Ravens Will Draft This Star Cornerback, Says Mel Kiper
If you're on the cornerback-or-bust bandwagon, then you may want Mel Kiper driving it.
The ESPN draft guru updated his mock draft and has the Ravens addressing arguably their biggest position of need by selecting University of Washington cornerback Sidney Jones with the 16th-overall pick.
Here's Kiper's explanation for choosing the three-year Huskies starter:
"The Ravens probably want to come out of the draft with more than one cornerback, so they might as well start early. Jones could add a little more muscle to his frame, but he has length and can flat-out cover, and if a QB makes a mistake he can show off hands, pluck the ball and head the other way."* *
The 6-foot-0, 180-pounder is considered one of the best prospects, if not the best, in a very deep cornerback class. NFL Network's Mike Mayock ranked Jones at the top of his cornerback list, even ahead of Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore, who Kiper predicts will go at No. 5 to the Tennessee Titans. Kiper also put LSU's Tre'Davious White ahead of Jones.
An interesting part of this mock draft is the talent Baltimore would pass over in order to select Jones.
Kiper has the Ravens opting against arguably the draft's best running back in Florida State's Dalvin Cook, who he had the Washington Redskins taking with the next pick at No. 17. In this scenario, Baltimore would also pass on Tennessee pass rusher Derek Barnett, Florida cornerback Teez Tabor, and Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis (the highest-ranked receiver by Mayock).
In his first mock, Kiper had the Ravens selecting versatile Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers, but he fell to the New England Patriots at No. 32 in yesterday's version. Kiper now sees Jones as the better fit.
Jones played in 41 games during his three years in Washington, starting all but one his freshman year, and notched 30 passes defensed, nine interceptions and six forced fumbles.
While Jones could add a little bulk in order to better match up against physical receivers, scouting reports describe him as a "complete" defensive back with "silky smooth" cover skills, good height, length and speed. In Baltimore, he would be expected to become an immediate starter across from Jimmy Smith with second-year player Tavon Young playing nickel.* *
"H]e would [make a lot of sense for the Ravens at No. 16," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "He has the experience (three-year starter), football intelligence and playmaking skills (nine interceptions and eight forced fumbles in his career) to be an immediate starter. He also has traits that the Ravens love out of their prospects: strong character, aggressive and durable.
"If the draft goes as Kiper projects, the Ravens will improve the pass defense with one of the most polished defenders in the draft."
Ravens Special Teams Unit Continues To Be Ranked One Of League's Best
Jerry Rosburg's special teams unit fell from its No. 1 perch in 2015, but was still considered one of the NFL's best last season.
The Dallas Morning News' respected veteran writer, Rick Gosselin, released his annual special teams rankings, and the Ravens' unit came in at No. 5. Baltimore was ranked behind the Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams, respectively.
Despite the slight drop-off, the unit has shown consistency, as this marked the fifth consecutive year that it finished in the top five. It was second in 2012, fifth in 2013 and 2014, and first in 2015.
The 32 NFL teams were ranked in 22 kicking-game categories, and each are given a composite score. The lower the score, the better. Baltimore finished with a 279.5 overall score, whereas Philadelphia finished with 226.5. Last year, the Ravens came in at 231.
Baltimore ranked the highest in three of the 22 categories: field-goal percentage (97.4 percent), blocked kicks (four, tied with Miami) and field goals made (38).
Salary-Cap Rankings For Highest-Paid Ravens At Each Position
We still don't know exactly how much money the Ravens will have under the 2017 salary cap, as the limit still needs to be set by the league and potential cuts by the team still need to occur.
However, The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec gave a little context to the situation by listing the highest-paid Ravens for the 2017 season and where they rank among all NFL players at their respective positions:* *
Quarterback: Joe Flacco's $24.55 million ranks No. 2
Running back: Lorenzo Taliaferro's $765,146 ranks No. 46
Wide receiver: Mike Wallace's $8 million ranks No. 19
Tight end: Dennis Pitta's $7.7 million ranks No. 6
Offensive tackle:Ronnie Stanley's $4.65 million ranks No. 36
Offensive guard: Marshal Yanda's $9.125 million ranks No. 4
Center: Jeremy Zuttah's $4.6 million ranks No. 11
Outside linebacker/Edge rusher: Elvis Dumervil's $8.375 million ranks No. 16 and Terrell Suggs' $6.95 million ranks No. 25
Interior defensive lineman: Timmy Jernigan's $1.394 million ranks No. 68
Inside linebacker: C.J. Mosley's $2.796 million ranks No. 19
Cornerback: Jimmy Smith's $12.6 million ranks No. 7
Safety: Lardarius Webb's $7.5 million ranks No. 19 and Eric Weddle's $5.75 million ranks No. 22
Kicker: Justin Tucker's $4.3 million ranks No. 4
Punter: Sam Koch's $3.1 million ranks No. 8
The league isn't expected to release the cap limit until just before the new league year in March. And Zrebiec points out that the Ravens don't usually make cuts until a couple weeks before free agency opens, which is March 9 this year.
Will Baltimore have enough space to be active in free agency?
"Yes … the Ravens figure to have some cap flexibility. That's the good news," Zrebiec wrote a few weeks ago. "The bad news is with the cap expected to rise significantly, most teams in the NFL will have far more money to spend than the Ravens, and that will probably mean free agent contracts will go through the roof. The Ravens aren't equipped to win bidding wars against teams that have so much cap space that they don't know what to do with it.
"I wouldn't expect the Ravens' free agent philosophy to change too much. They'll try to spend on re-signing a few of their own free agents. They'll try and add a few veterans to address specific areas of need. And then they'll turn their attention to building the roster through the draft."
Ravens One Of Least Changed Teams In NFL Since 2012
It's the chicken or the egg argument.
Have the New England Patriots been so successful over the years because of their continuity? Or have they had continuity because they win so much?
However you look at it, the Patriots were ranked No. 1 in the league for having the least change since 2012. In fact, they've had ZERO change at five major positions: general manager, head coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator and starting quarterback.
ESPN's Mike Sando ranked all 32 teams in a continuity list, and the Ravens came in at No. 9. It's the offensive coordinator position that pulled them down that low, as they haven't changed any personnel at general manager, head coach, quarterback or defensive coordinator during that time.
"The Ravens have had five offensive coordinators since 2012, most in the league," Sando wrote. "That's a big reason Baltimore ranks last for continuity among teams with the same GM and head coach over that period.
"Yet while New England is the only team with the same GM, head coach, coordinators and primary QB since 2012, Baltimore is one of five others with no turnover in four of those five spots. The Ravens check in near the league averages in the measures used to calculate roster continuity."