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A Centered Approach to the Ravens Draft


Practice Squad
Coming out of a fabulously enjoyable and successful season that ended with an ‘everything that can go wrong did go wrong’ thud, there seems consensus on the areas of needed Raven improvement: retooling the defensive front seven, continuing the offensive evolution, secondary depth, and more production in the return game.

The pass rush has been lackluster for a while. And, despite being ahead or well ahead in most games so that opponents had to give up on their run games, our yards allowed per rush numbers have gone up. This certainly bit us in the playoff game. We’ve lost some of our better front seven defenders over the past two seasons. The free agency additions of Campbell & Wolfe are a good start, especially to give some juice to our pass rush. The need for another outside pass rusher remains. The ILB shelf is the barest on our depth chart. As has been well discussed by Ravens fans, the possible draft solutions give only limited comfort. We see prospects who can stop the run but not cover, or who do the opposite, not as many solid 3-down players. With the Jefferson and Carr losses, Averett’s poor play last year, and the ‘it happens every year’ injury bug, the secondary, while a team strength, needs depth, especially a capable cover safety.

Our offense was lightning in a bottle last year, setting all-time NFL records. This historically rare success will be difficult to repeat, even if things ‘go well’ again. We need to stay ahead of the curve and continue to evolve, both in the trenches and with more dynamic playmakers.

An offense founded on its run game needs to dominate up front. For us, this charges both the run game and the run game created defensive mismatches that fuel Lamar’s passing game. Teams with stout defensive fronts and mobile backers, like Buffalo, SF, and Tennessee, gave us the most trouble last year. We’re already seeing our division opponents putting pieces in place to stop us, with Cleveland and Cincinnati signing D linemen. We must respond with our own upgrades. As last season progressed defenses realized they couldn’t stop Lamar and then tried to hurt him. He’ll remain a target. Injuries, of course, can happen any time, but let’s put the strongest possible unit in front of him.

We’re set at tackle, but not inside. Yanda has now retired, Skura is coming off a significant knee injury, and Mekari’s ceiling remains unknown. We drafted Ben Powers last year presumably with Yanda’s retirement in mind, but he remains a question mark as we didn’t see enough of him to know what we’ve got. We know not much more than what we knew from last year’s draft . . . he’s a tough and capable college lineman who projected as a Saturday prospect and was taken there. Line improvement compels we draft legit, starter grade, not depth, prospects at center and guard and then let them all compete.

KC showed the value of having as many big-play threats as possible. But how to accomplish? At 28, what impact will a late first round WR have for us? The Ravens remain a run-first team. Mark Andrews is Lamar’s go-to receiver. Hollywood & Boykin need to get playing time to improve. A rookie receiver also needs playing time to develop and impact. In a deep receiver class, we can get big-play prospects in later rounds. Contributing players who, if not polished or well rounded, are dangerous because they can make big plays any time the ball is in their hands and complement what we now have.

We have outstanding starting tackles. Pairing a 6-3, 307 top-ranked center next to a 6-5, 323 guard in the middle of our line creates a unit of real strength. The addition of Campbell, Wolfe, and picks 55 (Hurst trade) & 106 (comp) allows a Full Monty O line improvement approach that still gets needed pieces elsewhere:

28 – Cesar Ruiz, C (good size, movement, and anchor, a young - turns 21 in June - and ascending prospect, let’s finally get a solid pivot man and put this position to rest)
55 – Julian Okwara, Edge (explosive with bend and burst to the QB, can drop in coverage if necessary, still developing, doesn’t have bulk, but we have that elsewhere, completes a pass rush presence across the defensive front)
60 – Robert Hunt, G (a ‘play like a Raven’ big, powerful bully, tough & nasty mauler, also with right tackle experience)
92 – Jordyn Brooks, ILB (an experienced, good run stuffing inside backer, hopefully adequate in coverage, part of the ILB answer)
106 – Terrell Burgess, S (plus cover defender, good tackler, smarts)
129 – Devin Duvernay, WR (fast & powerful slot receiver, tough to tackle, YAC master with home run ability with the ball in his hands) (other athletic playmakers with similar traits, Antonio Gibson or Lynn Bowden) (these are special athletes who can be creatively used and a weapon for us)
134 – Kindle Vildor, CB (another good man defender, physical, competitive, good ball skills) (Darnay Holmes, similar traits with return skills )
170 – Darrynton Evans, RB (a slasher with good burst, return skills, another dynamic playmaker), or Devin Asiasi, TE (has all around skills, smooth, YAC)
225 – Joe Reed WR or Javon Leake RB (depending on how the draft has gone we can really go anywhere in the 7th, here’s two options who have shown big-play kick return ability)

This approach retools the DF7 with an edge rusher and an inside backer to the beef we’ve already added in free agency, improves secondary depth, continues the offensive evolution by improving the OL at its weakest points, adds ‘big-play with the ball in their hands’ players who can contribute and complement the young, skill weapons we already have, and gives some options on improving kick return production.

If Ruiz is gone, if no center deserves to be taken that high (and you must be high to advance such a move), or have the shiny object shakes, we can step down some rounds on the center prospect. Brandon Aiyuk, Jalen Reagor and Laviska Shenault (my personal favorite) all need some polish but are dangerous playmakers any time they have the ball, whether in offensive packages or special teams. For various reasons, the draft process seems to have knocked them down a bit, such that 28 now seems a bit early, but 55 too late . . . we’d likely have to pull the trigger at 28 and can make these tweaks:

28 – WR Shenault (his physical playmaking style screams Ravens, Laviska come on down!)

92 – C Matt Hennessy (experienced, smart hard-working gamer, underrated) or Tyler Biadasz (good size & experience, has battled some physical problems the last two years that have knocked down his draft status, solid pick if health checks out)

129 – ILB Logan Wilson (hard nosed, throw-back middle backer, plus blitzer)

That’s what I’d like to see us accomplish. Many see it differently, and if you do, don’t worry! I advocated a similar ‘big ugly’ approach last year, and the team went another direction and set records. More probably, after all the discussion, mocks, and analysis, the Ravens will do the long obvious and draft the Sooner (yes, another!) to play in the middle of the defense.

CV Caveat —

I’m skeptical if the league can pull off a draft where all the NFL participants are in separate, technologically connected, locations. If the platforms fail . . . yikes, what a mess.

I’m also skeptical, but hopeful, if the 2020 season happens at all. So, do we draft for 2020 or 2021? Ingram and Campbell aren’t getting any younger.

My interest in the draft has obsessively progressed from picking a few players to writing something like this. With all that we’re all dealing with this year, this exercise seems a bit absurd. But a needed diversion. To all, please be safe & healthy! Go Ravens!
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