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Baltimore Ravens

Five things we learned from the NFL scouting combine, including potential Ravens draft targets

From Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta’s comments on quarterback Lamar Jackson’s contract situation to the unsurprising defensive standouts of the NFL scouting combine, here are five things we learned in Indianapolis.

The Ravens will enter free agency without Lamar Jackson’s contract situation resolved.

In an ideal world for DeCosta, he wouldn’t have to answer a question (or four) about Jackson’s contract situation every time he’s made available to reporters. In that ideal world, Jackson would have already signed an extension this offseason keeping him in Baltimore beyond 2022, the last year of his rookie deal, and leaving the Ravens with another $5 million to $10 million of salary cap space.

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But Jackson does not have a certified player agent, someone who, out of fear of calamitous injury, would have been keen on getting a deal done sooner than later. And in representing himself, Jackson has been reluctant, according to DeCosta, to engage the Ravens in regular negotiations.

In an ideal world for Ravens GM Eric DeCosta, he wouldn’t have to answer a question (or four) about quarterback Lamar Jackson’s contract situation every time he’s made available to reporters. In that ideal world, Jackson would have already signed an extension this offseason keeping him in Baltimore beyond 2022.

During his news conference Wednesday at the combine, DeCosta was asked whether he was confident the team would get a deal done this offseason with the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player. “I hope so, at some point, that we will,” he said. “I think we’ve discussed this at length, and I said this before: We will work at Lamar’s urgency. So he and I have had ongoing discussions. We’ve talked fairly recently as well. He knows how to find me; I know how to find him.”

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In a separate session with local reporters, DeCosta added: “I think that it takes two sides to actively put their heads together and get the deal worked out. We are ready to be there for Lamar at any point when he decides that he really wants to work on it, we will be.”

Considering the slow pace of negotiations, it’s highly unlikely a deal gets done before the new league year starts March 16. That means the Ravens will enter free agency with no clarity on Jackson’s long-term future (a minor concern, given the power of the franchise tag) and not a lot of cap space to patch up a flawed roster (a far greater concern, given the number of starters they’ll likely lose).

A clearer snapshot of the Ravens’ spending power should come into focus this week. DeCosta said Wednesday that the front office would make roster moves and transactions in the “coming weeks.” Shedding offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva’s contract, for instance, would give the Ravens $6 million in cap savings but a $3.3 million dead-money charge. Other cuts or restructures would help, too.

Will that be enough to keep center Bradley Bozeman or fullback Patrick Ricard or defensive lineman Calais Campbell? Maybe, maybe not.

“This is a week [where] we spent a lot of time looking at players, evaluating players, talking to players,” DeCosta said. “But we also spend a lot of time talking to agents and discussing players with agents and talking to GMs with other teams and coaches with other teams and really starting to build out what our strategy is going to be this offseason.”

Offensive line will be an offseason ‘emphasis,’ but how much of one?

The Ravens have learned the same hard lesson two years in a row: If you don’t have the offensive line depth to withstand injury, not even Jackson can get you out of trouble.

In 2020, the Ravens didn’t have a serviceable right tackle to protect their quarterback or a reliable center to snap him the ball in an AFC divisional-round playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Last season, after All-Pro tackle Ronnie Stanley’s second straight season-ending ankle injury forced a reshuffling up front, they suffered through struggles on the left side and a revolving door on the right side.

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“One of the things that we learned this year — and we’ve always known it, but it really hit us this year — is that if you don’t have the offensive linemen and defensive back depth, it’s hard to win consistently,” DeCosta said Wednesday. “It really wasn’t something that we didn’t know. It’s just we absolutely got besieged with injuries. Toward the end of the year, it was really hard to compete consistently the way we wanted to compete. I would say this. Not that I have a crystal ball, but offensive line will be a point of emphasis this offseason.”

Decosta said most teams need a “strong eight offensive linemen” to contend. If Bozeman departs in free agency, how many Ravens under contract fit that description? Kevin Zeitler and Patrick Mekari certainly do. Same goes for a healthy Stanley and Ja’Wuan James. Ben Powers has been solid. Tyre Phillips could be solid. Ben Cleveland could be better than solid. Trystan Colon is a fine backup.

An optimistic Ravens fan or official could squint and maybe see “a strong eight” in that group. A more pragmatic perspective would probably conclude that the team needs at least two instant-impact contributors for 2022.

If the Ravens are indeed strapped for cap space this offseason, it could be hard to acquire a Zeitler-level lineman in free agency. The best bargains will probably be the riskiest — say, a center who’s struggled with injuries, or a tackle who’s in his later years.

The best value, as always, is in the draft. But is there a lineman who’d be a worthwhile Ravens pick at No. 14? Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum weighed in at a heavier-than-expected 296 pounds but isn’t a great fit for the Ravens’ gap scheme. Northern Iowa tackle Trevor Penning, a combine standout, is penalty-prone and still growing into the position. Guards Zion Johnson and Kenyon Green have late-first-round projections.

History has shown that it’s easier to find an impact offensive lineman in the second or third round than it is to find an impact edge rusher. That might be the most prudent strategy for the Ravens.

