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Baltimore Ravens

Three takeaways from a wild Ravens draft night, including big trades and a familiar ‘best player available’ mindset

The Ravens certainly did not kick off their 2022 draft in boring fashion, trading one of their signature offensive players and using a pair of first-round picks on highly regarded prospects who might not meet their most immediate needs.

Here are three takeaways from a hectic night:

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The Marquise Brown trade was probably smart business, but it stung in the moment.

Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said Brown, the team’s No. 1 wide receiver, requested a trade after last season. He did not specify the reason.

“For me, personally, it was complicated, because Marquise was my first pick and one of my favorite players on the team,” DeCosta said. “It was something I anguished over.”

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The move created an obvious shortage at a position the Ravens finally seemed to have a handle on after years of disappointing draft picks. Brown was not a superstar and he did not sustain his strong start to last season. But he was a close friend and favorite target for quarterback Lamar Jackson, not to mention one of the few Ravens playmakers to show up big in the 2019 and 2020 playoffs. The Ravens did not use the first-round pick they received to draft another wide receiver. As of now, they’re counting on Rashod Bateman to take a huge step forward in his second year and tight end Mark Andrews to continue at an All-Pro level.

The Ravens received good value for Brown, whom they might not have signed to an extension after next season. He’s not a difference-maker on the level of Deebo Samuel or A.J. Brown, who went to the Philadelphia Eagles in a blockbuster deal Thursday night. He was apparently unhappy, and they traded two years of his good-not-great production for an immediate starter at center in Tyler Linderbaum. In a cold, objective world, you do that deal.

But the Ravens also hope to make a deep playoff run this season, with Jackson as their focal point, and they just discarded one of his chief sidekicks. They will have plenty of picks over the next two days to begin addressing their wide receiver shortage, but make no mistake, they created another need on a roster that was already thin in multiple spots.

The Ravens lived up to their ‘best player available’ philosophy with the choice of Kyle Hamilton.

For all the words we spilled on this team’s defensive needs, no one said much about safety going into the first round, not after the Ravens added Marcus Williams in free agency.

There was some thought Hamilton could fall because of his pedestrian times — 4.59 seconds at the NFL scouting combine, slower at his pro day — in the 40-yard dash. But his name hardly came up as we speculated about edge rushers and cornerbacks who might fall to No. 14.

The Ravens could have selected Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson II or Washington’s Trent McDuffie, defenders linked to them in various mock drafts that fixated on team needs. Instead, DeCosta called the choice of Hamilton a “no-brainer.” He said the opportunity to pick a top-five talent in the middle of the round reminded him of classic Ravens drafts in which elite players seemed to slide magically down the board.

“He can do a myriad of different things for us,” he said. “We never dreamed in a million years he’d be there for us.”

At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Hamilton can drill running backs, rush the passer or make plays on the ball in space. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he’s looking forward to getting three safeties — Williams, Hamilton and returning starter Chuck Clark — on the field at the same time. That would presumably leave Brandon Stephens as a primary option to cover the slot.

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DeCosta has long preached that the Ravens cannot have enough talented defensive backs, and Hamilton adds to that collection, even though he won’t do anything to add to their cornerback depth behind Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters.

How we view the pick comes down to a debate on draft philosophy. Is it more important to design a perfect roster for 2022 or to collect as much front-end talent as possible and figure it out from there? We know DeCosta leans toward the latter. If Hamilton is an All-Pro safety in three years, it won’t matter whether he filled an immediate need on Thursday night.

Tyler Linderbaum doesn’t fit the typical size profile of a Ravens offensive lineman, but the unit will make more sense with him in the middle.

We know the Ravens love their linemen huge; their previous starting center, Bradley Bozeman, was 6-foot-5, 325 pounds. At 296 pounds, with short arms, Linderbaum does not look the part. Scouts gushed about his “freaky athleticism,” not his raw power.

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In the end, Ravens scouts loved watching him so much that they did not care. “If he was an inch taller and his arms were a half-inch longer, he would have been a top-five pick,” DeCosta said.

Many evaluators agreed. Pro Football Focus called Linderbaum the “most athletic offensive lineman in college football” and the best center prospect since the service started grading college players in 2014.

Harbaugh said he would start right away and allow Patrick Mekari to compete for snaps at other spots while providing depth at tackle should Ronnie Stanley’s ankle injury linger. “The whole depth chart just kind of filters out in a really good way,” he said.

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Linderbaum is an Iowa guy, so of course he lettered three times as a high school wrestler and placed third in the state tournament as a heavyweight his senior year. He once pinned Tampa Bay’s 2021 first-team All-Pro Tristan Wirfs in high school. What do we know about former wrestlers? They play with balance, leverage and powerful hands, all traits that stood out from Linderbaum’s college tape.

“Big guys don’t affect him,” said Ravens director of player personnel Joe Hortiz. “He can leverage guys.”

Marshal Yanda was not a colossus either, coming out of Iowa in 2007. He traded on mobility, coordination and tenacity to become the second best offensive lineman in Ravens history. Could Linderbaum follow in his footsteps, albeit at a different position?

As with Hamilton at pick No. 14, we’re not going to hear many draft analysts call Linderbaum a poor value or dis him as a prospect. It’s just that the Ravens still need an edge rusher, another cornerback and fresh blood along their defensive line. With Brown gone, they also need a wide receiver. Are the best safety and the best center in the draft enough to make up for those shortcomings? If we step back, that might not be the right question, but it’s the one Ravens fans are asking right now.


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