One Week Later…
Now that a week has passed since the 2018 NFL Draft took place, I’ve had some time to reflect on what the Baltimore Ravens did without getting caught in the knee-jerk reaction chorus.
First and foremost, let’s applaud the front office for coming into this draft with eight picks (1 comp pick) and bumping up that total to 12 when all was said and done. Through a series of trade-downs, they accumulated additional draft capital in rounds 4, 5, and 6. In that respect, this draft has some similarities to 2016 when the team had five picks in the fourth round – all of those players are still on the roster and should be key contributors this season.
For those of you who were disappointed that the Ravens passed on Derwin James at pick No.16 in favor of trading down (and then trading down again, and trading down again), it’s understandable. James has the opportunity to be an absolute stud in this league for years to come.
But the Ravens had plenty of needs, and a lot of those needs were on offense, so netting that additional draft capital to have more ammunition in the mid-to-late rounds where the talent stretched far, made plenty of sense.
What I liked about the early picks (specifically through rounds 1-3) is that the front office didn’t draft any projects. It feels like in other years, they got a little too cute with their decisions, opting for players with raw physical skills who lacked the football IQ to make the transition to the NFL. Or in the case of someone like Bronson Kaufusi, was a flat-out reach who filled a position that was already overstocked.
No, there weren’t any DTs drafted high this time. Steve Bisciotti stuck to his word on that. The team was able to snag players who filled both a need and weren’t reaches.
“I think that there is a really good chance that we won’t be drafting a defensive tackle in the first round.” ~ Steve Bisciotti during the State of the Ravens presser
You can argue with who the team took, certainly. Should the team have drafted Calvin Ridley instead of Hayden Hurst after the trade back to 25? I think so.
However, I really can’t argue Hurst’s value at that pick, and I definitely can’t argue the picks of Orlando Brown (Lil’ Zeus) Jr. and Mark Andrews. Those two players were flat out steals.
In fact, I liked Andrews as a second-round choice for Baltimore before the draft. And Brown is a day one starter at RT who just happened to fall into the Ravens’ laps. We all know the combine story by now so there’s no need to rehash it. Let’s just say that the Ravens couldn’t have asked for a better scenario to plug a gaping hole along their offensive line, getting a first-round talent without having to sacrifice that first-round pick.
That brings me to Lamar Jackson.
I was all for the aggressive move to get back into the first round to snag him. At that rate, again, his value was much better at the end of the first. If you’re able to get two players with first-round grades who you considered taking at pick 16, that’s a win from a tactical standpoint at least.
As Ozzie Newsome pointed out, we should have a better idea of whether the Ravens actually had a good draft in two years. Right now, there’s no point in assigning grades.
But the way the front office worked the board and were able to find value throughout was impressive and reminded everyone why this is still one of the best FOs in the league.
Other Draft Thoughts
Eric DeCosta stated on The Lounge Podcast with Garrett Downing and Ryan Mink, that the only position they weren’t able to address in the draft was running back. This was a loaded RB class and I was in favor of the team finding a tailback who could be a chess piece in the passing game. The fact that the team came out of the draft without investing a pick in pass-catching threat tells me two things.
One, they believe in Kenneth Dixon as that guy. Now, as I’ve said before, I like Dixon’s ability as a potential third-down back who can operate in passing situations out of the backfield. He showed that ability in his rookie year, although he was more of a flat-route or dump-off threat on the perimeter. He can certainly reprise that role. But is he someone who can run true wide receiver-like routes and be a flex option in the team’s open formations? Someone like Alvin Kamara or Christian McCaffrey? I’m not so sure.
Still, it looks like Dixon is on tap for that opportunity in the offense. Dixon has some explosiveness and open-field ability, so the upside is there, it’s just a matter of him working on his route-running technique.
Another factor that could have taken the front office’s collective eye off a pass catching back, rests in the versatility of the Ravens tight ends who will fulfill a lot of those flex out, split-out type of duties. Their usage in the offense may reduce the dependency on the backs as targets in the passing game. Both Hurst and Andrews present some interesting matchup opportunities to handle the all-important H-back role in Greg Roman’s offense. Remember, this is the role that Delanie Walker played to perfection in San Francisco and he created a lot of matchup problems for opposing defenses.
Depending on how they’ll be used from a personnel standpoint, both TEs can be on the field with three wide receivers, with one lining up in the backfield and playing the motion role, turning a would-be three wide, two-tight look, into an empty set.
Be prepared to see scenarios where there are no backs on the field this season because Hurst and Andrews are versatile enough to stay in the backfield to help block, chip, leak out on pass routes, and take handoffs. Hurst certainly brings that element, having the experience of playing out of the backfield and running the ball effectively at South Carolina.
Lastly, getting back to Zeus Jr., my colleague Ken McKusick wrote an excellent piece that covers how well he fits at right tackle for the Ravens – perhaps for years to come. He’s clearly not an option at left guard.
But the left guard position will be one of the more hotly contested starting jobs coming into training camp. It should be an open competition between Alex Lewis and James Hurst. Let the best man win.
It’s also possible that Lewis could be in the mix at center as well. If he’s fully healthy, the coaching staff really needs to figure out a way to get him onto the field, whether it’s at guard or center. However, even though it’s early, Zeus Jr. is the runaway favorite to be the starting RT opposite of Ronnie Stanley.