Ravens First Round Pick Must Produce
It’s practically an even-money bet, that at the beginning of the NFL’s new year, the Ravens will find themselves tight against the salary cap with little maneuverability or capability to make a major splash in free agency. Perhaps even more alarming, is their inability to retain their own free agents. Imagine Joe Flacco being protected in 2017 by an offensive line that stacked up as follows:
LT: Stanley LG: Osemele C: Mangold RG: Yanda RT: Wagner
The easy scapegoat for the apparent mismanagement of the cap would be team capologist Pat Moriarty. After all, he’s the one responsible for contracts and he’s the one challenged to effectively navigate the sea of possibilities when it comes to the Ravens’ purse strings.
But is Moriarty really the scapegoat?
The Ravens cap struggles aren’t rooted in a mismanaged cap. The real problems over recent years have taken place on draft day.
Consider these draft classes from 2012 through 2015.
These are the players who are supposed to provide cheap labor. This is the pool of players who can potentially play beyond their contract levels to help offset aging or overpaid veterans whose performances fall short of their pay grade.
When that doesn’t happen, it places a burden on the cap because management feels compelled to find Band-Aids for their draft day shortcomings. If the Ravens hadn’t missed on Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks they may not have been forced to pay Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson. If they could develop their craft when selecting wide receivers, maybe they wouldn’t need to bring on receivers in the Novembers of their careers like Mike Wallace or a tight end like Ben Watson.
These mistakes are costly. They tax the cap and they force the team to say goodbye to All-Pros like Osemele.
Hopefully such discussions represent water under the bridge. Hopefully the scouts, coaches and front office are all in synch and the war room will be as productive in 2017 as it was last year. Hopefully the Ravens draft a highly productive player with their first-round pick.
And they’ll probably play it safe.
Baltimore fans have annually clamored for a No. 1 receiver – a defacto go-to guy for Joe Flacco. But does that player exist in this draft?
Mike Williams struggles to gain separation. Corey Davis hasn’t regularly competed against high-end competition and he’s fighting through some ankle issues. John Ross has a lengthy history of injuries. There are unanswered questions with each and consequently, none of them are sure-fire bets and let’s face it, the Ravens need one in this draft.
Perhaps the better draft day play is an edge rusher, someone who can take the load off Terrell Suggs; someone who can make an improved secondary even more effective; someone who can help get the defense off the field during the waning moments of the fourth quarter when so many games have been lost over the past few seasons.
Maybe the player is Derek Barnett. Maybe it’s Carl Lawson. Maybe it’s Takk McKinley. Maybe the pick won’t be an edge rusher if Haason Riddick or Rueben Foster falls to them.
Whoever it is, he needs to be productive from Day 1. With the top 3 wideouts in this draft, there isn’t certain production unless of course the Ravens are completely comfortable with Ross’ medical report. His game, if healthy, will succeed in the NFL. He’s explosive and elusive given his elite speed and incredible change of direction skills.
Williams isn’t as good as his fellow Clemson alum Sammy Watkins who has been a professional disappointment. Western Michigan’s Davis was consistently productive but given his superior athleticism, that may have been enough to secure his success in the less competitive Mid-American Conference. What might happen when he’s matched up against an opponent’s No. 1 corner and he’s forced to make pre-snap reads that he’s never before been challenged with?
Does he play slower as a result?
Does that inhibit his ability to create separation?
Might that curtail his productivity to the point where he’s no more productive than Kamar Aiken?
These are questions that the Ravens need to get comfortable with as it relates to the top 3 receivers. If they can’t, the safe play is the right play.
They can’t miss on their first pick.
And the likelihood of such a miss seemingly increases whenever the Ravens turn in a first-round card on a wide receiver.