'Offensive Lineman Win Championships, Not Receivers'
The NFL Draft is just hours away -- finally! -- so it's almost time for the guessing to end and the second-guessing to begin. Almost.
While much of the speculation regarding the Ravens' first-round selection (No. 22 overall) has focused on positions such as wide receiver and edge rusher, Ravens fans shouldn't be surprised -- or disappointed -- if the team goes with a less "sexy" pick.
Perhaps just as important as adding a wide receiver to the Lamar Jackson-led, run-heavy offense is bolstering the interior offensive line.
"Lamar's capability to escape the pocket, buy time, and keep his eyes downfield are exceptional. However, if the Ravens get more stout up front at center and left guard, it will only allow for elevated success," Baltimore Beatdown's Spencer Schultz wrote. "The three positions of need that fans and pundits alike mock the Ravens to draft are receivers, interior offensive linemen and edge rushers. Ravens' Nation clamors for receivers because they're flashy. However, it's downright irresponsible to ignore the interior offensive line.
"Offensive linemen win championships, not receivers. I would like to see them double dip to ensure the Ravens have the blockers they need to pound the rock. Everything else can fall in place later. Baltimore needs to address the line Thursday, Friday, and Saturday."
Schultz identified five draft prospects "who can play guard or center from Day One:" Texas A&M center Erik McCoy, North Carolina State center Garrett Bradbury, Oklahoma tackle/guard Cody Ford, Kansas State center/guard/tackle Dalton Risner and Boston College guard Chris Lindstrom.
"Any of these five linemen would ensure that regardless of injury, the Ravens can trot out a formidable offensive line to give Lamar the time to find receivers," Schultz wrote.
McCoy and Bradbury have been linked to the Ravens in multiple mock drafts. In NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah's final mock draft, he has the Ravens selecting Mississippi State center Elgton Jenkins at No. 22 (although Jeremiah remains steadfast in his belief that Baltimore will trade back).
Arkansas interior offensive lineman Hjalte Froholdt has been identified by some pundits as a sleeper pick.
"The Arkansas product is about as mean and ferocious as it gets for an interior offensive lineman," Russell Street Report's John Langley wrote. "With a glaring need on the inside, Froholdt would be a perfect match for the Ravens. Listed at 6'5" and just over 300 pounds, he is an absolute monster on the inside and moves defenders with relative ease. … Froholdt is a player to monitor late Day Two into early Day Three. If the Ravens choose to go a different direction Round One, this is one player to keep a close eye on."
The Ravens haven't taken a true interior offensive lineman in the first three rounds since 2007, when they drafted guard Ben Grubbs in the first round (No. 29 overall) and guard/tackle Marshal Yanda in the third. They've never drafted a center in the first round, and only took one in the first three rounds (Casey Rabach in 2001).
Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta said that's not because they don't value drafting centers early, but rather that college supply hasn't met demand. Typically, there is only one (or zero) centers drafted in the first round each year.
"I think it's a really important position," DeCosta said. "That being said, there is always a very small amount of names on the draft board at that position – top guys – every single year. … Now, this year, it's a little different. I can think of three or four centers in the draft that have a chance to be first-round, second-round picks. So, we'll see."
DeCosta also said that "the guard position is critical."
"We see that as an opportunity for us to improve and there are some really good guards in this draft," he said. "There are probably four or five guards that have a chance to be first- or second-round picks in this draft class."
Can Ravens Afford to Wait on Drafting a Receiver?
With the NFL Draft getting underway tonight, of course I couldn't resist the opportunity to focus on the Ravens' need at wide receiver one last time.
While a number of pundits believe the Ravens won't select a wide receiver at No. 22 because there is depth at the position but a dearth of first-round-worthy prospects, Ebony Bird's Garrett Ferguson thinks the team will go the pass-catcher route in Round One based on what they've done -- or more specifically, not done -- during free agency.
