The week of the draft is always an interesting one as the rumors start circling.
Here's the latest buzz and my answers to some of the top (and some random) questions before the 2022 NFL Draft kicks off:
Would the Ravens still draft a first-round offensive tackle?
This depends on two things. First is the status of Ronnie Stanley's rehab and the Ravens' confidence that he'll be back at the start of next season. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport shed some light on that Monday, reporting that Stanley is on pace to be ready. If there are still serious doubts about Stanley's health, somebody who can step in immediately is incredibly important. If the Ravens feel confident in Stanley, then they have three experienced tackles (Stanley, Morgan Moses and Ja'Wuan James) on the current roster, and that's not including emergency experienced fill-ins Patrick Mekari or Tyre Phillips.
The second factor is whether the first-round tackle, presumably Northern Iowa's Trevor Penning (who has been linked to Baltimore for months now), could play guard at a high level. If the Ravens do take a first-round tackle and Stanley is healthy, you don't want your first-round pick riding the bench. He would slide inside to left guard for one? … two? years. But how much of an improvement would that player be over Ben Cleveland/Phillips/Ben Powers? Baltimore used a third-round pick on Cleveland in last year's draft and would surely like to see him develop into the starter.
In summary, if the Stanley report is true, it's difficult for me to see the Ravens investing a first-round pick on Penning or any tackle. That's an expensive insurance policy when there are big needs elsewhere. Yes, the Ravens absolutely need more offensive tackle depth. But you could get that on Day 2 or 3 of the draft and Baltimore is already in better position than last year.
Trade up or trade down?
Every year there's a rumored shelf where GMs and scouts believe the talent level drops off considerably. This year, the latest reports are that most teams have about 20 players with first-round grades on their board.
Sitting at No. 14, the Ravens are in good position. They could make a small move up to grab a tumbling stud, such as defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux or cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., but that now seems unlikely. The Thibodeaux slide seems to have stemmed, with the Giants at No. 5 or No. 7 being a popular mock destination. Wink Martindale wants to have fun with a new toy. Stingley, meanwhile, is gaining steam with ESPN’s Matt Miller projecting him at No. 3-overall (!!) to the Houston Texans. I'd be shocked if Baltimore made a big leap forward and the lack of quarterbacks going ahead of them could mean no falling stars.
The Ravens love to trade back and they could reverse a few spots and still perhaps grab one of their players with a first-round grade. But keep in mind, you have to find a dance partner. Generally speaking, I think most teams are not going to want to trade up and give up valuable mid-round picks in what's considered a deep draft that's wide around the waist.
One partner I'd keep an eye on is the Chargers at No. 17. They want an offensive tackle, but so do the Saints sitting one spot ahead of them (to replace Terron Armstead). The Bolts could come up and take Penning instead of the Ravens, leaving Baltimore to still grab one of several players at positions of need, such as Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis, Washington cornerback Trent McDuffie, Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd or someone else.
Is run-stuffing defensive tackle Jordan Davis worthy of No. 14?
The Ravens certainly understand the pass-happy direction NFL offenses have gone. That's why Baltimore is one of the league's top spenders in the secondary. But the Ravens also know they play in a division built around leaving its opponents black and blue. The Steelers have a top running back in youngster Najee Harris. The Browns' Nick Chubb is one of the league's top threats. The Bengals lean on Joe Mixon to set up their fearsome passing attack. The value proposition is a legitimate debate, but stopping the run is still important. The Ravens still subscribe to the belief that if you can't stop the run, you don't stand a chance. And if teams feel the ultra-athletic Davis can offer more as a pass rusher, that sweetens the pot.
How high would the Ravens draft a wide receiver?
DeCosta has picked a wide receiver in the first round in two of his first three years as GM with Marquise "Hollywood" Brown and Rashod Bateman. A cluster of wideouts will probably come off the board around pick No. 14, but don't expect the Ravens to get into the mix after investing so heavily in recent years.
With that said, the recent mega deals signed by wide receivers shows just how valuable that position is. Brown is about to enter his fourth season and DeCosta already said the Ravens will pick up his fifth-year option, which would keep Brown under contract through the 2023 season. I don't think it's crazy to think about bolstering the position in the short and long-term as early as Round 2 if the value is good enough. DeCosta is a bargain hunter, and with wide receiver values booming, a wideout that falls into their lap could be too good to pass up even with more pressing needs.
What's more pressing, tight end or running back help?
The Ravens will probably use some of their fourth-round picks to add insurance for players returning from injury. Tight end Nick Boyle is one, because his knee didn't seem totally right at any point last season and he's an integral part of the offense. Plus, blocking tight end Eric Tomlinson departed in free agency. However, as important as a blocking tight end is, the running back in a run-based offensive scheme is even more essential. With JK Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill all on the mend, the Ravens need to fortify their backfield. Maybe the Ravens plan to make a veteran signing, but a mid-round running back could also be a checklist item too. Baltimore doesn't want to be short-handed at that spot again. What flavor of running back they choose (between-the-tackles thumper or pass-catching scatback) could speak to who is looking better in rehab.
What positions get double dips?
The Ravens have taken two wide receivers in each of the past four years. They grabbed two tight ends in 2018, two defensive tackles in 2020, two edge rushers in 2021. This year, I expect Baltimore will double dip at cornerback and EDGE again.
What pick could surprise us?
One position that hasn't been talked about much is defensive end. There's a lot of focus on EDGE rushers with Justin Houston a free agent and Tyus Bowser returning from Achilles surgery. But who replaces Pernell McPhee and is insurance for Derek Wolfe as he returns from hip surgery? Calais Campbell came back on a two-year deal, but he won't be around too much longer. A big-bodied defensive end is something to keep an eye on.
Would the Ravens draft a punter?
There are three punters that may be drafted this year, per The Athletic's Dane Brugler. Sam Koch is entering the final year of his contract and will turn 40 in August. I still think he's a top-notch punter, holder and leader. But some are wondering whether the Ravens would use one of their final picks on a punter, especially considering the value they place on special teams. I think it's more likely they grab one of the top undrafted prospects and let Special Teams Coach Randy Brown and Koch work their magic to see if they can groom an eventual successor – whenever that may be.