It’s inconceivable, even with general manager Ozzie Newsome’s unyielding approach to sticking to his board and taking the best player available, that the Ravens will use the 16th overall pick in the NFL draft in April on anything but an offensive player. Maybe it will be a wide receiver or a tight end or perhaps even an offensive tackle. Heck, maybe they’ll author a draft-day surprise and select a quarterback first.
Given the team’s needs and the persistent criticism of the front office for not doing enough to solidify that side of the ball, the smart money is on the Ravens addressing their offense with their first pick April 26. However, the Ravens cannot stop there.
The Ravens have been criticized for not being aggressive enough in trading up in the first round to land elite offensive players. That’s a legitimate complaint, but it’s also simplistic to suggest that’s their primary problem because offensive playmakers are being found in every round.
Just look at a few of the teams that played this past weekend. The New Orleans Saints got wide receiver Michael Thomas in the second round and running back Alvin Kamara in the third. The Minnesota Vikings found wide receiver Stefon Diggs in the fifth round, wideout Adam Thielen as an undrafted free agent and tight end Kyle Rudolph in the second round. Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz was also a second-round pick. The Atlanta Falcons secured their explosive running back tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in the fourth and third rounds, respectively.
In the AFC, you surely know by now that the Pittsburgh Steelers all-world receiver Antonio Brown was a sixth-round pick. The Steelers also got running back Le’Veon Bell and wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second round. New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis entered the league as a fifth-round pick, and Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker went in the sixth round and wide receiver Rishard Matthews in the seventh.
There are plenty of other examples league-wide, but you get the point. The Ravens, though, aren’t giving themselves enough chances to hit on some of these guys, and that’s true particularly early in drafts when the odds of finding offensive playmakers obviously increase significantly.
In five drafts since their Super Bowl win, the Ravens have had 17 picks within the first three rounds. They’ve picked offensive skill position players on just three of them, taking tight end Crockett Gilllmore in the third round in 2014, wide receiver Breshad Perriman in the first round in 2015 and tight end Maxx Williams in the second round in 2015.
Their 46 total picks in the past five drafts have produced 22 offensive players and 24 on defense. Of those 22 offensive players, eight were offensive linemen, one was a fullback and one was a quarterback. That means in a five-draft span, the Ravens took 12 players who are running backs, wide receivers or tight ends.
For a team that has struggled mightily mounting a consistent and explosive offense and has had particular problems developing wide receivers, why aren’t the Ravens taking more shots drafting offensive skill-position players regardless of the round? The more swings they take, the better chance they have of hitting on a few of these guys. My guess is the Ravens will use five or six of their projected eight picks this year on offensive players, but I thought that last year, too.
After spending the previous 550-plus words on the Ravens’ need to put more focus on their offense, it’s only fair to point out the defensive rankings of three of the four teams still playing.
The Vikings had the league’s No. 1 defense in 2017, the Jacksonville Jaguars were No. 2 and the Eagles were No. 4.
The Patriots were 29th, but they have Bill Belichick as their coach and Tom Brady as their quarterback.
So, yes, defense still plays in playoff football.
Ten quick thoughts
1) Watching former Ravens and current Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith draw a long pass-interference call on the first play from scrimmage against the Falcons prompted me to look up how many pass interferences the Ravens drew this past season. The answer is four. Only four teams drew fewer. The Ravens gained only 72 yards on pass-interference penalties. To show how meager that is, the Steelers gained 300 yards on interference penalties.
2) If a running back they love falls to them early in the draft, I could see the Ravens pulling the trigger. However, I think it’s far more likely they take a shot on a running back in the middle rounds. Plenty of impact runners have been found in that territory, too.
3) I have a real hard time believing the Ravens will be able to select Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley without trading up in the first round. We all saw how quickly the draft’s top receivers were off the board last year.
4) The Steelers’ loss Sunday likely eliminates kicker Justin Tucker from a Pro Bowl trip. Tucker was the first alternate to Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell.
5) The Ravens got just five sacks from their interior defensive linemen in 2017 and 3½ of them were from Willie Henry. I’d say Tim Jernigan, who had five sacks by himself in 2016 before he was traded to the Eagles, was missed.
6) The website overthecap.com, which does a nice job projecting the compensatory selections, still has the Ravens getting a third-round pick for the loss of offensive tackle Rick Wagner in free agency.
7) It’s still so early in the process, but it sounds like it’s not going to be a particularly strong tight end draft class. Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews has gotten some first-round buzz, but taking him in the middle of the round might be a stretch for the Ravens.
8) I’ve written this before, but don’t discount the team taking an offensive tackle in the first round. Ravens officials believe they have the makings of a special offensive line, and a young and really good right tackle is probably the missing piece.
9) With little salary cap flexibility, the Ravens have room for only one or two big free-agent expenditures. If it’s a matter of giving significant money to pending free-agent center Ryan Jensen or an outside playmaker, you’d think the latter will win out.
10) The Ravens aren’t the only team that must lament not taking Diggs in the 2015 draft. Nineteen wide receivers were selected before the Vikings grabbed the ex-Maryland standout in the fifth round. Of those 19, seven are no longer with the team that drafted them and a number of others, including the Ravens’ Perriman, appear to be on borrowed time with their first NFL employer.