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Mailbag: Will the Ravens Draft Best Player Available or Focus on Biggest Needs?

Arizona offensive lineman Jordan Morgan (77) in the first half during an NCAA college football game against Arizona State, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023, in Tempe, Ariz.
Arizona offensive lineman Jordan Morgan (77) in the first half during an NCAA college football game against Arizona State, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023, in Tempe, Ariz.

Brown: I think the Ravens are focused on three positions at No. 30 and will select their highest-ranked player from that group. It will be either an offensive tackle (Amarius Mims, Tyler Guyton, Jordan Morgan), edge rusher (Darius Robinson, Laiatu Latu, Chop Robinson), or cornerback (Nate Wiggins, Cooper DeJean, Max Melton, Kool-Aid McKinstry).

If they have a wide receiver or defensive lineman ranked highest who's still available, the decision could become more difficult. But I think drafting a tackle, edge rusher, or corner at No. 30 is the best move for Baltimore this year. It's a deep receiver draft and Baltimore can still find quality targets on Day 2 or 3.

The Ravens are known for sticking to "best player available" and have enjoyed great success. They didn't need a safety in 2022, but stayed true to their board and took Kyle Hamilton when he slid to No. 14. Two years later, Hamilton is an All-Pro and the Ravens got a steal.

However, need also factors into the Ravens' draft decisions. They have a two-time MVP in Lamar Jackson, so they're not looking to draft a quarterback in Round 1, even if they think highly of that player. I think the Ravens will target the three positions I've mentioned and draft a rookie who can help them immediately.

Brown: Jadeveon Clowney had a superb year in 2023, equaling his career high with 9.5 sacks, and having arguably his best NFL season.

However, re-signing Kyle Van Noy to a two-year contract was a huge offseason win for Baltimore. Van Noy's return will help anchor the outside linebacker group. Meanwhile, Clowney's departure presents a golden opportunity for young outside linebackers Odafe Oweh, David Ojabo and Tavius Robinson to have much more impact.

Oweh (5.0 sacks, 23 tackles, 12 quarterback hits) made strides last season and is still an ascending player. This is a key season for Ojabo, a talented player who has been limited to five games during his two seasons due to injuries. At the NFL owners meetings, Head Coach John Harbaugh said he is looking for Ojabo to have a "breakout season."

Baltimore is returning a group of players who accounted for 47 of their 60 sacks last year, and add another pass rusher via the draft or free agency. Even without Clowney, I think Baltimore has enough talent to remain one of the NFL's top defensive teams with a potent pass rush.

Downing: Some people online have tried to draw conclusions about Jackson slimming down based on video of him at voluntary offseason workouts this week. Here's my take on that discussion. First of all, don't draw too many conclusions from a video of Jackson walking into the team facility. This happens every year for different players. Fans and media haven't seen players for the last few months, so everyone is curious to see how the players look when they return for workouts. This naturally leads to overreactions about who's in shape, who isn't and what that means for the upcoming season. Videos or photos can be deceiving, and beyond that, we have a long way to go between now and the start of the season. Some players back off their conditioning or weight training during the offseason months. We don't know if Jackson actually has slimmed down. If he has, we don't know if that's his plan going into this season or just part of the offseason process for him. This will probably be a topic when Jackson addresses the media at some point during the offseason program, but until then, I'm not going to make a big deal out of it.

Downing: Ojabo and Andrew Vorhees are both healthy, according to Harbaugh. Vorhees suffered his knee injury at the combine more than a year ago, and Ojabo underwent knee surgery in November to repair a partially torn ACL. They have both been working behind-the-scenes at the Under Armour Performance Center to get themselves ready for the big opportunities they have in front of them this year. Harbaugh told reporters at league meetings that he believes Ojabo is going to break out this year, and that he's "ready to roll."

With running back Keaton Mitchell, the timetable is a bit murkier. General Manager Eric DeCosta told reporters last month that Mitchell is "on path to come back at some point this season." Mitchell had a major knee injury, which occurred on mid-December. Every player's recovery timeline is different, but using J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards as examples, they both were sidelined for more than a year before returning to game action. The Ravens hope for a quicker recovery from Mitchell, but rather than focusing on the return date, the top priority is Mitchell getting fully healthy for when he does get back on the field.

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