This draft is being called one of the most unpredictable ones ever. The Ravens fit well into that narrative.
Many longtime draft analysts have already called this year's draft, which gets underway Thursday night, the most unpredictable one they've ever studied. A day before the start of the first round, there is still some uncertainty about what the Cleveland Browns will do with the No.1 overall pick. And there is also very little consensus with who the San Francisco 49ers will select at No.2, even if the Browns take Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett.
At least three players who were once considered first-round locks – Alabama inside linebacker Reuben Foster, Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley and Michigan defensive back Jabrill Peppers – are candidates to drop in the draft because of significant questions about their off-the-field conduct. A host of other potential first-round picks are still rehabbing injuries and didn't get a chance to work out for teams during the pre-draft process, clouding their status.
Those factors, coupled by the uncertainty of when the top quarterbacks will come off the board, has only added to the unpredictability of Thursday's first round.
The Ravens fit right into the narrative. While they adhere to drafting the best player available, it's usually relatively easy to predict the two or three positions that "best player" might play. This year is far more challenging given the team's myriad needs. It could be a wide receiver or an offensive lineman. It could be a pass rusher, an inside linebacker or even a cornerback. And what happens if a player who is expected to go in the top-10 from a perceived Ravens' position of strength, like Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen or Ohio State safety Malik Hooker, falls to 16?
You get the point. It's virtually impossible to predict how this will play out. The Ravens also reveal very little to reporters, agents and anybody else around the league, forcing you to connect the dots and make educated guesses in a lot of ways.
Best-case scenariofor Ravens: There is an early run on quarterbacks with Mitchell Trubisky, DeShaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes all going in the first round, causing a ripple effect that leaves a host of potential Raven targets surprisingly still available for them at 16. When the Ravens are on the clock, they have the choice between the draft's top two receivers (Mike Williams and Corey Davis), the draft's top three offensive linemen (Ryan Ramczyk, Forrest Lamp and Cam Robinson) and one of the better linebackers/edge rushers (Derek Barnett, Haason Reddick). That gives the Ravens the option of taking the best player on the board or trading back and picking up another mid-round draft pick or two because they know one of the guys they covet will still fall to them.
Worst-case scenario: Either only one or no quarterbacks go in the top-15 picks. Williams, Davis, Barnett and Reddick are all gone. None of the players expected to go in the top-10 drop, so teams aren't overly interested in trading up to the Ravens' spot at 16. As a result, the Ravens have to choose between taking an offensive lineman, one of the second-tier cornerbacks (Marlon Humphrey, Kevin King) or one of the pass rushers (Charles Harris, Takkarist McKinley) who seems more suited to go later in the first round.
Most-likely scenario: While Williams goes in the top 15, Western Michigan's Davis is still on the board, giving the Ravens the option of taking a first-round wide receiver. One of Barnett, Reddick or Alabama's Reuben Foster falls, presenting an opportunity to take a linebacker. And the Ravens have the full complement of offensive linemen to choose from.
Player who just fits: Tennessee's Derek Barnett. Barnett broke Reggie White's all-time career sack record at Tennessee. However, there continues to be questions about his explosiveness and length, and how he performed in pre-draft workouts. The Ravens factor in everything, but they traditionally put a heavy emphasis on college production. There weren't too many pass rushers more productive than Barnett.
X-factor: Alabama's Reuben Foster. From needing shoulder surgery in February to getting sent home from the scouting combine after he got into an altercation with a hospital worker to reportedly testing positive for a diluted drug sample, it's been a tumultuous pre-draft process for Foster. A couple of months ago, he looked like a lock as a top-10 pick. Now, some pundits question how far he'll fall. It isn't clear how the Ravens feel about Foster, but it's not hard to make the connection. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has also the information he needs on Foster with his ties to the Alabama program. Newsome believes it's essential to be strong up the middle on defense. C.J. Mosley and Foster are close and the Ravens are looking to add an inside linebacker after the retirement of Zachary Orr. It would surprise no one if Foster is gone within the first dozen picks, but it sure would be interesting to see whether the Ravens would jump at the opportunity to take him.
Dark-horse candidate: Michigan State defensive tackle Malik McDowell. The 6-foot-6, 295 pound interior lineman is extremely talented. At times, he dominated offensive linemen with his combination of size and athleticism, and an ability to get interior penetration. However, questions about his effort level and work ethic have dogged him before the draft. The Ravens did meet with him, but there's no indication that they're considering taking him in the middle of the first round. However, you wonder if he would become an option if they trade back deep into the first round or if he happens to slip in the second. The Ravens love stockpiling defensive linemen and McDowell is a talent.
I'd be surprised if ...: The Ravens take an early-round running back. It sounds like Leonard Fournette isn't getting out of the top 10 and Christian McCaffrey may not either. However, it appears that Florida State's Dalvin Cook, a human highlight reel, will be available at 16. The Ravens are good at disguising their interest in certain players, but there's been absolutely no indication that the Ravens are in on Cook or any of the other upper-echelon backs. It seems that might be a Day Three pursuit for a fourth straight year.
Don't be surprised if ...: The Ravens pick an offensive lineman early. Sure, the Ravens have had success in finding mid-round offensive linemen who develop into quality starters. However, evaluators say that this is the thinnest offensive line class in recent memory. In other words, finding potential starters up front in the middle rounds will be difficult, if not impossible, this year. Joe Flacco has been at his best when the Ravens' offensive line has played the best. Some people around the team believe an improved offensive line and more of a threat of a running game, which an improved offensive line would help with, would aid Flacco even more than another outside target.
Streak that figures to continue: The Ravens have drafted a defensive lineman in eight consecutive drafts and two defensive linemen in four of the past seven drafts. It's not considered a major need even after trading Timmy Jernigan and watching Lawrence Guy leave in free agency. However, Newsome rarely misses an opportunity to beef up his defensive line.