Slowly but surely, the Ravens’ 90-man roster is coming together.
On Saturday afternoon, general manager Eric DeCosta wrapped up a busy and bountiful NFL draft. Not long after, Ravens officials got to work filling out the team’s undrafted-free-agent class. On Saturday, rookies will report to Owings Mills for a three-day minicamp. Voluntary organized team workouts begin in less than three weeks.
With the draft in the rearview mirror and another wave of free agency ahead, here’s where Baltimore Sun reporters Childs Walker and Jonas Shaffer and editor C.J. Doon think the Ravens stand.
Who was the Ravens’ best pick of the draft?
Childs Walker: Their best pick for immediate value was Connecticut defensive tackle Travis Jones at No. 76 overall. He could give them much of what Georgia’s Jordan Davis would have delivered, had the Ravens been able to use the No. 14 pick on the more touted interior defender. Jones has the athletic ability to pressure the pocket and occupy multiple blockers.
That said, second-round pick David Ojabo was the potential home run swing. The Ravens would have seriously considered picking him at No. 14 if he had not torn his Achilles tendon at his pro day. He could be a rare difference-maker on the edge, and they already have a feel for his character because of their deep ties to the Michigan program. Ojabo probably won’t help much in 2022, but he’s exactly the type of player you should snag if you go into a draft with as much capital as the Ravens did.
Jonas Shaffer: One of the greatest compliments coach John Harbaugh ever paid a player came when he called guard Marshal Yanda a “force multiplier.” After the legendary guard retired in 2020, Harbaugh said Yanda “exponentially makes the offensive line better because he makes all the players around him so much better.”
Kyle Hamilton has that kind of potential on defense. DeCosta and Harbaugh said last week that the Notre Dame star can do everything a modern safety needs to in the NFL: blitz, tackle, cover tight ends, line up as a single-high safety, line up as a two-high safety, play man coverage, play zone coverage. The more unpredictable Hamilton is, the harder it will be for offenses to game-plan for him — and the easier it’ll be for his Ravens teammates to exploit their uncertainty.
C.J. Doon: There’s a reason Hamilton was considered a consensus top-five player in this draft class, regardless of position. The Notre Dame safety has All-Pro potential, and while he might not be considered as important to a championship contender as a shutdown corner or dominant pass rusher, the value of his position is on the rise — especially at the top of the market.
If Hamilton becomes a star, like most experts believe he will, this pick could be one of the best of DeCosta’s tenure. According to Pro Football Focus’ measurement of wins above replacement, the top 10 safeties in 2019 were more valuable to their teams than the top 10 at any other position but quarterback and wide receiver. Getting that kind of value at pick No. 14 is a home run.
What was the Ravens’ biggest reach in the draft?
Walker: The Ravens were seemingly determined to use one of their six fourth-round picks on Penn State punter Jordan Stout, and we know from Peter King’s fly-on-the-wall report for NBC Sports that DeCosta sensed a mini-run on the position coming. So he took Stout at No. 130 overall.
He could have instead used that pick on speedy Memphis wide receiver Calvin Austin III and perhaps still had a shot to pick Stout at No. 139. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did pick a punter between those slots, and maybe they would have drafted Stout, but you hate to pass on a coveted skill position player for a specialist. The Ravens made the best of it by taking a tight end with wide receiver skills, Isaiah Likely of Coastal Carolina, at No. 139. They did very little reaching overall, a major reason their draft was so well regarded.
Shaffer: I can’t quibble too much with the logic behind any of the Ravens’ picks, even Stout. If Sam Koch’s explanation last summer for the value of a deadeye punter is true — “The last time I saw in analytics, a punt to the 13[-yard line] compared with a punt to the 18 might be the difference from a 13% chance of scoring for the opposing team to a 28% chance of scoring” — Stout’s accuracy will reap rewards in Baltimore. On punts launched between the 30-yard lines, Stout pinned opponents inside the 20 83% of the time, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Ravens’ blitz of fourth-pick picks did leave me wondering: What about next year’s draft? The Ravens currently have seven picks in 2023 and aren’t expected to add a mid-round selection through the compensatory-pick process. DeCosta’s goal is to have double-digit picks in each draft. He can still get there by trading players and picks over the next year, of course. But it was surprising to see the Ravens not deal one of their later picks for a 2023 selection that likely would have slotted higher.
Doon: Stout is the obvious answer, considering the rarity of taking a punter as early as the fourth round, but I’m not going to doubt the Ravens’ assessment of their special teams. Using the media’s consensus big board as a judge, Houston cornerback Damarion Williams is a big reach. He ranked No. 256 overall, and the Ravens took him at pick No. 141. At 5 feet 10 and 182 pounds, with below-average physical and athletic traits, Williams is unlikely to be more than a slot corner at the next level. The two-time team captain could certainly prove me wrong, but it was a little surprising to see the Ravens pick him over a more athletic corner like Texas-San Antonio’s Tariq Woolen or a promising receiver like Boise State’s Khalil Shakir.
