Many fans will groan if the Ravens use their first pick in the 2019 draft on a guard or center. Given the team’s needs at wide receiver, edge rusher and middle linebacker, an interior offensive lineman might feel like the least sizzling consolation prize conceivable. But more and more mock drafts have the Ravens doing exactly that, with a particular emphasis on the deep group of high-end centers in this year’s class. With that in mind, here’s a look at the team’s needs on the offensive line and the prospects who might fill them.
Why might the Ravens use their first-round pick on a center or guard?
The Ravens have generally prized value above all else in the draft. If they don’t believe there’s a player worth picking at their spot, they try to trade down. They rarely reach for the offensive skill players or raw pass rushers that tantalize so many other franchises. General manager Eric DeCosta has long argued that such players, especially wide receivers, are picked too high because the league is so fixated on passing and defending the pass.
On the other hand, no one really reaches for guards and centers. It’s common for only a few to go in the first round. But we’ve seen plenty of teams, including the Ravens, strike gold by targeting polished prospects at these unglamorous positions.
As DeCosta recently noted, one of the team’s most successful early-round sequences came in 2007, when former general manager Ozzie Newsome used his first-round pick on guard Ben Grubbs and a third-round pick on guard Marshal Yanda. Grubbs made two Pro Bowls and Yanda is still going strong as one of the greatest players in Ravens history. More recently, the Indianapolis Colts used the No. 6 pick in last year’s draft on guard Quenton Nelson. They focused on the player rather than the position and were rewarded with an immediate All-Pro.
Draft analysts seem to agree that some of the best values in the lower portion of this year’s first round will be interior blockers. At the same time, such a player would fill an immediate need for the Ravens. The team’s offensive line generally met expectations in 2018, with Yanda returning to his familiar Pro Bowl level at right guard, Ronnie Stanley producing his best season at left tackle and rookie Orlando Brown Jr. establishing himself as a promising starter at right tackle. But the news was less good at left guard, where Alex Lewis again battled injuries and ultimately lost playing time to rookie Bradley Bozeman and utility lineman James Hurst. At center, Matt Skura played adequately in his first year as an NFL starter but graded as a below-average run blocker, according to Pro Football Focus.
Between Lewis, Bozeman, Skura and Hurst, the Ravens have enough depth to cover their needs, but they could use a standout young starter on the inside to complement Stanley and Brown. That need becomes more pressing when you consider the 34-year-old Yanda might be entering his last season.
Which linemen might the Ravens consider at No. 22 overall?
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Chris Lindstrom, G, Boston College – DeCosta named Lindstrom when describing the quality of this year’s guard class, and some mock drafts say he’ll be off the board by the 22nd pick. Lindstrom is an experienced player and the son of an NFL lineman. Scouts love his mobility and lateral quickness but question his ability to win leverage battles against the strongest defensive linemen.
Jonah Williams, G/T, Alabama – Williams earned first-team All-American honors as Alabama’s left tackle in 2018, but many scouts project him as a guard in the NFL. Evaluators rave about his technique and fluidity but question his size and arm length, especially for teams that would try to use him at tackle. Many mock drafts say he’ll be gone by the time the Ravens pick.
Erik McCoy, C/G, Texas A&M – He was the fastest offensive lineman at the NFL Scouting Combine after starting 38 games in college and holding his own against elite defenders from Alabama and Clemson. Scouts like his powerful build but say he needs to clean up his pass-blocking technique, especially when playing in space. He started at both center and guard for Texas A&M, and his versatility would make him appealing to the Ravens as they figure out which interior hole they most need to plug.
Garrett Bradbury, C, N.C. State – The former tight end won the 2018 Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center. Scouts say his strength, fluidity and intelligence would allow him to start from day one, with his average size (6 feet 3, 306 pounds) standing as the knock against him. If the Ravens decide they need immediate help at center more than guard, Bradbury might be their best option.
Cody Ford, G/T, Oklahoma – Brown’s former college teammate is less experienced than most of the other top linemen, but his combination of size, mobility and nastiness intrigues evaluators. Ford is a mauling run blocker who would seem to fit the Ravens’ offensive direction, but scouts say he needs polishing to become an adequate NFL pass blocker.
Elgton Jenkins, C, Mississippi State – Few mock drafts have Jenkins going in the first round, so he might be a more likely target if the Ravens trade down. Scouts like his size, strength and solid track record against Southeastern Conference opponents while questioning his upside as more than a decent starter in the NFL.
Michael Jordan, C/G, Ohio State – The 6-6 Jordan is huge for a center, where he played in 2018 after starting for two years at left guard. His stature, versatility and drive-blocking at guard all make him appealing, while scouts question his ability to thrive in space. Like Jenkins, he might become a target if the Ravens trade down.