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Drafting a Georgia defensive lineman is a pretty good idea.

What was it like to play inside linebacker behind the most talented unit in the country? Georgia’s Channing Tindall smiled.

“That was a dream-team D-line,” Tindall said at the combine Friday. “I couldn’t ask for nothing better at linebacker. Oh, my gosh.”

A day later, anyone who watched the biggest of the national champion Bulldogs run at the combine was muttering the same thing.

Defensive tackle Jordan Davis, a potential Brandon Williams replacement at No. 14 overall who was considered the country’s best defender last season, had a performance for the ages. At 6 feet 6-plus, he is taller than tight end Rob Gronkowski. At 341 pounds, he is heavier than offensive tackle Jason Peters (and perhaps better equipped to handle the pace of play that wore Davis down at times last season). His 4.78-second 40-yard dash was faster than quarterback Patrick Mahomes’. His 1.68-second 10-yard split in that sprint was quicker than wide receiver Jarvis Landry’s.

NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said on Saturday’s telecast that after Davis ran, he got a text message from an unnamed NFL general manager that read, “Wow,” followed by several exclamation points.

Defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt, another potential first-round pick, weighed in at a not-quite-as-monstrous 6-3 and 304 pounds. But the versatile and disruptive Wyatt validated his next-level potential with a 4.77-second 40 time and smooth movement skills in positional drills.

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Travon Walker, who could rise into the top 10 of the draft despite limited pass-rush production (9 ½ career sacks over three seasons), had create-a-player measurables for a potential edge rusher: 6-5, 272 pounds, 4.51-second 40, 35 ½-inch arms (97th percentile for his position), 6.89-second three-cone drill (93rd percentile), 35 ½-inch vertical leap (75th percentile).

If this Ravens offseason turns into a defensive rebuild, DeCosta could find foundational pieces along the line of scrimmage with his top pick. Athens, Georgia, would be a good place to start the search.

The Ravens should have plenty of options at No. 14.

There’s no guarantee that the Ravens will find a Pro Bowl-level player with their first-round pick. But if the team stays at No. 14, and at least one or two quarterbacks are drafted before the Ravens are on the clock, it’s not hard to imagine a range of tantalizing options at positions of need.

Along the offensive line, Penning, Linderbaum and Texas A&M’s versatile Kenyon Green could all be available. Mississippi State tackle Charles Cross is a popular top-10 pick in mock drafts, but the lack of consensus around his stock suggests he could fall.

Looking for a pass rusher? Michigan’s David Ojabo, a former high school teammate of Ravens outside linebacker Odafe Oweh’s, showed his explosive traits by running a 4.55-second 40 and broad-jumping over 10 feet. Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson II flashed the same potential, posting a 4.58 40 and an even better broad jump. Purdue’s George Karlaftis didn’t run the 40 but tied for the second-best vertical leap, an indication of his explosive lower body.

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At cornerback, Cincinnati’s Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner might have tested his way out of the Ravens’ reach. His size has never been a question; in Indianapolis, he measured in at nearly 6-3, with a wingspan over 6-7. But Gardner had to quiet concerns about his long speed. Running a 4.41-second 40 should do that.

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Washington’s Trent McDuffie, a potential target at No. 14, doesn’t profile as a prototypical Ravens outside cornerback (5-10, 193 pounds), but he does run like one (4.44-second 40). LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr., who didn’t test at the combine while he recovers from a left foot injury, could also be in the mix at No. 14, depending on his pro-day numbers and his medical checkups.

Maryland safety Nick Cross had a nearly 11-foot broad jump and ran the fastest 40-yard dash among players at his position during the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. He could draw the Ravens' interest come NFL draft time in April.

The Terps’ top prospects helped themselves.

After a 2019 draft in which the Green Bay Packers made safety Darnell Savage a first-round pick, Maryland endured a lean two years.

In 2020, the first Terp selected was running back Anthony McFarland Jr., taken in the fourth round by the Steelers. Pittsburgh added safety Antoine Brooks two rounds later at No. 198. In 2021, Maryland fans had to wait until the seventh round for running back Jake Funk to go off the board.

This year, the program again won’t have much representation in the draft. But tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo and safety Nick Cross’ strong showings in Indianapolis could lead to mid-round selections.

Okonkwo’s 4.52-second 40 was the fastest of the tight ends who ran in Indianapolis, nearly a tenth of a second quicker than that of the next-best finisher, Virginia’s Jelani Woods (4.61). Okonkwo was one of the Terps’ most consistent receivers in 2021, catching 52 passes for 447 yards and five touchdowns. While slightly undersized (6-2, 238 pounds) for an in-line tight end, he could be an intriguing piece when split out wide or lined up as an H-back.

Cross, who also ran track and field at Maryland, posted a 4.34-second 40, the fastest at the position. At 6-0 and a chiseled 212 pounds, he also had a 37-inch vertical leap (fourth best) and a nearly 11-foot broad jump (third best). In the modern NFL, where versatility at safety is valued, Cross should have the range to play center field and the power to handle snaps in the box. That should get him on the big board in Owings Mills, where the Ravens have lacked playmakers in the back end.


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