If the Ravens look to the draft to get a playmaker at safety or tight end, they better do it early.
NFL Network's lead draft analyst Mike Mayock said the draft class lacks depth at both positions where the Ravens may want to add pieces. Mayock said the class is "very thin" at safety, and he doesn't have a first-round grade on any tight ends.
The lack of depth at the two spots is significant for the Ravens, who may have needs at both spots. Adding a tight end is somewhat contingent on whether the team re-signs free agent Owen Daniels and the health status of Dennis Pitta after he suffered dislocated hips in back-to-back seasons. If Daniels leaves in free agency and Pitta's return is delayed, then last year's fourth-round pick Crockett Gillmore would be the only tight end holdover from the active roster.
The top tight end in this year's class, according to Mayock and many other draft analysts, is Maxx Williams (6-foot-4, 250 pounds) from Minnesota, who is known as a reliable target in the passing game.
"Maxx Williams would be the only guy that could be considered a late [first-round pick]," Mayock said. "I see him as a second round pick, but he's a good receiving tight end. I like him a lot as an athlete."
Williams had 36 catches for 569 yards and eight touchdowns last year as a junior. After Williams, the top-graded prospects are Clive Walford from Miami and Nick O'Leary from Florida State.
"Not a good tight end class," Mayock said.
The situation is similar at safety, where the Ravens have some lingering questions. Darian Stewart and Jeromy Miles are unrestricted free agents, Will Hill is a* *restricted free agent and last year's third-round pick Terrence Brooks is coming off a season-ending knee injury. Matt Elam had a down year in his sophomore season, and he'll need a strong offseason and training camp to re-gain his starting job.
"I would make the case they need a safety also, but it's not a great safety draft," Mayock said.
Alabama's Landon Collins is the only true safety with a first-round grade according to some analysts. He could be a fit for the Ravens, but it's a question whether he will be around when Baltimore is on the board at pick No. 26.
Washington's Shaq Thompson is also in the late first-round range, but he's a big-bodied player that many analysts project as a linebacker.
"Most people think [Thompson] is a linebacker from Washington. I like him as a Kam Chancellor-type big, strong, physical, strong safety that can play dime linebacker in passing situations," Mayock said. "I think it's evolving that way."
Finding rookies who can make an immediate impact at any position is a challenge, and that's particularly true at safety, Mayock said. NFL teams typically get a limited picture of what the safeties can do based on their roles in college, and that leaves for plenty of guesswork when it comes to grading them.
"As far as evaluating safeties, I played the position. It's still a hard evaluation," Mayock said. "You don't always get to see them do what you want to see. For instance a lot of guys will only play in the box. Well can they play a deep pass, deep third and can they play man-to-man?
"Other guys are the opposite on the back end. You don't see him upfront in the box tackling and playing physically. The challenge there is matching up body type, movement skills and toughness with what they're going to ask them to do at the NFL level."