Ravens Land Three First-Round Talents in Mock Draft
Positions of need for the Ravens this offseason include edge rusher, linebacker and wide receiver. In a three-round mock draft by The Athletic's Dane Brugler, they addressed all three quite nicely.
Like a number of other mock drafts, Brugler has the Ravens selecting Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray in the first round with the 28th-overall pick. He mocked Colorado wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. to Baltimore in the second round (60th overall) and Notre Dame edge rusher Julian Okwara in the third (92nd).
Shenault has gone in the first round in some mock drafts, and Okwara at one point also was considered a potential first-rounder.
"Who saw DK Metcalf falling to the 64th pick last year? Shenault could be this year's version of Metcalf in terms of surprise faller who proves productive as an NFL rookie," Brugler wrote.
Shenault had a slower-than-expected 40 time of 4.59 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine last week, in part because he was suffering from a core muscle injury. Shenault underwent surgery Tuesday to repair the injury, and his recovery time is six-to-eight weeks, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported.
As for Okwara, he's gone from being a first-round selection in early mock drafts to dropping out of the second round in recent ones. He had seven sacks in nine games as a senior before suffering a season-ending broken fibula. Okwara recorded 12.5 sacks as a junior.
Pro Football Focus' Austin Gayle doesn't think Okwara's stock should be falling. In Gayle's latest mock draft, he has Okwara going to the Las Vegas Raiders at 19th overall.
"There's currently not enough hype surrounding Okwara," Gayle wrote. "The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Notre Dame product is a freakish athlete with absurd bend and flexibility that defensive line coaches salivate over at the next level. His technique will require improvement at the next level, but he still earned a 90.4 PFF pass-rushing grade before his 2019 season was cut short due to injury. His pass-rushing grade improved every year of his career with the Fighting Irish."
Earl Thomas Had a 'Quietly Dominant' Season
With the start of NFL free agency less than two weeks away, it's an appropriate time to take a look back at the huge splash the Ravens made around this time last year when they signed running back Mark Ingram II and safety Earl Thomas III on the same day.
It didn't take long for the two veteran stars to make an impact. On the first play of the Ravens' 59-10 rout of the Miami Dolphins in Week 1, Ingram ran for 49 yards. On the Ravens' fourth defensive snap of the game, Thomas picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Ingram continued to make big plays throughout the season, rushing for over 1,000 yards and scoring 15 total touchdowns. Thomas, however, had only one interception the rest of the year to finish with two – one fewer than he had in just four games with the Seattle Seahawks in 2018.
This is a prime example of box scores not telling the whole story. As important as Ingram was to the Ravens' record-setting offense, Thomas also was a vital component of Baltimore's fourth-ranked defense.
Their performances mirrored their contrasting personalities. In addition to gaining chunks of yardage on a consistent basis, the charismatic Ingram introduced "Big Truss" into the football lexicon and served as league MVP Lamar Jackson's hype man. Thomas, conversely, spoke softly and carried a big chip on his shoulder. His main contribution was what he didn't do – give up big plays.
Thomas had a quietly dominant season and impacted the Ravens defense more than any other player, Baltimore Beatdown's Spencer Schulz wrote.
"After digging deeper than the initial box score, it's evident that Thomas' greatest impact was simply eliminating the middle third of the field past the linebackers," Schulz wrote. "That's exactly what the Baltimore Ravens paid Thomas to do. He delivered."
Indeed. It's impossible to rack up gaudy statistics for interceptions and pass deflections when quarterbacks decide the wise decision is to not throw in your direction. Thomas, who was named to his seventh Pro Bowl team this past season, allowed only six receptions all season (on 14 targets), according to Pro Football Focus.
"That's a 42.9 percent completion rate, the lowest mark of Thomas' 10-year career. Those six receptions went for 110 yards," Schulze wrote. "He notched two interceptions on those 14 targets, with a third being called back on a questionable Tony Jefferson DPI call.
"Considering Thomas lined up at free safety 593 times in 2019, opposing passers avoided Thomas like he had a cold sore at the homecoming dance. By their tracking, Thomas was thrown at 14 times in 547 coverage snaps. That equates to 2.5 of every 100 passes going Thomas' way."
Pro Football Reference's numbers for Thomas were slightly different but equally as impressive: 11 completions allowed on 25 targets for 113 yards.
"That amounts to a 24.2 QB rating. That was the lowest figure in the NFL in 2019. Throwing the ball in the dirt is a 39.3 QB rating," Schulz wrote. "In those 25 passes thrown at Thomas, he had two interceptions and four pass deflections. Six plays on the ball in 25 passes, nearly one every four times the ball was thrown his way. PFR has Thomas' 42-percent completion rate in coverage as the second-lowest in the NFL, and he also didn't allow a touchdown in his coverage in 2019."
Darren Waller Says Time With Ravens Helped Him Turn His Life Around
It's difficult to find a more inspiring redemption story in the NFL this past season than that of Raiders tight end Darren Waller.
Waller, a sixth-round draft pick of the Ravens in 2015, missed the 2017 season as he battled a drug addiction and served a year-long suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
Fast-forward to 2019 when Waller emerged as one of the best tight ends in the league. He caught 90 passes for 1,145 yards and three touchdowns after totaling 18 catches for 178 yards and two touchdowns in 22 career games prior to this past season.
Waller, who signed a four-year, $28 million contract extension with the Raiders in October, has credited his time with the Ravens for being crucial to him turning his life and career around.
The Ravens released Waller following training camp in 2018 but re-signed him to their practice squad. The Raiders signed him that November.
"At that point, I felt like my skills had really developed just going up against the Ravens' defense every day," Waller said on Glenn Clark Radio. "I just felt like I was more prepared for success because I had been humbled by being on the practice squad and before even playing football again, just working at a grocery store making minimum wage.
"The experience of being on the Ravens' practice squad and having to stay patient and having to focus on having a positive outlook even though things didn't look great. It was two-thirds of the way through the season and I didn't hear one call from a single team, but having that practice of staying positive and still approaching Wednesdays and Thursdays during the week like game days kept me locked in as far as getting ready to capitalize on the opportunity."
During Waller's time on the practice squad, the relationships he established with then-Director of Player Engagement Harry Swayne and others in the organization helped him stay on the right path.
"Harry was a big part of [helping me]," Waller said. "[Team clinician] Dr. Tricia Bent-Goodley and Johnny Shelton — the team chaplain — those three were the biggest allies for me. Those were the first people I kind of started opening up to before things really got out of control while I was in Baltimore. I wasn't completely 100 percent honest with them but that was the first step in the right direction of telling someone what I was dealing with.
"So those three really helped me through that whole process and never saw me any differently from the bad times to the good times, and they'll still call and check on me and I'll still have conversations with them. Those three people were really there for me."
While Waller's breakout season occurred with the Raiders, he said he's thankful for his time with the Ravens and sometimes thinks about what could've been in Baltimore.
"I appreciate them supporting me the whole time and believing in me when I didn't even believe in myself back then," Waller said. "I wish I could have devoted some of this time that I've given to the Raiders, I wish I could have reached that point with the Ravens. It's sad that can't happen, but I do appreciate my time there. I learned a lot and that time there was time for me to plant the seed and really grow into who I was becoming. I do appreciate the opportunities I was given there and the people that supported me and cheered for me."