Five thoughts on the Ravens and the 2020 NFL Draft:
I'm not a big fan of immediately grading drafts because the reality is we won't know how they pan out for several years. Nonetheless, grades are going to be rolling in and I'm sure the Ravens will receive high marks. Why? They added bona fide talent at value prices. You simply can't work the system any better. Patrick Queen was a top 15 prospect, according to the NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah. The Ravens got him with pick No. 28. J.K. Dobbins was a top 30 pick, according to many experts. The Ravens got him at No. 55, and basically, it means they got two first-round picks out of a draft in which they sat out the first 27 selections. Experts love work like that, as well they should. GM Eric DeCosta then supplemented those picks with eight more picks that bolster depth throughout the roster, and in a few cases (hello WR Devin Duvernay and ILB Malik Harrison) have a real shot at paying immediate dividends.
There wasn't a camera in Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale's home office, man cave or wherever he was perched, which means we didn't get to see him jumping around, whooping and celebrating. OK, maybe he didn't go that far. Then again, maybe he did. Why not? DeCosta and the front office completed a major rebuild of his unit by picking Queen on Day 1, Harrison and DT Justin Madubuike on Day 2 and Broderick Washington on Day 3. They constitute a significant influx of new talent on top of the additions of Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe, the franchising of Matthew Judon, the re-signing of Jimmy Smith, etc. Quite simply, the Ravens have dismantled their 2019 defensive front and put it back together with players who are faster and bigger. In his combine interview in February, DeCosta said the Ravens needed a formidable defense to protect the leads their explosive offense runs up. I'd say mission accomplished. It's now a loaded unit with all sorts of pieces for Martindale to use in blitz packages. The Ravens didn't draft an edge rusher but I suspect they'll add a veteran free agent there.
DeCosta set the bar high a few weeks ago when he said the organization's goal was to build an offense that couldn't be defended. That mandated the addition of several new playmakers on top of what's already on hand. Dobbins became the first new piece Friday night, but running back isn't where there's a need for more output. After the Ravens' wideouts ranked last in the NFL in overall production in 2019, there'll be scrutiny on Duvernay and James Proche, the new wide receivers. Each caught more than 100 passes in 2019 with minimal drops. Duvernay has exceptional speed and "there's a lot we like" about Proche, DeCosta said. The reality is the Ravens have reinvented themselves at the position in the past two years with a first-round pick (Hollywood Brown), two thirds (Miles Boykin and Duvernay) and an intriguing Day 3 pick (Proche), who was the only draft pick the Ravens traded up to get this year. Nonetheless, DeCosta didn't want to commit to being "undefendable" just yet. "We've got a lot of work to do. We're just going to keep adding players and tweaking things," he said.
Coming in, the positions the Ravens most needed to address were inside linebacker and interior offensive line – in that order, in my opinion. After the board broke right for them to get Queen on Day 1, they got busy on the O-line and picked up Tyre Phillips in the third round and Ben Bredeson in the fourth round. So, where is the O-line after those selections? As before, three of the five positions are set with tackles Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Browns Jr. and guard Bradley Bozeman. It's still unknown who'll start at center and right guard. Matt Skura is the center if he recovers from his major knee injury. Time will tell on that, and Patrick Mekari is the next option. As for right guard, there's now a three-way competition between Phillips, Bredeson and Ben Powers for the starting job. That's a recent third-round pick and two fourths, a solid commitment to that area of the team, and actually, one of those players also could beat out Bozeman if he plays at a high enough level.
There was a point Friday night when I couldn't help myself and took a step back to consider the big picture. The Ravens were on a roll, making four picks in the third round, the names and possibilities coming rapid-fire, and I thought, "Man, this is fun." I know some people had doubts about whether the NFL should even hold its draft in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, and I understand that perspective, but the public spoke with its eyeballs, i.e., the television ratings set records, and I know why. It was a brief blast of sports, which we're all missing; not an actual game but the next best thing, the NFL's great poker game, in which front offices gamble and everyone gets to watch and second guess. What a lovely thing to think about for a few days, as opposed to the grim drum roll on the news. The draft offered a sudden whiff of what life was like before the pandemic, and yes, what we hope it might be again, at least in some form. Kudos to the NFL for pulling it off and putting on such an interesting show in challenging circumstances. Honestly, the TV shots of the coaches, GMs and players in their homes, with their families, made the event seem more real and accessible than it's ever been.