These Prospects “Play Like a Raven”

Ravens Draft Central These Prospects “Play Like a Raven”

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Dev Panchwagh wrote a piece recently about prospects in this year’s draft that look like they fit the Ravens. And I couldn’t agree more with the type of player that he said fits – it would be hard not to agree given he was referencing his excellent post from many moons ago interviewing Eric DeCosta about what they look for.

He said: “Toughness, high football IQ, passion, and ‘good football players.’ In many circles, when a coach or scout labels a player a “football player” it’s one of the highest compliments he can give.”

This got me thinking, there are so many mock drafts out there from #RavensFlock members that give us examples of players we like as fans, rather than trying to look at making selections that we think the Ravens might make, I’ve done it many times myself. While we also see that the national media doesn’t have the same understanding of the Ravens as we do, mocking players at points in the draft that seem at odds with Baltimore’s philosophy.

In my first post for RSR, I wrote up what I think the Ravens would do with defensive selections across the seven rounds of the draft, trying to be predictive by looking at data-points on their previous selections. But I’m as passionate about player evaluation as I am about analytics.

So turning to my other love instead – player evaluation, having written up more formal reports on over 150 prospects in this class as well as having watched a lot more and knowing the Ravens as I do, I’m in a unique position to suggest an approach to the first two days of this draft that the Ravens might take. This will be based not on who I hope they take as a fan, and will be with a more nuanced understanding of the team’s approach on draft day than many national media members would have.

Knowing what we know about the type of players they like, which we see from Dev’s post, combined with what I’ve seen on tape of this class, there are four players I’m going to single out as those I believe to be perfect fits for the Ravens and they are all expected to go on day two.

But if they’re all expected to go on day two, how will we ever acquire them? How about one of those infuriating trades, where you wait all draft night for the Ravens to make a pick, only to see them trade out of the round and have to wait until Friday?

It is likely – one of my big takeaways from the pre-draft press conference was that DeCosta and the front office want a lot more picks in this year’s, and next year’s draft.

You need two to tango though, so we do need to look for a motivated partner – no, not to tango, we don’t want anybody triggered with old memories of not finding a date for prom, in this case I don’t mean Cassie from your Social Studies class, I mean the New York Football Giants.

They have two picks on day two that roughly equal the value of the 27th overall pick according to the Jimmy Johnson trade value chart – and it is hard to find a team in a two-for-one scenario like this, that is most often executed on draft day. If they sent us their 76th pick to swap 27 for 42, that would be an equitable deal. But they need to be motivated – so what’s their motivation?

The Giants need a corner to lock down the boundary opposite CB James Bradberry, and they would have hopefully been able to get Daniel Jones some help with their first selection. So they might be looking to fill that hole. There are a lot of CB-needy teams between their second pick at 42 and our pick at 27, including of course New Orleans, picking directly after us, looking to make a similar move to shore up their defensive backfield opposite Marshon Lattimore.

If an elite talent on their board falls, maybe Caleb Farley or Asante Samuel Jr. they may look to pounce. If you prefer a less drastic trade-back, there are many CB needy teams before the Giants pick, who could trade up with EDC to get in front of New Orleans. In other words, CB is going to be the position to watch on draft day for those of you rooting for a trade-back and getting good value in return.

For the purposes of this piece we pull the trigger on a trade-back with New York and the Ravens end up with picks 42, 58, 76, and 104 on day 2.

So for those picks or some other combination, I think the Ravens would be thrilled with the four player haul that I present to you here, based on talent and fit with their culture alone. I am not trying to address the oft-cited positions of need with the first two picks. Also, if your visit here today is for the draft scenario talk, I hope you stay for the evaluations because these are four of my favorite players to write about in this year’s class.

[Enter the free RSR Draft Contest]

42. Landon Dickerson C Alabama

I actually think Creed Humphrey is the slightly better all-around player and safer pick given Dickerson’s injury history, but Dickerson seems like the ultimate culture and scheme fit for the Ravens. Dickerson loves football. The energy that he reportedly brought to every corner of the Alabama football program says how much this kid is just grateful to be playing the game he loves day in, and day out. A recent story he told on NFL Network’s Path to the Draft, showcased this – during the height of the pandemic when the facility and other gyms were closed, he bought a bunch of gym gear and other equipment and set up a facility for Bama players to work out in his car port. He created a schedule to ensure distancing, studied sanitation to keep everyone safe, and ended up with 40 guys coming through every day to work out in the activity vacuum they created.

That sounds like a player John Harbaugh will love, but the scouts will love him too, because on tape, he fits what the Ravens would want out of Center. Mixing and matching at the position recently, as fans, we may have lost sight of what they truly love there – Matt Birk/Ryan Jensen-style size, and Dickerson has this. He also fits the current, heavier gap/power scheme that the Ravens run, in addition to being probably the best interior run-blocking lineman in this class.

He’s not exactly under-the-radar, so there’s plenty to read on him but here’s my short contribution. He is utterly dominant at the point of attack, he rolls his hips so well on contact and swings open big gates for his backs. He has a ridiculously strong core which leads to an impressive anchor – blitzers and stunting linemen almost bounce off him and he enjoys popping defenders, any chance he gets. He is actually pretty fleet of foot in short areas (not in space) given he’s such a behemoth and he combines this with his length and latch strength to cover the fact that he can find it hard to sink his hips sometimes because of his size. He is also pretty versatile having spent time at all five OL spots during his college career. He’s a plug and play day one starter and leader for your team and he fits the Ravens perfectly.

