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Mike Preston: Ravens in good position to build with nine picks in NFL draft | COMMENTARY

Soon after the 2020 season ended, Orlando Brown Jr. let everyone know he wanted to play left tackle. Now, the Ravens need to send him a thank-you card.

A trade was inevitable, and the Ravens made the best of it by sending Brown, a second-round pick in this year’s draft and a sixth-rounder in 2022 to the Kansas City Chiefs for first-, third- and fourth-round selections this year and a fifth-rounder in 2022.

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So, if you are counting, the Ravens have nine picks in this year’s draft — which begins Thursday night in Cleveland — with two each in the first, third, fourth and fifth rounds and one in the sixth.

If the Ravens are as good as their reputation at picking players, it seems virtually impossible for them to mess this up.

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Right?

The Ravens are in a great position for several reasons. First, there’s the history. In 25 years, this franchise has produced two Super Bowl titles and three Hall of Fame players, with two or three more future candidates. Plus, the consensus among all the draft analysts is that this year’s pool of college talent is deep.

With the Brown deal, the Ravens added more options and leverage. They lost a young, talented player, but they couldn’t afford to pay him after starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley signed a five-year, $98.7 million contract in October.

With the surplus of picks, including two in the first round at No. 27 and No. 31 overall, the Ravens can trade up or back. It’s safe to say the Ravens won’t trade up into the top 10, because that would risk losing too much. But if an edge rusher or wide receiver they covet falls to around pick No. 20, that’s well within range for a trade up.

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Trading back is also an option because the Ravens like acquiring more picks. General manager Eric DeCosta likes playing the odds, because the more picks a team has, the better chance at success. He’d gamble all night long with those odds in Las Vegas.

The Ravens will stick with their general philosophy of taking the best player available, but the priority should be finding an edge rusher. The Ravens need more speed on the back end of their defense, but a player who can consistently pressure the quarterback is the missing piece.

Columnist Mike Preston and Ravens beat writer Jonas Shaffer discuss the Orlando Brown, Jr., trade and who might be the two picks in the first-round.

There is also the trust factor. Through the years, defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale has provided a confidence and comfort with his schemes and adjustments, and you can easily see the missing element.

On offense, there are several problems to address, from the passing game concepts to the development of quarterback Lamar Jackson. So, make what Martindale wants and needs the priority.

Offensively, the Ravens have two major needs: a wide receiver and a replacement for Brown. In the case of right tackle, there isn’t a sense of urgency because of the availability of free-agent candidates such as Dennis Kelly and Alejandro Villanueva. Brown has more upside than both, but it’s not as if the Ravens have an immediate need.

In the past, the Ravens have wanted big offensive linemen who specialized in run blocking, but that needs to change with the team’s shortcomings in the postseason the past three years. Good offensive linemen should be able to pass block, too.

The concerns about drafting a receiver aren’t just centered around the team’s history of failing to draft a quality No. 1, but also with coordinator Greg Roman changing some of the concepts in the passing game. Will we continue to see some of the same vanilla stuff that we’ve seen in the past three years that resulted in failure? And how much progress has Jackson made to consistently throw accurate passes outside the numbers?

A lot of the Ravens’ problems can be solved after the first round. They should be able to find some speed in the secondary. NFL teams have a history of finding offensive linemen in the later rounds of the draft, even as undrafted free agents, which is how the Ravens acquired former starters such as Orlando Brown Sr., Wally Williams and Mike Flynn.

In the past three years, the Ravens have taken a step toward winning a Super Bowl. Regardless if it was gaining home-field advantage in the playoffs, winning a postseason game or beating a nemesis on the road, there was always something to build on.

The building is never finished as far as completing a team, but some major pieces could be put in place over the weekend. The Ravens might not be in a better position for years.

Thanks, Orlando.

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