Only time will determine the impact of the 2019 NFL draft, but it was clear over the weekend that the Ravens wanted to improve their offensive speed, get second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson more weapons and they have a preference for Oklahoma players.
The Ravens appear to have upgraded because they attempted to fill needs at wide receiver, edge rusher and on the offensive line. It would be easier to grade their class if the team had a pick in the top 10 of each round, but the Ravens were at No. 22 overall in the first round and didn’t have a pick in the second.
A top-10 pick in each of the first three rounds virtually guarantees two starters, and a third-round selection would challenge for playing time. But the Ravens watched as a lot of talent taken off the board in between their first-round pick of Oklahoma receiver Marquise Brown and third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson, an edge rusher from Louisiana Tech taken No. 85 overall.
“We took some water early on. It was a really a long day,” said Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta of day two. “We had some really outstanding players get picked. It was frustrating for me. I actually got up and walked out a few times and paced, went out into the hallway and went down to my office just because we weren’t picking for so long, and we see these outstanding players that we spent nine months basically grading and evaluating and following [go off the board]. Not having a second-round pick is a challenge. The third round fell nicely and it was needed.”
The Ravens needed to add speed. They’ve gotten a little faster over the years but not to the point where defensive coordinators are spending a lot of time being concerned. The days of games where a team has three or four 12-play, 70-yard drives are over. A team needs explosive players who can make sudden impact plays.
“I think speed is obviously an important factor,” Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. “That’s not to say there aren’t guys in the same area as those layers and in the same positions that may not have as much speed. It’s just when we’re picking, they were the best players on our board to take.
“But certainly, the ideal of adding speed with Lamar is just an exciting thing to think about teams having to defend. I know [offensive coordinator] Greg Roman is excited about it and [head coach] John Harbaugh is excited about it. It’s a chance to really put fear in our opposing defenses. I think it really gets you excited.”
The Ravens got three of them with that type of reputation in Brown, Notre Dame receiver Miles Boykin and Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill. If they develop and become good players, then opposing teams have to defend the entire field, which the Los Angeles Chargers didn’t have to do in a wild-card playoff game last season.
The 5-foot-9, 166-pound Brown is a mild stretch. You would feel better if you could put his college production on Boykin’s 6-4, 220-pound frame. But this is DeCosta’s first draft and he gets a chance to prove himself. Brown was considered by most of the so-called experts to be one of the top three receivers in the college game.
Boykin is intriguing. Besides the size and speed, he improved his stock late in the drafting process. He can give the Ravens a strong, physical presence on the outside, which they haven’t had since the Ravens traded Anquan Boldin at the end of the 2012 season. Boykin also played in a pro-style system at Notre Dame.
It’s interesting to note that former Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome was often criticized unfairly for taking players from Alabama, but the Ravens have taken four from Oklahoma during the past two years — Brown and guard Ben Powers this season and offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and tight end Mark Andrews last year.
“The mentality they create there, the offense they’re running, that fits what we’re doing here in Baltimore,” Hortiz said. “So, I think that plays into it. But it’s really just opportunity meeting our draft board and it’s just worked out great for us. We certainly love the mentality they come in with; so we’re going to keep shopping there hopefully.”
Hill is a small back with great quickness and burst. He isn’t a great home-run hitter as far as breakaway speed, but he is good at stretching the perimeter and can split out wide as a receiver. The Ravens currently don’t have a third-down back on the roster.
The Ravens needed to get a center or guard and they selected Oklahoma guard Ben Powers in the fourth round. Powers reportedly is a technician because of sound fundamentals. He is good at getting out on reach blocks and appears to be unstoppable once he gets his hands on you.
But Powers looks stiff like third-year Ravens guard Alex Lewis, who hasn’t improved much since his rookie season.
The Ravens are excited about two of the defensive players they drafted. Ferguson, at 6-5 and 271 pounds, is physical and has power, but he’ll have to develop some finesse moves. He isn’t going to overpower a lot of tackles or tight ends in pro ball like he did in Conference USA.
The Ravens selected Texas A&M defensive tackle Daylon Mack in the fifth round with the 160th overall pick. He is big, strong and can disrupt running games with his penetration, but he isn’t much of a pass rusher.
The Ravens also picked Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley, and he can run the same offense as both Jackson and Robert Griffin III.
Pass rushing is an area where the Ravens still need to improve. It’s hard to count on a rookie such as Ferguson, and third-year players Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams haven’t proven they are full-time starters yet. The Ravens could still use a veteran at middle linebacker and add depth on the defensive line. They also need to get a veteran at center or guard.
Maybe they got that person over the weekend in Powers. Maybe they filled all their needs at receiver as well. We’ll find out soon enough, but at least the Ravens got faster and younger, and they got Jackson some weapons, too.
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