The Ravens chose the most exciting player available in Marquise “Hollywood” Brown.
Box-office appeal was likely far from general manager Eric DeCosta’s mind when he turned in his draft card for the 5-foot-9, 166-pound burner from Oklahoma. If he’d preferred a guard at No. 25 overall, he would have picked the guard.
But DeCosta and coach John Harbaugh know the Ravens have lacked an offensive threat capable of scoring on any play from any spot on the field. It’s the key trait that has kept them beneath AFC rivals such as the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs. Even with one of the fastest quarterbacks in NFL history in Lamar Jackson, they generally had to grind out long drives on their way to the playoffs last season.
Brown is not a sure thing, but he is the first player the Ravens have drafted this decade who could truly change that dynamic. No one in college football got wide open more consistently. Oklahoma players were used to watching pro-level talent when Brown stepped on campus in 2017. But they still came away sharing awed anecdotes about the new receiver’s game speed.
Yes, there are real questions about Brown, starting with the one that’s followed him his entire life. There’s no way around it when you see him in person; he’s tiny for a football player. Not just short but unusually slender. Perhaps because of his stature, he made few contested catches compared to the other top receiver prospects in this draft.
An optimist would say Brown made few contested catches because no defender could stay near him. A skeptic would say he won’t be wide open all the time in the NFL, where the defensive backs are bigger, faster and smarter.
Oklahoma outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons has worked with excellent pass catchers of all shapes and sizes. Here’s his take on the issue: “He plays a lot bigger than he is, and playing in the league ain’t going to be the first time someone has tried to press him at the line of scrimmage. We’ve played our fair share of the better defensive backs, and anytime somebody matched up with us, they put their best DB on him. He’s a very strong player — incredibly strong for his size — and he’s got very large hands for his size.”
Here’s the important thing to understand: Brown is not Breshad Perriman, who looked great in a workout but never played particularly fast on Sundays. He already understands the subtleties of changing pace and playing with leverage, and he’s devoted to learning more, in part because he measures himself against his cousin, four-time first-team All-Pro Antonio Brown.
“I would credit his cousin with a lot of that,” Simmons said. “With all of the antics about Antonio, the thing that’s lost in the shuffle … is how hard he works in the offseason. He brought Marquise out the summer before last, and Marquise was able to see that first hand and understand, ‘If this is what I want to do as a profession, to stay relevant and be considered the best at your position, this is how you’ve got to work.’ ”
Those should be reassuring words for Ravens fans as they look ahead to the partnership between Brown and Jackson, who needed a receiver like this to hasten his development as a passer. DeCosta made a prudent pick but also one that should lift the entertainment value of the 2019 season.
In Jaylon Ferguson, the Ravens found one of the third round’s best values at a position where they had to add talent.
Sometimes, it feels like we undersell the sheer amount of defensive talent the Ravens lost in free agency. Yes, Terrell Suggs was a shadow of his prime self in 2018. And yes, the Green Bay Packers paid an absurd price for Za’Darius Smith based on one season of high-end production.
But those guys were still essential to the Ravens’ league-leading defense, and DeCosta could not afford replacements for them on the open market. So he had to find an edge rusher in the draft, which isn’t easy to do.
In light of that urgency, DeCosta tried to trade up in the third round to take Ferguson, the all-time NCAA sacks leader and an ideal physical specimen at 6 feet 5 and 271 pounds. He could not find a willing partner, but in a nice bit of fortune, Ferguson fell to the Ravens anyway.
Ferguson was not invited to the NFL scouting combine (because of a simple battery charge connected to a fight during his freshman year at Louisiana Tech) and disappointed many scouts with his pro-day workout. His elite college production came in Conference USA, not the Southeastern Conference. But the Ravens got a player some projected as a first-round pick in the bottom half of the third round.
Ferguson’s size gives him a dimension beyond some of the speedier edge rushers who were rated in the same range. He’s large and powerful enough to set the edge and play effectively against the run.
“To have a big, physical guy like that that can set an edge and rush the passer is perfect for what we’re looking for,” Harbaugh said.
