What kind of player will the Ravens find at No. 16?
He was a little slow by NFL wide receiver standards and he'd racked up his enormous numbers at a Division I-AA school.
So he watched and waited as teams snapped up two other receivers and a running back/tight end named Ethan Horton in the first 15 picks of the 1985 draft.
Finally at No. 16, the San Francisco 49ers called his name: Jerry Rice.
Over the next 20 seasons, of course, Rice became the greatest wide receiver — and arguably the greatest player period — of all time. As such, he is the patron saint of the 16th overall pick, which the Ravens possess in this year's draft.
Rice isn't the only star in the history of the 16th pick. Ravens fans spent years fretting over Troy Polamalu after the Pittsburgh Steelers took the free-wheeling safety at that spot in 2003. As recently as 2014, the Dallas Cowboys drafted a Pro Bowl player, guard Zack Martin, at No. 16.
But the pick has also been home to many a bust — some high-profile and some simply forgotten.
It has proven a poor juncture at which to draft a quarterback. Florida State's EJ Manuel was not the answer for the Buffalo Bills in 2013. And yet he was still better than Dan McGwire — brother of Mark — who completed a grand total of 74 NFL passes after he was drafted No. 16 overall in 1991.
At least we remember those guys. Can you say the same for Quinton Coples or Larry English or Justin Harrell? They all went off the board at No. 16 in the past 10 years and went on to undistinguished NFL careers.
Go back further and you find never-weres such as Ohio State linebacker Eric Kumerow (1988) and Boston College defensive end John Bosa (1987). But hey, there's a story with those two. Bosa married Kumerow's sister, Cheryl, and the couple's son — last year's No. 3 overall pick Joey Bosa — is already a better NFL player than either his dad or his uncle.
The Ravens are confident they'll snag an immediate contributor Thursday night. Scouts generally view this as a deep draft class, especially on the defensive side.
"There are some good offensive players, but I think in terms of just sheer volume, the defensive board would be more attractive to most people. It is a good draft," Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said. "A lot of juniors came out this year, and that always helps. … There's definitely some really good players and we are in a good spot at [No.] 16 to get a very good player for us."
Nonetheless, history suggests their pick is a 50-50 crapshoot, at best. Given that and the perceived depth of the class, a trade down might make sense, though other teams will likely think along the same lines.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said he expects many teams to explore trades to accumulate more picks and said such a move might make sense for the Ravens in the first round. But he pointed to offensive line, rather than defense, as a likely target should they go that way.
"I think the Ravens are in a great spot, because where they're picking in the middle of the first, if they trade down, say Cam Robinson from Alabama, Ryan Ramczyk of Wisconsin and also, say, Forrest Lamp from Western Kentucky are all still there," Kiper said. "All three they have their sights on possibly because all, they all fill that void either at guard or tackle. You have Alex Lewis, who had a good rookie year and can play either right tackle or guard, so whoever they draft impacts Lewis. They don't have to force a tackle or a guard. They can take either position. So they've got all three guys who are interesting and if you trade down, you're going to get one of those three."
In 21 previous drafts, the Ravens have never held the No. 16 pick. But they've done well when they've drafted in a similar range. Three years ago, linebacker C.J. Mosley fell in their laps at No. 17, and he quickly became an every-down starter and one of the most important players on the team. In 2008, the Ravens traded down, then up to No. 18 to draft Joe Flacco. Four years later, he led them to a Super Bowl championship with one of the greatest stretches of quarterbacking in NFL postseason history.
If the Ravens do keep the No. 16 pick, they won't expect to land the next Rice or Polamalu. But if they can find a starting tackle as the Detroit Lions did with Taylor Decker last year or a Pro Bowl defender as the Washington Redskins did with outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan in 2011, they'll be plenty happy.