Late for Work 4/15: Mel Kiper Sticks With First-Round Linebacker for Ravens

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LSU linebacker Patrick McQueen celebrates after a sack.

Mel Kiper Keys in on First-Round Linebacker

Mock drafts are filled with variance, and we've exhausted just about every possible player the Ravens could target with the 28th-overall pick.

However, ESPN's Mel Kiper has stayed consistent with his pick for the Ravens. In all four mock drafts, including his fourth released yesterday, it's been LSU linebacker Patrick Queen.

"The Ravens lost a few defensive linemen this offseason, but they upgraded by trading for Calais Campbell and signing Derek Wolfe," Kiper wrote. "What they haven't replaced, however, is inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, who left the team in free agency last year and whose absence was felt throughout the 2019 season. Queen, a run-and-hit linebacker with stellar instincts, could fill that void. With Marshal Yanda retiring, guard is another option here."

Queen was the best available linebacker after Oklahoma's Kenneth Murray went to the Jacksonville Jaguars at 20 in Kiper's mock. Even after General Manager Eric DeCosta acknowledged that the Ravens could wait to take a linebacker, Kiper sees Queen as the best fit.

NFL.com's Chad Reuter and Lance Zierlein agree. The pair ranked Queen as the ideal fit for the Ravens in the first round.

But as Baltimore Beatdown's Jakob Ashlin noted, most mock drafts have Murray and Queen off the board by the time the Ravens pick. The question remains if Baltimore will have a shot at either.

"Queen fills the Ravens void at inside linebacker," Ashlin wrote. "He is extremely athletic, but he is still relatively raw. He also comes with a few question marks. He only started one season at LSU and needs to become a more consistent tackler. Regardless, he still has one of the highest ceiling's among linebackers in the class."

Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz, like many pundits, still ranks inside linebacker as the Ravens' biggest need heading into the draft on April 23.

"The Ravens have three inside linebackers on the roster and none have played more than 35 percent of a team's defensive snaps for a season," Kasinitz wrote. "One, Otaro Alaka, hasn't appeared in any NFL game. L.J. Fort's the only member of last year's three-man rotation who remains on the roster, and even if the Ravens plan to scoot safeties up into the box regularly, they'd struggle to get by without adding a little more help for Fort. The value of inside linebackers has shrunk in the modern NFL, and Baltimore can get creative to make do without a wealth of talent at that spot. But if we're defining positional need as the necessity to address an area of the roster, inside linebacker has to top the list."

The rest of Kiper's two-round mock had the Ravens addressing more of their top needs. They landed TCU wide receiver Jalen Reagor at No. 55 and Temple center Matt Hennessy at No. 60.

Reagor is a particularly intriguing wide receiver target who Kiper thinks could pair well alongside Marquise "Hollywood" Brown.

"Reagor was a touchdown waiting to happen in the Big 12, but he was let down by poor quarterback play last season, and he had too many drops in 2018," Kiper wrote. "Still, I have a second-round grade on him because of his athleticism and ability after the catch. The Ravens have one diminutive speedster in Brown, but Reagor could provide some pop in the passing and return game in 2020."

'Optimal Strategy' for Ravens Is Trading Back

Yesterday we talked about how the Ravens' activity could drive the landscape of the draft.

One of the options could be trading out of 28, and NFL.com's Cynthia Frelund believes it would be the "optimal strategy."

"I don't anticipate the Ravens picking here," Frelund told 105.7 the Fan's Jason La Canfora and Ken Weinman. "I think they trade back, because you're in really good shape overall. I do think it's probably more likely now, especially without Michael Brockers, that the linebacker position will be addressed.

"The optimal strategy for the Ravens is to trade down a bit, get some more equity maybe in the second round, and then take a linebacker where the drop off isn't so significant, or a wide receiver the second sort of crop after the four or five we've heard the most about. … To me it's, focus on the second round, get two or three players in the second, third round that you really think are high quality, starter-caliber, and you can still save the equity from your first-round pick."

Frelund's analytics-based mock, that didn't include trades, had the Ravens selecting Georgia running back D'Andre Swift at 28, but she views trading back as a strong possibility in a deep draft.

The Ravens already have six picks between the second and fourth rounds. When it comes to trading up in the first round, DeCosta called it "risky" and "dangerous."

"Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don't make," DeCosta said. "We just assess case by case and see what we can do."

Trading up in the first round really hasn't been the Ravens' mantra anyway. They traded back twice in the first round in 2018 to select Hayden Hurst and to acquire the ammunition to move back into the first round for Jackson. They also traded back three picks to acquire Brown last year.

"Though much of his professional life has revolved around scouting prospects, DeCosta is willing to concede that an element of luck exists in the draft," Kasinitz wrote. "Research supports such a claim, and DeCosta knows a larger haul of picks equates to better odds of striking gold.

"Baltimore has put that philosophy into action in recent offseasons. The NFL draft is just seven rounds, but the Ravens have made at least eight selections in eight of the past nine years."

David Carr: Lamar Can Replicate MVP Season

Lamar Jackson opened the 2019 season far down the odds list to win NFL MVP. What happened next etched him into the history books.

Now the question becomes, can Jackson replicate his success?

"Not only can he replicate it, I think he can go out there and do it again, and again, and again, just because of the fact that there is no answer for this," Carr said. "... When you utilize the running back and the quarterback in the run game, it's just a different level of pressure you can put on the defense. With the way he threw the ball last year, it's only going to get better as he gets more confident in what [the Ravens] are doing with Greg Roman's system.

"Roman is going to come in with some new wrinkles. I've known that guy for 15 years. He's always trying to think of different ways to get the quarterback the ball. … The other thing is, you don't really have a lot of time to prep."

It's crazy to think Jackson is entering just his third season at 23 years old. That's younger than this year's presumptive No. 1 pick Joe Burrow, and there's still plenty of room for improvement for the reigning MVP.

With the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, a virtual offseason could allow less time for opposing teams to prepare against Jackson. Like we've seen, it's one thing to prepare against him, and another thing to stop him in real time.

Jackson currently sits behind Patrick Mahomes as the odds-on favorite to win the award this season at +600.

Brown Lands With Dolphins in 2019 Re-Draft

"Hollywood" Brown began his NFL career in dynamic fashion with 147 yards and two touchdowns Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins.

Ironically enough, that's who Bleacher Report's Kristopher Knox has Miami selecting in his 2019 re-draft. Miami originally had taken Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins at No. 13.

"While Wilkins was a fine rookie addition for Miami, in the redraft, the Dolphins take a receiver who can maximize the impact of Herbert's huge arm. They take Brown," Knox wrote. "Brown, who caught 46 passes for 584 yards and seven scores as a rookie, is a burner who could stretch the field for Miami and take advantage of the coverage commanded by DeVante Parker. This would help ensure that Miami's next quarterback is set up for success."

Brown was the third receiver taken in Knox's draft behind DK Metcalf and A.J. Brown. He led all Ravens receivers in yards as a rookie and developed into a dynamic playmaker as the season progressed.

With Brown off the board, Knox still had the Ravens taking a wide receiver – Kansas City Chiefs speedster Mecole Hardman.

"Hardman possesses legitimate 4.33 speed, and he showed it as a rookie with the Kansas City Chiefs," Knox wrote. "He caught 26 passes for 538 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie, averaging 20.7 yards per reception. Hardman averaged a full eight yards per reception more in 2019 than what Brown averaged."

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