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Eisenberg: A Lesson In Not Judging A Draft Class Too Early


If we're identifying winners and losers in the first days of free agency, one of the biggest winners, no question, is the Ravens' 2013 draft class.

Talk about cashing in.

In rat-a-tat fashion Thursday and Friday, four guys picked by the Ravens between the third and fifth rounds in 2013 signed eye-popping deals.

The first to go were tackle Rick Wagner and fullback Kyle Juscczyk, whose signings were announced before free agency began Thursday afternoon. Wagner agreed to a five-year deal with the Detroit Lions reportedly paying more than $9 million per year – not bad for a fifth-round pick. Juszczyk, a fullback taken in the fourth round, signed a four-year, $21 million deal with the San Francisco 49ers -- not bad for a guy whose position supposedly is being phased out of pro football.

Later Thursday, nose tackle Brandon Williams, a third-round pick in 2013, made out the best of them all, signing a five-year, $54 million deal to stay with the Ravens. Hours later, linebacker John Simon, taken in the fourth round in 2013, left the Houston Texans to sign a three-year, $13.5 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts.

My math skills are dubious but I do believe it adds up to more than $100 million in deals for four guys who heard a whole bunch of names called before they heard their own at the 2013 draft.

Ironically, that class has long been dismissed as a bust, one of the Ravens' worst, because they took safety Matt Elam in the first round and linebacker Arthur Brown in the second. Neither has come close to meriting such a high pick.

A simple Internet search brings up a slew of articles in which the Ravens get pummeled for swinging and missing in 2013, failing to draft quality players.

Obviously, though, they did draft quality players. You can't land more than $100 million in deals a few years later if you aren't any good.

One moral of that story is never judge a draft class strictly on the merits of the top picks. As often as not, guys taken in lower rounds prove just as useful.

But the biggest lesson in the $100 million windfall is how ridiculous it is to assign ANY grade to ANY draft class at ANY point until it has time to develop. Not every player comes bounding into the league as a ready-made puzzle piece. In fact, few do. The big question is who develops over time … and who doesn't.

That's worth keeping in mind as the Ravens pencil in their roster and lineup for 2017 with hopes that some recent draft picks will begin to flower.

Is linebacker Kamalei Correa, a 2016 second-round pick, ready to become a starter? He didn't play much as a rookie, but neither did Juszczyk, who wasn't ready to handle the starting fullback job in 2013. That ended up working out well for both the team and the player.

Are defensive tackles Carl Davis and Willie Henry ready to assume larger roles? They've done little so far, but Williams saw action in just seven games in his first year, and Simon impressed the Ravens so little as a rookie that they traded him to Houston, where he became a starter and a steady pass rusher. The Ravens could have used him.

Bottom line, you need to take a deep breath and give guys a chance to play their way into prominence.

Of course, the drawback to the $100 million windfall is only Williams will play for the Ravens going forward, the other guys literally having found greener pastures elsewhere. But that's a result of economic forces, not football judgment.

Purely on such judgment, the Ravens' 2013 class might actually go down as one of their best.

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