INDIANAPOLIS — The wide receiver class is deep but not star-studded. There is a gaggle of solid pass-catching tight ends but not much in the way of versatile performers who can also block. The interior offensive line class is loaded. However, there’s not much excitement about the available tackles.
This week’s NFL scouting combine will reveal more about the strengths of the 2018 draft class. What it might not do is suddenly produce high-end solutions for the Ravens’ biggest needs.
When the Ravens are on the clock April 26 with the 16th overall pick, there probably won’t be a projected No. 1 wide receiver sitting there unless Alabama’s Calvin Ridley inexplicably falls. Many pundits don’t believe there is a tight end worthy of being taken in the entire first round, never mind in the middle of it. Even the three most highly touted offensive tackles come with questions about what position they’ll eventually settle at in the pros.
Given the state of their roster and the primary shortcomings of the team during its three-year playoff drought, the Ravens figure to address the offense early and often in the draft. Beyond that, it might not be the type of draft where they can get picky.
“I kind of just say, ‘Who can make a difference?’ It doesn't matter what you call it,” NFL Network lead draft analyst Mike Mayock said in a conference call this week when asked about the Ravens’ situation. “It doesn't matter if you call it a wideout, tight end or H-back, whatever. Who can make a difference?”
As the top members of the 2018 draft class convene in Indianapolis through Monday — over 300 prospects will be on hand for on-field workouts, measurements, interviews with teams, and news conferences with reporters — the defining characteristic of the group is its depth, not its star power.
One by one, head coaches and general managers stepped behind a lectern at the Indiana Convention Center on Wednesday and talked about the number of quality players available at certain positions.
“I see talent in all the positions,” said Duke Tobin, the Cincinnati Bengals’ longtime director of player personnel. “I think the draft offers a lot of linemen, maybe not an Orlando Pace, but a lot of guys that will be starters and good players. I think there’s depth on defense. I think there’s big interior defensive linemen. I think there’s a number of safeties. The corners are a good group. I think it’s a good draft altogether. There’s a lot of talent to be had.”
Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is widely considered the top player in the draft. North Carolina State edge rusher Bradley Chubb is expected to be the first defensive player taken. As is the case every year, there’s a curiosity about where the top quarterbacks will end up as Southern California’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Wyoming’s Josh Allen are vying to be the top pick, and highly scrutinized Heisman Trophy winners Baker Mayfield (2017) and Lamar Jackson (2016) might have to wait in line behind them.
Yet, it’s probably a bit telling that some projections have Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, who plays a position that has traditionally been de-emphasized during draft time, being selected in the top five. Meanwhile, elite talent at glamour positions such as pass rusher, cornerback and wide receiver is said to be confined to a player or two each.
“I only see one guaranteed first-round receiver, which is Ridley,” ESPN draft analyst and Baltimore native Mel Kiper Jr. said on a conference call late last week. “It’s a bad year for receivers in the first round and a really good year for receivers in the second through fifth round.”
Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert has made finding standout receivers in the middle or later rounds into an art form. As he evaluated the current receiver class Wednesday, he said, “There are an inordinate number of receivers in this draft that we see as top-three-round-caliber players, but there’s no great group of easily identifiable franchise-type receivers.”
Maybe that’s not bad news for the Ravens, who have prioritized getting quarterback Joe Flacco more help this offseason and rebuilding a receiving corps that was substandard last season. General manager Ozzie Newsome’s drafting history has been marred by his misses with first-round receivers, and similar stories have become the norm around the NFL in recent years.
Since the landmark 2014 draft that produced Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin, 13 receivers have been selected in the first round and only the Oakland Raiders’ Amari Cooper has made a Pro Bowl.
This draft could set up well for the Ravens to use a second- or third-round pick, if not both, on a receiver. Maryland’s DJ Moore, Oklahoma State’s James Washington, Southern Methodist’s Courtland Sutton, Washington’s Dante Pettis and Colorado State’s Michael Gallup are among the receivers who should go in that range.
But that still leaves the question of what the Ravens will do at 16 if they don’t land Ridley or deem another pass catcher as mid-first-round-worthy.
They probably wouldn’t take a tight end there even though there is a definite need for a big and explosive presence who could stretch the field. South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst, South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert and Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews all are nice prospects, but they don’t scream first-round talent.
“Every year we have the same conversation about college tight ends. There are only a few that will block and then a bunch of receivers, then who fits what scheme the best,” said Mayock, calling the top tight ends logical second-, third- and fourth-round picks.
That leaves an offensive tackle as the most logical first-round target for the Ravens. Coach John Harbaugh has talked often about building a young and dominant offensive line. The Ravens believe they have some pieces in place, but they’re lacking in depth at tackle. It’s also not a certainty that veteran Austin Howard, who started all 16 games at right tackle in 2017, returns.
However, there’s no consensus about the top tackles in the draft. Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey is widely considered the top option, but there are concerns about how he’ll deal with speed rushers on the outside. Oklahoma’s Orlando Brown, the son of the former Ravens starting tackle, certainly looks the part at 6 feet 7 and 345 pounds. However, there are concerns about him as a technician. Some scouts believe Texas’ Connor Williams is better suited at guard.
The Ravens don’t covet a guard with starters Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis both returning from injury and depth behind them in the form of Matt Skura and Nico Siragusa.
Then again, this might not be a draft that offers exactly what the Ravens want. But it should produce plenty that they need, particularly in the middle rounds.