Who’s the sleeper pick or signing of the Ravens’ draft?
Walker: Jalyn Armour-Davis did not get a lot of attention because injuries wiped out so much of his Alabama career, but he has the physical traits of a first-round cornerback who could thrive on an island in the NFL. We knew the Ravens needed young depth at the position behind starters Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, and they found a developmental talent whose skill set is typically hard to come by in the fourth round.
Shaffer: Would anyone be that surprised if sixth-round pick Tyler Badie opens the season as the Ravens’ starting running back? He’s quick and elusive. He’s secure with the ball. He’s a viable receiving option. And — most important, considering the other Ravens running backs he’ll be meeting soon — he’s healthy. Team officials value high-end production, and after biding his time between Larry Rountree III at Missouri, Badie broke out in his first season as a full-time starter. He had 1,604 rushing yards and 6 yards per carry in 2021, along with 54 receptions for 330 yards. If Badie can’t crack the Ravens’ two-deep, he could at least help out as a kick returner.
Doon: Consider me a fan of Mississippi State wide receiver Makai Polk, whom the Ravens reportedly have signed. Despite setting school records with 105 catches and 1,046 receiving yards last season, the 6-3 California transfer went undrafted. He lands in an ideal situation in Baltimore, with the Ravens needing to replace the production of Marquise “Hollywood” Brown after his trade to the Arizona Cardinals. Polk has the size, ball skills and game sense to grow into a dependable target for quarterback Lamar Jackson.
What’s the most significant consequence of the Ravens’ draft?
Baltimore Ravens Insider
Walker: Without a lot of fanfare, they moved on from the generation left over from their 2012 Super Bowl team. Publicly, they’re taking a wait-and-see approach with their longest-tenured player, Koch, but they would not have drafted Stout if they did not view him as an immediate starter.
The selection of Jones drove home what we already suspected: that nose tackle Brandon Williams, drafted the year after the Super Bowl, probably won’t be back. The Ravens have re-assigned Williams’ number along with those of longtime cornerback Jimmy Smith and outside linebacker Pernell McPhee. If Koch is released, kicker Justin Tucker and inside linebacker Josh Bynes would be the only players left from 2012. We knew the Ravens wanted to get younger, especially on defense, and they’re well on their way.
Shaffer: Rashod Bateman, age 22, is now WR1. Even if the Ravens go out and sign a free-agent wide receiver to help fill their Hollywood-sized hole — Jarvis Landry? Will Fuller V? — it’s Bateman who’ll draw the most attention at wideout this season. A heavy burden, sure, but one Ravens officials believe the 2021 first-round pick can bear. And with All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews and a potent running attack helping out, Bateman doesn’t have to be a show-stopping performer. He just needs to avoid a sophomore slump.
Doon: If Jackson is indeed going to sign a long-term contract, the Ravens are set up for success. With Jackson’s deal expected to take up a significant portion of the salary cap, they need cheap, young building blocks to maintain a championship-caliber roster. At safety, center, edge rusher, defensive tackle, tight end, cornerback and even punter, they might have found those pieces in this draft.
What’s the Ravens’ biggest roster need?
Walker: They still need an edge rusher while they wait for Ojabo. That could be veteran Justin Houston, who played well for them on a cheap contract last year. They placed an unrestricted-free-agent tender on him this week, meaning that if he does not sign elsewhere by July 22, he could be back at a similar price. Houston and his 4 1/2 sacks from 2021 would not thrill fans, but he would be a fine bridge solution. If not Houston, the Ravens would need to bring in another veteran to pair with Odafe Oweh. Tyus Bowser’s availability for the start of the season is also in question after he tore his Achilles tendon in Week 18.
Shaffer: The Ravens’ depth and versatility at safety can help paper over some of their shortcomings at cornerback, especially in the slot, and at inside linebacker, especially on passing downs. But outside linebacker’s another matter. Ojabo, even when healthy, was seen as a first-year project during the predraft process. Bowser’s rehabilitation can’t be rushed. Daelin Hayes has dealt with injuries throughout his playing career. Jaylon Ferguson hasn’t shown much as a pass rusher. If the season started next month, Malik Harrison would probably be in the rotation. The Ravens have to find some help, or else they risk more of the misery created by last year’s offensive tackle quagmire.
Doon: Wide receiver is clearly not very important to a run-first offense led by coordinator Greg Roman, but the Ravens still need someone who can threaten defenses vertically the way Brown did. Before Jackson fell off in the second half of last season, he was one of the league’s best downfield passers. Bateman has the potential to be a reliable No. 1 target, but he’s not going to challenge cornerbacks deep. It’s easier said than done to find a consistent downfield threat after the draft and the first few waves of free agency have passed, but a veteran like T.Y. Hilton or Fuller would be a wise investment.