It’s far too early to get a definitive read on the 2018 draft, which doesn’t start until April 26. But I’m already sensing an obvious storyline for the Ravens who have the 16th overall pick in the first round.
Will they be able to fill their primary need — a reliable target for quarterback Joe Flacco — if they stand pat in the first round?
A look at various mock drafts will show a good many quarterbacks and offensive linemen going in the first half of the first round, but only one or two wide receivers and no tight ends. ESPN draft guru and Baltimore native Mel Kiper Jr. projected the Ravens last week to select Pittsburgh offensive tackle Brian O’Neill with the 16th pick.
On a conference call after his first mock draft was published, Kiper acknowledged that, after projecting Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley to go eighth overall to the Chicago Bears, he didn’t see another offensive playmaker worthy of going 16th to the Ravens. So he went with O’Neill, who is a converted tight end.
“That was the problem I ran into. Nobody,” Kiper said according to BaltimoreRavens.com. “I just didn’t see anybody worthy of being the 16th pick at wide receiver to give them, or at tight end.”
Highly respected NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former Ravens scout, ranked the top-50 prospects in the 2018 draft class. His top 30 included four quarterbacks, four running backs and four offensive linemen, but just two receivers (Ridley and Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk) and no tight ends. His highest-ranked tight end is South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst, who he has as the 34th best prospect in the draft.
Again, it’s very early in the draft process. The Senior Bowl is going on now. The NFL scouting combine is over a month away. Then, there will be pro days and pre-draft visits. Receivers such as Kirk, Southern Methodist’s Courtland Sutton and Oklahoma State’s James Washington could have dynamic workouts to put them into the conversation to be picked in the upper half of the first round. There is seemingly always a freakish tight end who garners a lot of pre-draft hype and becomes a first-round candidate.
However, if the first half of the first round plays out like some of the mock drafts and rankings suggest it might, the Ravens could be facing a difficult choice come late April. Do they trade up at the cost of multiple picks to make sure they’re in a position to grab Ridley or do they opt instead to fill one of their secondary needs, such as right tackle or inside linebacker?
In on Landry?
The Ravens spoke to the Miami Dolphins last offseason about a potential trade for wide receiver Jarvis Landry, but they found the asking price to be prohibitive. Landry is now a pending free agent, so he could be available to all bidders when the market opens in mid-March. The price, though, still figures to be extremely high.
If Landry is not the best potential free agent receiver available in what’s expected to be a weak class, he’s certainly in the top three along with Sammy Watkins and Allen Robinson. Landry, 25, has averaged 100 catches for 1,010 yards over the past four seasons. He also has 23 touchdowns over that span. He’s not a deep threat, averaging 10.1 yards per reception over his career, but it’s hard to quibble with much else.
His agent made it clear in an interview last week with The Palm Beach Post that Landry won’t come cheap. He brought up previous contracts for wide receivers T.Y. Hilton ($13 million per season) and Doug Baldwin ($11.5 million), but also remarked that those deals were two or three years old. Frankly, I cannot imagine the cash-strapped Ravens paying north of $13 million per year for Landry, but they do like the player and they seem to understand that they need to do something significant to get more offensive talent on the field.
Ten quick thoughts
1) Given the success of Nick Foles and Case Keenum this year, along with the perennial injuries at the quarterback position, you’d have to think the price of bringing in quality backup QBs will be pretty high this offseason. That doesn’t bode well for the Ravens who will need a veteran backup if they don’t draft a quarterback early. I’d be a bit surprised if pending free agent Ryan Mallett is back, even on the cheap.
2) The latest statistic that shows just how difficult of a time the Ravens had getting big plays in 2017: According to the statistical site Inside Edge NFL, the Ravens got a first down when they needed 10 yards or more on just nine of 110 opportunities. That’s just over 8 percent. Only the Green Bay Packers, New York Giants and Denver Broncos were worse.
3) It sure would be a cool story if the Ravens used a middle-round pick on Texas Christian defensive back Nick Orr, the younger brother of their former linebacker, Zachary Orr. It wouldn’t just be a sentimental move either. Nick Orr was an All-Big 12 first-team selection who had 66 tackles and three interceptions this past season. He can play both cornerback and safety.
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4) I’m skeptical that the Ravens would win a bidding war for prized free-agent tight end Jimmy Graham. I know that Tyler Eifert has missed a lot of time in recent seasons, but he might be worth taking a flier on in free agency given the Ravens’ glaring need for a pass-catching tight end.
5) It’s interesting to see Ravens wide receivers coach Bobby Engram getting an opportunity to call some plays at the recent East-West Shrine Game. Engram’s name is coming up quite a bit for the wide receivers coach opening at his alma mater, Penn State.
6) Fans are already asking about whether the Ravens could be interested in veteran wide receivers such as Emmanuel Sanders or Michael Crabtree, who reportedly could be cut in salary cap-related moves by the Broncos and Oakland Raiders, respectively. The Ravens will explore every option at wide receiver. They have no choice. However, at some point, they need to break from this habit of signing and then relying heavily on veteran receivers who have been let go elsewhere. They don’t need Band-Aids. They need long-term solutions.
7) The more playoff games I watched, the more I became convinced that either a middle linebacker or safety who can cover or work in the middle of the field is the Ravens’ third-biggest need behind a wide receiver and tight end. There are too many good tight ends around the league not to have that piece. Plus, it’s clearly the area the Pittsburgh Steelers have most exploited in games against the Ravens in recent meetings.
8) I can’t imagine any Ravens fan not being happy for Philadelphia Eagles receiver Torrey Smith, who gets another shot a Super Bowl ring. Remember, Smith didn’t want to leave the Ravens after the 2014 season. He was devastated that the Ravens never tried to get him to stay. Also remember that Smith still does a ton of charity work in the area.
9) Yahoo’s Charles Robinson reported Tuesday night that the Ravens have spent quite a bit of time at the Senior Bowl with Alabama defensive end Da’Shawn Hand. Hand didn’t have big sack numbers at ‘Bama, but I do think one of the Ravens’ underrated needs is an interior pass rusher.
10) If I’m the Ravens and I can get a middle-round 2018 pick for outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, I’d pull the trigger. Smith is a quality player, but the Ravens really needed to get Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams more snaps, and that’s going to be tough to do with Terrell Suggs returning and team officials believing Matthew Judon will develop into a star. Plus, the Ravens need more picks, even if it’s just to have additional inventory to move up in earlier rounds.