The Ravens addressed one of their biggest needs in the first round with a wide receiver. With their next pick, in the third round, they went best player available.
The Ravens selected Trenton Simpson of Clemson in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft, grabbing one of the top inside linebackers in the entire draft class.
Simpson said he was drafted far later than he expected, and he wasn't alone. The Athletic's Dane Brugler projected Simpson as the No. 2 inside linebacker in the class. Brugler ranked Simpson as his No. 38-overall prospect, and the Ravens got him at No. 86.
General Manager Eric DeCosta said the team's list of seven or eight possible third-round selections was "wiped out" and Simpson was the only one remaining. He's also surprisingly the first Clemson player drafted in Ravens team history.
Simpson said his agent told him Baltimore would be the best landing spot for him, and Simpson's emotions immediately after getting the call showed how blessed he felt.
"In my heart, I knew that was a great opportunity for me," Simpson said. "They have a winning program. I come from Clemson with a winning pedigree."
Simpson is an ultra-athletic versatile linebacker with great size at 6-foot-2, 235 pounds. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds, just a hair slower than Ravens first-round wide receiver Zay Flowers (4.42). Simpson explodes to the football, is a violent striker, and has the ability to match up with tight ends.
"We see him as a four-down linebacker, eventually, with tremendous potential and upside," DeCosta said. "And he's a great kid."
"It's always great to add speed. He's a missile," Head Coach John Harbaugh, noting that Simpson's strong special teams ability was also a major factor in the evaluation and pick.
Simpson was a two-year starter at Clemson playing at both WILL and SAM linebacker. He was sometimes used as an edge rusher and even occasionally as a nickel. Simpson will give Ravens Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald another versatile defender to deploy.
"Trenton Simpson is the freak of the draft, I mean, he's just the guy that everybody's probably trying to figure out like, 'Where do you play him? What is he?'" Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney said. "But I know this: The guy is 230-something pounds and runs a 4.4 and he's strong as an ox. He's one of the best young people you'll ever meet. Unbelievable passion for the game. Still a developing player."
Harbaugh said Simpson will primarily be an inside linebacker who can move out to the edge.
"I can fit in any scheme. I'm the most versatile linebacker in this draft and I'm forever going to believe that," Simpson said. "In this career of Trent Simpson, you all are not going to regret this pick. I'm going to maximize every opportunity and Trent Simpson is going to go down as one of the greats for the Baltimore Ravens."
Simpson racked up 187 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks in his three seasons at Clemson. He was the No. 1 outside linebacker in the 2020 recruiting class coming out of high school in North Carolina.
Simpson joins Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen, who were one of the best inside linebacker duos in the NFL last year. A military kid, Simpson was raised primarily in Georgia and he always looked up to Smith, a star at the University of Georgia. Simpson said he's excited to learn from the All-Pro in the NFL.
"I love the way they play. They play like me," Simpson said of Smith and Queen. "They play fast, physical football and they're hitting anything that's moving. That's my mindset. I'm excited to come into the linebacker room and bring my talents and come in there willing to learn from the vets."
The selection of Simpson opened up more questions about the status of Queen, however. The Ravens have not yet picked up Queen's fifth-year option andDeCosta indicated that he won't make an announcement on that before the May 1 deadline.
"We love Patrick. I love Patrick," DeCosta said. "Patrick is, in my mind, one of the better WILL linebackers in the league. He's smart. He works his butt off. I think he's a Pro Bowl linebacker in the making. In Trenton, we get a guy that was, honestly, the very best player available at the time. That's our philosophy. That's how we build our team."
The Ravens passed on taking a cornerback to grab Simpson. DeCosta and Director of Player Personnel Joe Hortiz said there are still good options in the fourth and following rounds to pick one up with one of the team's remaining three picks, and DeCosta noted that they could also address the need in other ways.