The Ravens’ newcomers are on their way. Eight draft picks and a handful of undrafted free agents are expected to arrive this week for the team’s two-day rookie minicamp in Owings Mills.
The early reviews of Eric DeCosta’s first draft as general manager are in, and they’re mostly positive. It will be a while until the accuracy of those evaluations are settled. Some things are obvious about the group, such as its speed.
Other matters are up for debate. And because it’s no fun to wait a few years to judge who’s any good, why not hand out a few premature superlatives now? The results are in.
Most likely to help Lamar Jackson sleep at night: How badly did the Ravens need a wide receiver like Oklahoma wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown?
Before the draft, five CBS Sports writers rated the position groups for all 32 NFL teams. A positional rating of 7 meant a team was in very good shape there; a 27, not so much.
Wide receiver and tight end were lumped together into one category. The Ravens have a more-than-capable tight end corps; Nick Boyle is a top blocker, and Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst could be among the league’s best at the position over the next few years. And yet there was only one team with a positional ranking worse than 30. It was the Ravens. By unanimous consent, they had the worst group of receivers in the NFL.
Brown, when healthy, will affect defenses with his mere presence. At Oklahoma, he was as much a threat to score on a slant route as he was to run by a safety on a deep ball. Jackson and the offense need that desperately, especially with defenses ready to overload the box to stop the Ravens’ ground game.
Most likely to become an example of Eric DeCosta’s draft genius in 2022: Notre Dame wide receiver Miles Boykin did not emerge as a draft prospect worth getting excited about until last season. More specifically, not until about midway through last season. It would be unfair to blame Boykin’s so-so 2017 on the Fighting Irish’s quarterback situation, but consider: His best game that season came after backup Ian Book came off the bench in the Citrus Bowl.
In two of Boykin’s first three games last year, he finished with one reception. (Admittedly, he did have six catches for 119 yards in the other game.) Then Book was moved to first string, and Boykin broke out. Over Notre Dame’s final 10 games, he averaged five catches, finished with 70-plus yards five times and nearly tripled his career touchdown total.
There are still rough edges to Boykin’s game, of course. But if he can continue to develop and connect with Jackson as he did with Book, he’ll have teams wondering why they ever let him fall to No. 93.
Most likely boom-or-bust prospect: The Ravens no doubt did their homework before selecting Texas A&M defensive tackle Daylon Mack in the fifth round. DeCosta told reporters before the draft that his scouts file background reports on prospects much more detailed than anything available on a dedicated draft site.
It would be interesting to see what was on Mack’s write-up. ESPN rated Mack as its sixth-best high school prospect nationally in the Class of 2015. He was supposed to help an Aggies defense that is almost never very good. And yet Mack never started until his junior season. He didn’t star until his senior season, posting 10 tackles for loss and 5½ sacks as he anchored a top-10 rushing defense.
Was it as simple as replacing coach Kevin Sumlin, who had recruited Mack to Texas A&M, with Jimbo Fisher? Mack’s offseason progression was encouraging: He stood out at the East-West Shrine Game, then earned an invitation to the Senior Bowl, where he again impressed during the week of workouts.
But Ravens defensive line coach Joe Cullen might need Fisher’s number, just in case.
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Most likely to get drafted way too high in fantasy football after a strong preseason: There will be a learning curve for Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill as he enters the NFL, just as there are for all rookies. There is a playbook to learn and terminology to master.
In Baltimore, though, one supposed weakness — that Hill ran almost exclusively out of the shotgun formation in college — is perhaps a strength. After the Ravens inserted Jackson at quarterback last season in Week 11, the Ravens took 92% of their snaps out of the shotgun, the highest rate in the NFL over that span, according to Sharp Football Stats. They also ran out of that formation over 50% of the time; the Seattle Seahawks were the only other team above 35%.
With his speed, elusiveness and effort, Hill could stand out as the Ravens and their three mobile quarterbacks test-drive a revamped offense against first-, second- and third-string defenses this preseason. Remember, Gus Edwards and Mark Thompson led the team in attempts and yards last August.
But Hill needs to show he’s more well-rounded before he can cut into Edwards’ and Mark Ingram’s regular-season workloads. Scouts say Hill has the potential to become a great receiver and a solid blocker. Until he does, the Ravens could have a hard time trusting him as a third-down back.
Most likely to be the next Michael Pierce: OK, so maybe just a few more people know about Gerald Willis than they did about Pierce four years ago. Willis played at Miami and was an All-American last season; Pierce played for Football Championship Subdivision program Samford and was all-conference.
But both defensive tackles, somehow, went undrafted. Pierce has emerged as one of the NFL’s highest-graded interior linemen, according to Pro Football Focus — albeit on fewer snaps than his elite peers — and could be a prized free agent next offseason. Willis was projected as a possible Day 2 and definite Day 3 pick after averaging 1½ tackles for loss per game last season. Then he fell out of the draft entirely.
Willis was dismissed from Florida early in his career after several incidents, including a physical alteration with a teammate. At Miami, he was suspended multiple times. But last year, after taking a leave of absence during the 2017 season, he became a model teammate and a defensive force. No wonder he was one of the Ravens’ first undrafted free agents to sign Sunday.