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Mike Preston: Ravens need to make this draft count by picking a 'clean' player

The Sun's Ravens beat writer Jeff Zrebiec along with Ravens editor Mark Selig goes over which players should be available when the Ravens draft the six pick. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

Because of recent trades made in the top five, the Ravens are in an enviable position with the No. 6 overall pick in the NFL draft, which begins Thursday and runs through next Saturday.

They could "reach" on a player or draft the best player available. But the No. 1 priority is finding a "clean" player who doesn't have any issues on or off the field.

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If successful in this draft in which they have nine picks, the Ravens might not select this high again in each round for many years. So it's important to find that player in the first round to build your team around, one who might play 10 years.

If you look at the top five or six other than quarterbacks Carson Wentz of North Dakota State and California's Jared Goff, the two with the least amount of doubt, or the cleanest for the Ravens, are Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner and Mississippi offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil.

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The Ravens have many running backs, so they don't need Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott. There are concerns about UCLA linebacker Myles Jack's past knee injury, and the Ravens don't want another Breshad Perriman situation like last year.

There are questions about if Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa can make the transition to 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL, and some wonder if Florida State's Jalen Ramsey is a true corner or safety. But there is much less risk with Ramsey.

So will it be Buckner or Tunsil? I'd take either, but prefer Ramsey.

With Tunsil, there is no doubt that he would start right away over Eugene Monroe. Buckner isn't the pass-rushing threat the Ravens want on the perimeter, but he can collapse the pocket inside, and combined with fellow end Timmy Jernigan and nose tackle Brandon Williams, the Ravens would have one of the most promising young defensive lines in the league.

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Plus, Buckner would not be playing out of position, and there is little room for doubt when drafting in the top 10. During the Ravens' first three seasons in Baltimore, general manager Ozzie Newsome made good, but clean choices within the top 10. In 1996, he selected left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden with the No. 4 pick out of UCLA over troubled Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips, who had more baggage than most airports.

A year later, Newsome took Florida State defensive end Peter Boulware with the No. 4 pick. Boulware was a Christian with no off-the-field issues and he was undersized, so few teams projected him as a starting defensive end in the NFL. Again, a good but safe pick, just as Miami cornerback Duane Starks was as the Ravens' No. 10 overall pick in the 1998 draft.

With the Ravens missing the playoffs two of the last three years and going 5-11 last season, they can't afford to take risks with the No. 6 position.

I think San Diego will take Tunsil with the No. 3 pick and the Ravens will opt for Ramsey over Buckner if he is available because the Ravens have a need at cornerback. If that happens, it would be a good day in Baltimore.

Good cornerbacks are hard to find. Few teams have one good cornerback, much less two, and the Ravens don't have one who would qualify as the shutdown type. It was interesting listening to Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith talk Tuesday about how much his ankle injury affected his play last season and still might to some degree going into 2016.

When they were a dominant team in the early 2000s, the Ravens relied on a strong, physical defense, and they showed signs of improvement in the second half of last season. In the final eight games, the Ravens posted the NFL's No. 2 overall defense and the No. 1 pass defense.

During this offseason, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees have worked hard to retool some of the defensive packages, and the Ravens added the much-respected Leslie Frazier as the secondary coach and the highly regarded Eric Weddle at safety.

Now if they get Ramsey it will significantly upgrade the defensive backfield from a position of weakness to one of strength. Both Weddle and Frazier can help Ramsey improve on mechanical and technical issues that Ramsey will struggle with as a pro.

Overall, the Ravens have done well with taking defensive players whenever they've had a top 10 pick, from Boulware to Starks to Arizona cornerback Chris McAlister in 1999 to Arizona State outside linebacker Terrell Suggs in 2003. They also had success with defensive players later in the first round, adding linebacker Ray Lewis in 1996, safety Ed Reed in 2002, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata in 2006 and linebacker C.J. Mosley in 2014.

A couple of weeks ago, Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said he knows the Ravens are going to get a good player in the first round, and he is more concerned about the team's later picks.

He's right. The Ravens are going to get a great player, but it should be one with almost no risk involved. The cleaner, the better.

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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