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Baltimore Ravens

Five things we learned from the Ravens’ predraft news conference

Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta believes his team is positioned to take advantage of a deep draft class, with nine picks in the first four rounds and flexibility to move up or down. Here are five things we learned from the team’s predraft news conference Tuesday:

Day 3 could be the Ravens’ time of jubilee in the 2022 draft.

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DeCosta and director of player personnel Joe Hortiz can’t stop praising the depth of a 2022 draft class that’s thought to be a touch short on superstar prospects. If they are correct, they’re sitting on a winning hand, with five picks between 110 and 141 overall.

“It makes it fun on Friday night,” Hortiz said, looking ahead to the time when the Ravens will finalize their plans for the last day of the draft.

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He said the glut of prospects who stayed on campus for an extra year because of COVID-19 “allowed our board to beef up near the bottom of the draft.” The Ravens believe they might help themselves at positions ranging from offensive tackle to cornerback to edge rusher.

With nine picks over the first four rounds, they will have the flexibility to move up or down as they please.

As excited as DeCosta sounded at this prospect, he’s also a realist who understands the draft is a volume game more than a sharpshooting exercise. A look at recent history tells us to temper our expectations for what the Ravens will achieve on day three.

The last time they had so many fourth-round picks, in 2016, they came away with cornerback Tavon Young, wide receiver Chris Moore, guard Alex Lewis, defensive tackle Willie Henry and running back Kenneth Dixon. All showed flashes of promise in Baltimore, but not one turned into a star and not one remains on the team’s roster. Of the 23 players they picked in the fourth over their last 10 drafts, only Za’Darius Smith became a major force, though the list includes quality players such as Anthony Averett and Kyle Juszczyk.

This will be a fun year for the Ravens draft junkies who consider seven-round mocks a little slice of heaven. But we should understand DeCosta will be lucky to come away with a starter or two from his fourth-round bonanza.

The Ravens will likely draft an offensive tackle in their quest to avoid a repeat of 2021.

DeCosta has said several times that the Ravens were caught off-guard by left tackle Ronnie Stanley’s slow and ultimately unsuccessful recovery from ankle surgery. They did not set up enough contingency plans at tackle and paid for it by allowing 57 sacks, second most in the league.

DeCosta does not intend to make the same mistake again, even though he’s maintaining optimism about Stanley’s pace of recovery. “The fact remains we’re not sure how Ronnie’s going to rebound,” he said Tuesday.

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He did not guarantee the Ravens will draft a tackle to go along with free-agent addition Morgan Moses, but he came close. “There are good players all throughout this year; it’s a very, very deep position class,” DeCosta said. “So, there are a lot of different ways for us to skin the cat, and we’ll do that at some point.”

He and Hortiz suggested the Ravens could land a quality tackle anywhere from the first round, where they’ve been linked to Trevor Penning of Northern Iowa, to the fourth round. That player would not need to compete for a starting job if Stanley is anywhere close to his 2019 All-Pro form, but the Ravens know this is the time to stockpile protectors for Lamar Jackson.

Edge rusher and cornerback are the other positions the Ravens seem certain to address.

When Smith backed away from a deal to return to Baltimore, he left a significant hole in DeCosta’s offseason shopping plan. The Ravens have yet to add a veteran edge defender, and the draft will be their best chance to add a high-end talent at the position.

“We expect there will be a run on those guys, probably in the top 10,” DeCosta said. The depth of first-round prospects took a hit when Michigan’s David Ojabo tore his Achilles tendon during his pro day workout. But DeCosta allowed that a quality outside rusher could fall to pick No. 14. Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson has become a popular mock pairing for the Ravens.

Hortiz made an interesting point when asked about the prevalence of interior pass rushers in this draft class. He said there are a few but that the easier approach might be to draft an edge rusher with the power to slide inside. Johnson, for example, would fit that profile, but so would others. “Personally, I think it’s a deep class of edge guys,” Hortiz said.

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The Ravens are less desperate for an immediate starter at cornerback, where they expect to have former All-Pros Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters for the start of the season. DeCosta did not mince words, however, in describing how thin they are behind their stars. “I think we’re definitely concerned,” he said.

Given the attrition the Ravens always seem to face in the secondary, it would be surprising if they do not draft multiple defensive backs later this month.

“There are opportunities for us, again, in the first round, second round, third round,” DeCosta said. “Coach [Harbaugh] has been watching the corners as well, and we feel like we have the opportunity to take one or two corners in the draft that could come in and contribute right away. We’re excited about that.”

If the Ravens draft a center, don’t expect it to be in the first round.

Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum was popular choice for the Ravens in early mock drafts. They need a starter to replace Bradley Bozeman, and he’s considered an unusually polished prospect at the position.

But analysts have turned their eyes elsewhere, noting that Linderbaum is a better fit for a zone blocking scheme and that at 296 pounds, he does not match the Ravens’ preference for burly linemen. Bozeman played at 325 pounds last season.

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“Our philosophy, honestly, is we want big guys,” DeCosta said. “We want big guys at every position.”

He also noted the scarcity of potential starters in each draft class. Does that mean the Ravens will simply roll with Patrick Mekari and Trystan Colon and use their capital elsewhere?

Not necessarily. “I think one of the cool things about this draft at the center position is we see four or five guys that we like that might not be first round-type picks and that might be second-, third- or fourth-round guys that we think would be good players at center this year,” DeCosta said.

Hortiz said there are also candidates who played other positions in college; he noted the Ravens’ success in converting Ryan Jensen from a guard/tackle to one of the league’s best centers.

So it’s not Linderbaum or bust.

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The Ravens will remain a draft-oriented team as long as Eric DeCosta is in charge.

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All-in is all the rage after the Los Angeles Rams rode a roster heavy on veteran star power to victory in the Super Bowl.

The Ravens, by contrast, are known for hoarding draft picks and reserving most of their big spending for extensions rather than free agents from other teams. DeCosta does not seem in any hurry to change the philosophy he learned from Ozzie Newsome.

He recalled the franchise’s early days in Baltimore, when outbidding flashier rivals was not an option. “The draft really became our lifeblood,” he said. “It will always be the foundation of what we do, what we believe in.”

Coach John Harbaugh noted that the Ravens have spent freely at times, most recently on safety Marcus Williams, a young star who filled a clear need. “It’s not an either-or type of deal,” he said, assessing the balance between drafting and signing established players.

But DeCosta watched and participated as Newsome built the Ravens’ identity around players such as Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed and later Lamar Jackson. “I’ve just seen how it can be when it’s done the right way,” he said. “You bring in these young players, and they really do become part of the culture of the city.”

In other words, April will continue to be one of the most important months on the Ravens’ calendar.


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