On Monday afternoon, the first practices of Senior Bowl week will kick off. With the practices being more important than the game at this event, NFL Network’s full coverage of events gives fans an up-close look at some of the top draft prospects – and likely some future Ravens.
It may be coincidence or this may be a trend, but the Baltimore Ravens haven’t shied away from Senior Bowl participants in the last two drafts (credit @ArifHasanDN for chart):
2013 Ravens draft picks who were part of and/or participated in Senior Bowl week include Arthur Brown, Brandon Williams, Kyle Juszczyk, John Simon, Ricky Wagner, Marc Anthony and Aaron Mellette.
Brown was in Mobile, Ala, but did not participate with an injury, and Simon suffered an injury during Senior Bowl practices.
Translation: you’re almost sure to see at least one future Raven this week in Mobile.
This year’s crop of talent presents plenty of intriguing prospects at positions of need for the Ravens.
Here are a handful of prospects to keep an eye on as potential Ravens draft picks.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
You can go ahead and wager as much money as you want on the Ravens drafting a wide receiver at some point in this year’s draft. At the Senior Bowl, the crop of wide receivers is deep but lacks top-end talent, with the exception of Jordan Matthews. Perhaps the cleanest wide receiver in this year’s draft in terms of how technical and smooth he plays, Matthews is an enigma as to just how valuable he will be to NFL teams once May rolls around. He isn’t a burner with the ball in his hands, and he relies more on his skill set than physical tools.
His situation may be similar to Keenan Allen from last year, who was a third round pick despite having undoubted first round talent. Part of Allen’s fall, however, was due to the fact that he was one of the more underwhelming athletes of the top receivers. He proved during his rookie year that athleticism doesn’t matter if skills can compensate, and that’ll be the case for Matthews. Expect Matthews to dominate in practices this week, and look for him to be a potential second round option for the Ravens.
Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois
The talent pool at safety isn’t too intriguing this year in Mobile, but Jimmie Ward can be a one-man show who could change that perception. The Ravens will be in the market for a starting free safety, as well as depth at both safety positions. Ward is a sure tackler with plenty of experience in man coverage and plus range, and could be a free safety option for the Ravens if they turn toward the draft to fill the upcoming void.
Billy Turner, OL, North Dakota State
Essentially, keep an eye on any swing tackle/guard, as that is something the Ravens always seem to value in the draft. Local fans may remember Billy Turner from when he faced Towson in the FCS title game, when he stonewalled a lacking Towson front. Now Turner gets to go up against elite talent to prove his worth as an NFL tackle. He played left tackle in college, but his violent and forward playing style may be better suited for guard. Turner is on the South team, which includes pass rushers such as Dee Ford and Jeremiah Attaochu. Turner has a chance to prove his worth on the outside against top competition, and if he does, could be a potential right tackle option for Baltimore.
C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa
A player who excels in the intermediate passing game and down the seam, Fiedorowicz is the most complete tight end prospect in Mobile. When free agency starts, the Ravens will have zero tight ends from last year’s active roster under contract. Popular belief is Dennis Pitta will be back in town next season, but if he signs elsewhere, Fiedorowicz could replace Pitta as a go-to target in the short passing game. His value is to be determined as he’s a limited player (yet one who is very good at what he does), but he could be a Top 100 pick.
Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee
Want a right tackle option for the Ravens? How about one with 49 career starts at the position? Ja’Wuan James is a smooth operator who excels at dipping and letting pass rushers come to him. With the experience on the right side, that’s where he projects at the next level, and could be a day-one starter at right tackle in the NFL.
Seantrel Henderson, OT, Miami (FL)
The next Bryant McKinnie may be in this year’s draft, and he coincidentally hails from Miami as well. Seantrel Henderson was one of the most talented linemen in the country over the last few seasons, but multiple suspensions and inconsistent effort derailed a potential illustrious college career. If he can find a way to commit himself to being the best tackle he can be, it wouldn’t shock anyone to see him become an All-Pro in the NFL. He didn’t show at any point in college that he has that mentality, but the Senior Bowl can be a fresh start for him. Gauging where he’ll be drafted is almost impossible, as when he’s at his best, he’s a bona fide first round talent. How many teams even want to take a risk on him is unknown, however, and at some point on the second or third day of the draft seems realistic instead.
Dee Ford, OLB, Auburn
A defensive end in college, Dee Ford’s pass-rushing ability and speed may be better suited for a 3-4 defense as an outside linebacker. With the Ravens in a tough situation over the future of Terrell Suggs, they could be in the market for pass-rushing help in the offseason if Suggs is no longer in Baltimore. The Ravens could benefit from a pure pass rusher – Ford fits the bill.
Will Clarke, DE, West Virginia
A late add to the Senior Bowl after a strong week at the East-West Shrine Game, Will Clarke is a lengthy defensive end who played with too much of a tendency to stand up off the snap at West Virginia. He has the length to be a 3-4 defensive end on the thin side, similar to that of Chris Canty. Clarke’s fit in the NFL figures to be similar to the role Canty had with the Ravens in 2013. Canty figures to be back next season, but Clarke projects as a poor man’s version of the same type of player, nonetheless.