Eisenberg: The Draft Scenario No One is Mentioning


With the Scouting Combine cranking up in Indianapolis this week, the 2020 NFL Draft will start coming into focus, prompting one of the key questions of the Ravens' offseason: Which way will they go in the first round?

It's their best shot at adding an immediate-impact rookie, which, no doubt, would come in handy at any of several positions.

I'd be fine with them selecting an inside linebacker, as many analysts are predicting they'll do. A year removed from losing C.J. Mosley in free agency, they could stand to plug a new centerpiece into the middle of their defense.

I'd also be fine with them taking an edge rusher, which they certainly could use after finishing No. 21 in the league in sacks in 2019.

What if they draft an interior offensive lineman, a guard or center? I'd be fine with that. They're entertaining some questions at those positions, and when a team pounds the ball on the ground as much as the Ravens, investing in the O-line is never a mistake.

But what if a playmaking wide receiver falls to them at No. 28 overall and they grab him? I'd have a hard time complaining, and I'm sure Lamar Jackson would feel similarly. The Ravens are looking for another electric receiver to pair with Marquise Brown.

That's an interesting exercise, isn't it? Everyone is spouting opinions about which of those needs is more important than the others, but the truth is they all could stand to be addressed.

That's good news for the Ravens because you can't always get what you want when drafting near the end of the first round, as they are this year. You're beholden to what happens before you, who gets taken, and who remains available. It's nice to have several options, all of which would fill important needs.

But while conducting the above exercise, I left out one option that's flying so far under the radar it might as well be underground.

What if they take a defensive lineman in the first round?

It'd be a surprise, no doubt. Most mock drafts have the Ravens taking an inside linebacker, edge rusher or cornerback. Defensive linemen aren't getting much love.

But one of the Ravens' primary organizational goals for 2020 is to get better at stopping the run.

At first glance, you might wonder why. Baltimore ranked No. 5 in the league in rushing defense in 2019, allowing just 93.4 yards per game.

But look closer. They ranked No. 21 in yards allowed per carry, yielding 4.4 per rush. That's far and away the highest figure in Ravens history, beating the previous high of 4.1 in 2017.

Adding to the urgency is how the season ended, with the defense unable to control Tennessee running back Derrick Henry in the playoffs. The Ravens don't want to see that grim scene reprised.

Yes, an inside linebacker taken in the first round could also address the rushing defense, but by the same token, a stout interior lineman could solidify the ground defense and bolster the pass rush, addressing two needs. James Lynch, a tackle from Baylor, was Defensive Player of the Year in the Big 12 last season and led the conference in sacks. Scouts don't see him as a first-round talent, but it's an interesting combination of skills and other players also have it in some form.

The Ravens will build their 2020 defensive line around tackle Brandon Williams, who performed well last season. But Michael Pierce is set to hit free agency and Chris Wormley wasn't always dominant in 2019 even while establishing a career high in tackles. In-season additions Jihad Ward and Domata Peko Sr. played much more than rookie Daylon Mack, who barely saw the field.

I can already hear some fans groaning if the Ravens take a D-lineman in the first round. It isn't a sexy pick.

But they haven't taken one in the first round since Haloti Ngata in 2006, and recent second-day picks such as Bronson Kaufusi and Carl Davis didn't last as puzzle pieces, leaving plenty of room for impactful new blood at the position if the Ravens choose to go there.

They just might.

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