With the struggles the Ravens have had in recent seasons, their draft process has faced some criticism. In the early years of the franchise, the Ravens developed a reputation as one of the best drafting teams in football. Home grown talent like Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs were the foundation of their success. Since 2008 though, they’ve only sent two draft picks to the Pro Bowl. Not that the Pro Bowl is necessarily the perfect measuring stick – but the scrutiny was fair.
The 2016 draft though looks as if it’s taking shape quicker than maybe even Ozzie Newsome would have expected. It’s still early, but it looks like it could be one of the more impactful classes in the Ravens’ twenty-year history.
They say that in a successful draft a team lands three future starters, and the expectation is not necessarily that they all become starters in year one. This draft class, however, has provided four players who have had significant starting roles in 2016.
Ronnie Stanley was not the player that fans wanted with the Ravens top selection, myself included. After a year in 2015 that lulled us to sleep, fans were desperately hoping for a playmaker like Ezekiel Elliott or Jalen Ramsey. While both would have been good selections had they been available, the Ravens got it right with their pick. Stanley is the first rookie to ever start at left tackle for the Ravens. Even the great Jonathan Ogden got his feet wet at guard before shifting to the edge. There have been a few hiccups for Stanley this year with injuries and some less-than-stellar performances, but he seems to be improving with each passing game. He’s a smart player who will only continue to get better and the Ravens have a critical position locked down for the foreseeable future.
Next to Stanley on the line, Alex Lewis emerged as a starter day one after beating out projected starter John Urschel in training camp. While a high ankle sprain has sidelined him the last few weeks, his success is important to the future of the Ravens offensive line. With Rick Wagner set to cash in after this season in free agency, Lewis is a likely replacement should the Ravens lose him. Drafting one starter on the offensive line is an accomplishment for any franchise. The fact that that Ozzie Newsome was able to find two is a big boon for the entire offense.
Kenneth Dixon will be the beneficiary of continuity along that line. On the surface, it was a bit of a head-scratcher when the Ravens used a mid-round pick on Dixon. At the time, they seemed loaded at the position, but the value of landing a difference-maker at that point was too enticing to pass up. Dixon was an absolute steal in the fourth round and his ability to make plays is obvious. After a knee injury in the preseason, he now appears completely healthy. While Terrance West has been impressive at times. it’s obvious that Dixon is the future of the Ravens backfield.
Tavon Young has arguably been the most impactful rookie. After Shareece Wright went down with an injury, Young seized his opportunity to be a full-time starter. While Jimmy Smith is the clear-cut number one corner, with the current state of the NFL, having a quality number two defensive back is essential. Young is undersized at 5-9, but he plays much bigger. His impact as a rookie has been one of the biggest differences in the Ravens improved secondary.
It’s still early but the 2016 draft class looks like a good one. That comes with little impact from Kamalei Correa, and third-round pick Bronson Kaufusi missing the entire season. If Correa can figure it out and Kaufusi turns out to be the edge rusher the Ravens think he can be, the 2016 draft class could end up being one of the best in franchise history.