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Eisenberg: Here's What Will Make Or Break Ravens' 2017 Draft Haul


Shortly before the 2016 NFL Draft, Assistant GM Eric DeCosta said the Ravens' fourth-round selections would "make or break" their draft. They had accumulated five picks in the round, a rare situation.

"We really need to nail those picks," DeCosta said. "We need to draft five starters."

That last part sounded like a stretch – five starters from the fourth round in one year? But it turned out DeCosta was right about the impact of the fourth-round haul on the Ravens' 2016 draft.

Ronnie Stanley, the first-round selection, was a starter from day one, as expected with the No. 6 overall pick. But the second–round pick, Kamalei Correa, saw little action, and the third-round pick, Bronson Kaufusi, never played because of an injury. There was potential for overall disappointment, but the fourth-round crew saved the day. Alex Lewis and Tavon Young became starters. Kenneth Dixon flashed promise. Chris Moore made big plays on special teams.

In 2016, at least, the fourth round picks (plus fifth-rounder Matt Judon) did "make" the draft.

A year later, there's a different "make or break" scenario for the Ravens.

Ascertaining anything about the 2017 draft is a challenge, of course; experts are viewing it as especially unpredictable. "More so than other years," DeCosta told my colleagues Ryan Mink and Garrett Downing on "The Lounge" podcast. (Highly recommended interview, by the way.)

Normally, DeCosta said, he can pretty much call the Ravens' first-round selection by now. But there is too much uncertainty this year.

"I don't even know who the first quarterback taken will be; who the first running back will be," DeCosta said. "I don't know when the first wideout will be drafted or when the first offensive lineman will be drafted."

In such a cloudy scenario, it's anyone's guess what the Ravens will do in the first round. A few months ago, I was sure they would take a cornerback. But then they signed Brandon Carr and Tony Jefferson and brought back Lardarius Webb, fortifying their secondary. Now, I'm thinking they'll take a pass rusher or a wide receiver.

If it were up to me, I'd take a pass rusher. The Ravens need new blood there. Impactful rushers are harder to find than receivers. The No. 16 overall pick in a draft deep in pass rushers sounds like a nice opportunity to address the situation.

Regardless of which position he plays, though, the top pick should contribute immediately. That's a fair assumption to make about any player drafted in the top half of the first round.

So, beyond that initial pick, what is going to "make" the Ravens' 2017 draft? Or conversely, what could "break" it?

Focus on Day Two, I say.

That's when the Ravens have one selection in the second round and two in the third round – Nos. 48, 74 and 78 overall.

They're prime picks. On a night when 75 players are drafted, the Ravens will make three of the first 45 choices.

It's a chance to address immediate needs with quality talent. Kelechi Osemele, Torrey Smith and Brandon Williams were all Day 2 picks.

More recently, however, the Ravens have struggled in the second and third rounds. Since 2013, they've taken Correa, Kaufusi, Maxx Williams, Carl Davis, Timmy Jernigan, Terrence Brooks, Crockett Gillmore, Arthur Brown and Brandon Williams. The Ravens still have high hopes for some, but Brandon Williams is the only guaranteed 2017 starter. Jernigan, Brooks and Brown are no longer Ravens.

The Ravens' Day 2 issues came up at their pre-draft press event earlier this month. It wasn't GM Ozzie Newsome's favorite subject. "I don't know that I could pinpoint one thing as the reason," Newsome said.

DeCosta didn't have an answer, either, but pointed out that the Ravens have recovered nicely with productive Day 3 picks such as Rick Wagner, Kyle Juszczyk, Nick Boyle, Za'Darius Smith, Buck Allen, Brent Urban, John Urschel, Michael Campanaro and the 2016 crew.

This year, though, they only have four picks on Day 3. It's their lowest total in seven years, lessening the odds of them offsetting any earlier misses with a late hit.

This year, Day 2 is the place for the Ravens to make their draft class into something special.

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