Florida edge rusher Jachai Polite had 17½ tackles for loss and 11 sacks last season. He led the nation with six forced fumbles. He projects as a likely first-round pick in the NFL draft, a payday that will allow his hairdresser mother to retire early.
But his roommate at the NFL scouting combine is Nick Bosa. He was starstruck.
“He's probably going No. 1,” Polite said Saturday. “That's crazy. I never imagined I'd be in the same room as him, literally. It's just crazy. I'm very blessed to be a part of this draft class.”
It is, in the estimation of first-year Oakland Raiders general manager and former NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, the best defensive line class in a decade. That bodes well for the Ravens, who could lose nearly 2,000 defensive snaps, 16 sacks and 24 years of experience along the line in Baltimore over the next month.
Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith is unlikely to re-sign with the Ravens after leading the team with 8½ sacks. Terrell Suggs is a pending free agent who struggled at times to pressure the edge and turns 37 in October. Defensive end Brent Urban is coming off a 16-start season, the first of his career, in which he proved his worth to the market as a dependable run stopper.
The Ravens finished tied for 11th in the NFL last season with 43 sacks and return starting outside linebacker Matthew Judon, who had seven in 2018. But Judon is entering his walk year, and former second-day draft picks Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams were the team’s two least played linebackers last season.
As always, the question of what to do with the Ravens’ first-round pick comes down to a matter of relative need. The offense needs wide receivers immediately. The defense could need edge rushers in a matter of weeks. There is significant talent available at both positions in the draft, but more blue-chip pass-rush prospects.
“The depth is outstanding, but I don't know that you would say the guys you're going to get [picking in the bottom third of the first round] would have been top-10 players, because we've had depth at other positions in those previous drafts,” NFL Network draft analyst and former Ravens scout Daniel Jeremiah said in a teleconference Monday. “But I do think you're going to get solid-value-type guys in the 20s, just really, really good football players.
“I don't think you're getting some top-10-type player, but you're going to be able to find a really, really solid football player. That's where the Jachai Polites of the world come into the mix there, I think, kind of find their way into that 20 range. He's one that comes to mind. We'll see.”
Polite could fall to the Ravens at No. 22, but only because players like his roommate will have been taken long before.
If Bosa isn't the first edge rusher taken, Kentucky's Josh Allen, awarded the Chuck Bednarik Award as college football's top defensive player last season, could be. Rashan Gary had disappointing production at Michigan but possesses freakish athleticism. Mississippi State's Montez Sweat is long and powerful, with long-term every-down potential.
“It’s awesome,” Bosa said. “I love to see defenders going high. Just sitting in the D-line group with all these guys, pretty impressive. I’m sure tomorrow they’re going to put up some crazy numbers. It’s really cool.”
Some already did at their weigh-ins. Florida State’s Brian Burns had 15½ tackles for loss and 10 sacks as a junior — but his listed weight was 235 pounds. In Indianapolis, after a daily offseason diet of nearly 4,000 calories, he measured in at 249 pounds and close to 6 feet 5, a size more suited to handling 300-plus-pound offensive tackles.
Polite, one of two players nationally to record at least five forced fumbles and 10-plus sacks, weighed 258 pounds, 16 more than his playing weight at Florida, and stood closer to 6-3 than 6-2.
“I feel like I've kind of mastered knowing my leverage,” he said. “Most people are tall in this sport. That's what they want. That's ideal size.”
With the No. 22 pick in April, or perhaps a selection two rounds after that — the Ravens don’t have a second-round pick after trading up to take quarterback Lamar Jackson last season — general manager Eric DeCosta probably won’t be able get a pass rusher with cookie-cutter size.
But every prospect has flaws. Polite made clear to reporters that, in recent meetings, teams made clear he was an imperfect player. “They're not really talking about anything good right now,” he said. Some coaches showed him a lowlight reel of his plays at Florida.
“Like, why didn't I do this on this play?” he recalled them asking. “Why?” He repeated that question nine more times, more amused than bothered.
But he also recognized the ever-increasing value of his talents. Chicago Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack signed a $141 million contract less than a year ago. The Ravens’ Smith could earn a contract worth $10 million annually. Polite said he had 19 formal meetings with teams; organizations are allowed only 30 per year.
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“Yeah, that’s a lot,” Polite said. “A lot of people need pass rushers.”