Whether the Ravens have been coming off a Super Bowl victory or a season in which they fell short of the playoffs, team officials have never put a greater importance on any single draft. Their stated focus has always been on the one immediately in front of them.
It's indisputable, though, that the 2018 version is arriving at a critical time for the organization. The Ravens have missed the playoffs in three consecutive years, the longest stretch since they failed to qualify for the postseason in their first four seasons in Baltimore. Fan frustration with one of the most stable franchises in the NFL might be at an all-time high, evidenced by the number of empty seats at M&T Bank Stadium last year as the team fought for a playoff berth. General manager Ozzie Newsome is preparing for his final season in his current position and the 2018 season will also bring questions about the futures of several other long-term franchise mainstays, including coach John Harbaugh, quarterback Joe Flacco and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.
With several holes on the offensive side of the ball, the pressure is on the Ravens' top decision makers to turn their draft currency into immediate roster help. The Ravens will head into the three-day draft, which gets underway on April 26, with eight total picks: one each in the first (16th overall), second (52nd), third (83rd), fourth (118th), fifth (154th) and seventh (238th) rounds, and two in the sixth round (190th and 215th).
Through Wednesday, the day before the start of the three-day draft, The Baltimore Sun will break down what the Ravens have at each position, the chance that they will add to it and what prospects could possibly be targeted with those picks.
Today we'll look at defensive backs.
Current defensive backs under contract: Cornerbacks - Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young, Maurice Canady, Jaylen Hill, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Robertson Daniel, Bennett Jackson, Robert Nelson; Safeties - Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Anthony Levine Sr., Chuck Clark
Chances that the Ravens will draft a defensive back in first three rounds: Low. There is one caveat. If Florida State safety Derwin James happens to fall to No. 16 — and it would be an upset if he did — the Ravens would have to be tempted. James is a physical specimen who can line up just about everywhere on the field. He'd give new defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale another weapon to employ in different situations. James would also represent superb value at 16 and fit perfectly under the team's long-stated philosophy of taking the best player available. Otherwise, the Ravens figure to hold off on taking a cornerback until the later rounds and safety isn't an immediate need.
Possibly on Ravens' radar: Marcus Allen, S (Penn State), Anthony Averett, CB (Alabama), JC Jackson, CB (Maryland), Derwin James, S (Florida State), Isaiah Oliver, CB (Colorado), Levi Wallace, CB (Alabama)
Outlook: Newsome says every year that you can never have enough cornerbacks and it's been particularly true for his team. Injuries have killed the Ravens in the secondary. However, they are as deep at the position as they've been in some time. They believe they have three outside starters in Smith, Carr and Humphrey, last year's first-round pick. They also love the potential of Young and Canady in the slot. Given the importance of the position, it makes sense to draft at least one cornerback every year. However, even with Smith a question mark as he recovers from a torn Achilles tendon, it's tough to foresee the Ravens making that choice any earlier than the fourth or fifth round. As for safety, Weddle isn't getting any younger and Jefferson struggled at times in his first season as a Raven. But Levine, mostly known as a special teams standout, has proved a valuable piece in the secondary and the team also is high on Clark, a sixth-round pick last season. The Ravens will probably look for a safety they can groom at some point of the draft, but it doesn't figure to be a priority. That, of course, could change if James happens to fall out of the top 15.