Ravens news, notes and opinions on first-round options, Waller's status, free agency

The NFL draft is about seven weeks away, so there is still so much that can — and will — change before the first round begins. But I surely didn’t expect to be more confused about the direction the Ravens might go with the 16th overall pick after six days in Indianapolis for the scouting combine than I was before it.

My gut feeling at this time last week was that unless Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley fell, the Ravens would likely select an offensive tackle with their first-round pick. Now, I’m not sure there is an offensive lineman except for Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, who is probably a top-five pick at this point, who makes sense in the middle of the first round. And I’m suddenly not convinced Ridley is a no-brainer selection for the Ravens anymore either.

It was a difficult week in Indianapolis for much of the offensive-line class. Oklahoma tackle Orlando Brown bombed his workout and is suddenly a lot closer to a Day 3 pick than a Day 1 selection. Plenty of draft pundits insist that Texas’ Connor Williams is a guard, not a tackle. Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey is probably the most logical tackle target for the Ravens at 16, but plenty of evaluators consider him more of a back-end first-round guy. There are some talented guards in the draft, but taking one in the first really doesn’t make a ton sense for the Ravens unless the plan is to move Alex Lewis out to right tackle and the team has been reluctant to do that.

As for Ridley, he certainly didn’t perform poorly in Indianapolis. He just didn’t really stand out and he didn’t always jump off the tape during his final college season either. He’ll probably still be the first wide receiver taken, but that doesn’t mean evaluators are convinced he’ll be a bona fide No. 1 in the NFL. The rest of the receiver class is good, and everybody loves Maryland’s DJ Moore, but mid-first still might be too early for him.

There are also no obvious tight end or running back fits in the middle of the first round, and it remains unlikely the team will draft a quarterback that early. So where does that leave the Ravens? Trading back is never easy when you’re drafting in the middle of the first round because there’s not a discernible difference in the type of player who goes at 15-16 and the ones that are selected in the low 20s.Teams are more likely to stand pat.

So do the Ravens just take the top receiver on their board when they’re on the clock even if it might not represent the best value? Do they settle for McGlinchey, who would be, at the very least, a serviceable starter right from the start? Or do they target the best defensive player on the board at the time, which could be an inside linebacker such as Tremaine Edmunds or Roquan Smith or a safety such as Derwin James?

It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

What’s up with Waller?

I’ve gotten quite a few questions about the status of Ravens tight end Darren Waller, who was suspended for the entire 2017 season after he was found in violation of the league’s policy on substances of abuse.

The drug program is confidential per the collective bargaining agreement, so I don’t have a lot of answers. However, I do know the situation isn’t really in the Ravens’ hands. Waller will have to apply for reinstatement by an undisclosed date and the league will then decide whether it will reinstate him.

Ravens director of player engagement Harry Swayne has been in communication with Waller, but other team officials are not allowed to talk to him while he’s suspended. Essentially, the team is in wait-and-see mode. The Ravens are not counting on him at all, but if Waller was reinstated, it seems like they’d be inclined to at least give him a look over the summer.

Ten quick thoughts

1) I get that the Ravens have far bigger needs, but it would be a missed opportunity if the team doesn’t take a shot at a mid-round running back. There’s way too much talent in this class to be ignored.

2) That so many wide receivers, tight ends and running backs are expected to go in rounds two through four reinforces how costly it was for the Ravens to miss out on that third-round compensatory pick and get a sixth-rounder instead. I know you can’t script things like this, but the Ravens could’ve exited the first two days of the draft with two receivers, a tight end and a running back or an offensive lineman. They’ll have to settle for three of those pieces.

3) Fascinating stat by Pro Football Focus that speaks to the lack of big-play ability for the Ravens last year: Ravens wide receivers had just 403 yards after the catch, which ranked 31st in the league and was more than only the Buffalo Bills (373). To put that in perspective, Pittsburgh Steelers receivers had a league-leading 1,162 yards after the catch.

4) I know the attitude is: “They’re Cleveland, they’ll find a way to mess it up.” However, the Browns are in position to add Saquon Barkley and a potential franchise quarterback to an offense that includes a solid offensive line, dynamic wide receiver Josh Gordon and burgeoning tight end David Njoku. They have a ton of draft picks and a lot of salary cap space to add more pieces, too.

5) It won’t be a popular sentiment among an understandably offensive-obsessed fan base, but I think the Ravens could do a lot worse than to use their first-rounder on one of the top inside linebackers: Edmunds, Smith or Rashaan Evans (16th overall might be a bit early for Evans). In that case, though, they’d probably have to use their next four or five picks on the offense.

6) Another player in the draft class who I love: Ohio State center Billy Price. He suffered a partially torn pec at the combine, but he should be a starter from from the start of his career. Strong and nasty, he’d be a good replacement for Ryan Jensen.

7) Speaking of Jensen, it sounds as if like he’s going to have a nice market in free agency. Everybody I spoke to at the combine last year said the Ravens had virtual no chance to re-sign defensive tackle Brandon Williams and we saw how that one ended up. I hesitate to make any declarations about Jensen, but he won’t come cheap.

8) Wide receiver-punt returner Michael Campanaro won’t be looking at the types of offers Jensen is, but he’ll do pretty well in free agency. In an underwhelming free-agent receiver market, teams are intrigued by his route-running and return ability. He’ll have some suitors.

9) My gut feeling on the two most likely pending free agents to re-sign with the Ravens: converted offensive lineman Crockett Gillmore and defensive end Brent Urban.

10) Perhaps general manager Ozzie Newsome was just being coy. However, I was surprised he didn’t express more urgency about signing middle linebacker C.J. Mosley to a contract extension. By now, I would have thought the Ravens would have had a little more than a preliminary conversation with Mosley’s agent back in January at the national championship game.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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