No Better Landing Spot for Ben Cleveland and Brandon Stephens
For the second day in a row, the Ravens stayed put and filled positions of need with players they loved. Late Friday night, near the end of the third round, Baltimore landed Georgia guard Ben Cleveland at No. 94 and SMU cornerback Brandon Stephens at No. 104.
Just as important as the prospect is the fit, and pundits believe there might not be a better landing spot for both players.
"Perfect landing spot for [Cleveland]," Bleacher Report's Connor Rodgers said. "For Baltimore, just stacking the deck on your offensive line now. … Left guard makes sense. He could start right away, let's make that clear. He really, really, beat up on people in the run game. That's what jumped out to me.
"Total Ravens pick. … I think he'll be an eight-year starter at guard. I think he's a great run blocker. This is the kind of value they hit on every year in the third round of the draft over, and over again."
"If there was going to be a team that takes an offensive lineman nicknamed 'Big Country,' it would be the one with the NFL's most dominating ground attack," ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote.
The Ravens have made a commitment to improving the passing attack this offseason, but the run game remains the identity of the offense. That's where pundits believe Cleveland can make the biggest impact.
"Cleveland isn't the most fluid athlete, but he will push back defenders for Lamar Jackson, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards," Hensley wrote. "He's also an effective pass-blocker, allowing one sack and three quarterback pressures in 741 pass-blocking snaps, according to Pro Football Focus."
"The Ravens love big interior offensive linemen for their running game and Cleveland fits that profile," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "They also pull their left guard a lot, so it will be interesting to see whether they believe Cleveland is suited for that role."
With three of the Ravens' top needs addressed (wide receiver, pass rusher, interior offensive line), the Ravens turned to one of their secondary needs (no pun intended) with a defensive back. Stephens, who spent the beginning of his collegiate career as a running back, now has the chance to develop with one of the most talented cornerback groups in the NFL.
"I know very little about Stephens and he was projected to go much later by many analysts," Russell Street Report's Chad Racine wrote. "This year is unlike any others so big boards are vastly different. This tells me the Ravens have conviction in this player and probably know a lot more about him than other teams. With his size he would probably be a better fit at safety and in fact DeCosta said they expect him to be a free safety. Another versatile chess piece for Wink Martindale and I think he may see some snaps as a dime back this season. Being so new at the position he has a lot of room to grow."
"Stephens … has the athleticism to excel in coverage at the professional level," Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski wrote. "At the same time, he'll need plenty of coaching up in the coming years. That's OK. The Ravens aren't in a rush for him to be anything more than a rotational defensive back with Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters already settled at outside corner."
No Tackle, No Problem?
After trading Orlando Brown Jr., many thought the Ravens would use one of their Day One or Day Two picks to find his replacement.
"Even before Brown was traded, the Ravens had needed to come out of the draft with a lineman who could play either tackle position; Brown had made clear that his long-term future wasn't in Baltimore," The Baltimore Sun's Daniel Oyefusi wrote before the draft. "Friday's deal speeds up that timeline and launches the position to the forefront of the team's needs."
It's been the biggest surprise so far for the Ravens, but there's a belief that Baltimore will address the position in free agency or use a player already on the roster.
The Ravens passed on tackles such as Oklahoma State's Teven Jenkins and Notre Dame's Liam Eichenberg in the first round knowing they wouldn't be on the board by the time they picked in the third round.
Northern Iowa right tackle Spencer Brown could have been the guy, but he was selected by the Buffalo Bills one spot ahead of the Ravens at pick No. 93. However, judging by the Ravens' reaction to picking Cleveland, and the fact that Head Coach John Harbaugh wanted General Manager Eric DeCosta to trade up to get him, it sure seems they preferred the big-bodied guard to a converted tackle.
The Ravens have Tyre Phillips, who rotated between right guard and right tackle as a rookie. They also reportedly brought in veteran tackles Alejandro Villanueva and Dennis Kelly for visits late last month.
Despite not having an obvious replacement for Brown, NFL.com's Jeffri Chadiha said the trade is already paying off for the Ravens.
"A team that desperately needs to improve its passing attack landed one of the best receivers in the draft when it selected Minnesota's Rashod Bateman with the 27th-overall pick," Chadiha wrote. "Baltimore followed that move by using the 31st-overall selection, which formerly belonged to Kansas City, to take Penn State outside linebacker Odafe Oweh. The acquisition of the 6-foot-5, 257-pounder is huge because he brings tremendous speed to the position despite still being raw (he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds at his pro day). The Ravens love to deploy athletic, versatile defenders in their blitz-heavy scheme, so they'll find a spot for Oweh, especially after losing Pro Bowler Matt Judon in free agency."
More Solid Draft Grades After Day Two
The Ravens received high praise from pundits after the first round, and more solid grades rolled in on Saturday night.
Here are some snippets of what was said.
NFL.com's Chad Reuter: "Grade: A. The Ravens gave up their second-round pick in the trade for Orlando Brown. Baltimore has yet to draft a right tackle to replace Brown, which might portend Tyre Phillips playing the position next season, as he did late last season. Cleveland is a great value in the third round (using one of the picks acquired in the Brown trade) as a typical Ravens mauler who has very good mobility for his size."
CBS Sports' Chris Trapasso: Grades: B- (Cleveland); B+ (Stephens). "Mountain from Game of Thrones on a football field. Masher. Good hand work. Just stiff laterally. Very much a Ravens type pick."
"Athletic outside cornerback with big-time hops to challenge at the catch point on a route basis. A little raw with his mirroring but has the athletic traits and speed to develop into a quality corner."
The Athletic's Sheil Kapadia: Grades: B (Cleveland); B- (Stephens). "Cleveland started 25 games at right guard for the Bulldogs and was a first-team All-SEC selection last year. He wasn't going to be a fit for every NFL scheme but is a nice option for the Ravens' run-heavy attack.
"Stephens produced 23 passes defended and an interception in 23 starts. He'll be an interesting developmental prospect for the Ravens."
Jacoby Jones Never Stops Entertaining
One of the best parts of Day 2 and Day 3 of the draft is how the NFL incorporates former players into announcing their team's selections.
In comes Jacoby Jones, who wasted no time garnering some boos from the Cleveland crowd.
"Hey, look, let me tell y'all something: Y'all can boo all you want, but you got to accept it: I got a ring," Jones said. "I got a ring. I got a ring. It is what it is."
What to Watch for on Day 3
The Ravens won't have to wait as long to make their first pick today when Day 3 kicks off at noon, but there's still plenty of ammo to work with. They own two picks in the fourth round (No. 131 and No. 136), two picks in the fifth round (No. 171 and No. 184), and one pick in the sixth round (No. 210).
You could say rounds four through seven are the Ravens' bread and butter. They have a reputation for finding quality starters late in the draft. Not to mention, undrafted rookies always come into play.
The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shafer and Daniel Oyefusi said the top needs remaining for the Ravens are at offensive tackle, safety, defensive line, tight end, and special teams.
Trades are always a possibility, but when asked, DeCosta seemed happy with the Ravens' draft capital.
"If the situation presents itself, we'll look at it," DeCosta said. "But to have those picks tomorrow is a really good thing."
Potential targets that Shaffer, Oyefusi, and Zrebiec highlighted include Missouri safety Tyree Gillespie, Miami tight end Brevin Jordan, Cincinnati tackle James Hudson, Alabama defensive tackle Jonathan Marshall, Maryland running back Jake Funk, Florida tackle Stone Forsythe, and Michigan State cornerback Shakur Brown.
- Squirrels and football, that's what Ben Cleveland does.