The Ravens’ offseason roster isn’t set, but it’s getting there.
After taking eight players in the NFL draft, general manager Eric DeCosta has only a few items left on his offseason to-do list. Signing a right tackle is crucial. Finding value on the evolving free-agent market is a constant challenge. Securing an extension with quarterback Lamar Jackson looms over all.
But for now, all the Ravens can do is build on what they have. And coach John Harbaugh likes what he sees.
“You get better by going against good players,” he said at a post-draft news conference Saturday. “It makes our established veterans better. It makes our young guys better. We like to have a deep roster. So, yes, I’m really excited [about the team’s depth]. I’m happy. As a coach, I like the look of the roster, and I’m looking forward to going to work, start practicing and start improving.”
Some in Baltimore might have liked the draft more than others. Here are the Ravens’ winners and losers coming out of the weekend.
How do you help a quarterback who already powers the NFL’s best rushing attack? Help him become the pass-first quarterback he aspires to. Two of the Ravens’ top three picks are potential Week 1 starters on offense — wide receiver Rashod Bateman and guard Ben Cleveland — and the team’s first Day 3 selection was another prolific wideout, Tylan Wallace.
There’s still an Orlando Brown Jr.-sized hole at right tackle, but the Ravens’ free-agent options there are more NFL-ready than anyone they would’ve taken after Day 2, and maybe even Day 1. Jackson’s supporting cast isn’t perfect. It’s also still far better than what he had for much of last year.
The Ravens’ first-year wide receivers coach doesn’t have the NFL’s best wide receivers group, not even close, but it’s certainly one of the youngest and most malleable. Since Martin was hired in February, the Ravens have signed Sammy Watkins, a Super Bowl champion with a promising track record under offensive coordinator Greg Roman, and drafted Bateman and Wallace. Marquise “Hollywood” Brown is the top returner on a unit that now has three former first-round picks and nine players age 24 or younger.
Best of all, there’s a good mix of skill sets. Brown and Bateman can line up at any position. At outside receiver, Watkins and Wallace will push incumbent Miles Boykin. And James Proche II and Devin Duvernay should vie for slot snaps.
Trace McSorley and Tyler Huntley
The draft was light on Day 2 and Day 3 dual-threat quarterbacks, and the Ravens so far haven’t signed an undrafted passer. All of which is to say: Bring on Trace versus Tyler. With Robert Griffin III’s career in Baltimore over, the Ravens will have a new backup quarterback in 2021. McSorley, a sixth-round pick in 2019, has the edge in experience. Huntley, undrafted out of Utah last season, has the stronger arm. Neither player can outrun safeties like Jackson can, but they’re both mobile enough to keep defenses honest against the Ravens’ option looks.
With only three preseason games on the schedule this year, training camp performance will be even more important. If recent history holds, the Ravens will keep three quarterbacks on their season-opening 53-man roster, but activate only two on game day.
If Bradley Bozeman indeed moves over to center, where he starred in college, chances are that the Ravens’ starting left guard will be named Ben.
There’s Ben Cleveland, who’s known as “Big Country,” but who, at 6 feet 6 and 343 pounds, might well be the AFC North’s next Big Ben. There’s Ben Powers, who started seven games at right guard last year and finished the season with the NFL’s eighth-best run-block win rate, according to ESPN. And there’s Ben Bredeson, the 2020 fourth-round pick who played mostly on special teams last season but “will be involved” in the interior competition, Harbaugh said Saturday.
(There’s also fifth-round pick Ben Mason, but he’s expected to play tight end and fullback. For now, anyway.)
Ravens’ AFC North edge
This isn’t to say the Ravens have lost their edge in the division; according to Las Vegas, they’re still the betting favorites. It’s just that they might have lost ground to the ascendant Browns.
Cleveland finished with the NFL’s No. 25 pass defense last season, according to Football Outsiders’ efficiency metrics. In free agency, Browns general manager Andrew Berry signed slot cornerback Troy Hill and safety John Johnson III to deals worth a combined $58 million. Over the weekend, a year after drafting safety LSU Grant Delpit in the second round, the Browns took cornerback Greg Newsome II in the first round and versatile linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in the second.
The Ravens years ago built their secondary to challenge any NFL passing attack; the Browns are doing the same.
2019 draft class
The holes the Ravens can plug with this class are some of the holes they’d hoped to plug two years ago. Marquise Brown, DeCosta’s first pick as general manager, has started 25 games over his first two seasons and starred in the postseason, but other wide receivers taken later have outplayed him while looking like better fits for the Ravens’ rugged, run-first offense. Boykin, meanwhile, has excelled as a blocker but not as a receiver.
Outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson, who has 4 ½ sacks in two seasons, watched the Ravens replace two Pro Bowl-level edge rushers, Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue, with two promising rookies, Odafe Oweh and Daelin Hayes. Powers has been inconsistent at guard — hence Cleveland’s arrival. Iman Marshall hasn’t stayed healthy at defensive back, where the Ravens brought in Brandon Stephens and Shaun Wade. Daylon Mack lasted less than a year in Baltimore, and the Ravens’ aging defensive interior will have to be addressed sooner than later.
The Ravens all but swore off players from non-Power Five conference schools this year. The one player who didn’t come from a brand-name program — cornerback Brandon Stephens, who played for Southern Methodist in the American Athletic Conference — actually started his career at UCLA.
DeCosta explained Saturday that with all the uncertainty around college football last season, “it just seemed wise at the time to focus most of our attention on big-school guys, and we tried to do that.” The Ravens ended up drafting players from four Big Ten Conference schools (Minnesota, Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan), one Big 12 Conference school (Oklahoma State) and one Southeastern Conference school (Georgia).
Last year, the Ravens were hailed for their draft class, with A’s handed out like they’d already aced their player-evaluation tests. At the end of the season, their marks were more modest: Pro Football Focus rated the Ravens’ rookie class 26th in the NFL. On NFL.com, it finished 19th. The Ravens are getting good grades again for their 2021 haul. Just remember that it doesn’t mean much. According to a 2020 Football Outsiders analysis of evaluations from 2012 to 2017, “there is pretty much no relationship between draft grades and future value at all.”