The idea that the Ravens would have an opportunity to draft Mississippi left tackle Laremy Tunsil seemed far-fetched 10 days ago. Now it seems probable.
The San Diego Chargers, who have the third overall pick, signed both of their offensive tackles, King Dunlap and Joe Barksdale, to lucrative contract extensions within the past 15 months. Many NFL draft pundits believe the Chargers have homed in on Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey or Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner.
At No. 4, the Dallas Cowboys aren't a suitor for Tunsil because they already have one of the league's best left tackles in Tyron Smith. Picking fifth, the Jacksonville Jaguars have their 2013 second overall pick, Luke Joeckel, at left tackle, and they reportedly covet Ramsey or UCLA linebacker Myles Jack.
Of course, any of those teams could view Tunsil as a transcendent talent and deem him too good to pass up. But as it looks now, it appears the Ravens will have a decision to make: Do they stick to the perceived plan and grab an impact defensive player, or do they draft a bookend left tackle? Remember, all that talk from team officials about how they needed to find a playmaker at No. 6 came when Tunsil was widely expected to be taken first overall.
To me, the decision on Tunsil is simple: If Ravens scouts and evaluators believe he'll become a dominant left tackle, one who will make a few Pro Bowl teams, you have to take him. A stud left tackle is one of the most valuable commodities in the game, and it's even more important for the Ravens, who have a franchise quarterback coming off a significant knee injury. Look at the money Kelechi Osemele got from the Oakland Raiders to play guard, and just imagine what the market will hold for the top free-agent left tackles going forward.
If the Ravens believe Tunsil will be more solid than spectacular, they should pass and find a defensive piece. I can't say I definitively know where the Ravens stand on Tunsil, but it will all come down to their evaluation of him.
If they do draft Tunsil, I believe they'd move on from oft-injured starter Eugene Monroe. I've gotten some questions on whether they could play Tunsil at left guard, as they did after drafting Jonathan Ogden fourth overall in 1996, and keep Monroe. When they drafted Ogden, their left tackle was Tony Jones, who had started 16 games for six consecutive seasons.
Monroe, meanwhile, has started 17 games total over the past two seasons and hasn't been able to finish either healthy. I've written several times that Monroe and the Ravens might benefit from parting ways. Without another solid option at left tackle, Monroe probably isn't going anywhere. But Tunsil could change that.
Though Ravens officials have expressed confidence in finding an impact pass rusher in the middle to late rounds, draft pundits have been consistent in saying this is a weak draft for edge rushers. We already know all the starting-caliber corners will be gone by the early part of the third round. The Ravens don't approach a draft and say, "We have to come out of the first couple of rounds with a pass rusher and a corner." As you know by now, they stick to their draft board.
But I'd have to imagine the dream scenario for the first three rounds includes adding a cornerback and pass rusher. Maybe the other pick is a left tackle or a wide receiver or even an inside linebacker. But cornerback and pass rusher are two boxes that need to be checked early in this draft.
In a recent interview with 247Sports, Buckner didn't mention the Ravens as a team he's hearing from "pretty regularly." He did mention three teams with top-five picks — the Chargers, Cowboys and Jaguars — and the Tennessee Titans, who pick 15th after trading the first overall selection to the Los Angeles Rams. There also has been no reported visit to Owings Mills by Buckner.
What does that all mean? It might mean nothing. It's possible the Ravens asked Buckner and his agent to keep the team's interest to themselves. In the past, the Ravens have taken players they barely spoke to in the predraft process. It's their way of disguising their interest. Or it could mean the Ravens don't have a whole lot of interest in Buckner. I believe they do, but we'll know more Thursday night.
If Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller is available when the Ravens are on the clock in the second round, he would make a lot of sense. The fact that Fuller is a Baltimore native obviously makes it a nice story, but beyond that, he was viewed as one of the best corners in the country before needing season-ending knee surgery just three games into last season. He's now 100 percent healthy, by most accounts, and could be a second-round steal.
There also has been a lot of talk that the Ravens are eyeing Miami cornerback Artie Burns as a second-round pick. Ravens defensive backs coach Leslie Frazier has done his homework on Burns.
Given how much money and draft picks the Ravens already have invested in the safety position, it would be surprising if the team took another safety before the draft's third day. But one who stands out to me is Southern California's Su'a Cravens. Very much in the mold of the Arizona Cardinals' Deone Bucannon, Cravens is one of those hybrid safeties becoming popular in the NFL. He's 6 feet and 226 pounds, with good ball skills and hitting ability, and he was used at times as a linebacker for the Trojans.
Asked last month about replacing Daryl Smith, Ravens coach John Harbaugh expressed confidence in holdover inside linebackers Arthur Brown, Zachary Orr and Albert McClellan. He also mentioned possibly using a safety in a hybrid-type role. The Ravens don't have any safety on their roster who looks like a good fit for that role, but perhaps Cravens is the guy Harbaugh had in mind.