The unifying theme for the Ravens’ offensive picks was speed.
We’ve heard tales of Brown’s jaw-dropping speed, but if he lined up for a race with the rest of the team’s skill-position draftees, they might give him a run for his money.
Fourth-round pick Justice Hill ran the fastest 40-yard dash time of any running back at the NFL scouting combine. And he broke plenty of tackles at Oklahoma State, proving he’s not just a finesse player despite his below-average size (5-10, 198 pounds). He said he’s been the fastest player on the field since he was a young child, and he should diversify a Ravens backfield that was dominated by power runners last season.
Third-round pick Miles Boykin will tower over Brown and Hill, but the 6-4, 220-pound receiver also ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds at the combine. Critics say he didn’t always use his physical gifts to dominate one-on-one matchups at Notre Dame, and he acknowledged he needs to improve his route running. On paper, however, he’s a tantalizing player to pair with Brown.
The Ravens bruised their way down the field during their 6-1 stretch run in 2018, and they’ll retain that element of their offense. But they plan to be less predictable in 2019.
“Certainly, the idea of adding speed with Lamar is just an exciting thing to think about,” director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. “I know Greg [Roman] is excited about it. I know John is excited about it, the chance to really put fear into opposing defenses.”
The Ravens filled many needs, but they still need to go shopping for a middle linebacker.
DeCosta said he didn’t expect either of the top two inside linebackers, Devin White of LSU or Devin Bush of Michigan, to reach the Ravens at No. 22 overall. He was correct as both players went in the top 10.
The quality at inside linebacker fell off the table after the two Devins, and that was reflected by the Ravens’ decision not to take a linebacker. They could have used one of their fourth-round selections on Alabama inside linebacker Mack Wilson and instead added depth at running back and cornerback. That tells us they must not have graded Wilson highly.
The Ravens have said they could go into the season with Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young as their starting inside linebackers, but that still doesn’t seem like the optimal answer for replacing the departed C.J. Mosley. Onwuasor came on strong as a playmaker at weak-side linebacker, and ideally, he’d remain there. Young proved he could hang in the NFL as a rookie, but he was inconsistent as a tackler and below-average in coverage.
DeCosta could still find a veteran solution as the secondary free-agent market opens up next month, but this was one weakness the Ravens could not patch over in the draft.
An Eric DeCosta draft looked a lot like an Ozzie Newsome draft.
This should come as no surprise, because DeCosta acted as Newsome’s draft consigliere for 15 years before he became general manager and ran many day-to-day aspects of the operation.
But we saw that, as promised, DeCosta will maintain the franchise’s fixation on wringing every drop of value from each pick. He could have selected Brown at No. 22 overall, and no one would have considered it a poor value. Instead, he risked losing the top receiver in the draft by trading down and picking up two later picks in a deep draft.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. refers to this as “working the draft,” and we can already see DeCosta’s passion for the process. As he noted Wednesday, while showing off the team’s new digital war room to reporters, some general managers simply pick the player they want, regardless of placement. We saw it in the first round this year, when the Oakland Raiders picked pass rusher Clelin Ferrell No. 4 overall and the New York Giants picked quarterback Daniel Jones No. 6 overall. Regardless of how you judge either player, both would likely have been available lower in the round.
The key lesson Newsome taught DeCosta is when you trade down and miss out on a targeted player, there’s usually another player of similar talent to make up for it. Sometimes, you get burned, but in the wash, it makes sense to bet on volume.
The protégé is not as patient as his mentor. He acknowledged the anxiety he felt Friday as the Ravens sat out the second round and watched numerous favorite prospects vanish from their board. That was the price they paid for trading up to pick Jackson last season. But at the same time, DeCosta had talked all month about the depth of this class, with 205 draftable players on the team’s board compared to about 150 in a typical year.
In that context, he felt great about having five picks across the third and fourth rounds. And in fact, the Ravens loaded up on good values at positions where they needed fresh blood.
We won’t truly be able to rate DeCosta’s debut draft for years. But it felt awfully familiar.