Armed with five fourth-round picks in the upcoming NFL Draft, General Manager Eric DeCosta probably feels like a panhandler during the gold rush. He's eager to unearth some gems.
This year, there's even more reason to be giddy about the bounty of picks. Peter King of NBC Sports recently spoke to 10 unnamed general managers about next week's draft. One pointed to the Ravens' fourth-round picks as something to watch.
"One of our analytics guys was talking about how Covid made this draft richer," the GM said. "Look at all the picks Baltimore has in the third and fourth rounds. Those picks are absolute gold. They are going to have a great draft. Five years from now, that will be the story to look back on."
DeCosta made headlines during his pre-draft press conference when he said, "my mindset is every guy that we take in the fourth round this year better be playing for us." That puts pressure on the Ravens to nail the fourth round.
But let's not confuse "playing" for "starring." Sure, the Ravens have a fair amount of spots to fill. They don't want any of their picks, including those fourth-rounders, riding the bench. They should find a role, perhaps pushing to start but more likely as quality depth and on special teams as they develop.
However, fans shouldn't expect that this year's crop of fourth-round picks to carry the Ravens in 2022.
This isn't the first time the Ravens had so many fourth-round picks. They also had five in 2016, and at the time, DeCosta said those picks would "make or break" their draft class. They became cornerback Tavon Young, wide receiver Chris Moore, tackle/guard Alex Lewis, defensive tackle Willie Henry and running back Kenneth Dixon.
At first look, the lineup doesn't exactly look like a home run. But that is what the fourth round is: a mix of hits, role players, and picks that didn't work out for various reasons.
Young started 11 games as a rookie and became the NFL's highest-paid slot cornerback after a breakout 2018 season. Injuries derailed him, but that was still an absolute hit.
Moore didn't become an impact offensive threat but was one of the team's best special teams players for multiple years. He's still playing for the Texans. Lewis started 18 games in Baltimore and was a two-year starter with the New York Jets before retiring early following a head injury. Henry didn't pan out and is currently out of the league after bouncing around. Knee injuries brought down Dixon after a promising start.
By the way, in the fifth round that year, the Ravens picked defensive end Matthew Judon, a three-time Pro Bowler. So if we're talking about Day 3 success, the Ravens certainly found it.
Of course, DeCosta is going to shoot for even better fourth-round results this time around. And maybe Baltimore will find it in a richer, deeper draft class.
But really, what you're hoping to get from fourth-round picks is a starter at some point during their rookie contract. If that happens, it's a good pick. By having five tickets, the Ravens have better odds of getting a quality starter or a major impact player such as Judon.
While the Ravens will shoot for a high bar, let's not pretend like this year's fourth-round picks are going to be the stars of the show next season. Like the unnamed general manager said, wait five years and see.