On Tuesday, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta, coach John Harbaugh and director of player personnel Joe Hortiz took questions for 45 minutes at their predraft news conference and tried not to give anything valuable away.
The Ravens have 10 picks in this month’s NFL draft, and seemingly as many roster holes to fill. Given their considerable investment in the predraft process, team officials know better than to tip their hand. It’s called the “liars’ luncheon” for a reason. Last year, DeCosta said he was “insulted” by criticism of the Ravens’ unproven wide receiver group. His first pick less than two weeks later: Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman.
Not every word from Tuesday’s session is worthy of scrutiny, but some topics merit deeper parsing. Here’s a look at what DeCosta said, whether he was bluffing and what he might actually be contemplating on draft day.
Will the Ravens draft a cornerback early?
DeCosta: “There are opportunities for us, again, in the first round, second round, third round. … We feel like we have the opportunity to take one or two corners in the draft that could come in and contribute right away.”
Verdict: Showing his hand. The Ravens need talented cornerbacks because, well, they don’t have a lot of them. DeCosta said Tuesday that he was “definitely concerned” about the depth at the position. Only Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters have started at least three games over the previous two seasons, and both are coming off season-ending injuries. Brandon Stephens can help out wherever he’s needed — in the slot, as a deep safety, as a box defender — but he’s not a full-time cornerback.
The Ravens not only need a slot corner to replace Tavon Young, but a potential successor for Peters out wide as well; he’s entering the final year of his contract and will turn 30 in January. With Cincinnati’s Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner unlikely to fall out of the top 10, the Ravens could have LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. and Washington’s Trent McDuffie available at No. 14.
Or they could find a gem later in the draft. Four of Pro Football Focus’ six highest-rated rookie cornerbacks last season were top-33 picks, but the other two were a fifth-rounder (the Las Vegas Raiders’ Nate Hobbs) and an undrafted player (the Detroit Lions’ Jerry Jacobs).
Will the Ravens draft an offensive tackle early?
DeCosta: “We feel that there’s an opportunity in the draft to address the tackle spot at some point, whether it’s in the first round or the fourth round. There’s good players all throughout this year. It’s a very, very deep position class. And so there’s a lot of different ways for us to skin the cat. And we’ll do that at some point.”
Verdict: Bluffing slightly. Even with Morgan Moses signed to play right tackle and Ja’Wuan James apparently impressing team officials, the Ravens’ left tackle situation is perilous. DeCosta acknowledged that he’s “not sure how Ronnie [Stanley]’s going to rebound” from his second straight season-ending ankle injury. “We’re optimistic. I don’t want to speak for Ronnie, and I wouldn’t speak in specifics, but we feel like he’s on a good pace to come back.”
The Ravens “try to protect ourselves as best as we can,” DeCosta added later, and with the free-agent market unlikely to turn up another tackle like Moses, the draft is the safest path to stability. But how much security can a fourth-round pick offer? Only two tackles taken in the fourth round or later last year started more than four games as a rookie, and only one started more than eight. Even Orlando Brown Jr., a third-round pick in 2018, didn’t start regularly at right tackle until late October that season.
Are the Ravens comfortable drafting a developmental center?
DeCosta: “Our philosophy, honestly, is, we want big guys. We want big guys at every position across the offense, across the defense, in general. And so it’s a tough position to fill via the draft at times. And if there’s a guy, if there’s one or two outstanding prospects in the draft, they typically go pretty high. And then after that, you’re looking at a bunch of guys that might be pretty good, might not be pretty good.”
Verdict: Showing his hand. The Ravens have already signaled their commitment to Patrick Mekari at center. There’s only one center who’s considered a first-round prospect, Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum, and he’s not necessarily a “big guy.” According to MockDraftable, he’s in the first percentile for wingspan and arm length and in the fifth percentile for weight (296 pounds) among offensive line prospects.
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If the Ravens indeed pass on Linderbaum, DeCosta said the team has “four or five guys that we like that might not be first-round-type picks.” Versatility could be key. While Trystan Colon has been a solid reserve, Hortiz indicated that the Ravens could be in the market for college guards who could move over to center at the next level.
Could the Ravens draft a running back with a first- or second-round pick?
Decosta: “I don’t know about a first-round pick, because I just don’t see that player there for us. But as we get into the second round, third round, fourth round, we’re going to look at the best players. And if the best player happens to be a running back — I mean, let’s face it: We run the ball more than most teams do. … So if the right guy falls, we will certainly strike.”
Verdict: Slightly bluffing. The Ravens’ running back room is a work in progress. Harbaugh said at the NFL owners meetings last week that J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards could start training camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list as they work their way back from knee operations. Justice Hill is returning from a torn Achilles tendon. Ty’Son Williams struggled to distinguish himself after a promising start.
But even with the Ravens’ run-heavy approach, it’s hard to imagine DeCosta valuing a top running back in the second round over a top offensive tackle, edge rusher or cornerback. Teams find starting-caliber running backs year after year in the later rounds of the draft. Edwards wasn’t even drafted. The Ravens’ injury situation has made running back a need this offseason, but not a major one.
Is this draft deeper than previous ones?
DeCosta: “I think the last couple years, we’ve had more guys. I don’t know if our scouts were more optimistic or [whether] it was just more players. But we have approximately … 180 players, I think, give or take, on the front board that we think are draftable players for the Ravens. That number will probably be somewhere between 170-195 players when it’s all said and done.”
Verdict: Probably bluffing. Consider that, just a few minutes earlier, Hortiz had called it a “pretty deep draft,” citing the number of players who’d taken advantage of their extra year of NCAA eligibility to improve their draft stock. “When you look at our board, the volume of players on our board compared to previous boards, it’s probably a little bit higher,” Hortiz said.
The Ravens have been thinking about this draft “for the last year,” according to DeCosta, who made three trades during or after the 2021 draft to acquire later-round picks in the 2022 draft. Even if there are fewer bona fide prospects in the later rounds than expected, the Ravens should find great value in the fourth round, where they have five selections.