I vividly remember what Ravens Assistant GM Eric DeCosta said as the organization prepared for the unique experience of taking five players in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
“We’ve got to hit all five,” DeCosta said.
I also vividly remember my reaction to his comment: C’mon man.
These were fourth-round picks, players who generally stand no better than a one in three chance of becoming consistent starters. (Odds vary by position.) History suggested the Ravens would be fortunate to get a couple of truly useful players out of the round. The chances of them going 5-for-5 were exceedingly thin.
The Ravens wound up taking (in order) cornerback Tavon Young, receiver Chris Moore, offensive lineman Alex Lewis, defensive lineman Willie Henry and running back Kenneth Dixon with the five picks. They’ve faced a litany of challenges so far, including major injuries, suspensions and limited snaps. Three have already missed an entire season, stunting their development.
But they’ve also exhibited enough promise to hint at becoming an important part of the Ravens’ blueprint without exception. At Thursday’s open-to-the-media Organized Team Activity practice, it was impossible not to see their promise starting to become a reality. Fourth-round picks from 2016 were in the middle of just about everything.
Young, drafted No. 102 overall in 2016, was back on the field, seemingly without limitation, after missing all of 2017 due to a major knee injury. It looks like he’s penciled in as the No. 3 cornerback, the slot corner, which essentially is a starting job since NFL offenses use so many three-receiver sets these days.
The Ravens had him penciled in for that job a year ago after he excelled as a rookie corner playing on the outside in 2016. When his injury ruined that plan, the Ravens struggled to find a consistent performer at the position in 2017. If Young is healthy, and all signs currently point to that, he could be a difference-maker in the secondary.
Moore, drafted No. 107 overall in 2016, might have had the best practice of any of the Ravens’ receivers Thursday. He definitely made the catch of the day, an acrobatic grab on a deep route, and also exhibited nice body control on several sideline catches.
His speed and instincts have helped him become a valuable contributor on special teams from the outset of his pro career, but he played little on offense until he started making catches and playing more on offense down the stretch last season, his growth palpable.
The chances of him becoming a starter have been diminished by the arrival of three new veteran wideouts, but if Thursday was any indication, Moore is still growing, becoming more confident and assured. With his speed, he deserves a more-than-minor role in the receiver rotation. I expect him to get it.
From the moment they picked Lewis at No. 130 overall in 2016, the Ravens viewed him as one of their best value selections in recent years. The coaches proclaimed him of starting caliber before he played a game, and he has proved them prescient.
After sitting out 2017 because of a shoulder injury, he will start on the O-line in 2018 -- the only question is where. Left guard seems to be his most natural spot, but he lined up at center Thursday and the coaches are intrigued by the idea of him manning that crucial position. Stay tuned.
Shortly after they drafted Lewis in 2016, the Ravens grabbed Henry at No. 132 overall and Dixon at No. 134 to round out their quartet of fourth-round selections.
Henry emerged as a contributor in the defensive interior last season with three starts, 23 solo tackles and 3.5 sacks. His star is rising. Injuries and a suspension have curbed Dixon’s progress, but he is exhibiting a burst on the practice field this spring that suggests he’ll have a role in the running back rotation this year.
There’s a long way to go before the Ravens play games that count, but at this point, it appears DeCosta’s 5-for-5 dream scenario might actually come true.