the 5-tech or nose tackle positions ranked between No. 100 to 150, so Baltimore can address the position in the fourth round. However, it would be hard to pass up on Texas A&M’s DeMarvin Leal if he’s still available in the second round, as the 6-foot-4, 290-pound Leal is seen as a “tweener” in a 4-3 defense but seems to be tailor-made for defensive end in a 3-4.
Of the two outside linebackers recently drafted by Baltimore, only 2021 first-rounder Odafe Oweh appears to be a part of the team’s future, while 2019 third-rounder Jaylon Ferguson has been a disappointment thus far. Ferguson was a healthy scratch for several games this past season and spent time on the Reserve/Covid-19 list, receiving just 132 snaps on defense. Ferguson, known in college as “Sack Daddy,” has 4.5 career sacks, including none this past season. Oweh, though, finished with 5 sacks this past season, which ranked fifth among rookies. His 615 snaps on defense were the second-most among Raven OLBs, with Baltimore’s other OLB, Tyus Bowser, leading the way after a career year that saw him lead the team in sacks with 7. He also finished with career-highs in tackles (59) and QB hits (15), and his 834 snaps on defense were the second-most among Ravens defenders. However, Bowser tore his Achilles tendon in the regular-season finale, which is an injury that typically takes six to eight months to recover. Therefore, Bowser, who will be 27 by the time the season starts, might not be available right away, and there’s no telling how long it will take for him to fully recover. What that means: Pass rusher is a big need without Bowser. With a fully healthy Bowser? Then it becomes less of a need. This is a great year to draft a pass rusher, as there are 17 ranked among the top 100 and 30 in the top 264, so this is a position that can be addressed on Day 3 for Baltimore.
The Ravens got a steal in the 2017 draft when they took Virginia Tech’s Chuck Clark with the 186th pick. Since then, the former sixth-rounder has played in 79 games, starting 46, including 44 starts the past three seasons. Clark also led the defense in snaps this past season with 1,025, making him the only player on defense to crack the 1,000-snap mark. The other safety spot, though, is more of a question mark, as 2018 sixth-rounder DeShon Elliott is a free agent who has been placed on injured reserve in three of his four seasons with the team. He finished with 23 tackles, 2 pass deflections and 1 INT in six games this past season before being placed on IR with a biceps and pectoral injury. What that means: There are only nine safeties rated among the top 150 players, but 18 can be found in the fifth- to the seventh-round range. Therefore, this is yet another position Baltimore can wait on until the fourth or sixth rounds. (The team doesn’t have picks in the fifth or seventh rounds).
Find out what rounds Baltimore might take an offensive tackle, pass rusher and safety by clicking on this link.
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