Versatility Is a Trademark of Ravens' 2021 Draft Picks

CB Brandon Stephens

Finding the right position fit for a player is important. But in today's NFL, finding players who can fill multiple roles is even better.

Selecting players with versatility was a consistent theme for the Ravens in this year's draft. Whether it was a receiver like Rashod Bateman, who is dangerous lining up both outside or in the slot, or a defensive back like Brandon Stephens, who can play corner or safety, the Ravens were attracted to players who aren't pigeonholed by having just one strength.

"One of the commonalities with all these players, or most of these players, is their versatility," Director of Player Personnel Joe Hortiz said. "With the coaching staff that we have here, the way we can use players and how we move players around, it's really easy to go out and try to look for those guys and get excited about a guy when you can see him playing multiple positions.

"(Cornerback) Shaun Wade, he's played inside and outside. Daelin [Hayes], he has his hand in the dirt, he's up as a SAM 'backer [and] he's out in coverage. Ben [Mason], [he] worked some fullback, tight end, a little bit of H-back, everything at Michigan and then down at the Senior Bowl, they used him a lot as a traditional tight end. Having these guys show us that in different platforms, it's great to see and it's easy to present it to the coaching staff."

Versatility is a trait Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale covets, finding players who can line up in different spots yet maintain their effectiveness. Baltimore found an edge rusher with the potential to be an every-down player in fifth-round outside linebacker Daelin Hayes of Notre Dame. Linebackers and defensive backs who defend the pass well, but who can also be timely blitzers, give Martindale even more freedom to dial up a variety of schemes.

"You've heard me say many times that this is a position-less defense, so we have guys playing all over the place," Martindale said.

First-round edge rusher Odafe Oweh of Penn State (31st overall) was an attractive pick for the Ravens' decision-makers, not only because they like his pass-rushing skills, but because he creates havoc as a run defender barging into the backfield. In situations where the opponent uses a hurry-up offense and there isn't time to make defensive substitutions, Oweh's versatility as both a run defender and pass rusher can be extremely valuable.

"With his athleticism, that we've already talked about, he can play a bunch of different spots," Martindale said. "We're going to have a lot of fun with him. Not only on first and second down, but especially when we get to third down – moving him around, and we'll create our matchups from there, and watch him go to work.

"He had a great interview in the process. We're not one of those defenses with just one front, one coverage. We do some things a little bit differently than most. He understood the concepts of it."

Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman loves Bateman's ability to run effective routes regardless of where he lines up.

That should help make Bateman a difficult cover in the NFL, a receiver who can be used to create mismatches for himself and other pass-catchers, making it easier for Lamar Jackson to find an open target.

"When you see certain players, you just watch the tape and go, 'Wow,''' Roman said. "This guy is a good football player. Who is this guy? I need to learn more about this guy.' He's definitely one of those guys that kind of struck me this year as I started to dive into this draft, where it really didn't take you long to figure out this guy was a football player. He can do a lot of things really, really well."

Versatility remained a consideration for the Ravens with their final pick, tight end/fullback Ben Mason of Michigan, who was taken 184th overall in the fifth round. While many teams don't place a premium on fullbacks and blocking tight ends, the Ravens do. They run the ball more than any team in the NFL, and devastating blockers like Pro Bowl fullback Pat Ricard and tight end Nick Boyle help Baltimore's offensive line gain an advantage at the point of attack. The Ravens often use combination blocks to spring holes for their ballcarriers, and Ricard and Boyle are masters at working in tandem.

Boyle was sorely missed after he suffered a season-ending knee injury last year, which likely played into the Ravens' thinking when they drafted Mason. He gives them more depth at fullback and tight end, and his ability to multitask during an impressive week at the Senior Bowl meshed with the thinking that permeated this Ravens draft.

"I can't tell you exactly what the Senior Bowl did for my draft stock," Mason said. "All I know is I had a great experience down there, had a lot of fun competing with some of the best seniors around the country. I really just look at football as, be as versatile as possible, do as many things as possible, and it'll work out for you and your team.''

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