The Ravens’ 2018 draft class is getting high grades.
But instant good vibes soon turn to hard work. Because, as good as Baltimore’s 12 picks look on paper, they’re going to need to improve to excel in the NFL.
Here’s the top question for each rookie and what they’ll need to prove, starting at this weekend’s rookie minicamp:
Round 1: TE Hayden Hurst
How much can he immediately contribute?
The Ravens need a pass-catching tight end to emerge immediately, and history suggests it’s a tough jump to make at the position. Maxx Williams holds the Ravens franchise record for tight end rookie production when he posted 32 catches for 268 yards and one touchdown in 2015. First-round tight end Todd Heap had 16 grabs for 206 yards and one touchdown his rookie year in 2001. Dennis Pitta posted one catch for 1 yard in 2010. Heap had Shannon Sharpe ahead of him on the depth chart and Pitta had Heap, so they didn’t get as many chances. Hurst should have more opportunities, and he’ll have to make the most of them. His age (24) may help Hurst since he’s a more mature prospect than the typical rookie.
Round 1: QB Lamar Jackson
How much improvement will he make as a pocket passer?
There’s no question that Jackson is an electric playmaker. He ran for more yards (4,132) and touchdowns (50) than Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, who went No. 2 overall to the New York Giants. The questions surround his ability as a pocket passer. Jackson made reads in a pro-style offense and has plenty of arm strength, but his career completion percentage (57.0) is below NFL standards. Last season, only two quarterbacks (C.J. Beathard and DeShone Kizer) were below that mark. Jackson improved as a junior, completing 59.1 percent. He’ll work on his footwork, throwing position and other fundamentals to continue to heighten his accuracy.
Round 3: OT Orlando Brown Jr. Jr.**
Will he improve his athleticism?
Browns’ game tape sparkles, and that’s the most important thing to the Ravens. All the questions surrounding him came after his performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, where he had one of the worst performances on record. Brown’s 14 bench press reps raised concerns about his offseason training, so Brown will have to prove himself in the Ravens’ strength and conditioning program. His 40-yard dash time of 5.85 seconds raised flags about his movement skills. As Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta said, Brown won’t be running 40-yard dashes in NFL games. He will need to be able to slide fast enough, however, to handle speed rushers on the outside. He handled himself well against a lot of top-notch talent in the Big 12, but the NFL is a different speed.
Round 3: TE Mark Andrews
Can he block?
Playing in Oklahoma’s spread offense, Andrews wasn’t asked to do much blocking. He was essentially a big-bodied wide receiver who often split out wide. Baltimore drafted him to be more of a receiving threat in tandem with more do-it-all Hurst, but the Ravens will still need Andrews to chip in blocking. Dennis Pitta was a receiving tight end as well, but still sometimes put his hand in the dirt. At 6-foot-5, 256 pounds, Andrews has the size to block. Now he must show desire and be taught how.
Round 4: CB Anthony Averett
Will he develop more ball skills?
Averett blew the doors off the Combine with a 40-yard dash time of 4.36 seconds. He’s plenty fast and athletic enough to play the position in the NFL. However, he had just one interception in three seasons and knocked away 16 passes. Part of that is because Alabama plays more press coverage, which the 5-foot-11, 183-pound cornerback will have to prove he’s physical enough for in the NFL.
Round 4: ILB Kenny Young
Can he be a four-down player?
Young has the speed, quickness and athleticism to be a factor in defending the pass, which the Ravens need. He can help Baltimore cover running backs and tight ends. What he’ll have to prove is that he’s capable of being in the Ravens’ base defensive package instead of a sub-package option. Young will work to improve his ability to play downhill against the run, including taking on and shedding blockers to make tackles.
Round 4: WR Jaleel Scott**
Can he turn into an all-around receiver?
With his 6-foot-5, 218-pound body, Scott immediately stands out as a red-zone and big-play jump ball threat. He proved effective in that regard with 14 career touchdowns in 23 games played at New Mexico State, including nine scores last season. Now Scott will work to add more to his arsenal in the NFL. Asked what he needs to improve on at the next level, Scott said getting out of his breaks. Given his size, he’s not as sudden as other wide receivers in a variety of routes.
Round 5: WR Jordan Lasley
Can he eliminate the drops?
Lasley’s playmaking potential both before and after he gets the ball jumps off the tape. However, holding onto the ball was an issue in college. Lasley had 21 drops over the past two seasons for a drop rate of 16 percent. Head Coach John Harbaugh has made it clear this offseason that a receiver’s first and most important job is to catch the ball. Lasley has the hands to do it, but needs to lock in and be focused on every play.
Round 6: S DeShon Elliott
How good is he in coverage?
Elliott’s stats tell the story of a ballhawk. He was tied for fourth in the country with six interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns, in his senior year. He was a unanimous first-team All-American and finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, which is given to the nation’s top defensive back. The scouting reports, however, question his movement skills as a back-end coverage defender and label him as more of an in-the-box safety.
Round 6: OT Greg Senat**
How much development will he make?
Senat is more of a project pick at this point, so he’ll need to develop on multiple levels. He has good size at 6-foot-6, 302 pounds, and athleticism, which led to him being a two-sport athlete at Wagner. He played basketball all four years there, but added football for his final two seasons. He became an immediate starting right tackle, where he showed off his raw ability. Now he must continue to hone his technique and learn the game.
Round 6: C Bradley Bozeman
Is he athletic enough?
Bozeman has the size at 6-foot-5, 316 pounds. He has a physical, grinder mentality. He has position flexibility. He started at Alabama, the biggest program in college football. But he isn’t going to wow coaches or opponents with his athleticism. It isn’t always pretty, but Bozeman got the job done in the SEC, garnering him second-team All-SEC honors for his senior season. Bozeman will work to improve his explosion, power and feet to handle a variety of rushers in the NFL.
Round 7: DL Zach Sieler, Ferris State
Can he make the small-school jump?
Seiler manhandled whoever was across from him at Division II Ferris State. He posted a whopping 26.5 sacks and 50.5 tackles for loss over the last two seasons. But can he keep winning at the NFL level, where he’ll face far better blockers? Sieler has the tools with a good combination of size (6-foot-6, 290 pounds), power and athleticism. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.83 seconds and posted 31 lifts on the bench press, which would have made him a Combine standout had he been invited.