The Ravens are focusing on fixing their running game and adding playmakers this offseason, so all that talk about them possibly using the sixth overall pick on Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott makes sense.
Elliott is considered the top offensive playmaker in the draft. In three seasons at Ohio State, Elliott rushed for 3,961 yards and 43 touchdowns. His blocking ability makes him a true three-down back and his presence would immediately help any offense. He has been touted by some evaluators as the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson.
So why would the Ravens think twice about taking him if the draft’s elite defensive players, a group that includes Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey, Ohio State pass rusher Joey Bosa, UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, and Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner, all go in the top five?
Well, the track record of running backs taken in the top six isn’t good. Since 2002, there have been six running backs drafted in the top six: Trent Richardson (third, 2012) Darren McFadden (fourth, 2008), Reggie Bush (second, 2006), Ronnie Brown (second, 2005), Cedric Benson (fourth, 2005), and Cadillac Williams (fifth, 2005).
That group has combined for a grand total of one Pro Bowl appearance, by the Dolphins’ Brown in 2008.
There is also the whole argument of best-player available vs. biggest need. If you ranked the Ravens’ biggest needs, running back wouldn’t crack the top five. In fact, it is one of their deepest positions with Justin Forsett returning healthy, and Buck Allen, Terrance West, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Terrence Magee behind him. Richardson is also expected to sign with the team before the start of organized team workouts on April 18.
Elliott would obviously make the group better, but picking him would likely prevent the Ravens from filling one of their biggest needs in the draft. As much as Ravens’ officials talk about the importance of “nailing” their four fourth-round picks and finding gems later in the draft, it’s tough to count on getting immediate impact players in the middle rounds, particularly at premium positions like offensive tackle, pass rusher and cornerback.
Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta acknowledged as much about cornerback, saying that all the starting-caliber ones will be gone by the middle of the third round. The Ravens can’t afford to draft another developmental corner. They need a guy to step in and play immediately, so drafting Elliott at six overall would pretty much force the team to draft a corner with one of their next two picks, if not the second rounder.
And what about a pass rusher? Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said there are good pass-rushing prospects that can be had in the middle-to-later rounds. Still, it seems a little too optimistic to expect find another Pernell McPhee late in the fifth round.
You can’t forget about left tackle or middle linebacker either.
Drafting Elliott has to be tempting for the Ravens, a team that wants to get back to a downhill, physical running attack. If the Ravens stick to taking the best-player available, Elliott will get serious consideration.
But if their focus this draft is on rebuilding a once-vaunted defense – and all their comments to this point indicate this being the case - it’s going to be tough to draft Elliott and still accomplish that goal.