Finally, it's here. A day with real, consequential football events happening for our viewing pleasure. We deserve this. We've sat on our asses at home for weeks on end through a relatively tame free agency period, just waiting for this day to come. And it has arrived.
The Baltimore Ravens come into this year's draft wielding 9 picks, which is just about par for the course for Eric DeCosta and co. They know that the draft is generally a quantity over quality proposition. The more darts you have to throw, the better. That's why they're so committed every year to accumulating comp picks through free agency departures and trades. It's a mentality that's proven dividends time and time again.
It also gives DeCosta a lot of flexibility to maneuver on draft day to get the right guys. Few GM's love a draft day trade like the Ozzie and EDC. In his first draft as the head honcho last year, EDC traded the 22nd pick to the Eagles to fall back to 25th, picking up a 4th and a 6th in the process. They still got their guy in Hollywood Brown. The year before that, they traded back multiple times and eventually took Hayden Hurst, and then promptly traded draft capital to get back into the first round to get some guy who won MVP. The Ravens have an acute sense of when the guys they want are going to be taken, and leverage that knowledge to their advantage. Happens every single year, so buckle up. Here's the ammo EDC has to work with:
1st round: 28th overall
2nd round: 55th (from Falcons for Hurst)
2nd round: 60th
3rd round: 92nd
3rd round: 106th (compensatory pick for CJ Mosley signing with NYJ)
4th round: 129th (from Patriots for Jermaine Elumanor and our 6th)
4th round: 143rd (compensatory pick for Za'Darius Smith signing with GB)
5th round: No. 171th (from Vikings for Kaare Vedvik lolololol)
7th round: No. 225th (from Jets for Alex Lewis)
EDC expressed a couple of weeks ago that he's determined that there are about 185 draftable players. This blog will serve to discuss what needs to be addressed in this draft as a whole, with blogs for individual picks to follow (including a preview for the 28th pick later today). Here's what I see as being the top 5 priorities for the Ravens to accomplish through this year's draft:
1. An Interior Offensive Lineman To Replace Marshal Yanda
To me, this stands head and shoulders above anything else. This offense has been built to get downhill on teams in the run game, and that starts with the interior O-line. When it comes to that, Marshal Yanda was one of the best the game has ever seen. There's no replacing what he provided, which included supporting the young center and right tackle on each side of him. But we have to mitigate that loss as best we can. Bradley Bozeman played a very good left guard in his 2nd year after being a 2018 6th rounder. Matt Skura was doing a knock-up job as the starting center when he blew out his ACL and MCL against the Rams. Patrick Mekari filled in incredibly well in his place, including shutting down Aaron Donald in that very same game. But the right guard position remains a massive hole in the offense right now.
It's conceivable that Skura will be healthy by the time football starts again and can take his place at center and Mekari slides over to RG. But that's just not a risk worth taking at this point. Mekari was an undrafted rookie last season who had a Hall of Famer on his right hip. That safety net is gone. And with James Hurst having been cut earlier in the offseason, there's little to no depth on the roster. Ben Powers was a 4th rounder last year, but only saw 30 snaps in garbage time. They've gotta get another mauler that can dominate in the run game, and I think that's the organization's focus. I expect EDC will take one early and another one late.
2. An Inside Linebacker To Man the Middle Of The Defense
The rest of the defense is all set. B-will's the beef in the middle. Derek Wolfe, Calais Campbell, and Matt Judon are getting after the QB. The secondary is STUPID stacked. But there's not really that 3-down backer in the middle that oversees the defense. The hole left by Mosley's departure was exposed early last season, and the front office did a damn good job plugging that hole on the fly with LJ Fort and Josh Bynes. But this weakness came back to bite us in January and I'll leave it at that. We need to get a guy who can shed blocks and take down ballcarriers. Period. Kenneth Murray and Patrick Queen are the two names mentioned as potential first rounders to fill this role. I'll share my thoughts on that in another blog later today.
3. A Pass-Rusher... Again
This is on the wish list every single year it seems. It's just tough to get an impact pass-rusher in the back half of the first round where we usually pick, so we roll the dice in later rounds to varying success. Z Smith and Judon were great mid-round picks in 2015 and 2016 respectively, but we've already let one walk and the other is in a tough contract situation that leaves the long-term future up in the air.
Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe were both great pickups for win-now mode, but they're also both on the wrong side of 30. We have a massive Super Bowl contention window that should last well beyond those guy's shelf lives, so we've got to get our next edge rushers in the pipeline now, and not later. Tyus Bowser has made some modest strides as a former 2nd rounder, but we're going into year 4 with him. Jaylon Ferguson showed some flashes in his rookie season and we'll see if he makes a jump next year, but we can't rest on our laurels at a position this important. Not in today's pass-happy NFL. I'd like to see us add another project pass-rusher with one of those Day 2 picks because I can easily envision a scenario by 2022 where Judon, Campbell and Wolfe are all elsewhere or retired.
