Every draft has its strengths and weaknesses.
Last year, defense dominated and cornerback was specifically strong. The Ravens jumped into the mix, grabbing cornerback Marlon Humphrey in the first round and taking defenders with their first four picks.
This year, it’s a little more balanced, and the Ravens are happy with the crop overall.
“It’s a good draft, to sum it up. It’s a good draft in terms of depth,” Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz said.
So what are the positions of strength and weakness this year?
Hortiz pointed to cornerback – once again – and running back as the strongest.
“Cornerback is the cornerback of this year’s draft. It’s good. I would say maybe not quite as good on the very top end, but it is, it’s very good,” Hortiz said.
Last year’s NFL Draft had six cornerbacks taken in the first 33 picks. New Orleans’ Marshon Lattimore, Humphrey, Tennessee’s Adoree’ Jackson and Buffalo’s Tre’Davious White all had spectacular rookie seasons. Lattimore was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
This year’s class doesn’t have as many projected top corners. Generally speaking, Ohio State’s Denzel Ward, Central Florida’s Mike Hughes and Iowa’s Josh Jackson are mentioned as first rounders by pundits at this point.
The Ravens aren’t looking for a first-round cornerback as much as last year, but they still strongly believe they can’t have enough of them. Thus, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them draft one at some point, especially given the group’s strength.
Hortiz’s other position of strength is running back, where Penn State’s Saquon Barkley leads the class. LSU’s Derrius Guice is also seen by many analysts as a first-round pick.
“It’s funny to see,” Hortiz said. “The game has changed so much at all levels in terms of being much more passing and wide open and spread-type offenses, but if you think about the running backs that have come out the past couple years, it’s amazing.
“As wide open as the game has become, I can’t remember four consecutive top running backs that have been so impressive with [Todd] Gurley, then Zeke [Elliott], then Leonard [Fournette], now Barkley is everyone’s consensus No. 1. That’s a heck of a run. It’s unbelievable.”
Last year, Fournette, Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey, Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook (second round), New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara (third round), and Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt (third round) were all instant impact players for their teams.
“It’s great to see, as much as we’ve opened up the game at all levels, that we’re still kicking out some good running backs,” Hortiz said.
Hortiz’s positions of relative weakness are safety and outside linebacker. In both cases, the Ravens are already well-stocked at the position.
“Safety is probably not as deep as it was last year, not by much, but not quite as deep. Now the top safeties are up there,” Hortiz said.
Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick will be a top-10 pick and Florida State’s Derwin James is also expected to be a mid-first-round pick. The Ravens grabbed Chuck Clark out of Virginia Tech in the sixth round last year and were quite happy with his rookie season.
“Outside linebacker is maybe a little thinner than years past, but not by much,” Hortiz said. “That’s a position that’s always hard to fill up, tremendously.”
Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds and Boston College’s Harold Landry may be the only first-round outside linebackers. The Ravens drafted Tyus Bowser in the second round and Tim Williams in the third last year, and have other young pass rushers in Matthew Judon and Za’Darius Smith.