With a contending team like the Ravens, the NFL Draft offers an opportunity to bring immediate impact players into the fold and take the next step toward a Super Bowl win. Following a whirlwind 14-2 season, there’s no doubt that the team’s status as a favorite in the league influenced the strategy. Given that, I think it’s particularly intriguing to predict which player is best equipped to help the squad out from the get-go, and after some thought, I believe my prediction might surprise you.
Most years, you’d expect a team’s first-round selection to be their best rookie the following season, and that sets Patrick Queen up to quickly end this discussion. However, I have my reservations about crowning Queen as the team’s most likely contributor from this class come Week 1. Without a doubt, he’ll be a factor and a force, especially by the end of the season. Still, considering that he is 20-years-old and may struggle some against the run, I feel Queen could find things difficult at first. DC Wink Martindale runs a complex defense, and while Queen will be a big piece of it, I don’t know that he will initially be relied upon as heavily as some may expect.
In the second round, the Ravens got incredible value in J.K. Dobbins, a running back that experts seem to think will thrive in Baltimore’s offense. Dobbins will surely be an electrifying player running RPOs in OC Greg Roman’s system, but my reservations about the pick mirror my reservations about predicting him to be the most consistent rookie next season. Quite simply, I don’t know that Dobbins will get enough carries to make a massive impact, or at least one that’s larger than other members of the class. Running behind Mark Ingram and presumably deferring to Gus Edwards in the fourth quarter, Dobbins might be more of a change-of-pace back to start his career.
When it comes to other members of the 2020 Ravens rookies group, I don’t think playing time will be consistent enough to warrant their name being called here. Really, that’s true of guys like Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington Jr. (behind a number of veterans along the D-Line), Devin Duvernay and James Proche (competing with each other, Willie Snead IV and Miles Boykin for WR snaps), as well as Tyre Phillips and Ben Bredeson (a number of names who could come out as starters at guard or center). For me, there’s too much uncertainty for these guys, and I’m not sure how much we’ll see them year one.
Instead, third-round linebacker Malik Harrison feels like the most likely to immediately contribute week-in and week-out next season. For me, the more traditional inside backer is more likely to help the Ravens from the start, as his ability to help in the run game may be more applicable early on than are Queen’s impressive coverage skills. The 6’3”, 247-pound LB will be the true thumper inside that the Ravens missed dearly last season, and running behind Derek Wolfe, Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell, Harrison should be able to shoot gaps and thrive. I recently heard Ravens media members Garrett Downing and Ryan Mink discussing how Harrison was born to play in the AFC North, and I think that indicates his readiness for the big leagues.
Though Harrison may not have the most talent in this year’s rookie class, he’s playing at a position that needs immediate help. And, while Queen was the first-round pick and will play often, Harrison’s skillset will transition faster than Queen’s will. Coming from a big program at Ohio State, Harrison has played in big games and should be hungry to be an impact player in matchups with the Ravens right away.
I fully expect him to have the most consistent year out of all the first-year players in GM Eric DeCosta’s impressive haul.