The Ravens had a plan Thursday, Eric DeCosta said, because you don’t enter the NFL draft with two first-round picks and not at least have a plan. But they also had hope — hope that the franchise’s best-player-available strategy wouldn’t leave them with bad value and worse escape paths, that the prospects they coveted would fall to them as they had so often over 25 years in Baltimore.
But when DeCosta and coach John Harbaugh took the podium inside the team facility not long after midnight Friday, they seemed almost surprised that they hadn’t had to scramble. With the No. 27 overall pick, they’d taken Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman, a silky-smooth route runner who upgrades one of the NFL’s worst wide receiver rooms and gives quarterback Lamar Jackson another weapon. Four picks later, they’d selected Penn State’s Odafe Oweh, betting that one of the draft’s best athletes would bolster a depleted pass rush.
The Ravens couldn’t address all their roster needs, not on the draft’s opening night. But they came away from an unpredictable first round with two players who, on paper, made utter sense. No position has been more scrutinized this offseason than wide receiver. No position has been more transformed this offseason than edge rusher. Here were potential stars at both.
“We were very fortunate to get two players that we think are excellent players at their positions and really fill, also, some significant needs on our team in positions that we wanted to address,” said DeCosta, leading his third draft as general manager. “We’re excited.”
The Ravens called Bateman and Oweh the best players available, but there were others who might’ve come close. Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins, one of the draft’s best run-blocking linemen and most experienced right tackles, was available at No. 27 and again at No. 31, the pick the Ravens had acquired a week ago in a trade that sent Pro Bowl right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Georgia edge rusher Azeez Ojulari likewise remained on the board. So did Washington edge rusher Joe Tryon. And Texas Christian’s Trevon Moehrig, considered the best safety in the class. And Alabama’s Christian Barmore, considered the best defensive tackle.
The Ravens took calls on potential trades, and DeCosta said it got “hectic” in the team’s war room. But they were unmoved by the offers they heard and the other prospects they considered.
“We made the decision that we felt was best for the Ravens,” DeCosta said. “We certainly could’ve traded, but we felt these players really were the right picks at the right time for the club. It’s a challenging thing sometimes to assess the value of a trade back and the value of additional picks versus a player that you think could come in right away, contribute and help you win football games. …
“I think all of you guys know we do love to make trades. I love to make trades. I love additional picks, but this was one instance where I think being conservative and saying, ‘These two guys are going to help us win football games,’ was probably the smart thing to do.”
The Ravens’ top picks were a study in contrasts: Bateman the record-breaking receiver known more for his technique than his turbo button, Oweh the built-in-a-lab edge rusher who ended last season without a sack.
There was a certain irony, too, to Bateman being the Ravens’ first selection. Last week, DeCosta lashed out at the discourse around the Ravens’ wide receivers, who’d finished last in the NFL in catches and receiving yards in 2020. “We have some really good, young receivers,” he said at the team’s April 19 predraft news conference. “It’s insulting to these guys when they hear that we don’t have any receivers.”
But Harbaugh, sitting next to DeCosta, later acknowledged that the Ravens’ confidence in the young group wouldn’t preclude them from adding to it. “In the end, we’ll find certain receivers in the draft who we like that fit us, fit our needs and fit how we play, fit our quarterback and fit our personality,” he said. “We’ll find those guys, and we’ll be targeting those guys. We know who they are already.”
The 6-foot Bateman fits the profile of a Ravens receiver: productive, versatile, fast. As a true sophomore at Minnesota in 2019, he finished with 60 catches for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns. Lining up mostly as an outside receiver, Bateman ranked first in the Football Bowl Subdivision in first-down rate (88.3%) and fifth in yards per target (12.4), according to Sports Info Solutions.
His encore was more challenging. Bateman contracted the coronavirus in June and lost 10 pounds. Playing at 190 pounds and lining up more in the slot, he led the Golden Gophers last year with 36 catches for 472 yards and two touchdowns in five games before opting out for the remainder of the season. Bateman’s yards per catch fell from 20.3 to 13.1, and he had three dropped passes in 2020, according to SIS, after five drops in 13 games the year before.
But he was still getting open — Bateman had a top-10 rate of separation over the past two seasons, according to Pro Football Focus — and his speed could not be denied. At his pro day, Bateman surprised by posting an unofficial 4.39-second 40-yard dash. In Baltimore, he will not look out of place running next to Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, a first-round pick in 2019, and Devin Duvernay, a third-round pick in 2020, Ravens receivers with track star speed.
“I feel like you’re getting the whole package, most definitely,” Bateman said. “Whatever the team needs, I feel like I’ll be that receiver, be the best teammate to my teammates, help out in any situation possible.”
“We crunched the numbers,” DeCosta said. “We listen to our people. We watched his workout, and we watched his pro day. We had the chance to interview him, and he really checked off all the boxes. It was, from my perspective, a very easy pick to make.”
Oweh, the first edge rusher the Ravens took in the first round since Terrell Suggs in 2003, was a riskier selection. Harbaugh acknowledged that Ravens officials discussed his sack production — just seven in 24 college games, and none last season. “But we also watched the tape,” he said.
What they saw was a player who, in only his fifth year of competitive football, was one of the Big Ten’s most disruptive defenders. Oweh was a stout run defender, with an elite run-stop rate (12.6%), according to PFF. In seven games against a Big Ten-only schedule, his lack of a developed pass-rush plan might have been obvious at times. But he had five quarterback hits, 15 hurries and a well-above-average pass-rush win rate of 16.6%.
Baltimore Ravens Insider
“I knew that people that really understood and watched football understand what I was doing out there, and that sacks weren’t where it ended with me,” Oweh said. “I was very disruptive. I caused a lot of havoc. I was very stout in the run game. I was beating my man; I was always there. So people really understood that the zero-sacks thing, that had no definition of who I was as a player.”
The Ravens didn’t so much draft the 6-5, 257-pound Oweh for the player he was as for the player he can become. There are few athletic analogues for what he did at Penn State’s pro day. Oweh’s 4.36-second 40 headlined a performance that also landed him in the 99th percentile among edge rushers in broad jump, 96th percentile in vertical jump, 93rd percentile in three-cone drill and 90th percentile in 20-yard shuttle.
Oweh rarely dropped back from the line of scrimmage in college, but he said early Friday morning that he can cover, and it’s hard to believe the Ravens won’t ask him to. He’ll be the most athletic edge rusher Don “Wink” Martindale has had in his tenure as Ravens defensive coordinator. And with Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon and defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue and Jihad Ward leaving in free agency, the path to a Day 1 job is there for Oweh.
“He’s going to get to the quarterback, [and] not just that,” Harbaugh said. “He’s going to run screens down. He’s going to chase from the back side, and he’s going to set the edge at the point of attack. He’s going to be an all-around football player. When our fans watch him run around and watch how fast he plays, I think they’re going to be really excited about it.”
After sending their second-round pick to Kansas City along with Brown last week, the Ravens will enter Day 2 with a pair of late-third-round picks (Nos. 94 and 104 overall) and an offensive line needing help. DeCosta indicated he would not look to move up in the draft, calling the cost “probably prohibitive.” The Ravens have more needs than they have high-value picks, and DeCosta has made clear his goal to amass selections over the 2021 and 2022 drafts.
“We do think that we’re going to get two really good players in the third round,” DeCosta said. “I think we feel really good as a team right now and what our choices will be tomorrow. So we’ll probably wait.”
And why not? That approach seemed to work Thursday night.