Late for Work 5/3: Pundits See Ben Cleveland Making the Biggest Immediate Impact

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Which Rookie Will Make the Biggest Immediate Impact?

The Athletic asked its beat reporters to predict which newly drafted rookie will make the biggest impact for the team they cover. Jeff Zrebiec believes it will be third-round guard Ben Cleveland.

"It would be easy to say first-round receiver Rashod Bateman, but the Ravens will remain a run-first and run-often team," Zrebiec wrote. "The selection of the massive Cleveland is proof of that. He's expected to start at left guard with Bozeman moving over to center. The Ravens believe that Cleveland, a third-round pick, will solidify an offensive line that's been under construction. If they are able to lead the league in rushing for a third consecutive season, Cleveland is a big reason why."

There aren't many teams where a guard would be considered one of the biggest instant-impact rookies, but it makes sense for the Ravens. They've led the NFL in rushing attempts by a large margin over the past three seasons and have reiterated that it's still the identity of the offense.

As far as finding quality starting offensive linemen in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft, the Ravens have earned the benefit of the doubt. Tyre Phillips (third round), Ben Powers (fourth round), Orlando Brown Jr. Brown (third round), and Bozeman (sixth round), all started games early in their careers.

Cleveland could have a start to his career like Kelechi Osemele, a mauling offensive lineman who Baltimore drafted in the second round in 2012 and ended up starting 16 games in his rookie season.

Of course, Cleveland needs to earn the job. The Ravens have a cluster of young offensive linemen that also includes Phillips, Powers, Ben Bredeson and Patrick Mekari, who could all play guard. At 6-foot-6, 357 pounds, however, Cleveland stands out from the pack.

"He'll be looking to maul his matchups," Sports Illustrated's Todd Karpovich wrote about Cleveland. 

Bateman projects to have a large Year 1 role, but the Ravens also signed veteran Sammy Watkins this offseason and have other young up-and-coming wide receivers.

The team's other first-round pick, Odafe Oweh, will be key part of an outside linebacker rotation and learn from veterans Pernell McPhee and Tyus Bowser as he continues to develop his game. Remember, Oweh is entering just his sixth year of playing football.

"The Ravens took two players, in Rashod Bateman and [Odafe] Oweh, with some boom-or-bust potential," Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer wrote. "To be fair, as we said, this was a very boom-or-bust year in general, considering the circumstances. It'll be fascinating to see how those two wind up doing in a very strong, winning program."

What Was Said (and What Actually Happened) From the Pre-Draft Presser

Previously in Late for Work, we looked at some of the questions General Manager Eric DeCosta could be asked during the Ravens' pre-draft press conference and how he would respond to them.

Now that the draft is over, I thought it would be interesting to go back and dissect some excerpts of what was actually said, and what did (or didn't) happen.

"Is this the type of draft where you see depth at pass rusher? Or is this the kind of draft where you think it's going to be top-heavy in finding a guy?"

What DeCosta Said: "It's a strong draft I think with edge pass rushers across the board, basically, in any round. So, there are certainly some players that we like at the top of the board in the first round [and] second round. But as we look at the depth of the draft, we see really good players at that position – outside linebackers scattered throughout."

What Actually Happened: DeCosta was pretty straightforward with this answer and that showed during the draft. The Ravens selected Oweh in the first round at No. 31. They also added another pass rusher with Daelin Hayes in the fifth round.

Another interesting part of DeCosta's answer to the question was the emphasis on developing pass rushers in the Ravens' defensive scheme. Both Oweh and Hayes were regarded as prospects with tons of upside potential at the NFL level.

"[I]t was important [for Baltimore] to find its next young outside linebacker after Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue left this offseason," ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote. "That's why the Ravens selected an edge-rusher in the first round for the first time since drafting Terrell Suggs in 2003. Every other NFL team had drafted at least one edge-rusher over that span. This should help quiet the narrative that the Ravens value the secondary more than the pass rush."

"You came out and signed Kevin Zeitler early as a big addition. Where are you in the process of upgrading that group? At this point, can you give us an idea of how you see Bradley Bozeman fitting in, in terms of position?"

