Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh on replace retired guard Marshal Yanda in the upcoming NFL draft.
This year will likely mark the seventh time in 10 years that the Ravens will pick outside the top 24 in the NFL draft, but there is a major difference this time.
The Ravens don’t need a major overhaul or a lot of impact players right away. But if they can come away with an inside linebacker or wide receiver who can help immediately, they will be serious Super Bowl contenders.
The Ravens are in an envious position with the draft only weeks away.
Last season, they won 14 games with one of NFL’s most explosive offenses and a relatively young roster. They strengthened their run defense by adding linemen Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe and have nine picks in the draft.
The Ravens have the No. 28 overall pick in the first round and two selections each in the second and third. They’ve got some assets, so it wouldn’t be surprising if they traded up to select a player they covet at pass rusher, inside linebacker or receiver.
“Yes, it just would depend on what that opportunity was,” general manager Eric DeCosta said Monday about a possible trade. “Who is the player that’s available? What can we get in exchange for making a trade? What kind of picks can we get? So, yes, we love to make trades. The last two years especially, I think we’ve made a ton of trades, and it’s been really fun for us. And, actually, I think we’ve benefited from some of the trades that were made. This year, we do have a lot of [picks]. We have the opportunity to maybe go up and get a guy.
“Normally, when a guy starts to fall, what you find is other teams are trying to trade for him, too, and they’re usually willing to give up more than you’re willing to give up. I think back to a couple years ago, we tried to make a trade for a guy who was falling a little bit, and we didn’t get him. And, fortunately, the guy we got ended up being really good, so it worked out. Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make. We just assess case by case and see what we can do.”
The Ravens have options, but they still should be able to come away with one or two players to fill big holes. Depending on the price, they could trade up for a top-notch pass rusher like LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson, Oklahoma inside linebacker Kenneth Murray or Alabama receiver Henry Ruggs III.
Or they could stay put and acquire LSU receiver Justin Jefferson or Tigers middle linebacker Patrick Queen. And if they want to gamble a little bit, they could trade back in exchange for more selections and still find a receiver like Baylor’s Denzel Mims.
DeCosta agrees with ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s evaluation about this draft being deep with receivers.
“Obviously, the receiver class is prolific by a lot of people’s standards,” DeCosta said. “We want to be the best we can be at every position. This happens to be a wide receiver class with a lot of really good players. If we’re on the clock and we think that guy is the best player, we’ll probably pick him. Hopefully, we can build our offense to the point where we can say, ‘Hey, we’re undefendable.’”
The draft falls in line with what the Ravens have been trying to build the past couple of years. They’ve come up short the past two seasons in the playoffs, but there has been progress. They’ve had success in recent drafts and now they appear to be fine-tuning instead of filling many gaping holes.
With their mid-round picks, the Ravens should be able to find a replacement for recently retired Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda. Ben Powers made reasonable progress at the position last year as a rookie but still might not be ready to step in as a starter.
DeCosta said that the plan is to find a possible replacement in this year’s draft, and it’s a little easier because of the run-dominant offense designed by coordinator Greg Roman.
“Probably the offensive linemen we’re looking at are a little different,” Harbaugh said. “We’re very interested in big, physical offensive linemen, for sure, and that’s obvious, I think. We’re good run-blockers, because we’re more of a run-team than we’ve ever been before. [We look for] receivers who are willing to block, and different types of receivers; we have different roles.”
Another factor working in the Ravens’ favor is their front office stability. Even though DeCosta is only in his second year as general manager, he was the assistant GM from 2012 until last season.
Joe Hortiz, one of the team’s directors of player personnel, has been with the Ravens for 22 seasons, and the other, George Kokinis, has been in the team’s front office since 1996 with the exception of 2009, when he became Cleveland Browns general manager.
Along with Harbaugh’s 11-year tenure as coach, the continuity should help the Ravens, especially with the league shutting down all training facilities because of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to DeCosta, not much will change because of the pandemic. He believes that there are 185 players who can be drafted, and the complete board will be “stacked” by Friday.
This year, there won’t be player visits to the team’s Owings Mills facility or pro days at various colleges, particularly the smaller ones. There won’t be several last-minute interviews, so the Ravens have no advantages there.
But all things considered, they are a step up on the competition based on recent records and drafts. And if this draft is done well, the Ravens can only go up.