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Late for Work 4/18: Is a First-Round Wide Receiver a Ravens Smokescreen?

Boston College wide receiver Zay Flowers (4) catches a pass against Wake Forest during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Winston-Salem, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Boston College wide receiver Zay Flowers (4) catches a pass against Wake Forest during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Winston-Salem, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Ravens Appear Higher on Wide Receiver Class Than Other Teams

Discussion surrounding this year's wide receiver class and the Ravens has been palpable. Ravens decision-makers have said they like this year's receiver class and will draft one, potentially in the first round.

But is this a smokescreen?

According to Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Nagy, this wide receiver class isn't gaining the buzz of past years.

However, others believe the Ravens' affinity for some of the pass catching talent isn't a trick, including The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec.

"Ravens officials love throwing up smokescreens before the draft. [General Manager Eric] DeCosta, in particular, seems to get great enjoyment out of the guessing game the media annually plays this time of year. So perhaps all the praise of this year's receiver class emanating from the mouths of team officials should be taken with a grain of salt," Zrebiec wrote.

"The Ravens' decision-makers, though, certainly understand what a hot-button topic the wide receiver position is — and has been — in Baltimore. The Ravens haven't sent a wide receiver to the Pro Bowl in franchise history. … That's why it seems unlikely that DeCosta and company would talk up the receiver class and not pull from it for a second straight year. [Head Coach John] Harbaugh vowed at the recent NFL owners meetings that the Ravens would be taking at least one receiver. That was before the agreement with [Odell] Beckham."

The Athletic's Dane Brugler has a similar hunch, as his latest mock draft has the Ravens taking wide receiver Zay Flowers and explains the Ravens' interest in the Boston College star is the driving force for the selection.

"The Ravens gave Odell Beckham a lot of money, but that doesn't take wide receiver off the table at 22," Brugler wrote. "Baltimore has a high grade on Flowers and shouldn't have trouble finding a use for his versatile receiving skill set alongside Beckham, Rashod Bateman and Nelson Agholor."

Now, it's all down to whether the Ravens are tricking the masses, bluffing their interest in the top-tier names, or if they're wanting one in the first round. They could perhaps trade back and get a wideout too. Of course, it all boils down to how the draft falls, and which receivers are available at their five picks.

Ravens Draft Needs Include the Trenches

With the draft next week, The Baltimore Banner’s Jonas Shaffer gave a final listing of the Ravens' draft needs and their current situation.

"The good news for the Ravens is that their roster, a month into free agency, doesn't have a lot of glaring, red-alert needs. The bad news: They don't have a lot of draft picks, either," Shaffer wrote.

The top two needs have been the same across the media landscape, noting cornerback and wide receiver as their biggest not. But Shaffer notes to "not overlook the lines," citing interior offensive line, outside linebacker and defensive line as their next areas to need.

Interior offensive line

"Ben Powers' departure in free agency leaves the Ravens in search of a new left guard, and it's unclear whether they have a suitable replacement lined up," Shaffer wrote. "Cleveland hasn't played much over his first two years in Baltimore. John Simpson struggled over his three seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders. Patrick Mekari might be more durable and reliable as a swing tackle. With Kevin Zeitler entering the final year of his contract, the Ravens have to consider their future at right guard, too."

Outside linebacker

"The Ravens have good pedigree here. Bowser, a former second-round pick, should look more like he did in a breakout 2021 before a torn Achilles tendon cut into his 2022 season," Shaffer wrote. "Odafe Oweh, a 2021 first-round pick, won't have a shoulder injury hampering him this offseason, as he did last year. And David Ojabo, a first-round talent who fell to the second round last year because of a torn Achilles, should have a normal preseason. Now, though, the Ravens need production. Justin Houston, who led the team with 9 1/2 sacks last season, remains unsigned."

Defensive line

"Even with Calais Campbell's departure, the Ravens' defensive front should be one of the team's strongest units in 2023," Shaffer wrote. "It still needs an injection of youth this offseason, if only as a hedge against what might happen next offseason. Pierce is signed through 2024 but has been injury-plagued. Madubuike and Washington are both set to hit free agency next offseason, and both could play themselves out of the Ravens' price range. Brent Urban's on a one-year deal. Only Travis Jones has a near-certain future in Baltimore beyond this season."

3 Edge Prospects the Ravens Could Show Interest In

With outside linebacker being labeled an area of need for the Ravens, The Baltimore Sun’s C.J. Doon gave a look at three prospects who could be available in the early, middle and late rounds.

Myles Murphy, Clemson

"The Ravens have bigger needs to fill in the first round, but sticking to their "best player available" philosophy might lead to a surprise selection," Doon wrote. "The 6-foot-5, 268-pound Murphy checks all the boxes when it comes to physical tools… He's drawn comparisons to former Georgia edge defender Travon Walker, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 draft, for his rare combination of size and athleticism."

Murphy, according to PFF’s Jonathon Macri, is the second-best pass rush prospect.

"Clemson's Myles Murphy coming off the board as the No. 2 edge defender would certainly surprise many," Macri wrote. "However, for teams looking for the next best NFL-ready edge rusher who can make a significant impact in an every-down capacity, Murphy is well-deserving of top-10 capital and being the second edge defender off the board."

Though there is such high praise for Murphy, some consider him raw and needing development, which is why a player being harkened as the second-best edge rusher in the draft could fall to the Ravens at No. 22.

YaYa Diaby, Louisville

"He's transformed his body since high school, reportedly adding 50 pounds (from 210 to 260) over his two seasons at Georgia Military College before arriving at Louisville in 2020," Doon wrote. "That added muscle helped him put together a breakout 2022 season in which he recorded 14 tackles for loss and nine sacks to earn third-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors. That included an elite pass-rush win rate, with Diaby beating his blocker in 2.5 seconds or less on 16.1% of his 279 pass-rushing snaps, according to PFF."

Doon notes that Diaby does have question marks surrounding his reliance on athleticism, which is why he's considered a Day 2 prospect.

"Despite his limitations, Diaby's physical profile and standout 2022 season make him an intriguing possibility on Day 2," Doon wrote.

Durrell Johnson, Liberty

"The 6-3, 251-pound Baltimore native is undersized and 24 years old, but his college stats are undeniable," Doon wrote. "Johnson recorded 8 1/2 sacks and a team-leading 11 1/2 tackles for loss in his first season at Liberty in 2020, and though his production fell off the following year as he missed four games with a meniscus injury, he bounced back in 2022 with nine sacks and a nation-leading 27 1/2 tackles for loss."

By Day 3 of the draft, any possible production from pass rushers is a perk, and for Doon, Johnson could provide something for the Ravens' pass rush.

"While Johnson lacks the size and strength to be a starting outside linebacker in the NFL, his quick first step and closing speed make him an intriguing rotational pass rusher," Doon wrote. "The Ravens could use that kind of juice off the edge."

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