Eisenberg: Ravens Can Replenish Roster With Entire Generation Of Young Talent


If you ask Ravens fans to identify a number they associate with the upcoming 2016 NFL Draft, most, I'm sure, would quickly answer six. That's the Ravens' first-round position, their highest in years.

The question of who they're taking at No. 6 has dominated football conversations in Baltimore pretty much since the team's disappointing 2015 season ended.

But after listening to team officials at Tuesday's pre-draft press conference at the Under Armour Performance Center, I'm pretty sure they're focusing on a different number – seven, the number of picks they've got in the first four rounds.

"We've got to nail them," Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta said.

When the draft begins on April 28, the Ravens will pick once in the first, second and third rounds and then four times in the fourth round, giving them seven of the first 134 picks.

While everyone else focuses on which high-profile prospect they'll take at No. 6 from among a list of candidates that includes Joey Bosa, Myles Jack and DeForest Buckner, the Ravens themselves are taking a wider-angle view, looking at their first seven picks as an opportunity to replenish their roster with an entire generation of young talent.

"When we look back in five years, those four fourth-round picks will make or break how this draft is judged," DeCosta said. "Our challenge will be to draft four starters."

Don't misunderstand, they're aware they need to nail that No. 6 pick. But listening to them Tuesday, there's actually not a lot of science involved. This class contains "six to eight" truly elite prospects, mostly defensive players, according to DeCosta. Most will be gone when the Ravens pick, but logic dictates that at least one will be available.

"We think we're going to get a very, very good player," DeCosta said.

But getting a "very, very good" player at No. 6 is a given in theory provided you've done your homework. What happens after that is tougher to suss out. DeCosta said that while he hasn't reached the "sleepless night" stage of his draft buildup just yet, he's spending more time thinking about the Ravens' second-round pick, the No. 36 overall selection.

That's basically another first-round pick in their eyes, just four slots below where they selected Matt Elam, their 2013 first-rounder. As always, the Ravens are counting on a handful of teams ahead of them blowing their picks, meaning "we're going to get one of our top 25 (rated) players," DeCosta said.

It sounds like a great spot to grab a plug-and-play cornerback in 2016.

"You're going to see a run on cornerbacks from 20 through 45," DeCosta said, identifying a lengthy list of prospects that included Alabama's Cyrus Jones, a Baltimore native and Gilman School graduate.

No, those players aren't rated as highly as Florida State's Jalen Ramsey or Florida's Vernon Hargreaves, the two cornerbacks on that list of "six or eight" elite prospects in this class, but they're starting-caliber players who could have an immediate impact, DeCosta said.

What about the Ravens' third-round pick, the No. 70 overall selection? Here's something to consider: That's just 10 slots behind where they drafted guard Kelechi Osemele in 2012, and when Joe Hortiz, the Ravens' director of college scouting, was asked Tuesday if a starting-caliber tackle could be available there, he didn't hesitate in saying yes.

"There are some tackles after 36 who we would be very comfortable taking," Hortiz said.

That leaves the Ravens' quartet of picks in the fourth round, a draft middle-ground in which they've previously selected such useful players as Brandon Stokley, Edwin Mulitalo, Jarret Johnson, Dennis Pitta and Kyle Juszczyk.

"Four picks … we've got to nail them," DeCosta reiterated.

The above list of exceptional fourth-rounders is composed mostly of offensive talent, but this year's class is unmistakably heavy on defense, DeCosta said, citing "35 extra draftable defensive players," meaning that many more than usual.

That's a nice fit for an organization that always thinks defense first and could stand an influx of new blood on that unit in the wake of several recent high picks failing to pan out. Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome conceded Tuesday that those recent drafts, while certainly fruitful enough to help fuel multiple playoff runs and a Super Bowl victory, haven't been "up to my standards, Eric's standards, the Ravens' standards."

They're hoping to reverse that trend in 2016 with a lot more than just their first-round pick.

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