4. A Physical Possession Wide Receiver
It's well documented that this receiver class is S T A C K E D.
DeCosta said himself that there are 25 draftable receivers in this year's class. As many as 5 or 6 guys could go in the first round alone. That's a big part of why so many people are enamored with the idea of the Ravens moving up in the first round to try to get one of those marquee guys. Those people would call me crazy for having an edge rusher higher on my wish list than WR.
I'm here to tell you to reel it in just a tad. I understand the excitement and thrill of a playmaking receiver. I love a burner like Hollywood just as much as the next guy. But we have to keep in mind that we're not constructing a football team in the same manner that everyone else is. Everyone is obsessed with trying to follow the Chiefs' blueprint. They say it's a copycat league. Well I've got news for you. When was the last time it was the copycats that came out ahead? It's all about being first movers in the football market. Our goal is not to throw the football 50+ times. We're here to punch teams in the mouth in the run game, move the chains, and hit the occasional home run.
Star wide receivers are a luxury, not a necessity. We've already got Hollywood to be our home run guy that defenses have to respect, plus now he's got that screw taken out of his foot. Miles Boykin did some good things in his rookie year and is packed with potential. Willie Snead does everything you want for a guy in this offense and then some. The guy blocks his dick off. I can't emphasize how important that last part is in this offense with Lamar running outside the tackles. I want a 4th guy to add to the mix that's cut from the same cloth as Snead with Boykin's measurables. A guy with size who does the dirty work and can win a 50/50 ball in the red zone. Jeudy/Ruggs/Lamb/Jefferson are all certifiable studs that will have great careers for teams that play a different brand of football than us. There's no need to trade up to get one of those guys. There are plenty of other receivers that will be available on Day 2 that are a better fit for what we do.
5. Check All The Usual Boxes... and HAMMER the UDFA's
This is pretty general. There are a handful of positions that the Ravens consistently pick every year regardless of what they already have on the roster. It's important to infuse young talent into the pipeline across the board, and the Ravens are always sure to do it. #1 on that list is probably the interior D-line. Brandon Williams is the main run-stuffer, but he's 31 and has a large cap number in the coming years. Michael Pierce hit the road to Minnesota. This is an area, like the pass-rush, that could use some project guys who can make an impact down the road.
We're also likely to add some DB depth, because that's just a golden rule. We already have a ton of DB's, but you can never have too many (see, 2014).
I would also count on a running back being picked in the middle rounds. Some think it's even worth taking one in the first round. Those people grew up watching the Maryland Power I formation and probably love a good M*A*S*H marathon on TV Land. It's 2020 pops, RB's are largely interchangeable. With that said, you still need em on the roster and they seem to add one annually.
Also, wouldn't be surprised to see a blocking tight end and an offensive tackle to further add some depth and beef to the offense.
Lastly, something big to keep an eye on is the undrafted free agent market after round 7 wraps up. The Ravens are well known for identifying UDFA's who slipped through the cracks on draft day and giving them a fair shake to make the roster. I want to say there's only been a year or two this century where the Ravens haven't broken training camp with a UDFA on the 53-man.
In turn, agents LOVE pushing players to Baltimore, and the UDFA's love playing for an organization that's well known for developing young talent and giving those guys a real shot. With the league's inability to scout and vet this year's draft pool (which is a deep pool from what most are saying) to the level that they're accustomed to, there's bound to be that many more draft-worthy players that slip through the cracks. The Ravens currently have 57 players under contract, which is fewest in the league. This isn't by mistake. They're going to hammer the UDFA market. It's only yielded them the likes of Justin Tucker, Bart Scott, Priest Holmes, Mike Flynn, Zach Orr, Danell Ellerbe and many others in the past.
The Bottom Line
The Ravens very much operate under the "best player available" mentality, so the timing of filling each of these needs will be dictated by the teams in front of them. Like I said, when EDC has his eyes set on a guy he likes, he'll move up or down accordingly. Regardless, he's the expert and we're just along for the ride. This is where we make our money. It's gonna be a fun one.
Make sure you tune into tonight's En Eff El Draft Stream here on Barstool, I'll be there to talk Ravens when we are on the clock. I also finally created an Instagram last month and I'll likely be doing some Instagram Live recaps throughout the draft, so follow me there @BarstoolBanks. Same handle for Twitter too.
In EDC We Trust.