After a two-week period in which the Ravens traded for a Pro Bowl defensive end (Calais Campbell), traded away a former first-round tight end (Hayden Hurst) and moved on from a previously durable defensive lineman because of injury concerns (Michael Brockers), the Ravens’ roster needs are clear and salary cap space is limited.
Even with defensive end Derek Wolfe agreeing to a one-year deal Saturday, general manager Eric DeCosta has five pressing needs entering next month’s draft: wide receiver, interior offensive line, defensive line, edge rusher and inside linebacker. Some holes are more glaring than others — the Ravens have just three inside linebackers, for instance, none of them especially accomplished.
With nine picks, including three among the first 60 overall, the Ravens don’t have to get desperate to get better. Here’s a look at who might fit under their best-player-available approach, with five potential options at positions of need ranked by value.
First round (No. 28): LSU inside linebacker Patrick Queen
Considering that the Ravens’ depth chart at inside linebacker features a first-stringer who hadn’t started more than two games in a season until last year (L.J. Fort), a third-year special teams contributor (Chris Board) and an undrafted rookie who didn’t play at all in 2020 (Otaro Alaka), the team needs immediate help here.
Queen, an athletic and instinctive prospect, though undersized and inexperienced, could fill the Ravens’ biggest need and be their highest-value selection. The 6-foot, 229-pound Queen started 12 of his 15 appearances for the Tigers last season, posting 85 tackles (12 for loss), three sacks and an interception. Even if he’s taken before No. 28, the Ravens might prefer the more productive Kenneth Murray, a three-year starter at Oklahoma, or the more versatile Zack Baun, a pass-rushing terror at Wisconsin with off-ball potential.
Edge rusher: Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa. The Ravens will have to reconcile his all-star production (31 tackles for loss and 22 sacks over two seasons) with his unimpressive measurables (a sub-5.0-second 40-yard-dash time and average agility marks). The 6-foot-5, 275-pound Epenesa was considered a first-round lock a month ago, and now he could go after Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos, possibly slipping to the 30s.
Defensive line: Texas Christian’s Ross Blacklock. The son of a former Harlem Globetrotter, he bounced back from a season-ending Achilles tendon injury in 2018 to post nine tackles for loss and 3½ sacks last season. The 6-3, 290-pound Blacklock is flexible and disruptive as a pass rusher, especially in one-on-one battles, but he has to make strides as a run defender.
Wide receiver: Baylor’s Denzel Mims. With LSU’s Justin Jefferson now probably out of the Ravens’ range at No. 28 and Colorado’s Laviska Shenault Jr.’s recent core muscle injury hurting his stock, Mims seems like the position’s most likely late-first-round pick. The 6-3, 207-pound Mims had nearly 3,000 career receiving yards for the Bears, and his strong Senior Bowl and combine performances boosted his credibility as a No. 1 option.
Interior offensive line: Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz. He’s considered the draft’s top interior lineman, and likely the only pure guard or center prospect worthy of first-round consideration. Ruiz started at both guard and center for the Wolverines, and his power and agility would make him a plug-and-play fit in the Ravens’ running schemes. He’s not a consensus first-round pick yet, but he wouldn’t be on the board for long if he’s still available come Day 2.
Second round (No. 55): Auburn defensive lineman Marlon Davidson
The first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection would make a fine long-term replacement for Brockers. While there’s some uncertainty as to whether the 6-3, 303-pound Davidson projects best as an edge rusher or an interior lineman at the next level, the Ravens embrace flexibility and schematic diversity on defense.
As a defensive end on a line headlined by all-everything tackle Derrick Brown, Davidson led the Tigers with 12½ tackles for loss and 7½ sacks. With his strength, he dominated smaller players while setting the edge, and his powerful bull rush complemented his mix of counters and moves. Davidson also showed a knack for blocking kicks.
Wide receiver: Penn State’s K.J. Hamler. A tweaked hamstring kept the 5-9, 178-pound speed demon from running the 40-yard dash at the combine, but Hamler said he’s run it as fast as 4.27 seconds. Despite his size, it’s easy to see a team falling in love with his potential as a slot receiver and returner and grabbing him in the 40s or 50s. Hamler had 56 catches for 904 yards (16.1 yards per catch) and eight receiving touchdowns last season.
Inside linebacker: Ohio State’s Malik Harrison. Limited experience and range in coverage will keep Harrison from the position’s top tier, but he has the tools to be an impact run defender and blitzer. Last season, he posted 75 tackles (16½ for loss) and 4½ sacks. Harrison has a well-built frame (6-3, 247 pounds), good athleticism (4.66-second 40) and useful experience at several positions.
Edge rusher: Michigan’s Josh Uche. At 6-1, 245 pounds, Uche is a prototypical tweener. And with just nine starts over his four years with the Wolverines, there’s not a huge sample size. Still, his pressure rate of 26.1% was the best in Division I last season, according to Sports Info Solutions, better than even Ohio State star Chase Young’s.
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Interior offensive line: Louisiana-Lafayette’s Robert Hunt. A four-year starter for the Ragin’ Cajuns, Hunt finished his career as a right tackle after two seasons at left guard. He allowed only two pressures on 196 pass-blocking snaps in 2019, according to Pro Football Focus, before suffering a groin injury. The 6-5, 323-pounds Hunt is a fluid athlete with room for improvement in his technique and footwork.
Second round (No. 60): Notre Dame edge rusher Julian Okwara
The brother of current Detroit Lions defensive end Romeo Okwara had a somewhat disappointing 2019 end after he broke his fibula in November. But despite a drop-off in sack production — he had four last season after eight in 2018 — he remained a disruptive pass rusher.
In just 202 pass-rush snaps, he had 23 hurries and five quarterback hits, along with the four sacks, making his pressure rate, according to PFF, higher than that of projected first-round pick K’Lavon Chaisson. With Matthew Judon’s future uncertain and Tyus Bowser entering the final year of his rookie deal, the Ravens need new blood at outside linebacker.
Wide receiver: Southern California’s Michael Pittman Jr. A 6-4, 223-pound possession receiver, Pittman has sure-thing hands and strong route-running ability. He broke out as a senior, finishing with 101 catches for 1,275 yards and 11 touchdowns. Pittman doesn’t have an elite get-off or field-stretching speed, but he’s a dependable blocker with a high football IQ.
Defensive line: Missouri’s Jordan Elliott. Elliott initially committed to Michigan, signed with Texas and left after his freshman season for Missouri, where he broke out in 2019. Despite middling sack production (three as a reserve in 2018 and three as a starter in 2019), he had 33 quarterback pressures last season, according to PFF. The 6-4, 302-pound Elliott has power and quickness, but his play speed runs hot and cold.
Inside linebacker: Appalachian State’s Akeem Davis-Gaither. For a 6-1, 224-pound linebacker, Davis-Gaither was used all over the field last season, getting 316 snaps in coverage and 190 as a pass rusher, many of them lined up against offensive tackles according to PFF. Despite an early-season stress fracture in his foot that kept him from running at the combine, Davis-Gaither had 104 tackles (14½ for loss), five sacks and eight pass breakups in 2019.
Interior offensive line: Fresno State’s Netane Muti. One of the draft’s most polarizing prospects, Muti has a highlight reel that will make you laugh and an injury history that will make you cringe. He suffered an Achilles tendon injury in 2016, then ruptured his other Achilles in 2018, then had a season-ending Lisfranc (foot) injury last year. In Muti’s 19-game sample size, though, the Tonga native was a bulldozer.