The final evaluation of the Ravens’ 2018 draft class won’t be determined for several years, but this could be one of general manager Ozzie Newsome’s better groups.
The team might have a star in first-round pick Hayden Hurst, a tight end out of South Carolina, and this class is solid and made even stronger by late-round picks and free-agent acquisitions.
Coach John Harbaugh and his staff will have some tough decision to make in selecting their final 53-man roster Saturday by 4 p.m., but that’s a testimony to the competitive nature of training camp and the preseason.
The Ravens still lack the top overall star talent of teams like the Los Angeles Rams and the Pittsburgh Steelers, which might catch up with them at the end of the season. The 2018 season could also be quickly derailed with a major injury to quarterback Joe Flacco.
But there was a buzz around town about this class in April, and there still should be. The Ravens wanted to improve their offense, and there was hope that Hurst would improve the passing game. Lamar Jackson, the second of two first-round picks, would be the quarterback of the future and Orlando Brown Jr., a third-round pick, would become a solid right tackle in the NFL.
So far, there hasn’t been a disappointment, even though Jackson needs more work than expected. He is at least two years away from being a possible starter, but gets better every week.
Hurst is as good as advertised, even though he will miss a couple of games with a stress fracture in his foot. He is fast and strong, the type of tight end that can work the deep middle of the field or turn a short pass into a big play.
He could develop into the type of tight end fans in Baltimore haven’t seen since Todd Heap.
Jackson has become even more intriguing. Everyone knew he could run, but the Ravens kept talking about how he had performed so well under the good coaching at Louisville. That hasn’t been on display in Baltimore yet, but there are a lot of things to like about Jackson.
He works hard and looks more comfortable running the offense every week. His teammates like him and appear ready to play hard for him.
The accuracy has gotten better, but what is scary is the way Ravens have gone out of their way to mold him.
Quarterbacks shouldn’t be wired that way.
Brown came into training camp overweight, out of shape and failed to listen to former pros and Ravens linemen around him like Wally Williams and Tony Jones. That however, has changed. He has reshaped his body and worked hard in the weight room. He absorbs and applies any advice.
The Ravens might not want to unveil future plans, but it appears as if the offensive line of the future, maybe by the end of this season, will feature Brown and Ronnie Stanley at tackle, Marshal Yanda and James Hurst at guard and Alex Lewis at center.
That’s a capable group. It’s not great, but should be effective, especially with assistant coach Greg Roman directing the running game.
The Ravens’ other third-round pick, tight end Mark Andrews out of Oklahoma, needs more work at this point than Brown. He has good hands and decent speed, but lacks both physical and mental toughness. He is definitely a player who needs a year in the weight room, much like current Ravens tight end Maxx Williams did four years ago.
That’s not unusual. What is strange is the success the Ravens have had with fourth-round picks like cornerback Anthony Averett and outside linebacker Kenny Young. Averett is constantly around the ball and Young has good speed, which is why he is challenging Patrick Onwuasor for a starting spot.
Even the Ravens’ sixth-round picks like DeShon Elliott and offensive tackle Greg Senat have done well. Senat, from Wagner, has good, quick feet. Another sleeper who could make the team is defensive lineman Zack Sieler, a seventh-round pick from Ferris State.
When a team has this many impressive rookies, it would seem as if they were terrible last season, but the Ravens finished 9-7. But even the rookie free-agent class is strong.
If Ravens didn’t have established kicker Justin Tucker, rookie Kaare Vedvik would easily make the team. The Ravens have to make tough decisions on rookie running backs Gus Edwards and Mark Thompson, outside linebackers Chris Board and Alvin Young and wide receiver Janarion Grant.
There will be a lot of heated arguments in the coaching room Saturday as the assistants lobby for their position players. By the end of the morning, a lot of decisions will be made based on players who can also play special teams.
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It’s not an enviable position for a coach, but it’s better to have a surplus than a deficiency.