Late for Work 4/14: Don't Count Out 'Best Player Available' In the First Round 

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Tulsa LB Zaven Collins

What Could 'Best Player Available' Look Like?

By now, the Ravens' draft needs have been well documented, but there's no consensus among pundits on what direction they'll go with the 27th-overall pick (if they even pick there).

"We know General Manager Eric DeCosta has always preached 'best player available'" The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker wrote. "With so much activity set to unfold before the Ravens pick at No. 27 overall, we can't say with any certainty they'll pick a wide receiver over an edge rusher or a future starting tackle over either one."

The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer looked at prospects the Ravens could target in the early to middle rounds of the draft as the best players available. In this instance, we're focused on the first round.

After taking Patrick Queen in the first round last year, Shaffer highlighted Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins as a surprise pick Baltimore could make.

"The Ravens took Queen in the first round a year ago," Shaffer wrote. "They re-signed fellow starter L.J. Fort this month. They're well stocked with young up-and-comers, including 2019 third-round pick Malik Harrison. Ignoring their deficiencies on defense to take another inside linebacker in the first round would be bold.

"Unless, maybe, Collins is still on the board. If Queen is lightning, the 6-foot-5, 259-pound Collins is rolling thunder, another freakish force that can hit from anywhere. In just eight games last season, he had four interceptions, returning two for touchdowns. In just 51 pass-rush snaps, he had four sacks. While Collins has said he feels most comfortable as an off-ball linebacker, his size and jack-of-all-trades skill set would make him a fascinating chess piece in a defense as creative as Don 'Wink' Martindale's."

Even with pressing needs, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Ravens load up on a position that's not a top-tier need, if the right player is available. Remember when they selected Marlon Humphrey in the first round in 2017 after signing Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr in the same offseason?

"The Ravens selection was a surprise to many pundits who thought the Ravens would go to a more prominent need," Ebony Bird's Chris Schisler wrote. "The Ravens weren't focused on their most pressing need. They loved Humphrey and he ended up becoming a cornerstone to everything the team was doing.

"The Ravens technically didn't need J.K. Dobbins when they selected him in the second round last year. Is anybody complaining about the pick? No."

While Schisler believes the Ravens should have urgency to attack their needs early in the draft, their current roster construction doesn't mean they have to be locked into a certain prospect.

"The more a team has figured out the more they can look for a game-changer," Schisler wrote. "The Ravens aren't looking to fill a lot of blank spaces on the depth chart. They're looking for a player they can't pass up."

Draft Trade Proposal Sends Ravens Up in First Round

We've already seen some big trades leading up to the draft, but could there be more?

Bleacher Report's Kristopher Knox put together seven of the most plausible draft-day trades that could happen later this month.

Among them is a trade between the Ravens and Minnesota Vikings that would send Orlando Brown Jr. and the 27th-overall pick to Minnesota in exchange for the 14th-overall pick, pick No. 125, and a 2022 second-round pick.

"While the Ravens have not yet pulled the trigger on a deal, they have allowed Brown to gauge interest on the open market," Knox wrote. "Brown's value could be at its highest over draft weekend, which would be especially true if an early run on tackle prospects leaves teams near the bottom of Round 1 wanting."

Since NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported in March that six teams have shown interest in Brown, there hasn't been much buzz around a potential trade. Brown still has one year left on his rookie deal, and pundits have said there's a possibility he remains with the Ravens for the 2021 season.

"The Ravens maintain that there is no deadline for a decision on trading Brown," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "However, a call on his status will presumably be made before next month's draft."

For the sake of this scenario, Knox sees the Vikings as a suitor for Brown after losing tackle Riley Reiff in free agency. Swapping first-round picks would land them one of the league's premier young tackles.

"While Minnesota may not be willing to part with the 14th overall selection outright, it could consider swapping first-rounders with Baltimore and including other picks in the deal – the Vikings don't possess a second-round selection in 2021," Knox wrote. "... The Vikings and Ravens also have trade history, the most recent involving pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue. The two franchises also exchanged picks on Day 3 of the 2020 NFL draft."

The Ravens would move up to the front half of the first round, a spot Knox believes could be used to address wide receiver. Depending on how things play out, Baltimore could be in line for a dynamic pass catcher.

"Such a move could allow the Ravens to target one of this year's top wide receiver prospects," Knox wrote. "The Ravens have lacked a legitimate No. 1 receiver for several years and could look to address the issue now."

Marcellus Wiley: Ravens Are Still AFC North Favorites

An NFL-best three AFC North teams made the postseason last year and it's expected to be one of the most competitive divisions again.

The Ravens are odds-on favorites to win the division title, and FS1's Marcellus Wiley is confident that'll be the case.

"It's simple for me," Wiley said. "When you look at the AFC North, are you going to bet on the Cleveland Browns and their ascension? It sounds good, except there's question marks in terms of Baker Mayfield's consistency. Pittsburgh Steelers come to mind. … That fast start, 11-0, but they faltered down the stretch. … There's another team in that division but they're too low … point being not yet.

"[The Ravens are] primed for this moment. We're hoping for the evolution of their passing game. … If the pass offense can catch up to this run offense with the defense they possess, it's the favorites."

The Ravens caught their stride late last season, battling injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak. They finished just one game behind the Steelers at 11-5.

Interestingly enough, Sportsline.com's projection model has the Browns' playoff chances decreasing more than any team with the addition of a 17th regular-season game.

"The Browns haven't won a division title since 1989, and it will be tough to capture the AFC North in 2021 with the Ravens still loaded," Sports Line's Matt Severance wrote. "They are +110 division favorites with Cleveland second at +180. While the Bengals (+2000) should be much better with a healthy Joe Burrow and a Top-5 draft pick, Pittsburgh (+340) could be on the way down."

No Love for 2018 Draft Class?

Pro Football Focus' Mike Renner was asked to rank the top five draft classes since 2015, and some fans took exception to a certain team missing on the list.

Entering their fourth season, the Ravens' 2018 class – Ozzie Newsome's final as general manager – has arguably been one of the franchise's most impactful.

"Lamar Jackson, Mark Andrews, Orlando Brown Jr. Enough said right?" Schisler wrote. "When the Ravens drafted Jackson they probably didn't think he was going to take over and transform the franchise as quickly as he did. Joe Flacco got hurt a little past the halfway point and Jackson was ready. The Ravens went on a roll and ended up winning the AFC North in comeback fashion."

Jackson, Andrews, and Brown were rookie impact players for the Ravens, while Bozeman became a starter in his second season. DeShon Elliott can now be included in that group after starting 16 games at safety last season. Anthony Averett has stepped up at corner when needed.

Even players from the class who still aren't with the Ravens show how good it was.

Hayden Hurst, who was traded to the Atlanta Falcons for a second-round pick last offseason, is one of the league's top young tight ends. Seventh-round pick Zach Sieler signed a three-year contract extension with the Miami Dolphins last November.

"You can't leave out Hurst from this conversation, especially because he was traded for the pick that ended up being Dobbins," Schisler added. "Hurst had two solid seasons for the Ravens.

"... The Ravens traded Kenny Young in 2019 for Marcus Peters. That may not quite give you the instant impact grade booster, but it's like the cherry on top of a sundae (It doesn't hurt)."

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