Now that the NFL combine has wrapped up, and players draft stocks have risen and fallen, some NFL front offices may have to reevaluate their approach to both free agency and the draft. Players, who may have been available at certain positions in the first round, may now be out of a team’s reach after an impressive combine performance.
This may prove true for wide receiver Mike Evans, from Texas A&M, who has been linked to Baltimore in several mock drafts. After a solid outing at the combine, there’s a good possibility he’s gone before the Ravens pick at 17. The general consensus is he is the second best WR in the draft behind Sammy Watkins, who will no doubt be off the board and could likely be a top 5 pick.
While there’s no such thing as a sure bet when it comes to drafting a receiver, Watkins and Evans are the closest in this year’s draft. Aside from them, there is talent, but none the Ravens should roll the dice on with their first round pick.
Assuming they’re both gone, the Ravens best bet is to upgrade their offensive line. While guys like Jake Matthews and Greg Robinson will be off the board, there is still first round talent that could make an immediate impact in an area where the Ravens desperately need it.
Taylor Lewan from Michigan is an absolute freak of an athlete. At 6’7 309 pounds he had the fastest 40 time for any offensive lineman at 4.87, which is absolutely blazing speed for someone his size.
If Lewan is gone the Ravens should shift their focus to Zack Martin from Notre Dame. While Martin doesn’t have the prototypical size for an NFL left tackle, he has all the intangibles you look for and has said he’s willing to play any position on the line. He’s known for his work ethic, leadership and is durable, having played 52 consecutive games for the Irish. He recently drew comparisons to Ravens Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda.
Looking at the Ravens draft history, they’ve had much more success identifying talent on the offensive line in the first round than they have when reaching for a receiver.
Since 1996 the Ravens have selected 3 offensive linemen in the first round:
• Jonathan Ogden #4 in 1996
• Ben Grubbs #29 in 2007
• Michael Oher #23 in 2009
Ogden is in the Hall of Fame and is viewed as possibly the best left tackle in NFL history. Grubbs is a Pro Bowl guard who played so well in his time in Baltimore the Ravens couldn’t afford to keep him. While Oher has been considered somewhat of a disappointment, he’s started every game since being drafted by the Ravens. That’s an accomplishment in itself considering the physicality of the position he plays.
Compare this to the receivers that have been taken in the first round:
• Travis Taylor #10 in 2000
• Mark Clayton #22 in 2006
Both were huge disappointments as far as first round picks are concerned, and neither eclipsed the 1000-yard mark in a season at any point in their career.
This year’s draft is considered one of the deepest for pass catchers in recent memory. In free agency there is also a very deep pool of wide receiver talent to choose from.
Taking both of these factors into consideration, assuming Watkins and Evans are gone, the Ravens are better off reaching into free agency, or taking a wideout in the second or third round and using the first round to address another need.
After missing the playoffs for the first time in 5 years, and having a lot of holes to fill, there is pressure on the Ravens front office to deliver in this year’s draft. They don’t need developmental guys; they need players who will make an immediate impact.
More importantly, they can’t allow their desperation to find a playmaker cloud their better judgment on draft day. Reaching for a wideout that’s not worthy of a first round pick could set them back and make 2014 look very similar to 2013.
With that said, the Ravens are widely considered one of the best in the business when it comes to identifying talent.
Here’s hoping the Wizard of Oz is able to work his magic, and given his track record, it’s a safe bet he will.