"What was different from this free agency compared to past seasons? The Ravens didn't go bargain shopping for veteran receivers," Ferguson wrote. "Granted, they did sign Seth Roberts, who was cut by the Raiders, but his addition doesn't hold the significance of past players like Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith Sr., Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin, John Brown, and Michael Crabtree. … You would have to go back a few years to find an offseason where the Ravens did so little at the wide receiver position.
"Their wide receiver woes are well-known around the league, and I believe DeCosta will attempt to bury that stigma in his first NFL Draft as the team's general manager. You just have to read between the lines."
Since the Ravens don't have a second-round pick, the question is whether they can wait until the third round to take a wide receiver.
"The expectation is there will be a lengthy run on receivers on Day Two, possibly starting early in the second round," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "If they make their selection at No. 22 overall in the first round, the Ravens aren't due to pick again until 85th overall in the third round. That's essentially the equivalent of two rounds they'll have to wait until they're on the clock again.
"How many receivers will be taken in the 63 spots between the Ravens' first two picks? DeCosta and company will have to make that determination and decide if they can afford to wait until late on Day Two to get the pass catcher they covet.
"The only way the Ravens are guaranteed to get one of the top receivers is if they make that pick at 22, but it isn't clear whether they value any of the pass catchers that highly, and the organization has been reluctant to reach for need in the past. Mississippi's D.K. Metcalf and Oklahoma's Marquise Brown are widely considered the top two receivers in the draft, and they both spent time in Baltimore during the pre-draft process. Yet, there are questions about both."
Jeremiah told Zrebiec that he wouldn't be surprised if the Ravens' first pick was a wide receiver.
"One thing I know about Eric is Eric is extremely competitive," Jeremiah said, "and why I think maybe a lot of people would say, 'It's his first draft, maybe stay away from a position that's given them a little bit of trouble.' I could see Eric saying, 'You know what, let's go ahead and exorcise the demons and let's go get a stud at that position and put that to bed.' But I think when it's all said and done, they end up trading back, and after they traded back, I would not be shocked if their first pick was a wide receiver."
Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz envisioned a dream scenario in which the Ravens did exactly that.
"The Patriots own two second-round picks and would like to replace the retired Rob Gronkowski at tight end," Kasinitz wrote. "So the guess here is that New England jumps up the draft order to take Iowa's Noah Fant by sending its first-round pick [32nd overall] and its earliest second-rounder [No. 56] to Baltimore in exchange for the Ravens' first-rounder and its second of two fourth-rounders [No. 123].
Kasinitz has the Ravens selecting Bradbury at No. 32 and taking Arizona State wide receiver N'Keal Harry at No. 56.
"Harry stands as one of the most ideal fits for the Ravens thanks to his blend of size, speed and ball skills," Kasinitz wrote.
Could Combine Star Defensive Lineman fall to Ravens?
The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shafer pondered whether a falling combine star such as Mississippi State's Montez Sweat or Michigan's Rashan Gary could be the answer to the Ravens' need for a pass rusher.
"Sweat cemented his first-round standing with an impressive showing during Senior Bowl workouts, then vaulted into top-10 consideration when he ran the 40-yard dash faster than all but two of the running backs at the NFL scouting combine," Shafer wrote. "According to multiple reports, however, a heart condition has concerned some teams enough to remove him from their draft board entirely. With a background that's not exactly pristine, either — he transferred from Michigan State after being indefinitely suspended in 2015 — Sweat could plummet into the late teens or even lower."
On Gary, Shafer wrote: "Gary has a labral tear, according to the NFL Network, that could limit him throughout his rookie year but would not require shoulder surgery this offseason. A can't-miss high school recruit who underwhelmed at times for the Wolverines, Gary was another must-see combine performer, running the 40 in 4.58 seconds and posting a vertical jump of 38 inches at 6-4, 277 pounds. But scouts say he attacks the pocket with a limited pass-rushing skill set and can run himself out of plays. Gary's also far from a prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker. If he falls to the Ravens, would they consider lining him up as a defensive end or even over a guard?"