58. Elijah Molden CB Washington

Ravens Flock would likely riot with pitch-forks and flaming torches if Eric DeCosta picks up a Corner with a premium pick but this team believes they can never have enough of them and Molden’s position should read playmaker, not CB.

First things first here, Molden does not fit what the Ravens look for in a Corner at first glance. They almost exclusively take predominantly outside corners with their selections. However, they also prioritize versatility in their defensive backs and if you see Molden as a DB, he does have that versatility to line up in many different spots.

He likely can’t play outside but what isn’t in doubt, for me, is how well he fits the Ravens demeanor on defense. The kid wants you to run the ball at him, he is desperate to make big plays on ball carriers and he has done so, time and again in his college career. He is tough way beyond his size and is a pretty efficient tackler, even when facing down far bigger offensive players. In addition to this competitive toughness, he is also an elite lateral mover with explosion, and he plays with high-level anticipation and instincts. He dares Quarterbacks to throw the ball in his general area, and then makes them pay. The creative defensive play-caller will see Molden as a dream player, and Wink Martindale is the ultimate creative defensive play-caller.

76. Janarius Robinson EDGE Florida State

If you’ve spent any time watching this year’s Edge class in any detail, you’ll know that the Ravens are starved of complete players at the position in 2021. If you like any prospect, you normally have to preface any evaluation with a “first things first, he can’t do… this”. Normally that means compromising their ability to set the edge, a vital component in the make-up of any Ravens Outside Linebacker, I might add. I’ve found myself writing that players set a smart edge rather than a physical one, they play the run well on the way to the pass, and other euphemisms for – this kid is not big enough or physical enough to set an edge the way I want.

That is NOT Janarius Robinson. He sets one of the most physical edges in this class, deploying his power and length to great effect – he just looks like a Raven when he sets the edge. He can rock offensive linemen backwards and he loves making plays on the running back. He also plays the run with vision and smarts – keeping his eyes in the backfield, occasionally peeking inside too much and losing outside leverage, but normally efficient and disciplined. As a pass rusher, he has the tools you want, recently testing well to match what you can see on tape as striking quickness and first-step explosion to his pass rush. He has some moves that he’s developed, but his rush isn’t yet well put together and I certainly would like to see him set the Offensive Tackle up to take more advantage of his power at the apex of his rush. But, I would bet on an edge-setting demon who has all the tools to develop as a heavy, jack-spot in Wink’s scheme, pass rusher.

104. D’Wayne Eskridge WR Western Michigan

I’ve saved the best for last as Eskridge is, pound-for-pound, my favorite player in this class. When I say pound-for-pound, I mean that in reference to the old Boxing adage that would refer to the best fighters in the world regardless of their weight class. This works on many levels for Eskridge – both in real terms because he is on the smaller side of what many (not me) would want from a receiver the Ravens target in this draft, but also in terms of value and where you will be able to select him, likely late in the third round of a loaded WR class. It also works because of the type of prospect you’re getting from a non-Power Five school and through the fighting spirit that Eskridge has demonstrated through his life and on the football field.

The Athletic recently posted an excellent piece (which you can find in my retweets) that charted Eskridge’s refusal to be denied a scholarship to play football, working tirelessly for years to meet the academic requirements as well as his striving to improve on the football field to make sure he was a football player, not a track guy playing football. I love how Eskridge embraced being asked to play defensive back when it became apparent that this might be his best shot at making it to the league but then used his experience to make himself a better wide receiver when he transitioned back to offense full-time.

This experience as a defensive back and his competitive fire show up most at Western Michigan, in his release from press. So before you go and look up his height and weight and immediately disregard him as a potential Ravens fit, know that, for his three most productive seasons in college, he played over 80% of his snaps as an outside receiver and it is only his height that would preclude him from playing there at the next level, for me. Steve Smith would like a word if you want to argue he can’t.

I’ve actually already written about him this draft season but if you want a glimpse of what he’s like on tape: Eskridge is an elite separator. The speed is ridiculous (he was disappointed with 4.38 40 at his pro day) but he’s also learned how to effectively sell those deep routes, before choking off his acceleration to come open on underneath routes. He has strong, pluck-y hands and catches most everything thrown his way – a pretty sizeable catch radius for a guy his size. He competes through the route, at the catch-point but most impressively in his release where he relishes the battle with the defender. He’s become much more effective off press utilizing a now varied release package that showcases his toughness and explosion.

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About James Ogden

A long-time Ravens fan and writer, James was an early starter in journalism as Editor of his school and college newspapers, with his most enjoyable time spent on the sports desks. He didn’t pursue a media career, getting a “real” job instead, but he finds every opportunity to do what he loves. You’ll find him most passionate about the intersection of data analysis, player evaluation and team-building, writing mostly about the Draft and player evaluation from a Ravens perspective. As a player of the game, to put his performance in scouting lingo, he was a core special teams guy only. More from James Ogden

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