What DeCosta Said: "I'd say [Bozeman is] in the conversation for both those two spots [left guard and center]. He's proven himself as a starter and we're excited about him. As far as where we're at, we're in the process. We have the Draft, we still have free agent possibilities – that question was asked earlier. And guys are competing. We have guys who will be fighting for those jobs. So, we'll see how all that comes together for us. I'm very confident we're going to have a great offensive line next year."

What Actually Happened: Not long after the press conference, the Ravens traded Orlando Brown Jr. to the Kansas City Chiefs. They drafted Cleveland in the third round. That could move Bozeman, who played center at Alabama, back to his natural position.

"Cleveland, along with the shift of Bozeman to center, the addition of Zeitler and the potential addition of a veteran right tackle, the offensive front should realize the intended boost the Ravens brass promised," Russell Street Report's Tony Lombardi wrote.

"One of the questions I get from fans all the time is for the wide receiver position.… You've been able to draft Pro Bowl players at every single position. What is it about the wide receiver position that you have not been able to do so? Is that something you guys even think about?"

What DeCosta Said: "We have some really good, young receivers. It's insulting to these guys when they hear that we don't have any receivers. It's quite insulting. I'm insulted by it, too, to be honest. I think we have some guys that want to show everybody what they can do. We love our team. We love our roster. We have a lot of really good, young football players who care very badly about it."

What Actually Happened: The Ravens took Bateman with their first pick in the draft. Since taking over as general manager, DeCosta has been aggressive in pursuing the position in the early rounds, and that didn't change over the weekend. He's made a wide receiver his top pick in two of his three drafts.

The Ravens were confident in their young receivers even before selecting Bateman, but this could've been a classic smokescreen for a few wide receiver-needy teams sitting right behind Baltimore in the first round.

"As you look at this Draft in terms of the number of picks that you have, is that where you want to be? Do you want to try to add picks? How do you view that?"

What DeCosta said: "I think we see the opportunity over the next couple of years to probably draft somewhere around 20 players. We like that number. It keeps us young, but also experienced across the roster, and that should give us a chance to compete long-term."

What Actually Happened: The Ravens had seven picks at the time of DeCosta's comments. That quickly changed after the Brown trade when they acquired an additional first-round pick and moved to nine overall.

In terms of draft-day trades, the Ravens only made one when they traded a pick No. 136 (fourth round) and pick No. 210 (sixth round) to the Arizona Cardinals for pick No. 160 (fifth round) and a 2022 fourth-round pick. Baltimore used the fifth-round pick to select cornerback Shaun Wade, and pushed an additional fourth-round pick to next year.

Why It's Too Early to Judge the Orlando Brown Jr. Trade

With the draft concluded, we now have a better idea of the haul for the Brown trade.

It's hard not to be consumed by instant reactions, but The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker says we'll need years to properly evaluate the trade for both sides.

"There's little chance the Ravens improved their 2021 team by trading Brown," Walker wrote. "They used the first-round pick they added on Oweh, who's probably several years from becoming the best version of himself. They will probably turn to free agency to sign a starting right tackle who isn't as good as the one they had.

"... Yes, 2020 performance will be part of evaluating the trade, but we need to see what Oweh becomes. We need to see whether Brown signs a long-term deal with the Chiefs and becomes a franchise left tackle. We need to see what the Ravens get from the draft depth they added this year and next."

Aside from Brown, none of the other players in this trade have even stepped foot onto an NFL field. You also have to factor in future draft selections. The Ravens still have a 2022 fifth-round pick to make from this trade. The same can be said for the Chiefs, who still have a 2022 sixth-round pick.

"DeCosta did his best to wring future value from a present problem," Walker added. "Given the seeming inevitability of losing Brown after the 2021 season, he made the right kind of trade. Some fans found the deal unpalatable because it helped the Chiefs, a major AFC rival, but that's using short-term thinking to judge a long-term decision."

Quick Hits

  • CBS Sports' Cody Benjamin named the Ravens as one of his draft winners.
  • "The Ravens' roster-building effort isn't done, but Bateman (selected No. 27 overall) and the uber-toolsy Oweh (No. 31) are currently slated for big roles at receiver and pass rusher, respectively," NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal wrote.
  • "[Ben] Mason is an intriguing player, but was probably drafted a bit high (184th overall) and went to a team that already has a Pro Bowl version of him on the roster," CBS Sports' Jordan Dajani wrote. "Don't get me wrong, I like the player, but it will be interesting to see what John Harbaugh's plan is for him."

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