The 2012 draft class for the Baltimore Ravens could turn out to be one of the best overall drafts the team has conducted in recent years. On draft day, there didn’t appear to be a lot of glitz and glam with the picks and some even caused fans to ask questions.
“Why did we take an outside linebacker with our first pick when we have Suggs and Kruger?”
“We took a running back in the 3rd round?! But we have one of the best running backs in the league!”
“The Ravens had a chance to get the top centers in the draft, but they waited until the 4th and took a kid from Delaware?!”
As time usually proves, Ozzie Newsome has a plan and that’s what was going through my head on draft weekend. However, I do still believe that the Ravens coveted Dont’a Hightower and were caught off guard when the Patriots jumped in front of them to snag him. But per usual, Ozzie didn’t panic and the team was able to grab another talented LB from Alabama that fell into the 2nd round.
With one season under their collective belt, here are my evaluations of each of the Ravens’ picks from the 2012 NFL Draft.
2nd Round (35) Courtney Upshaw – LB – Alabama
I watched a tremendous amount of film on Upshaw and I was pretty pleased with this pick. Upshaw is an ideal 3-4 strong side OLB and in my mind and the perfect long term replacement for Jarrett Johnson.
Upshaw is physical, stout and can set the edge, something Paul Kruger was never been able to do. Upshaw started slowly during the 2012 NFL season, coming into camp overweight. He also got a bit of a raw deal from fans who expected him to be a replacement for an injured Terrell Suggs. That expectation was completely wrong.
Upshaw isn’t a pass rusher like Suggs and wasn’t brought to Baltimore to get 10 sacks a season. Instead the former ‘Bama backer was drafted to set the edge, stop the run, and sometimes rush the passer. In fact, I’d be shocked if Upshaw has more than 8 sacks in a single season in his career with the Ravens but that doesn’t mean he isn’t playing well. People tend to hear “outside linebacker” and expect sack numbers but that’s not always the case.
Regardless of unreal expectations, Upshaw began to see more and more reps as the season went on and made an impact on the defense. Even with the addition of Elvis Dumervil, expect Upshaw to be the primary strong side linebacker on run downs, which will keep Dumervil fresh for passing situations. I fully expect Upshaw to have a strong 2013 season.
2nd Round (60) Kelechi Osemele – OT – Iowa State
Osemele was without a doubt the biggest impact player of this draft class for the Ravens. Starting every game, Osemele was able to make the transition from playing OT (mainly LT) in college and kicked inside to LG. Perhaps the player Osemele helped the most was veteran Center Matt Birk, who had been struggling with stout interior defenders in recent years. Osemele has great size for a G and while he might not have had the athleticism to play LT like he did at Iowa State at times, he certainly showed he had enough to play the LG spot. Osemele is primed to be a staple on the Ravens offensive line for years to come, and is part of the reason Baltimore is comfortable going with Gino Gradkowski at the center spot for 2013.
3rd Round (84) Bernard Pierce – RB – Temple
Watching as much tape as I did, it was hard not to be excited about Pierce landing with the Ravens. With an excellent combination of power and speed, Pierce was set to be the perfect compliment to Ray Rice and that certainly proved to be true in 2012. Whenever the Ravens running game struggled, Pierce seemed to be the spark that brought it back to life.
Ending the season with an average of 4.9 yards per carry, Pierce racked up 532 yards and a touchdown. What was most impressive to me about Pierce was his toughness. Pierce played through a nagging knee injury down the stretch and into the playoffs, yet remained a key component of the Ravens offense. Don’t be surprised to see #30 get even more touches during the 2013 season, helping extend the longevity of Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice’s career and help propel the Ravens running game into another playoff run.
4th Round (98) Gino Gradkowski – C – Delaware
Though Gino saw very limited action in 2012 as the backup to Matt Birk, 2013 is sink or swim for the Delaware center. Word out of Owings Mills was that the Ravens actually had Gradkowski rated higher as a center prospect than Ben Jones or Philip Blake, both of which were ranked higher on most pundits’ boards. Gradkowski is actually in a nice spot coming into his first season as a starter. Having powerful guards like Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele playing beside him should certainly give him some confidence in 2013.
4th Round (130) Christian Thompson – FS – South Carolina State
If the Ravens have shown anything on draft day it’s that they aren’t afraid to take small school players. Thompson will get his chance to show he’s worthy of a starting spot in 2013 with both Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard leaving the team. However, with the recent addition of Michael Huff, Thompson will probably see most of his time in a special teams capacity. But there’s no better way to prove your worth (especially to John Harbaugh) than playing well on special teams. Thompson provides depth at a thin safety spot and will certainly have the opportunity to get into the rotation on defense.
5th Round (169) Asa Jackson – CB – Cal Poly
Jackson is a quick, special teams ace that saw time in this capacity in 2012. With changes to the secondary, Jackson will certainly get an opportunity to be in the rotation for the corner spot. However, Jackson’s bread and butter will be on special teams. Don’t be surprised to see him as a gunner throughout the season.
6th Round (198) Tommy Streeter – WR – Miami
Streeter is all potential (and limbs) and if he can develop, he could see a fair amount of playing time in 2013. With a rare combination of size and speed, Streeter could be a matchup nightmare for defenses, especially if he could be on the field at the same time as speedsters Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. There are huge shoes to fill at the WR spot with the departure of Anquan Boldin and while Streeter isn’t going to be catching tough passes across the middle of the field like Q, the receiving corps will need to step up as a whole. Streeter has the opportunity of a lifetime….but will he be able to take advantage of it?
7th Round (236) DeAngelo Tyson – DE – Georgia
Tyson saw limited action in 2012 but showed that he has some promise as a 5-technique defensive end. However, with the additions of Chris Canty and Marcus Spears, Tyson has fallen further down the depth chart. He’ll have to prove that he’s worthy of a rotational spot along the defensive line with guys like Arthur Jones, Pernell McPhee and Terrence Cody.