Late for Work 4/10: Should the Ravens Pick a Running Back in First Round?

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Georgia running back D'Andre Swift carries the ball.

Should the Ravens Pick a Running Back in First Round?

The Ravens set a single-season rushing record last season and have their top three running backs returning in 2020, so the last thing they would do is draft a running back in the first round, right?

Not necessarily. Whether the Ravens would do it is up for debate, but NFL.com's Adam Rank says they should. In his mock draft – which he based on what teams should do rather than what he thinks they will do – Rank has Baltimore selecting Georgia running back D'Andre Swift with the 28th-overall pick.

"Swift makes too much sense here in this spot," Rank wrote. "The roster already includes [Mark] Ingram, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill. But if teams are going to allow the best back in the draft to fall to No. 28, you have to do it. And for the record, I'd take [Wisconsin running back] Jonathan Taylor here if Swift goes earlier."

Rank is not alone in his thinking that a running back to the Ravens in the first round makes a lot of sense. NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah had Baltimore selecting Swift in one of his earlier mock drafts, while Draft Wire's Luke Easterling mocked Taylor to the Ravens.

NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund has the Ravens picking Swift in both of her mock drafts, which are "based solely on a contextual, data-driven model that aims to maximize each team's potential to win as many games as possible in 2020."

"The Ravens have a strong history of going 'best player available,' and I really like it when my model aligns with that," Frelund wrote. "Baltimore relies on the ground game SO heavily – I love the idea of reinforcing that strength by adding a truly gifted back like Swift to the RB stable."

Interestingly, Oklahoma inside linebacker Kenneth Murray, who has often been linked to the Ravens in mock drafts, was still available at No. 28 in Rank and Frelund's drafts, although Frelund noted that Murray was the next-best fit for the Ravens after Swift, based on her analytics model.

Baltimore Beatdown's Frank J. Platko analyzed the case for and against the Ravens drafting a running back in any round.

"You can never have too much of a good thing, right?" Platko wrote. "Yes, the Ravens were the most successful team in the NFL last season in terms of running the ball AND statistically the best rushing offense in league history. However, in order to adapt to what other teams will throw at them next season, it can't hurt to have another weapon in the backfield to diversify their attack."

On the other hand …

"Instead of adding a luxury piece to an already strong position group, the Ravens should prioritize addressing their biggest needs and their biggest needs only in the draft," Platko wrote. "Using a first-round pick on a running back is bad value already and doing so at the expense of adding a much-needed offensive lineman, wide receiver or linebacker is a foolish idea. … Even in the middle rounds, there's an abundance of solid receivers and edge rushers, among other players, who are likely to be available."

Ravens Have the Two Best Players in AFC North

The AFC North has no shortage of great players, but the Ravens have the two best, according to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio and Chris Simms, who drafted the top six players in the division.

Not surprisingly, 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson was the first player chosen.

"A guy with a bright future, an unlimited ceiling, and he just keeps getting better and better," Florio said of Jackson. "He's unstoppable. That playoff loss to the Titans – I'm willing to call it an aberration, because I think once we get back to football we're going to see Lamar Jackson right back where he was.

"I don't care how much time defensive coordinators have to figure out how to stop him, you can't stop him. You can draw it up, [but] you can't stop the guy. He is just physically superior to anybody they put on the field to try to stop him."

With the second pick, Simms took cornerback Marlon Humphrey.

"Marlon Humphrey is in the conversation for the best corner in football," Simms said. "I think he's right there with Stephon Gilmore [and] Jalen Ramsey. He's one of those guys. He is a shutdown, island-type corner.

"I don't know if he's become a household name quite yet. There are other stars on that Baltimore Ravens football team. But the Ravens are a team that puts tremendous pressure on their corners, and Humphrey covered the best receivers in football week in, week out ... and was always as good as it gets."

The other players selected, in order, were: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt, and Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

Tony Jefferson Still Unsigned Due to Current Climate

Tony Jefferson was released by the Ravens in mid-February, yet the 28-year-old safety remains unsigned. About six months removed from having surgery to repair a torn ACL and LCL in his left knee, Jefferson's situation – like other free agents – has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I was really getting into a groove with my workouts and my rehab," Jefferson told The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec. "I was really turning the corner and then, this comes."

Due to a stay-at-home order in California, where Jefferson lives, he has had to work out at his home rather than at a training facility or rehab center.

"A veteran of seven NFL seasons, Jefferson has garnered interest from several teams looking for a starting safety," Zrebiec wrote. "The interest, however, comes with a caveat. Teams want their doctors to evaluate Jefferson's surgically-repaired knee and gauge his progress before committing to a deal.

"That's impossible in this climate, with team doctors not allowed to travel to conduct examinations and team facilities closed to players needing to take physicals. So Jefferson waits, confident that it will all work out in the end and focusing on the things that matter," such as spending time with his family.

Jefferson said he expects to be ready for the start of training camp, which is scheduled for late July, although no one knows if it will start on time.

"The draft is going to happen and I'm not sure what will transpire between teams and who they'll pick and whether they're waiting on me. But I would still feel comfortable," Jefferson said. "At that point, I'd probably just be close to getting cleared anyways. They would know that they're getting a healthy me and we'll just roll with it that way. I'm not really worried about it. I know my play, and I know what I can do."

Jefferson, who was one of the Ravens' most-respected and well-liked defensive players during his three seasons with the team, continues to speak fondly of the organization. His endorsement of the Ravens to Calais Campbell, who played with Jefferson on the Arizona Cardinals, helped convince the defensive end to agree to a new contract with Baltimore, which was necessary to facilitate the trade between the Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars.

"They know how I felt and I conducted myself in a way to show appreciation to how they conducted themselves to every player, not just the top players," Jefferson said of the Ravens front office and coaching staff. "That's always something I'll cherish for the rest of my playing days and beyond."

Chris Board Excited About Opportunity at Inside Linebacker

With the departure of Josh Bynes and Patrick Onwuasor in free agency, Chris Board is looking forward to capitalizing on an opportunity to make an impact at inside linebacker.

L.J. Fort – a midseason acquisition who signed a two-year contract extension in November – is the lone returning regular at the position. Board and Otaro Alaka are the only other inside linebackers on the roster, although it is widely believed the Ravens will address the position in the draft, perhaps in the first round.

"Every offseason, I really work and make sure I come into camp and OTAs ready to go," Board said on Glenn Clark Radio. "Just knowing that I have an opportunity drives me even harder. Definitely an opportunity and jobs out there to be had, so just looking forward to seeing what'll happen and what'll shake out these next few months. Definitely exciting."

Board, who signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent out of North Dakota State in 2018, had a strong training camp last year and was projected to be a starter before suffering a concussion in the second preseason game. Board saw action in 15 games during the regular season, mostly on special teams.

"Kind of crazy just to see where I'm at, how I've played a role on special teams, it's just crazy because many people didn't think I'd make it this far," Board said. "But I'm definitely hungry and want to prove that I can play and do a lot more than just play special teams."

Quick Hits

  • Pro Football Focus' Anthony Treash says wide receiver prospect Laviska Shenault Jr. is the best-case scenario for the Ravens at No. 28. "The Ravens' offense was clearly a massive headache for opposing defenses last year, and the addition of Laviska Shenault would make the headache continue in 2020," Treash wrote. " … Shenault had a unique usage at Colorado (e.g., screens/jet sweeps, quick hitches and outs) that [Offensive Coordinator] Greg Roman could certainly take advantage of in his offense. ... Injury is causing Shenault to slide, and this could really benefit Baltimore if he falls to them."

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